The team picture
- Constructors standing: P4, 195 points
Racing Point caused a massive stir in the Formula 1 paddock when teams assembled in Barcelona for pre-season testing. When they pulled the covers off the RP20 it was clear that there had been a complete design philosophy change from last year's model - but that the result was suspiciously familiar. Quickly dubbed the 'Pink Mercedes' due to its close resemblance to last year's championship-winning Silver Arrow, we had to wait until the delayed start to the season to see whether it matched its doppelgänger in the performance terms as well as looks.
To the horror of Racing Point's rivals, it pretty much did. Sergio Perez was sixth in both races of the opening doubleheader and Lance Stroll was fourth in Hungary. Cue the complaints to the FIA initiating an investigation into whether Racing Point had broken the rules about what and how it could copy from another team's designs. The result was a 15 point penalty and a €400,000 fine - but crucially they were allowed to continue running the disputed design for the rest of 2020 with only minimal changes.
The team went on to pick up points in every race except Bahrain, despite both of its drivers missing races because of coronavirus along the way where Nico Hulkenberg proved to be be a substitute eminently worthy of the 'super' prefix. However without question the highlight of the season was the maiden win for Sergio Perez and the team at Sakhir, with Lance Stroll making it a double podium triumph. That should have allowed them to land third place in the constructors championship, but that 15 point penalty and a poor outing at Abu Dhabi saw them narrowly miss out.
With the imminent rebranding to Aston Martin and the arrival of Sebastian Vettel it would appear as though things are really looking up for the team now that it's over its 2018 financial crisis (when it was Force India). But dropping Perez from its line-up - even in exchange for such a star name as Vettel - still feels like a misstep that could easily backfire on the team in 2021.
The driver line-up
- Sergio Perez: P4, 125 points
- Lance Stroll: P11, 75 points
- Nico Hulkenberg: P15, 10 points
Sergio Perez has been a popular driver in Formula 1 ever since his debut in Australia in 2011. A superstar in his native Mexico, popular in the paddock, it's still easy to overlook his successes. He's made a name for himself carving out small triumphs where outstanding tyre management allows him to make near-impossible strategies succeed. But 2020 has taken him to a whole different level, as proven by an unbroken run of top ten finishes in every race he completed - not counting his absence at the Silverstone doubleheader following a positive coronavirus test, and his double power unit DNF in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. But without question it was the maiden victory at Sakhir that transformed his standing within the sport and left people incredulous at the prospect of him being cast out of F1 in 2021. Fortunately Red Bull knows a golden opportunity when it presents itself and decided to swoop in.
Even so, it's unfair to simply say that Lance Stroll should have been dropped instead. The Canadian has had a good season with his maiden pole position at Turkey (where Perez was third, his own best grid position in F1) and two podiums (at Turkey and Sakhir) helping him to pick up over three times the amount of points he scored in 2019. Despite his own brush with coronavirus at the Nurburgring, he only failed to take points on one occasion (at Imola) in the races he did complete. Overall their qualifying efforts have been pretty comparable (7.40 for Perez, 8.44 to Stroll) and even closer in average finishing positions (6.50 to 7.00 respectively). However there were a lot more DNFs for Stroll, two for technical gremlins out of his control, three as a result of race incidents, which is the reason he's so far behind Perez on points and why the decision to retain the boss's son while booting out Perez stands out so starkly.
Nico Hulkenberg's success in his short-notice return to the cockpit subbing for both drivers at different events can't help but add to the speculation about whether the team needs a more hard-nosed, objective approach to choosing its driver line-up in future if it wants to achieve its true potential.