Thursday, December 31, 2020

2021 IndyCar Predictions

On another New Year's Eve, we end our year with a set of IndyCar predictions. After a topsy-turvy year, IndyCar looks to have a more stable 2020. Fewer doubleheaders are on the schedule and hopefully we will get to see the return of Barber, Long Beach, Belle Isle, Toronto, Portland and Laguna Seca. 

We do know we will see some new faces on the IndyCar grid. Jimmie Johnson will run all the road and street courses. Scott McLaughlin will attempt a full season in a Penske car. Tony Kanaan is back at Chip Ganassi Racing. Hélio Castroneves has joined Meyer Shank Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya will drive for Arrow McLaren SP. A lot has already happened, and there are still 66 days until the 2021 season opener from St. Petersburg. What else should we expect to see in the new season?

1. Will Power will at least match Mario Andretti's record of 67 pole positions
This is inevitable. Someday, Will Power will be the all-time leader in IndyCar pole positions. Power will turn 40 years old six days before the 2021 season opener at St. Petersburg and he is only six pole positions from the record being all his.

In seven of Power's 14 full seasons he has won at least five pole positions, including last year. Five pole positions put him level with Andretti. There is one reason why Power should be feeling good about at least tying Andretti in 2021 and that is there will be 13 road and street courses to four ovals. 

Power has been one of the best oval drivers in the last five seasons, but he is still a stud on road and street courses and can run the lap of his life every time out. Nine of his 12 pole positions since the introduction of the universal aero kit have been on road and street courses. He won five pole positions last year, four of which were on road and street courses. 

He won half the pole positions on road and street courses in 2020. In the previous two seasons, he won at least a quarter of the pole positions on road and street courses. If he wins half again, he will have at least six and the record will be his. If he wins a quarter, he will at least have three. You cannot rule out Power to win a pole position or two on ovals either. 

If everything goes as planned (which is asking a lot during a pandemic), and we have 11 races with the three-round knockout qualifying that will only benefit Power. He finds speed over each round. There have been plenty of times he hasn't looked like he will have it and will only end up fourth or fifth at best and then pulls out a pole position. There were only two rounds that featured knockout qualifying in 2020 and he won pole position in both of them.

Power has eight pole positions at St. Petersburg, five on the Indianapolis road course, five at Mid-Ohio and four at Barber. Five races will be at those four tracks. Five great chances for pole positions. This could be the year Power gets that elusive Indianapolis 500 pole position. The Indianapolis 500 will be the sixth round of the season. There is chance Power could tie or break the record at Indianapolis. That is asking a lot, but with Power it is not out of the question.

2. Andretti Autosport drivers will combine for at least four victories
This is the Alexander Rossi gets back on track and picks up at least two if not more victories and Colton Herta keeps up the good form prediction. 

Eighty percent of Andretti Autosport got off to a slow start in 2020 and once the team got it under control it was too late. Rossi had a year from hell. Mechanical issues in the first two rounds, a pair of accidents at Indianapolis and Gateway and Rossi was in a deep hole. He was ending on a strong note with four consecutive podium finishes and he was the best driver in the season finale at St. Petersburg before he had another accident in a race he was going to win. 

Rossi isn't going to be down that long. He will get a second chance at St. Petersburg off the jump. He has been a threat in every Indianapolis 500 he has been in and that probably will not change in 2021. He will have to wait longer for Long Beach, but if there is one person who should be happy with Long Beach being the season finale and potentially swinging a championship, it is Rossi.

Herta led the Andretti stable in 2020 and he likely could have had two or three more victories, most notably with strong races in the Harvest Grand Prix weekend, good runs at Gateway and he was in Rossi's tracks for all of St. Petersburg before turbo issues and an error of his own kept him from ending the year with a victory when Rossi spun out of the race. 

Everywhere Rossi can win Herta can win at also. It would not be any surprise if both drivers won three or four races. The question is can any of the other Andretti drivers pull out a victory?

Ryan Hunter-Reay has a two-year winless drought and he has come up empty in four of the last five seasons. Hunter-Reay's best runs in 2020 were at Mid-Ohio when the entire team was on point. He has kind of lost that oval edge he once had not long ago. We need to see Hunter-Reay flip a switch early in 2021 to have any confidence he could win again. 

James Hinchcliffe could be back full-time at Andretti Autosport, but that has yet to be confirmed. Hinchcliffe had some encouraging days as a part-time driver last year, but he has been around for a decade and he has had flashes but has yet to be a regular race winner. A good day can fall his way, but we cannot expect he will be a regular contender. 

As for Marco Andretti... we will touch on him a little later.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing's four cars average an entrants' championship position of 11th or higher
Scott Dixon is the defending champion. Marcus Ericsson is returning after a positive first year with Ganassi. Álex Palou moves into the #10 Honda after Felix Rosenqvist left for Arrow McLaren SP. Ganassi will expand to a four-car team with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan sharing a car, Johnson on road/street courses and Kanaan on ovals.

For the last few seasons, it has been Dixon carrying the weight at Ganassi. The last Ganassi driver not named Scott Dixon to finish in the top five of the championship was Dario Franchitti when Franchitti won the championship in 2011. 

We have been waiting for this next wave of talent to come at Ganassi and at least support Dixon and it has not come. Since Franchitti's premature retirement after the 2013 season, only two Ganassi drivers not named Dixon have won a race. One was Tony Kanaan in the 2014 finale at Fontana and the other was Rosenqvist last year at Road America.

Even though Rosenqvist won a race, Dixon was the only driver in the top ten of the championship. The three Ganassi cars were first, 11th and 12th in 2020. That averages out to an eighth-place finish. 

Dixon has never won championships in consecutive seasons. He will likely be in the top five of the championship, probably in the top three. Ericsson could stand to make up a few spots. Palou is moving over after being 16th with Dale Coyne Racing. The unknown is the #48 Honda with Johnson and Kanaan. 

Johnson is completely new to IndyCar, especially on road and street courses. In his first major test he was bringing up the rear of the field and he has a lot of work to do, but Johnson is trying and has been testing a Formula Three car in preparation for his rookie season. I think we are going to have a lot of races where Johnson will be fighting to be in the top 20. If there are races where he is fighting to be 17th or better those will be great days. 

I expect Palou will push for a top ten championship finish, as will Ericsson. It is just a matter of where Johnson will fall and how much Kanaan can counterbalance on the ovals. If Dixon is fourth, Ericsson is eighth and Palou is tenth that will mean the #48 entry will have to be 22nd or worse to fulfill this prediction. If the other three drivers fluctuate a position, then the #48 Honda will have to do better to beat 11th. Let's say Dixon is fourth, Ericsson is ninth and Palou is 12th, the #48 Honda will have to be 18th for the four entries to average better than 11th. 

I am not sold the #48 Honda can be in the top 20 unless Kanaan wins the Indianapolis and is one of the five best drivers on ovals. 

4. A.J. Foyt Racing gets its best championship finish since at least 2010
A.J. Foyt Racing has not had a top ten championship finish since Airton Daré was ninth in 2002. The closest it has gotten was Vitor Meira ending up in 12th in 2010. Foyt has only had two other top 15 championship finishers since Meira. Takuma Sato was 14th in 2017 and Tony Kanaan was 15th in 2019.

Basically, I am predicting Sébastien Bourdais will be 13th in the championship or better and I am comfortable with that bet. 

Since Bourdais returned to full-time IndyCar competition in 2013, the only time he did not finish 13th or better in the championship in a full season was 2016 when he was 14th with KV Racing. 

He has finished 12th in the championship with Dragon Racing. At KV Racing, he was tenth in the championship twice. In his two full seasons with Dale Coyne Racing, he was seventh and 11th. His 2017 season was interrupted when he broke his pelvis in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, but he averaged 26.75 points from the eight starts that season and if you extrapolate that over a 17-race season, Bourdais would have finished eighth in the championship that year on about 455 points.

It appears it doesn't matter what car you put Bourdais in, he will be on the cusp of a top ten championship finish and Foyt could use that. 

Prior to the pandemic, Bourdais was strong in testing and people got excited about Foyt's chances in 2020. Then the pandemic happened, Bourdais wasn't in the car until the Harvest Grand Prix, he struggled that weekend, but he was stellar at St. Petersburg, qualifying seventh and finishing fourth. 

It is one-race and Foyt is still Foyt, but Bourdais is going to carry the team and with 13 road and street course races the schedule is in his favor. Felix Rosenqvist was 11th in the championship with five top ten finishes. One of those was a victory for Rosenqvist, but if given 13 road/street course races, I expect Bourdais to get at least five top ten finishes. 

On the other hand, Marcus Ericsson had nine top ten finish in 2020 and was 12th in the championship while Ryan Hunter-Reay had seven top ten finishes and finished tenth in the championship. The poor finish in the Indianapolis 500 stunted Ericsson's championship finish. 

I expect Bourdais to be consistent. He is going to be strong on the road/street courses and an oval result will go in his favor. If he gets seven top ten finishes, I expect him to be between ninth and 12th in the championship. It is obvious a strong Indianapolis 500 can earn you an extra two to four spots in the championship. If he pulls out a top ten on Memorial Day weekend, Bourdais could bring Foyt back into the top ten of the championship for the first time in nearly two decades.

5. Patricio O'Ward wins at least one race, but his championship position falls
O'Ward was knocking on the door for his first career victory throughout in 2020. 

If he had taken primary tires and not alternate tires on his final pit stop in the second Road America race, he likely wins that race. If the team works strategy differently in either Gateway race, he likely wins one of those races if not both. He also had strong races at Iowa. 

That victory is coming, and McLaren is not going to accept going winless for two consecutive seasons in IndyCar. The team unceremoniously dumped Oliver Askew, but bringing in Felix Rosenqvist takes that team to a higher level and it will force O'Ward to step up his game. I expect O'Ward to do that. 

I think O'Ward is ready to pull out a victory. It could be on an oval or a road course. He ended 2020 with a runner-up finish at St. Petersburg, which was probably three or four positions better than expected due to the late issues for the Andretti team, but in the one street course O'Ward ran a respectable pace and was in touching distance when others slipped up. 

O'Ward might win a race or possibly two in 2021, but I think he will drop in the championship. 

One, he was fourth in 2020. There is more room to go down than up. The drivers ahead of him were Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta. Two, notable drivers behind him in 2020 were Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud. 

He could win two races and end up sixth in the championship because Rossi wins three times and has 12 top five finishes, Power wins four times and has eight top five finishes, Rahal wins the Indianapolis 500 and has seven top five finishes while Dixon wins another three races and is in the top ten in 15 races and Newgarden has two victories, eight podium finishes and his worst finish all season is 12th. 

I just accounted for 15 of 17 victories in that hypothetical above. O'Ward could win twice and those could be his only top five finishes in 2020. Look at Rosenqvist. He won the fourth race of the season and he probably should have been second in the season opener. Rosenqvist was eighth in the championship after that victory and we all thought things were going to get better from there. He didn't finish in the top five again and he dropped three spots in the championship, finishing 11th.

IndyCar is tough. You can win races and still underperform your results from the year before when you were winless. O'Ward is going to be strong, but his championship results will likely take a step back, not a large step back but just enough. 

6. Rinus VeeKay will not be the top ECR finisher in at least five races
VeeKay ended up taking the 2020 rookie of the year honors and he was the class of Ed Carpenter Racing despite being paired with Ed Carpenter and the plucky underdog Conor Daly. 

Carpenter has spent his entire life in IndyCar and Daly has been around for the better part of the last five years. Despite this wealth of experience that favored the Americans, VeeKay was the top ECR finisher in 12 of 14 races. He was 8-0 against Daly. His only two losses came in his first and fifth starts. He ended the season topping the team head-to-head battle in nine consecutive races. 

Daly didn't have a top ten finish with ECR. Ed Carpenter was fifth in the season opener at Texas and then he finished 15th or worse in the other five races. Carpenter's average finish was 18.333. 

I don't think Carpenter will be that bad again. I can't imagine Daly will get shut out in 13 consecutive races head-to-head against VeeKay. I would expect Daly to get at least two or three top ten finishes at a minimum. VeeKay got five top ten finishes in his rookie season. The fact Daly went 0-for-12 despite having nearly 50 more starts in experience speaks more about Daly than it does ECR's capabilities. 

VeeKay is also going to have bad days. Not Texas bad, but he is going to have a day where he will be 16th and his teammate is ninth or tenth. There will be a race where VeeKay suffers a puncture, has to make an extra pit stop and end up 19th while his teammate is 12th. 

There will only be four ovals in 2021. I don't think Carpenter is going to sweep those, but I think a split makes the most sense. If the ovals are split, only three of 13 road/street course races have to go against VeeKay for this prediction to be sealed.

I am not predicting VeeKay is going to struggle or have a significant sophomore slump. I am predicting the rest of ECR will be more competitive. VeeKay could still end up the top ECR finisher in 12 of 17 races. That could get him 12th or 13th in the championship. He will be fine. It is a matter of the veterans stepping up their game.

7. Jack Harvey will set a career-high in top five finishes
This should not be that difficult, because Harvey has only one top five finish in his IndyCar career, a third in the 2019 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Getting two might sound simple, but Harvey probably should have had three or four top five finishes in 2020 and scored none. 

Even for the lost results, Harvey had an outstanding first full season with Meyer Shank Racing, better than 15th in the championship would suggest. Between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the first Road America race, both Gateway races, a Harvest Grand Prix race and St. Petersburg, Harvey could have had a half-dozen top five finishes and easily been in the top ten of the championship. 

Harvey's 15th in the championship needs context because four more points would have put him 12th in the championship and 19 points would have put him 11th. He was running in the top five when James Hinchcliffe clipped him under caution, and it dropped him from a possible finish of third or fourth to 19th. Instead of picking up let's say 32 points, he left with 11 points. That one race alone cost Harvey at least four championship positions. 

MSR is ready to fight with the big boys and it will continue its IndyCar expansion with Hélio Castroneves contesting a half-dozen races. There could be chance the team is spreading a little too thin and it could affect Harvey, but I think it will only make the team stronger. Harvey was already the fifth-best qualifier in IndyCar in 2020, behind only the Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden and the Andretti drivers Colton Herta and Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Hunter-Reay was only 0.785 positions better. 

If Harvey keeps up that qualifying form, not only will get top five finishes, but he will likely end up on the podium and possibly win a race or two. It is not crazy to suggest Harvey and MSR could end up on the top step of the podium. From everything the team showed in 2020, it is knocking on the door.

8. At least two winless droughts over 30 starts will come to an end
This is the Graham Rahal ends his slump prediction. 

It is kind of absurd Rahal has not won in the last three seasons, and yet his teammate Takuma Sato has four victories in the same amount of time. Over the last three years, Rahal is better across the board in almost every notable category compared to Sato. 

Top fives? Rahal is up 12 to ten. 

Top tens? Rahal is up 32 to 23. 

Average finish? Rahal is two positions better at 10.7 to Sato's 12.7.

Straight up head-to-head? It is advantage Rahal, 33 to 15. 

Yet Sato has four victories to Rahal's none!

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing might have the most even lineup in IndyCar. Take all of the above and then consider Sato is better than Rahal on average starting position, but only slightly at 11.851 to 12.0 and they are nearly identical on points with Rahal scoring 1,158 to Sato's 1,114. When it comes to retirements, Rahal has had nine and Sato has had eight. In the last two seasons, the RLLR drivers have finished one ahead of the other in the championship. Sato was ninth and Rahal was tenth in 2019. This past season saw Rahal in sixth and Sato in seventh.

Rahal is due. It has been 57 races. 

Who else falls in this boat? 

Ryan Hunter-Reay has gone 31 races since his last victory. Sébastien Bourdais is quietly up to 36 races. I already predicted Patricio O'Ward will get a victory, but if he can wait until Road America to get his first career victory then he would fulfill this prediction's criteria. The same goes for Alexander Rossi, who is on a 21-race drought. If Rossi can wait until Mid-Ohio, that would be work for me. James Hinchcliffe has not won in his last 29 starts, so as long as he doesn't win his first start of 2021, he could fulfill this prediction. 

Tony Kanaan is on an 89-race slump, Ed Carpenter has not been on the top step of the podium in 38 starts, Charlie Kimball has made 110 starts since his last victory and then there is Marco Andretti's 157-race streak. 

Of drivers looking for first career victories that could fit this description: Marcus Ericsson (30 starts), Jack Harvey (33 starts), Santino Ferrucci (35 starts), Conor Daly (64 starts), Max Chilton (71 starts).

Rinus VeeKay and Álex Palou could both fulfill this prediction if either's first career victory is the 2021 season finale at Long Beach.

There are already a dozen drivers that fit the criteria for this prediction. There are another five drivers that could become eligible for this prediction during the season. That is 17 drivers of a 24-car grid. We are not going to have the same seven drivers win again in 2021. There are going to be some new faces pulling into victory lane. 

9. There will be no repeat winners on the ovals
This is the Penske isn't going to wax the field on ovals prediction. At least, one Penske driver isn't going to do the waxing.

There are only four oval races scheduled for 2021. In 2020, we had four different winners on ovals with Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden being the only repeat winners. Will Power didn't win an oval race. Alexander Rossi didn't win an oval race. Patricio O'Ward didn't win an oval race. All three could have and we could have gone six-for-six. 

With Iowa gone, that leaves one fewer place for Josef Newgarden to dominate. With Texas now a doubleheader, that could provide one driver a chance for two bites at the apple. After all, we saw Newgarden be strong in both Iowa races last year and Dixon could have pulled off the sweep at Gateway. 

Then there is the Indianapolis 500. Takuma Sato's victory last year was the first time a Penske or Andretti driver didn't win since Tony Kanaan with KV Racing in 2013. Chip Ganassi Racing has not won the Indianapolis 500 since 2012. 

There is a possibility Team Penske could sweep the oval races with all of its drivers. I do not think that will happen, but I could see Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud splitting Texas, Scott Dixon finally getting his second Indianapolis 500 victory and Will Power winning at Gateway.

Or Dixon and Alexander Rossi split Texas, Josef Newgarden wins at Indianapolis and Power wins at Gateway. 

Or Newgarden and Power split Texas, Rossi wins the Indianapolis 500 and O'Ward wins at Gateway.

Or Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato split Texas, Colton Herta wins the Indianapolis 500 and Ed Carpenter wins at Gateway. 

Or Dixon and Tony Kanaan split Texas, Carpenter wins Indianapolis and Ryan Hunter-Reay wins at Gateway.

There are a lot of possibilities. Could Newgarden win at Texas and Gateway? Yep! Could Dixon sweep all four ovals? You would not rule that out. With the depth of the IndyCar grid, it is more likely the four oval races have four different winners and I think that is going to happen.

10. More than 36 drivers compete in a race
There was a lot of buzz ahead of the 2020 season about possible one-off team and driver combinations. 

Arrow McLaren SP was possibly going to run a third car in a handful of races and Jenson Button was possibly going to do a few races. Jimmie Johnson was first talking with AMSP when it came to joining IndyCar. Carlin was planning on having Felipe Nasr run a few events and we might have seen a few other drivers cycle through the #31 Chevrolet. DragonSpeed was hoping to do a handful of races and there were some thoughts it would try a driver other than Ben Hanley. Juncos Racing was not back. We did not see Pippa Mann, Oriol Servià, Ed Jones, Kyle Kaiser, Matheus Leist, Gabby Chaves or Stefan Wilson in 2020. 

Only 35 drivers started an IndyCar race in 2020. It matched the fewest drivers in a season since reunification with 2012 and 2015. The 2018 season had 41 drivers start a race. I don't think we will see that many drivers, but we are looking at two-dozen full-time entries. We are likely going to get 33 drivers with the Indianapolis 500, we just need three more drivers. 

Where could we see drivers rotate in and out? Dale Coyne Racing has a history of rotating drivers when it does not have a solid lineup. With neither DCR car filled, let's not be surprised if we see three or four different drivers in the DCR outfit this season. Maybe this is the year AMSP gets to run its third car in a handful of races and maybe we get to see Jenson Button run at Road America and/or Laguna Seca. Does Carlin run a second car and have two or three drivers try out? Does Carlin need to find a new oval driver if Conor Daly is not available for the Texas doubleheader and Gateway? Does Citrone/Buhl Autosport return in partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and will Spencer Pigot still be its driver? Could a new entry that isn't even on our radars pop up in 2021 and run a few races? 

The one concern is there is no class of Indy Lights driver looking to make IndyCar debuts in 2021 because there was no Indy Lights season in 2020. There are going to be limited opportunities for debutant drivers unless we see an influx of competitors from Europe and other international series.

Even without a new crop of Indy Lights graduates, there are more than 36 drivers out there that want to be in IndyCar. Only 33 can be in the Indianapolis 500. This prediction depends on if sponsors decide the other 16 races will yield a reasonable return on investment. If they do, then we could see at least three-dozen drivers hit the track in 2021.

11. There will be one minor issue that leads to a circuit alteration in Nashville
Many are excited about Nashville joining the IndyCar schedule and it has been a while since IndyCar has had a new street course. Nashville is a city of the moment and IndyCar will be racing through the heart of it. 

The course is interesting, running around Nissan Stadium, home the Tennessee Titans, and crossing over Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge twice. There are a few long straightaways that will provide suitable passing zones. It is a street course that is encouraging on paper. The only problem is we know there are street courses that look good and then do not pan out. 

We all remember Baltimore, which had train tracks and required a chicane to be inserted during the race weekend. It is forgotten is the Baltimore layout that we got wasn't even the original Baltimore layout when the race was announced. Houston had plenty of track issues and required grinding of the surface. Even Toronto has been altered with the pit lane moved to the outside portion of the esses leading to the start/finish line instead of the inside of the front straightaway. I think the five corners on the downtown side of the river could be changed. That is a pretty tight section of roadways from how it looks on Google Maps.

No one wants Nashville to be a repeat of Baltimore or Houston where we lost Friday due to circuit corrections, but I could see a decision being made beforehand to change some of the corners or add a chicane if the straightaways prove to be too long and might not be safe for competition. There is also the case where the start line is planned to be at the end of the straightaway once the cars cross the bridge on the stadium side of the river and the finish line will be on the straightaway parallel with the stadium where the pit lane will also be located. That could change as well.

We have to wait and see how Nashville plays out. We are hopeful there are no major issues and this race ends up being remembered for the right reasons, but when it comes time to setting up the course, there might need to be a slight revision.

12. Marco Andretti improves his average finish by at least 5.5 positions
This year was bad for everyone. This year was horrendous for Marco Andretti. 

In Andretti's 15th IndyCar season he had his worst average finish at 19.285. His best finish all season was tenth. He won pole position for the Indianapolis 500 and didn't even lead a lap. He was on the lead lap for only two races. 

There is no way to make Andretti's 2020 season look positive. There were a lot of breaks that went against him. He suffered three mechanical failures and was taken out of two races, one was Gateway before he had even taken the green flag and the other was St. Petersburg, which was his best race of 2020 and he was running in the top ten on pace. 

I don't think Andretti is that bad. We have 14 previous seasons showing he is not a driver who averages a 19th place finish. He has been in the top ten of the championship nine times. He has averaged a finish better than tenth in three seasons and better than 12.5 in seven seasons. The entire Andretti Autosport organization struggled, and Andretti never found his footing. 

I don't think Andretti will have the same amount of bad luck. I am concerned that he will not be able to solve his race weekend woes where he starts strong but declines with every session. Too many times we see Andretti start a weekend in the top ten of a practice and then end up 17th in qualifying and finishing about 14th or 15th in the race. 

Prior to this season, he had only three seasons where his average finish was over 13.785, two of those were 2011 and 2012, but the other was 2019. He is not going to continue the decline in 2021, but another year averaging somewhere between 14th and 19th will suggest a larger problem, one that might not be reversible. 

In 2020, there was a clear break in average finish. Sixteen drivers averaged below a 13th-place finish; all were full-time drivers. Seventeenth on back averaged 14.333 or worse. The only full-time drivers mixed into that crowd were Conor Daly, Álex Palou, Charlie Kimball, Oliver Askew (though he missed two races), Zach Veach (though he missed three races) and Andretti. 

Basically, we are asking, can Andretti be a top 15 driver again? Driving for Andretti Autosport, top 15 should be a given. The top 15 should not be some type of accomplishment. This is a team that wins races and challenges for championships. Three of its drivers ranked in the top 11 of average finish in 2020 and that included Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was not spectacular, and Alexander Rossi, who had a rough year.

This feels like the last straw for Andretti. He will turn 34 years old a week after the 2021 season opener. He could run another ten years, but with 15 years already under his belt, how much more growing can he do? He rebounded from a poor 2012 season with a top five championship finish in 2013. There were at least two or three races that season he should have won. I don't expect that kind of rebound in 2021, but he has to make a substantial gain.

And that is a wrap for 2020! Wonderful! We are ready to move into the New Year, which will still be different and less than ideal, but we are ready for something new. Do not forget to check out 2021 prediction for NASCAR, Formula One, sports cars and motorcycles. Though this is a down period, events will be starting in a blink and we will be busy before we know it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2021 Motorcycle Predictions

Normally, we have done an et cetera set of predictions, one prediction for 12 different series. However, that was not as fulfilling. It didn't feel right to do only one prediction per series, plus, I am not fully invested in all these series. Who watches World Touring Car Cup? And Indy Lights didn't even happen in 2020. 

I am a regular viewer of motorcycle racing, from MotoGP to World Superbike and there is a lot of depth to each road course motorcycle series. It was almost unfair to only do one prediction for MotoGP. I made a change and for 2021 predictions we will focused specifically on the top motorcycle series. 

1. Marc Márquez will be in sole possession of third all-time in grand prix victories
This prediction is already on the ropes if Márquez is not fully healthy for the start of the 2021 season and it sounds like it could be touch and go whether or not he will be ready. An infection has slowed his recovery. From reports, it sounds like Márquez will need to miss at least five months after his last surgery, meaning he could miss the first three races. 

Even if Márquez is not able to return until Jerez in May, and there is a full season of 19 or 20 races, he could have 16 or 17 races and he would need nine victories to move to third all-time on 91 victories ahead of Ángel Nieto. 

Márquez doesn't need a winning percentage of 50% to be champion, but I am setting the bar high for his return. If it wasn't for his injury, he probably would have won the championship in 2020 and likely would have won six or seven of the 14 races. 

Even if he misses the first three races, there are some favorable racetracks to Márquez in the other 16 or 17 events. He has four victories at Le Mans, three in the MotoGP class. He is unbeaten at the Sachsenring in his MotoGP career and he won ten consecutive German Grand Prix. He is the all-time leader in victories at Aragón and in the San Marino Grand Prix with six victories in each, five of which are in MotoGP at Aragón and he has three victories at Misano in MotoGP.

At Motegi, he has won three of the last four MotoGP races, at Phillip Island he has won three of the last five MotoGP races and he is two-for-two at Buriram. 

Those are six venues I just listed and there are a few tracks he is due at. He hasn't won at either Mugello or Silverstone since 2014 and he has never won at the Red Bull Ring despite a few close calls. 

MotoGP is better if the best rider in the world is healthy. Though we are coming off an unpredictable championship where there were five first-time winners and a champion with only one victory, but Márquez has set the standard for grand prix racing. He is something special and he will only turn 28 years old. We already lost one year of Márquez magic. It would be a damn shame if we missed another.

2. Fabio Quartararo will have at least two podium finishes that are not victories.
With Márquez out and two victories from the first two races, the 2020 season was setting up for Quartararo to run away with the championship. Instead, he won only one of the final 12 races while having six finishes of 13th or worse and only scoring four points from the final three races. He ended up eighth in the championship. 

The problem is outside of Quartararo's three victories, he really wasn't close to podium finishes, other than a fourth at Misano. 

Meanwhile, Quartararo's Petronas Yamaha SRT teammate Franco Morbidelli won three races as well and picked up another two podium finishes. Maverick Viñales was second in the first two races and won at Misano. Valentino Rossi had one podium finish, which came at Jerez. 

The 2020 MotoGP season only took place at nine tracks, far from what a normal calendar would consist of and with what should be a more diverse 2021 calendar, Quartararo and Yamaha should find success at other tracks. He has been on the podium three times in five starts at Assen. He also showed success at Buriram and Motegi. For someone who has been one of the rising MotoGP riders, Quartararo does not have an abundance of great results at different tracks. Jerez, Barcelona and Assen are the only tracks he has multiple podium finishes at in his six-year grand prix racing career. 

In 2019, he was a breakout star. Last year started well before plateauing and declining. He still won three races in 2020, tied for the most with his teammate. Now Quartararo will be on the factory bike. Yamaha would have won the constructors' championship if it was not deducted 50 points for technical infringements. Even if he does not win as many races in 2021, I think Quartararo will be on the podium more and that includes more runner-up and third-place finishes.

3. Suzuki falls at least one position in the constructors' championship and finishes at least 100 points off the champion
Joan Mir won the championship with one victory, seven podium finishes and points from 11 of 14 races while Álex Rins ended up third in the championship with a victory and four podium finishes and points from 11 of 14 races.

Despite the results of Suzuki's riders, the manufacture ended up third in the constructors' championship, 19 points off the top spot, and I think the manufacture is going to drop at least a spot and finish significantly off the champion. 

Honda should have Márquez back for a significant chunk of the schedule and after finishing fifth on 144 points in 2020, Honda should make a large leap up. KTM was only two points off Suzuki with more victories and its best rider finishing fifth in the championship. 

Suzuki built what was the most balanced bike, but with only two entries on the grid, when the manufacture was off, neither rider was competitive. In the first Jerez race, Suzuki picked up no points. At Le Mans, Mir only picked up five points for an 11th-place finish and Mir lost an engine at Portimão while Rins only picked up a point. 

For all of Yamaha's faults, it still won seven of 14 races. Ducati had a better top finisher than Suzuki in eight of 14 races. Once again, Honda should have Márquez back. Combine all those things and we should see Suzuki drop to fourth in the constructors' championship.

4. There will be at least three first-time winners
We are bringing this prediction back because the MotoGP grid has been shaken up ahead of the 2021 season. 

Ducati has two new factory riders. Jack Miller has a grand prix victory, but Franceseco Bagnaia does not. Johann Zarco is moving to a Pramac Racing Ducati and Zarco is still looking for his first MotoGP victory. Esponsorama Racing will have two new riders, Luca Marini and Enea Bastianini, join the operation and both those riders were 1-2 in the 2020 Moto2 championship. 

Pol Espargaró moved to the factory Honda next to Márquez after having a few victories slip through his hands on a KTM last year. Takaaki Nakagami was the top Honda rider in 2020 and regularly scored points. On a few days, Nakagami showed the potential to win a race, but it didn't pan out. Álex Márquez was making strides toward the end of the 2020 season and came close to a few victories. 

Then there is the Aprilia, which probably will not win a race, but Aleix Espargaró has been a regular points scorer.

There are seven good options to be first-time winners. Bagnaia and Pol Espargaró are the two favorites to be first-time winners. I would then put Zarco, Nakagami and Álex Márquez on that next tier. Marini and Bastianini could have conditions play into their favor and see a surprise victory.

5. The American drivers combine for at least 150 points
Joe Roberts was a big surprise in the 2020 Moto2 season, where Roberts was seventh in the championship and won three pole positions. Unfortunately, he had only one podium finish, a third at Brno. He opened the season with a fourth in Qatar, a race where he very well should have been on the podium. He qualified on pole position at Le Mans but swapped tires on the grid and had to start from the pit lane. Le Mans turned into his best race, where Roberts went from last to sixth. 

Roberts finished on 94 points, but now he will move to Italtrans Racing Team replacing champion Enea Bastianini. With at least four or five more races than the 2020 season, he should get a chance to get 56 points on his own, but Roberts will not be the only American on the grid, as five-time MotoAmerica champion Cameron Beaubier will move to American Racing, replacing Roberts. 

This Beaubier's second stint in grand prix racing, as he was in the 125cc class in 2009 where his teammate was Marc Márquez. Beaubier has run at 13 of the 19 tracks currently on the schedule, but that doesn't mean he will step in and score 94 points like Roberts did in 2020. Beaubier's teammate Marcos Ramirez did score 37 points in 2020 and Ramirez will stay at American Racing for another season. 

Let's just say Roberts carries over his 6.2667 points per race to 2021 and Beaubier scores 37 points like Ramirez did, if there are only 19 races, the two riders should combine for 156 points. If there are 20 races, then the two should combine for 162 points. I think that is achievable. 

6. The Moto3 championship will have at least 100 career starts
Moto3 champions normally take the title in their second or third season in recent years. However, the top five riders from 2020 have all moved to Moto3 for 2021 and with the influx of younger riders, it should open the door for a seasoned veteran to have the advantage. 

Moto3 has not had a champion with more than 100 career starts since Sandro Cortese in 2012. 

Jamue Masiá is the top returning rider from 2020 and he will only have at most 73 starts to his name when the 2021 season is over. John McPhee and Darryn Binder were seventh and eighth in the championship in 2020. McPhee is already on 151 starts while Binder will start 2021 with 99 starts. Another possible option for this prediction is Tatsuki Suzuki who has 103 starts, started 2020 with three consecutive pole positions, but had only one victory and missed two races due to injury.

Gabriel Rodrigo also has over 100 starts and will be back in 2021, but he has yet to win a grand prix, and then there is infamous Romano Fenati, who has 140 grand prix starts but will be on a Husqvarna. 

Along with Masiá, there are plenty of less experienced riders who could take the championship. Sergio García and Dennis Foggia are two other contenders. García will be on the new GasGas entry, which could take him out of the running. There is also Jeremy Alcoba, the top rookie from 2020. 

I think this season is setting up for a veteran to come out on top.

World Superbike
7. At least four riders pick up at least three victories.
World Superbike has not had four riders pick up at least three victories in a season since 2014 when Sylvain Guintoli, Tom Sykes, Jonathan Rea and Marco Melandri each had at least three victories.

The big difference between 2014 and 2021 is each race weekend now features three races instead of two, meaning there are more chances for victory. While Jonathan Rea and the dominant Kawasaki will still be there and Rea is one victory away from his 100th victory, there should be more race winners. 

Rea will be fine and so should be his teammate Alex Lowes, who won at the Phillip Island opening weekend in 2020 and then didn't win again. Scott Redding and Toprak Razgatlioglu each had at least three victories in 2020, and they should both reach that mark in 2021. Chaz Davies won only twice. That shouldn't happen again. Michael Ruben Rinaldi scored a surprise victory at Aragón and Rinaldi will move to the factory Ducati in 2021. Tito Rabat has moved from MotoGP to Barni Racing Team Ducati.

BMW has made some waves, hiring Michael van der Mark from Yamaha, who won at Barcelona. Van der Mark joins Sykes. We will also see Álvaro Bautista back on the Honda after winning no races in 2020. Andrea Locatelli moves up after thrashing the World Supersport field in 2020 to join Razgatlioglu at Yamaha.

Rea, Redding and Razgatlioglu should all hit three victories again. I think either Rinaldi or Davies could get three. I have high hopes for BMW (which might be crazy), and I think Locatelli could be competitive in the Yamaha battle with Razgatlioglu.

8. Garrett Gerloff at least doubles his number of podium finishes in full races
Gerloff surprised me in 2020, ending up 11th in the championship and he was on the podium three times in the final seven races. Two of those were in full races and one of those was in a SuperPole race. 

After seeing what Gerloff could do in year one, in a pandemic-affected season, I think he can make a stride forward but not necessarily light the world on fire. I think he could end up on the podium in at least four main races. We could have 13 rounds, which means 26 full races. He would need a batting average of 0.153 for this prediction to be fulfilled. 

The Yamaha is a good bike. I don't think Gerloff will come close to Razgatlioglu but the Turk had nine podium finishes in 2020. Van der Mark had seven podium finishes with Yamaha last year and Loris Baz had four podium finishes. Locatelli will be a good counterpart to Gerloff. I think both riders could pull out about six to nine total podium finishes, but in Gerloff's case, I think at least four of those occur in full races.

9. BMW scores at least 250 points
I am going out on a limb because BMW has lured in Michael van der Mark alongside Tom Sykes. Sykes opened the 2020 season with two pole positions, but he and BMW had only one top five finish all season. 

Alongside van der Mark and Sykes, Eugene Laverty and Jonas Folger will be on customer BMWs. Folger is attempting a full-time comeback after Gilbert's syndrome ended his 2017 MotoGP season with Tech3 Yamaha. Folger made five wild card starts in Moto2 in 2019. 

In 2019, BMW scored 249 points and picked up three podium finishes. BMW has not broken 250 points in the constructors' championship since 2013, the last season BMW won a race. 

I am hopeful BMW can be competitive and perhaps van der Mark could lift the German manufacture to another level. I do not envision victories, but a handful of podium finishes combined with other respectable results can add up to at least 250 points.

10. Andrea Locatelii will have the best WSBK championship finish for a reigning World Supersport champion since Cal Crutchlow
Locatelli won 12 of 15 races in World Supersport last year and won the championship by 103 points over Lucas Mahias. 

Locatelli moves up to Yamaha's World Superbike effort and he will have a big measuring stick in Razgatlioglu as his teammate. He replaces van der Mark, who was fifth in the championship last year. 

World Supersport champions don't necessarily step into World Superbike and keep up the form. Kenan Sofuoglu stayed in World Supersport year after year. Sam Lowes went from World Supersport to Moto2. Mahias and Randy Krummenacher both stayed in WSS after winning the championship.

Davies won the 2011 WSS championship but finished ninth in his first Superbike season. Van der Mark was the 2014 WSS champion and was seventh in his rookie WSBK season. Sandro Cortese won the 2018 WSS title and then was 12th in WSBK the following year. 

Cal Crutchlow won the 2009 World Supersport championship and was fifth in his first World Superbike season in 2010. Basically, I am saying Locatelli will finish sixth or better in the championship this year, matching van der Mark's output from 2020.

World Supersport
11. Can Öncü leaps into the top five of the championship
Öncü stunned the grand prix racing world when he won on his Moto3 debut in 2018 at Valencia at 15 years and 115 days old. Since that victory, he had a disappointing full Moto3 season in 2019 and he moved to World Supersport for 2020. 

In his first WSS season, Öncü was 12th in the championship, but scored points in 11 of 15 races with his best finish being sixth. He will move to Kawasaki Puccetti Racing for 2021, replacing Lucas Mahias, who was second in the championship with two victories, eight podium finishes and 13 finishes in the top five. Phillip Öttl will remain at Puccetti Racing after finishing third in the championship.

The bike will be there for Öncü. He will only turn 18 years old at the end of July. We may have been spoiled seeing beginner's luck two years ago, but 2021 will be a chance for Öncü to bloom.

12. Jules Cluzel will have more victories than runner-up finishes
Cluzel started the 2020 season with finishes of second, second, second, sixth, second, second, second, third and a retirement at Aragón after a crash fractured his left tibia and fibula. 

In eight World Supersport seasons, Cluzel has finished in the top four of the championship every season. His fewest podium finishes in a season is five. I expect Cluzel to win at least a race or two in 2021, but he will have Federico Caricasulo join him at GMT94 Yamaha after Caricasulo had a disappointing World Superbike season. 

Even if Cluzel doesn't win a race, he had six runner-up finishes in 2020. That is a lot of close but no cigar results. Prior to last season, his most runner-up finishes in a season was three. In four of his eight seasons, Cluzel has had two runner-up finishes or fewer. If Cluzel falls into his normal pattern, two victories could be enough for this prediction to be correct. 

Our first motorcycle-specific predictions are done. Don't forget to check out the NASCAR, Formula One and sports car racing predictions. Tomorrow, we will conclude our predictions with IndyCar predictions.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2021 Sports Car Predictions

We are moving into the sports car world for our 2021 predictions and 2021 could be a fun year. There has been a lot of movement in IMSA with teams leaving and teams joining. Some teams have changed manufactures. There will be a new class. Hypercar is debuting in the FIA World Endurance Championship and there are a couple new competitors on the grid. We still expect the European Le Mans Series to remain competitive top to bottom. There is a lot that could happen in sports cars next year. Here are 12 predictions to keep in mind. 

1. A Cadillac team does not win the DPi Endurance Cup championship
We have been awarding the Endurance Cup championship since 2014 and in those seven seasons, a General Motors team has won all seven times. 

Chevrolet, Chevrolet, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac and Cadillac. 

Action Express Racing was responsible for the first six of those championships, the first four with the #5 Corvette DP/Cadillac and the last two with the #31 Cadillac. Last year, Wayne Taylor Racing won the Endurance Cup championship. 

This streak has to end. It is basic math. Eventually, it will come to an end, and with all the changes ahead of the 2021 season, I think it is due to happen.

Wayne Taylor Racing will not be fielding a Cadillac, as it switches to Acura. Ricky Taylor is back with his father's team. Filipe Albuquerque moves from Action Express Racing's endurance driver to WTR's full-time driver. Alexander Rossi retains his endurance driver role with an Acura team and Hélio Castroneves will be in the car for the 24 Hours of Daytona. 

Meyer Shank Racing moves back to the DPi class with Acura. Dane Cameron remains a full-time driver. Olivier Pla will be full-time. Juan Pablo Montoya will be the endurance driver and A.J. Allmendinger will be in the car for Daytona. 

The only other non-Cadillac entry will be Mazda Motorsports with Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell full-time and Jonathan Bomarito as the endurance driver. 

Cadillac still has powers in numbers. It keeps the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac with Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr and Mike Conway will return as the team's endurance driver with Chase Elliott joining the team for the 24 Hours of Daytona. JDC-Miller Motorsports will run a car full of French drivers with Loïc Duval and Tristan Vautier full-time and Sébastien Bourdais in for the endurance races. Cadillac has gained Chip Ganassi Racing, which will have Kevin Magnussen and Renger van der Zande full-time and likely have Scott Dixon for Daytona if not all the endurance races. 

While you feel like taking the field, Cadillac has been masterful in endurance races. It has won the last four 24 Hours of Daytona. Chip Ganassi Racing won the 24 Hours of Daytona six times in a ten-year period before it switched to run the Ford GT program. Cadillac has also won Petit Le Mans the last three years. 

Sebring and Watkins Glen have been the two toss ups. At Watkins Glen, Cadillac has only won once in three years, but if you expand that to GM as a whole, GM won the Six Hours of the Glen seven consecutive years from 2011 to 2017. Cadillac has a 50% winning percentage at Sebring, and it has won each of the last two odd-numbered years, so 2021 is sounding pretty good to the American manufacture. 

Acura's only endurance race victory was the Six Hours of Atlanta last year, which filled in when Watkins Glen could not host IMSA due to mass gathering restrictions. Of the four endurance races scheduled for 2021, Acura has won none of them! Mazda has only been slightly better, having won at Watkins Glen in 2019 and Sebring last year. Mazda is also known for its notable retirements from endurance races. 

Despite history pointing to this being another Cadillac year dominating the endurance races, I believe the trend will be bucked. Acura will either be on it with WTR and MSR or Mazda wins it clinically. 

2. There will be at least one notable incident involving an LMP3 car
When LMP3 was announced as a new class for the 2021 WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, many had flashbacks to the days of Prototype Challenge, when the PC cars got attention for the wrong reasons most of the time. 

LMP3 cars are a little more sophisticated compared to the PC cars of last decade, but speed is the concern. It is the third fastest of three prototype class and almost level with the GT Le Mans cars. It is also a Pro-Am class, and we could see some drivers caught out of their element at the worst possible time. 

There could be a silver lining in a significantly reduced GTLM grid in that it will create space for these LMP3 entries, but the talent of the grid will take a dip in adding a half-dozen Pro-Am cars. 

I am not saying something bad will happen or someone will get hurt, but I think there will be an untimely full course caution due to an LMP3 incident or perhaps we get the dreaded LMP3 contact with a leading DPi and it breaks up what was a thrilling finish. 

We don't want to see it, but we are still a little haunted after some of those PC races. I am not saying it is going to be a chronic problem. It just has to happen once. The entire season could be clean, and we could end 2021 saying LMP3 was a smart addition to the grid, but I am saying there will be one race where an LMP3 incident has our attention afterward.

3. There will be one GTLM race where the winning team did not compete in the GTLM class in 2020
I am hopeful we see more than two Corvettes and two BMWs competing in GTLM in 2021. We guess Corvette will be there, but right now BMW is only committed to the 24 Hours of Daytona and the German manufacture has been hinting to an Endurance Cup only schedule.

With Corvette being the lone returning manufacture, you would think this prediction is a slam dunk. It is not as simple as that. We know Proton Competition will field a Porsche in GTLM at Daytona, but it has not indicated it would contest any other races. Scuderia Corsa has been flirting with entering GTLM with a Ferrari since the class will likely only be four full-time cars, possibly only two, instead of competing against nearly a dozen GT Daytona entries, Scuderia Corsa would like its chances in GTLM.

Corvette would have the advantage, but even if Scuderia Corsa is its only competition, one race would go Ferrari's way with Balance of Performance. I am not saying the championship would be close, but Scuderia Corsa would get its break and get a victory. 

The other hope is an Aston Martin could find its way on the grid. With Aston Martin withdrawing from FIA World Endurance Championship competition, and there is not a privateer Aston Martin on the horizon, the British manufacture likely will not make an appearance in IMSA next year. You have to hope for the best with this class. We don't need six privateer GTLM entries to join the class, we need one and we need it to win one race. 

4. At least two manufactures win in GTD that did not win in 2020
The GT Daytona winning manufactures in 2020 were Lamborghini, Lexus, BMW, Acura, Ferrari and Porsche. 

The manufactures not to win in 2020 were Mercedes-AMG, Aston Martin, Audi and McLaren. 

If Wright Motorsports didn't win at Sebring, Porsche could have been an option to fulfill this prediction. Anyway, there are a lot of good GTD teams, and it is always the class that produces a variety of winners. Mercedes-AMG had a couple of close calls with victory in 2020 under the Riley Motorsports banner. Riley will focus on LMP3 in 2021, but Alegra Motorsports will return to GTD with a Mercedes-AMG and Daniel Morad will be one of its drivers. 

Alegra Motorsports has won the 24 Hours of Daytona twice, though both of those victories were with Porsche. No one would be surprised if Alegra was competitive and found a way to win a race. 

Many GTD entries have yet to be announced and we do not have a full picture of what the class will look like. We have no announced entries from Aston Martin, Audi or McLaren. Audi has not won a GTD race since the 2017 Petit Le Mans. Aston Martin and McLaren have never won in GTD. That will likely have to change for this prediction to be correct. I do not see Bentley walking through that door and Bentley is really the only major GT3 manufacture not in the class. There are really not any other options but Mercedes-AMG, Aston Martin, Audi and McLaren. 

FIA World Endurance Championship
5. Toyota does not sweep the overall victories
We are entering a new era in the top prototype class with Le Mans Hypercar replacing LMP1. 

Toyota was the one major manufacture in LMP1 over the later seasons with reasonable competition from Rebellion Racing, but it took drastic equivalence of technology measures and balance of performance measures to bring the Toyota back to the Rebellion entries. With an anchor strapped on the Toyota TS050 Hybrids, Rebellion was able to pick off a few victories. 

Heading into the first year of the Hypercar class, Toyota is the one major manufacture standing. It will contest the GR Super Sport while Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus plans on entering the SCG 007 and long-time LMP1 back marker ByKolles will field a yet to be named entry. 

On paper, Toyota should mop the floor. Glickenhaus has built some competitive cars, especially at events such as the 24 Hours Nürburgring. This is a big step up for the boutique manufacture. And ByKolles is ByKolles. Expectations are low for them. 

Anytime a new class or formula is introduced and there are a bunch of new cars and engines, we think reliability will cause major teams to slip up and create some oddball results. However, it is the 21st century. This is not the 1960s. We don't see reliability completely blow up a race and some Johnny-Come-Lately take a victory. 

Toyota is going to be strong; it is going to win races; it will likely win Le Mans and it will likely win the championship. 

However, I am leaving the door open. There are six races on the 2021 WEC calendar. That's not many, but I am going to leave some room for Glickenhaus being competitive, balance of performance dragging Toyota back late in the season or Alpine, running a grandfathered Rebellion R13 is quicker than the Hypercars on a given day and pull out a victory. Or reliability issues knock out all the Hypercar entries and an LMP2 car sneaks out with an overall victory. 

Six victories are not many, but six consecutive victories, really nine consecutive victories if you take into account the final races of the 2019-20 season, that is asking a lot. 

6. Signatech Alpine wins at least two races
A normal LMP2 powerhouse, Signatech Alpine went winless in 2019-20. 

How odd was that?

Signatech Aline had won a race in each of its first four seasons in WEC dating to its debut in 2015. 

What do all but one of those victories have in common? 

Nicolas Lapierre. Lapierre had been a driver in every Signatech Alpine victory, except for the team's first at Shanghai in 2015. 

Lapierre moved to Cool Racing in 2019-20 and won on debut at Silverstone in September 2019. Who was second in that race? Signatech Alpine. 

Signatech did not have a weaker lineup. Toyota reserve driver Thomas Laurent was paired with André Negrão, who won the championship the season prior, and Pierre Ragues is an experienced driver. United Autosport was dominant across the board in LMP2 racing in 2020. It is a difficult class. Jota Sport had only one victory. Jackie Chan DC Racing didn't win until the season finale. Cool Racing won the season opener and only had one other podium finish all season. 

With Alpine supporting a grandfathered LMP1 entry, I am not sure the extent of its LMP2 support this year, but if it continues, or at least if Signatech continues with a different backer, I think it will return as a competitive force. United Autosport is going to be strong, but it will be difficult to back up a season that saw four consecutive victories and six total podium finishes. 

There will be room for other teams to step up and I think Signatech will have a better 2021 season.
7. At least one full-time GTE-Pro entry does not win a race
I had to change this prediction because Aston Martin decided to withdraw from the FIA World Endurance Championship on December 23. 

It is hard to get excited or make a prediction worth a damn for a class that will likely only have four full-time entries. Here is what I am going to say, we are likely getting two Porsche entries and two Ferraris from AF Corse. One of those cars don't win a race. 

Porsche has removed Michael Christensen from the #92 Porsche and put in Neel Jani alongside Kévin Estre. Christensen and Estre won two of the final three races in the 2019-20 season. The #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz won the 2019-20 season opener and then didn't win again.

If AF Corse keeps its two lineups from last season, then the #51 Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi will be the only team with a victory to defend as Calado and Pier Guidi won at Shanghai while Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon did not win in the #71 Ferrari. 

With only six races on the 2021 calendar, it is set up that each car could get a victory, but if one team comes out on top early, then the teammate may concede positions, and possibly victories, to ensure the sister car can win the championship. 

I am going out on a limb on this one, but it is a four-car class. 

8. A Dempsey-Proton Racing entrant scores at least 90 points
After winning five of eight races in the 2018-19 WEC season, Dempsey-Proton Racing went 0-for-8 in 2019-20. 

It was a surprise because of the strength displayed the season prior, even if it was slightly tainted because of code manipulation to circumvent minimum re-fueling times. The team still won three races after that infraction was found. Matt Campbell was the stud of 2018-19 and became the Porsche prospect of the year. The 2019-20 season was not close to the year prior. Dempsey-Proton Racing did not get a podium finish until Spa-Francorchamps on August 15, 2020. The team went nearly 14 months between podium finishes. Team Project 1 was the leading Porsche team in GTE-AM and none of them could compete with the TF Sport Aston Martin or the #83 AF Corse Ferrari. 

Why do I think it will be better? 

One, Porsche will provide the quality drivers that can win races. Two, I am not sure TF Sport can keep up what it did in 2019-20. Last year was impressive, but we are used to seeing the Aston Martin factory supported GTE-Am car succeed, not the customer team. I would think the factory Aston Martin will rise and the customer will take a dip. 

Ninety points sound low, but that is because there will only be six races next year.

The #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche scored 107.5 points in eight races and the #88 Porsche scored 45.5 points. Those average out to 13.4375 and 5.6875 points per race respectively. Ninety points from six races would be an average of 15 points per race, or a third-place finish in the five races that aren't the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

The #77 Porsche is not far from where it has to be to fulfill this prediction. For context, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari won the championship and averaged 20.875 points per race, while the TF Sport Aston Martin averaged 19.25 points per race. The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche was third, 11.5 points ahead of the #77 Porsche and averaged 14.75 PPR.

Should at least one Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche finish at least third in the GTE-Am championship? Yes. That is the where I am setting the bar for 2021. 

European Le Mans Series
9. There will be one race where one nationality is represented by at least one driver in all three class winners
Let me explain this. This prediction is correct if a British driver is on the top step of the podium in LMP2, LMP3 and GTE. 

If United Autosport sweeps LMP2 and LMP3 and Phil Hanson wins in LMP2, Wayne Boyd wins in LMP3 and then Spirit of Race with Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott win in GTE, then this prediction is correct. 

Or if Cool Racing wins and Nicolas Lapierre is one of its drivers and then Graff wins in LMP3 with Vincent Capillaire and GTE has Emmanuel Collard and François Perrodo win, then this prediction is correct. 

You might be thinking, "Geez, that sounds easy. It must happen all the time."

Well, it doesn't. In fact, it has not happened since Silverstone 2016 when each class winner had a British driver. G-Drive Racing won in LMP2 with Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell, United Autosports won in LMP3 with Alex Brundle and Christian England and GTE saw the all-British Aston Martin of Andrew Howard, Alex MacDowall and Darren Turner take victory. 

In 2020, in four of five races did two of the class have a shared nationality and it should not be a surprise that on all four occasions they were British drivers. The missing class at the first Circuit Paul Ricard race, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza was GTE. At the second Circuit Paul Ricard race, this time there were British winners in LMP2 and GTE, but not LMP3, though it was close to happening as the #3 United Autosport Ligier was second with Brits Andrew Bentley and Duncan Tappy.

It is going to be five years since this has happened. With all the British drivers out there, money is it happens there, but there are plenty of capable Frenchmen in ELMS. There are also a couple Germans hanging around. Maybe it could be a trio of Americans. There are plenty of possibilities. It is just a matter of all the pieces falling into the right places.

10. United Autosports wins fewer combined races across the LMP2 and LMP3 classes
Zak Brown's main motorsport project won seven races between the two prototype classes in 2020, four in LMP2 and three in LMP3. That was out of a possible ten victories. 

That level of hit rate is not going to continue. ELMS is a competitive series. DragonSpeed fields a car, G-Drive Racing is a regular LMP2 thorn. IDEC Sport has a championship. It would be no surprise if United Autosports won the championship again, but to win four races after its monumental 2020 season is hard to imagine. 

LMP3 is equally as tough. Inter Europol Competition has been knocking on the door for a championship. Eurointernational had won the title in 2019. RLR MSport is a previous champion. 

There will be six ELMS rounds in 2021, which is one more than 2020. That means United Autosports will have a chance at 12 possible victories. Even if the team won six combined races, that is half the possible total. Even if the team wins half, this prediction is fulfilled. 

I like my odds.

11. There will be at least one class winner that has no other podium finishes but its one victory
I am predicting one team gets it right on one day or one team wins a fluky race in the rain, but the rest of the season is kind of average. Or we see a one-off entry, like a team preparing for Le Mans come in and win and do no other races. 

This was close to happening in 2020. Duqueine was second at Portimão in LMP2 to the G-Drive Racing. It was Duqueine's only podium finish of the season. 

In LMP3, the #3 United Autosports Ligier had one podium finish, a runner-up finish to the #8 Realteam Racing Ligier in the second Circuit Paul Ricard race. Realteam Racing almost didn't finish on the podium the rest of the season before it finished second at the finale in Portimão. The #7 Nielsen Racing Duqueine was second at Spa-Francorchamps to the #2 United Autosport Ligier. The #7 Duqueine's next best finish was eighth at Monza. 

In GTE, the #88 AF Corse Ferrari ran two races. It was second at Spa-Francorchamps and eighth in the finale. 

In 2019, this happened in all three classes. DragonSpeed won the season opener in LMP2 and then didn't get on the podium again. In LMP3, 360 Racing won the finale and its next best finish was fourth. Proton Competition had an entry win at Silverstone, withdraw from two races, miss another and finish seventh and retire in the other two.

It didn't happen in 2018, but it did in 2017 and actually happened three times in the LMP3 class. M.Racing - YMR won at Monza but finished only one other race all year and that was a tenth-place finish. Eurointernational won at Red Bull Ring and its next best finish was fourth while AT Racing won at Spa-Francorchamps and its next best finish was also fourth. In GTE that year, Spirit of Race won the penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps, but it did not have any other trips to the podium that season. It came close though, finishing fourth on three occasions. 

It happens, and I believe it will happen again.

12. There will not be a tie for any of the championship after the final race of the season
This is in direct response to how the GTE title ended this season. Two cars tied on points, tied on victories, tied on runner-up finishes, tied on third-place finishes and tied on fourth-place finishes. How was the tie broken? Who won first? Since Proton Competition won the season opener, it got the championship over Kessel Racing. 

Prior to that, there had not been a tie for an ELMS championship since the 2005 GT1 championship ended with both BMS Scuderia Italia Ferraris on 35 points. At least that tie was quicker to break as the #51 Ferrari had two victories and the #52 Ferrari had only won once. 

If there hadn't been a tie in 16 years, why should I think it would happen two years in a row. 

Three sets of predictions down, two to go. Check out the NASCAR and Formula One predictions. We will have two-wheel predictions tomorrow.

Monday, December 28, 2020

2021 Formula One Predictions

Our Formula One predictions are a little late compared to our typical Boxing Day tradition, but with Boxing Day falling on a Saturday, Monday made more sense. We are only 15 days removed from the end of the 2020 Formula One season, one that was as chaotic as they come, with races moved and created almost out of thin air. 

Hopefully, 2021 will stick to the script a little more than 2020 did, and hopefully that plays into the favor of these predictions. 

1. Lewis Hamilton will have at least two grand slams
We are still not sure Hamilton will be on the 2021 grid, but if he is, I expect him to be exceptional, and a grand slam is the greatest possible on-track performance. Leading every lap, from pole position with fastest lap to boot. 

It is a rare occurrence. Last year, there were no grand slams. It has only happened in 62 of 1,035 Formula One races, that is 5.99%. However, Hamilton has done it in every odd-numbered season since 2015, including doing it three times in 2017. 

Two more grand slams would tie Hamilton with Jim Clark's record of eight. Hamilton is already tied for the most championships all-time; he is the all-time leader in victories and the all-time leader in pole positions, having a share for most grand slams would just be another fitting footnote for the man from Stevenage. 

Where could it happen? I was actually curious if there is a track where grand slams happen more than other facilities. It is something tough to earn. For starters, you need to be on pole position and then you need to make each of your pit stops with a large enough gap that you will not be overtaken and then you need to run the fastest lap, which is harder to do because drivers today run various tire strategies. With the point for fastest lap reestablished, drivers can now make a stop late and gun for that bonus point. 

It should come as no surprise that the track with the most grand slams is Monaco, the place where it is toughest to pass and if you can get away with the lead at the start you will have all the clean air in the world. There have been five grand slams in the principality, but none since Mike Häkkinen in 1998. 

Two tracks have had four: Silverstone and Nürburgring. Only Silverstone is on the 2021 calendar, but all four grand slams at the Nürburgring were on the Nordschleife, with the last being Jacky Ickx in 1972. In fact, the four Silverstone grand slams have come on three different layouts, though Hamilton did score a grand slam on the current layout in 2017. 

Along with Monaco and Silverstone, the other tracks on the current 2021 schedule to have a grand slam are Abu Dhabi, Baku, Barcelona, Budapest, Interlagos, Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Monza, Paul Ricard, Red Bull Ring, Shanghai, Singapore, Sochi, Spa-Francorchamps, Suzuka and Zandvoort. 

That is 19 tracks. It would be easier listing the three tracks not to host one: Bahrain, Austin and Jeddah (which hasn't hosted a race yet), but it is misleading to say 19 tracks on the 2021 schedule have hosted a grand slam. 

Jack Brabham is responsible for the only grand slam at Spa-Francorchamps and that was in 1960 on the full course, which hasn't been used in 50 years. The one grand slam at the Red Bull Ring was on the original Österreichring layout with Jo Siffert, 49 years ago, same as Circuit Paul Ricard with Jackie Stewart. Zandvoort's last grand slam was in 1963, same as Mexico City. Clark was responsible for both of those.

Sixteen grand slams have occurred in the 21st century. Those 16 grand slams have occurred at 15 different tracks. The only track to host multiple grand slams in the last 20 years is Singapore. Twelve of those 15 tracks are on the 2021 schedule. 

Could Hamilton break the Monaco grand slam drought? Could he get another on home soil at Silverstone?  Could he do it again at Montreal or Shanghai or Abu Dhabi? You cannot pin down when a grand slam is going to happen. It builds over a weekend and then over the course of a race. 

A modern grand prix is not set up for grand slams, but Hamilton and Mercedes have been the combination for the achievement. In the turbo hybrid-era, only Mercedes has scored a grand slam, six with Hamilton and two with Nico Rosberg. For all the consternation we hear from Hamilton during races about tire degradation and other gremlins, he performs at the highest level on a frequent basis. 

2. Max Verstappen will finish ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the championship
Verstappen was nine points behind Bottas in the championship this year and that was after Verstappen had five retirements, while Bottas had one retirement and two finishes outside the points. Every time Verstappen finished a race, he was in the points and only one was not a podium finish, sixth at Turkey. 

Verstappen lost a surefire podium result at Imola when he lost a tire entering Tamburello, costing him a second-place finish and 18 points. That one result alone would have put Verstappen on 232 points at the end of the season and Bottas would have finished with 220 points. It was a 21-point swing in the championship. 

Red Bull might be second to Mercedes, but Verstappen is on par and arguably was equal to Bottas all season. Both drivers had two victories. Both drivers had five runner-up finishes. Both drivers had three third-place finishes. The biggest difference was those five retirements against Verstappen. 

It feels like Bottas is at a place where Sebastian Vettel was at the end of 2019. Hamilton was miles ahead of him all season. Then George Russell stepped into the car for the Sakhir Grand Prix and was immediately on Bottas' heels. Bottas will need a significant improvement in his results to save his seat ahead of the 2022 season. Russell is ready for the big time. If Hamilton decides to walk away after the 2021 season, then Bottas might get another year, but he will be the second driver if Russell gets the promotion. Even if Hamilton walks, Mercedes might want a fresh start with Russell and another young driver. 

Verstappen on the other hand has the confidence of Red Bull and was breathing down Bottas' neck in 2020. Red Bull is finding its groove, Sergio Pérez joins Verstappen, and Red Bull will have extra incentive to succeed in 2021 with it being Honda's final season. It has one final roll of the dice in a car that has been competitive the last two seasons. With Bottas potentially slipping and Verstappen rising, I expect an improvement from Red Bull that will at least bring Verstappen ahead of the second Mercedes. The notable gap to Hamilton likely will still remain, but Red Bull will break the Mercedes stranglehold with Verstappen.

3. Charles Leclerc is responsible for less than 65% of Ferrari's points
Ferrari is coming off its worst season since 1980. 

After finishing in the top five of the World Constructors' Championship for 39 consecutive seasons, Ferrari was sixth in the constructors' battle in 2020, its worst finish since being tenth in 1980. 

The Scuderia amassed 131 points, with majority of it coming from the Monegasque Leclerc. He picked up 98 points, 74.8% of Ferrari's total while Sebastien Vettel contributed 33 points. 

Vettel was off all season and I am not sure if it was a one-year lame duck thing or a larger sign of a champion who has lost his ability. It was clear at the end of 2019 Ferrari was Leclerc's team and Vettel's time was likely going to end with the conclusion of the 2020 season. However, with Carlos Sainz, Jr. joining the operation, Sainz will want to establish himself in the Ferrari camp and run respectable to Leclerc.

Sainz, Jr. ended up on 105 points in 2020, sixth in the World Drivers' Championship with McLaren. Ferrari struggled across the board, with none of its customer team running all that well either. With possibly as many as 23 races on the 2021 calendar, Sainz, Jr. might step in and score at least 105 points. If he carries over his points per race total of 6.176 points from 2020 to 2021, he would end up with about 142 points. If Leclerc carries over his 5.764 points per race, he would end up on about 132 points.

If Ferrari were to score 131 points again in 2021 that would mean Leclerc would have to score 85 points or fewer, leaving 46 points for Sainz. Sainz is going to score more than 46 points. If Sainz were to take a 30% decrease in points from his McLaren results, he would end up with about 69 points, which means Leclerc would need to score 129 points to make this prediction incorrect. That would be a 60 points difference between the two drivers. I don't see Leclerc scoring that many points more than Sainz. 

I don't think Sainz will be able to match his 2020 results, but I think he will be close to Leclerc. Leclerc might get an advantage in having been with the team for two seasons and he could end up with about 60% of Ferrari's points total, but even that seems like a larger than likely gap between the two drivers. 

4. Sebastian Vettel will be the top Aston Martin qualifier in at least 55% of the races
Vettel will look to revive his career in a rebranding operation as Aston Martin returns as a Formula One constructor for the first time since the 1960 British Grand Prix. 

The good news for Vettel is he should be moving to a more powerful engine in a Mercedes and he should be moving to a better car in the Aston Martin, which should be some evolution of the Racing Point RP20, which was a close copy of the Mercedes W10, which won the 2019 world championship. 

This is Vettel's last chance to get his career back on track. He needs results at Aston Martin to hope any major team will call him again and the bar has been set very high. Racing Point was fourth in the constructors' championship in 2020, missing out on third by seven points and the team lost 15 points for its brake ducts being too similar to the 2019 Mercedes. 

Sergio Pérez ended up fourth in the drivers' championship with 125 points and a popular victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix, but that also included him missing two races. Lance Stroll ended 11th in the championship on 75 points. 

Vettel has to at least beat Stroll. If he cannot beat Stroll that is a dagger to his career. Leclerc had Vettel's all of 2020 and the difference between the two drivers was notable in qualifying. 

Vettel qualified ahead of Leclerc three times (Styrian Grand Prix, Turkey and Bahrain). Vettel only made it to the final round of qualifying three times (Styrian, Hungary and Great Britain). Leclerc was in the final round 11 times and his average starting position was 3.8 spots better than Vettel. This was Vettel's worst year in qualifying with an average starting position of 12.1, behind only his 2007 season when he joined Toro Rosso midseason 

Pérez averaged a starting position of 7.4 and Stroll averaged a starting position of 8.5. Pérez made the final round of qualifying in 12 of 15 appearances. Stroll made it in 11 of 16 appearances. Nico Hülkenberg made it in one of his three appearances. That is 24 Q3 appearances out of a possibly 34 appearances. 

The car should be there for Vettel and his career average starting position is 5.4. Besides his part-time year at Toro Rosso and last season, the only times his average starting position was above 7.0 was an 11.0 in 2008 at Toro Rosso and a 7.8 in his final year with Red Bull in 2014. 

Stroll topped Pérez in qualifying six times out of 14 occasions. If there are 23 races in 2021, Vettel would have to be the top Aston Martin qualifier at 13 races. I think Vettel will find a resurgence at Aston Martin. He has to after his shameful end at Ferrari, but also after Pérez's mighty season the year before. Aston Martin will be a new name, but this team won a race last year. It had four podium finishes. Both cars scored points in ten of 17 races. Vettel cannot repeat his 2020 form. The expectations exceed those of a four-time world champion and include a capable race team who has proven it can win without him. 

5. McLaren gets at least one podium finish that is not because of time penalties or safety car shuffling
McLaren picked up its second podium finish in three races when Lando Norris was awarded third at the season opening Austrian Grand Prix. Seven races later, Carlos Sainz, Jr. was second at Monza. McLaren ended up third in the constructors' championship, its best finish since 2012 when it ended up third and Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton combined to win seven of 20 races. 

Woking is still waiting on that victory, but to be back in the top third of the champion and visit a few podiums is a big step for the organization after the previous five seasons. Each podium finish from 2020 does carry a little bit of a footnote. Norris picked up third in Austria after Hamilton had a five-second time penalty added. Norris got the spot by 0.198 seconds. Sainz was runner-up at Monza after the safety car periods and Hamilton's penalty for pitting when the pit lane was closed. 

This is not to diminish McLaren's season because the team deserved both those finishes. Norris was strong all race at Austria and picked up fastest lap. Sainz did qualify third at Monza. The team had three total fastest laps and it had both cars in the points in ten races. Overall, McLaren had 12 top five finishes and had both cars finish in the top five in three races.

There will be a change in the 2021 McLaren replaces the Renault power unit with a Mercedes unit. While switching back to arguably the best power unit on the grid should give the team some excitement, the 2021 car should be somewhat similar to the 2020 car, which was built for a Renault in the back. It will not be as simple as plugging in the Mercedes and hitting the racetrack. We have seen cars suffer because the entire package does not fit together. Red Bull suffered this issue one season when it had Renault power and everything was too tight together, leading to an overheating problem. McLaren's issue with Honda might have come down to a team that was unable to build a car properly around the power unit 

I believe McLaren will figure out how to get the most out of the Mercedes engine and the team will perform better in 2021. I think it can give Aston Martin a run for its money as second-best Mercedes-powered team and I think Norris combined with Daniel Ricciardo, who picked up two podium finishes, ended up fifth in the drivers' championship and scored points in 14 of 17 races including in 11 consecutive races to ended the season, will get the McLaren on the podium at least once because of pure speed more than a fortunate cycle of events.

6. Fernando Alonso gets his best championship finish since 2014
After two seasons out of Formula One, Alonso is back, and it will be his third tour of duty with the team that will be known as Alpine. 

After his four-year headache with McLaren and Honda, Alonso heads to an organization that is heading into 2021 trending in the right direction. Renault ended up fifth in the constructors' championship with 181 points with three podium finishes. Daniel Ricciardo was fifth in the championship on 119 points. Esteban Ocon was 12th with 62 points, in what was an underwhelming season.  

Alonso's best championship finish in his four years with McLaren-Honda was tenth. He was sixth with Ferrari in 2014. His worst championship finish with Renault was ninth in 2009. 

If you averaged the championship finishes of the two Renault drivers in 2020, it comes out to 8.5. If Alonso runs average to what we think the Renault is capable of, he fulfills the prediction. 

There are some questions over whether or not Ricciardo is making the right decision leaving Renault for McLaren. After finishing fifth in the world championship and ahead of both McLaren's, Ricciardo is conceivably taking a step back and opening the door for one of the best drivers of the last 20 years. 

I am not sure Alonso is going to step into the top five of the championship, but somewhere between sixth and ninth sounds about right.

7. Haas will have its second-best year in terms of points scored
This is believing Ferrari will figure out its engine, make the necessary upgrades and it with also not let Mick Schumacher's rookie season be a disaster with Haas. 

None of the Ferrari-powered teams were impressive in 2020, but Haas was worst of all. Dysfunction continued into another year of the Romain Grosjean/Kevin Magnussen-era. Both drivers are gone and along with Schumacher the controversial Nikita Mazepin fill out what is the de facto Ferrari junior team. 

It was only 2018 when Haas was fifth in the constructors' championship on 93 points. I do not think the team will get to that level, but what about 48 points? Haas scored 47 points in its second season in 2017. In the team's other three seasons it has failed to break 30 points.

Six regular drivers failed to score more than four points in 2020. All the other regular drivers picked up 32 points. If Schumacher picked up 32 points, he would need Mazepin to pull out at least 16 points. If Schumacher pulls out 40 points, then Mazepin just needs eight. I think 20 points is alone asking a lot for a Haas driver, but I am hopeful. 

Neither Ferrari nor Haas can afford Schumacher to just be another driver, although Russell's lack of points at Williams has not hurt his standing, but Schumacher carries a heavier burden in his last name. He cannot escape the comparisons to his father, even though his father made his Formula One debut nearly 30 years before he is in a much different time. 

Schumacher will get some results. He isn't going to be qualifying seventh on debut and then score points in the next three races, but he could piece together a respectable season, score points in at least eight races and have his best finish be seventh. If he gets two seventh-place finishes, two eighth-place finishes, two ninth-place finishes and two tenth-place finishes, that is 26 points. Mazepin would then have to pick up 22 points, nearly mirroring Schumacher's results. That is asking a lot, but crazier things have happened.

8. Yuki Tsunoda will score the most points for a Japanese driver in a Formula One season
This is the Honda goes all-in for its final year in Formula One and it makes sure it long-awaited Japanese driver has a respectable showing that could allow him to stay in the series far longer than Honda's presence. 

AlphaTauri had a good year in 2020, especially with Pierre Gasly's victory at Monza. The team picked up 107 points and Gasly had two other top five finishes. However, the team only had both drivers score points in two races. One was Monza where Daniil Kvyat was ninth while his teammate stood on the top step of the podium and the other was Russia with Kvyat in eighth and Gasly in ninth. 

Gasly picked up 75 points and ended up in the top ten of the championship. Kvyat ended up on 32 points. A third of Gasly's points did come in his Monza victory, so that skews his score a bit, but Kvyat is a historic underachiever no matter where he drives. Outside of his one full season with Red Bull in 2015, he has never scored more than 37 points in a season. He was benched at the end of the 2017 season when Red Bull was ready to get Gasly and Brendon Hartley in Toro Rosso and then he sat out the entire 2018 season. 

Tsunoda was third in the 2020 Formula Two championship, an impressive season for the Japanese driver. He won three races, two of which were feature races. He won four pole positions behind only Callum Ilott. His seven podium finishes were only behind Schumacher's ten. Tsunoda had an incredible season finale, winning the Sakhir feature race in hopes of keeping his championship hopes alive and then he went from eighth on the grid in the sprint race to second. 

What is the record for most points in a Formula One season for a Japanese driver? 

Sixty with Kamui Kobayashi in 2012. 

How many Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri drivers have scored 60 points in a season? 

One, Gasly in 2020 with 75 points. 

This is a monumental prediction, especially since Gasly's 75 points are a little misleading. He would have been close to 60 points if the safety cars did not fall his way at Monza, but I am not sure he would have gotten there. It is asking a lot for Tsunoda to do it as a rookie, but you have to shoot high and Honda will be doing all it can to make it happen. 

9. Majority of Alfa Romeo's points do not come in Italy
Alfa Romeo scored eight points in 2020 and five of those points came in the team's home country of Italy. 

Kimi Räikkönen was ninth at Mugello and Imola while Antonio Giovinazzi picked up a tenth at Imola. That is five points from those two races. The team's other three points came from Giovinazzi ending up ninth at the Austrian Grand Prix and tenth at the Nürburgring. Six of Alfa Romeo's eight points in 2020 came at tracks that will not be on the 2021 calendar. That is reassuring. 

I think Alfa Romeo will do better than two points in 2021, maybe not much better, but it should get a few more points considering there could be 23 races. There should only be one Italian race next year, which means this prediction seems like a slam dunk, but we saw what happened with AlphaTauri last year. There is a chance Alfa Romeo ends up with 16 points and ten of those are because Räikkönen was sixth and Giovinazzi was eighth at Monza. 

All it takes is another crazy Monza race and Alfa Romeo could end scoring most of its points in Italy despite scoring in four or five races held in other countries. It is improbable, but not impossible.

10. George Russell will be ahead of Nicholas Latifi in the championship for majority of the season
This might come as a surprise, but Russell trailed Latifi in the World Drivers' Championship until Russell picked up three points at the Sakhir Grand Prix driving for Mercedes. 

How could Russell, who had scored zero points with Williams, been behind Latifi, who had scored zero points with Williams? 

Because best finish breaks a tie, even when two drivers have zero points, meaning an 11th-place finish is very valuable. Latifi was 11th in the season opener in Austria, meaning the Canadian held the upper hand on Russell until Russell picked up an 11th-place finish. Then a strange thing happened, Latifi picked up another 11th-place finish at Monza. Now Russell needed to score at least one point or pick up at least three 11th-place finishes to assure he would be ahead of Latifi in the championship. 

Russell got his first 11th-place finish of the season at Mugello, but in the cruelest of fashions, Latifi got his third 11th-place finish at Imola, a race where Russell spun into the barrier while behind the safety car and while in contention for a point. With four races to go, Russell had to be 11th in at least two of them and have Latifi not finish better than 13th to pass him in the championship.

Or Russell could get called up to Mercedes to fill in for Lewis Hamilton when Hamilton had a positive covid-19 test. 

Latifi was the top Williams driver in the championship for the first 15 races. Russell got the last laugh with his three points, but I don't think Latifi will have the same type of 11th-place luck in 2021. If there are 23 races, Russell has to be ahead of Latifi after 12 of those races. If Russell gets a point in the season opener, this prediction could be settled by the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 1, or the Belgian Grand Prix on August 29 if that TBA is not filled in late April. 

Russell tasted the Mercedes and he knows he is ready for more. He knows he can accomplish more. He is not going to let Latifi have the symbolic upper hand for much of this season. 

11. More than seven drivers score a fastest lap
There were seven drivers who scored a fastest lap in 2020. 

Both Mercedes drivers did it, both McLaren drivers did it, Verstappen did it, Ricciardo did it twice and Russell scored in his lone start with Mercedes. 

In 2019, seven drivers did it, both Mercedes, Verstappen and Gasly both did it for Red Bull, both Ferrari drivers did it and Kevin Magnussen even did it for Haas.

We had seven drivers do it again in 2018 (Hamilton, Bottas, Räikkönen, Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Magnussen). 

We had eight drivers do it in 2017 (Hamilton, Bottas, Räikkönen, Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Pérez and Alonso). 

Looking at the 2021 grid and seeing how fastest lap has become an achievable goal for teams beyond Mercedes and Red Bull, I think eight drivers picking up a fastest lap is not an absurd prediction.

Let's write down Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen now. I think Ricciardo and Norris could each do it again with McLaren. Ferrari had no fastest laps in 2020 because of its woeful power unit, but I think that Leclerc could pull one out. Alonso could absolutely achieve it with Renault. Perhaps Aston Martin could have either or both its driver pick up a fastest lap. it is kind of surprising Pérez didn't get a fastest lap with Racing Point in 2020. Maybe AlphaTauri could surprise us and Gasly picks up a fastest lap. 

There are plenty of drivers out there with the capability of putting down a flyer under the right circumstances in a race. I think at least eight drivers will do it.

12. There will be fewer teammates next to each other in the championship
In 2020, technically four pairs of teammates were next to each other in the championship. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were first and second. 

Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were 16th and 17th. 

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were 19th and 20th.

Nicholas Latifi and Jack Aitken (who only ran the Sakhir Grand Prix) were 21st and 22nd. 

One, I don't expect the same kind of midseason driver changes we saw in 2020. I think we all hope there are fewer drivers missing races due to the virus and preferably no drivers miss any races. 

Two, I already think Verstappen is going to finish ahead of Bottas, so that is one pair down. Do Verstappen and Pérez finish ahead of Bottas? I am not so sure about that. Pérez will be competitive and give Verstappen fits, but I think the Dutchman will maintain the number one spot at Red Bull.

Three, I already have Haas scoring at least 48 points, and unless Schumacher and Mazepin each are on 24 points or both drivers score between 20 and 30 points, it is unlikely both drivers will be next to each other. 

Four, I am concerned Alfa Romeo's two drivers will be close to equal again. I am concerned Ferrari's two drivers will be close to equal. I am concerned the two McLaren drivers will be close to each other. 

Five, it happened in four cases in 2019 (Mercedes, Ferrari, Racing Point and Williams).

However, it only happened once in 2018 (Ferrari with Vettel second and Räikkönen third).

I am very aware it could happen next year, especially with some of the changes teams have made. I will say it happens in fewer than four cases in 2021. 

This is our second set of predictions in the books. We looked at NASCAR predictions last week. Tomorrow, we will have our third set of predictions, and those will be on sports car racing.