Mercedes retain Valtteri Bottas alongside Lewis Hamilton for 2020

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Valtteri Bottas has been confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate at Mercedes for next season ahead of this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

The Finn, who turned 30 on Wednesday, has seen off the team’s French reserve driver Esteban Ocon, and British rookie George Russell, to get the nod alongside Hamilton for 2020.

Team principal Toto Wolff has decided to take up the option on keeping Bottas for a fourth consecutive season.

Mathematically, Bottas is Hamilton’s closest challenger for a sixth world championship, having won twice this year.

But the former Williams driver is 62 points behind his team-mate with only nine rounds remaining. His second place in the championship is also under threat from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen following the Dutchman’s impressive campaign.

Bottas last tasted victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in April, and failed to take advantage of Hamilton’s poor showing at last month’s rain-hit German Grand Prix when he crashed out.

He then finished a disappointing eighth at the last round before the summer break in Hungary following contact with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

The season resumes in Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday, with Hamilton looking to edge closer towards a sixth world championship which would move him to within one of Michael Schumacher’s record.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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F1 announces record 22 race calendar in 2020

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Formula One has announced that there will be a record 22 races next year, making it the longest calendar in the sport’s history.

Vietnam makes its debut as the third instalment of the 2020 season in April, while Holland will stage its first race in more than three decades in May.

It has also been confirmed that the British Grand Prix has been pushed back by a week to avoid clashing with the Wimbledon men’s singles final and the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.

The Silverstone race will take place on July 19, the same weekend as the Open at Royal St George’s.

There will be seven back-to-back races next term with Melbourne playing host to the season opener on March 15 and Bahrain to follow a week later.

The campaign will conclude in Abu Dhabi on November 29.

The German Grand Prix is the only absentee of this year’s fixtures, following deals to save the rounds at Silverstone and Barcelona.

The calendar is set to be formally approved at a World Motor Sport Council meeting on October 4.

F1 2020 CALENDAR

March 15 – Australia, Melbourne

March 22 – Bahrain, Sakhir

April 5 – Vietnam, Hanoi

April 19 – China, Shanghai

May 3 – Netherlands, Zandvoort

May 20 – Spain, Barcelona

May 24 – Monaco, Monaco

June 7 – Azerbaijan, Baku

June 14 – Canada, Montreal

June 28 – France, Le Castellet

July 5 – Austria, Spielberg

July 19 – Great Britain, Silverstone

August 2 – Hungary, Budapest

August 30 – Belgium, Spa

September 6 – Italy, Monza (subject to contract signature)

September 20 – Singapore, Singapore

September 27 – Russia, Sochi

October 11 – Japan, Suzuka

October 25 – United States, Austin

November 1 – Mexico City, Mexico City

November 15 – Brazil, Sao Paulo

November 29 – UAE, Abu Dhabi

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Dominant Lewis Hamilton features in our key storylines ahead of second half of F1 season

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After F1’s three-week summer break, racing resumes this weekend at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix.

The rest period will have the drivers refreshed and ready to fire with nine races left on the season’s calendar.

Here’s some storylines that will define the rest of the year.

LEWIS CLOSING IN ON TITLE NO6

Barring a remarkable turn of events, Lewis Hamilton is going to win a sixth world championship and move within one title of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of seven.

The Briton is also closing in on the German’s grand prix win tally of 91. He is currently on 81 victories.

With eight wins from the first 12 races, Hamilton says this has been his best-ever start to the season and the numbers certainly back that up. But it has not been perfect and Mercedes have very much benefitted from Ferrari’s litany of errors.

There is still room for improvement this campaign. Hamilton ranked himself as 8.9 out of 10 so far.

The 34-year-old was majestic for the second half of last year, winning six of the last nine races. And even if he is to clinch four or five victories in the remaining nine races, he would close to within five or six of Schmuacher’s record grand prix win tally.

Inevitability, it will raise the same discussions: is the Englishman the greatest-ever F1 driver?

There’s no clear answer and that is something that will be up for debate is Hamilton can secure seven world titles and hold the record for most grand prix triumphs.

MERCEDES’ SECOND DRIVER SITUATION 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looks like he is about to break the silence on who will partner Hamilton for 2020.

The choice is between Valtteri Bottas and development driver Esteban Ocon, widely regarded as one of the most talented drivers on the grid.

Wolff is expected to take up the option of keeping the Finn for a fourth successive season.

Bottas produced a sizzling start to the season to win in Melbourne and Baku, but has not tasted victory since April 28. Crashes in Germany and Hungry leave him 62 points behind Hamilton with nine races remaining.

If Mercedes do decide to extend Bottas’ deal, then Ocon would surely be snapped up by another team. He is simply too good to be just a development driver at Mercedes.

Rumours of him being linked with Haas at the expense of Romain Grosjean and Renault for Nico Hulkenberg have circulated around the paddock. And there’s even a question of whether he could team up with Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo.

RED BULL’S ALBON GAMBLE

It seemed like a bold move for Red Bull to promote Alexander Albon from the team’s sister outfit Toro Rosso mid-season, with many expecting Pierre Gasly to have the rest of the year to prove himself after a poor start.

F1 is a results business and the impressive Albon now has the chance to showcase his strong driving abilities, but these next few months could make or break the 23-year-old’s fledgling career.

Albon will not be expected to beat his new teammate Max Verstappen who – on form – is the second-best driver in the championship. But for two men in the exact same car, one would expect Albon to have closer results than the staggering differences that previously existed between Gasly and the Dutchman.

If he can score the results Gasly was unable to in the RB15 he will stand a solid chance of retaining the seat for 2020.

For Gasly, a demotion to Toro Rosso may puncture his confidence at first, but it could turn out to be a good thing for his career and self-belief.

A season or two back at Toro Rosso, with improved results, will also put him in the shop window for a switch across to another team in future seasons.

FERRARI IMPROVEMENTS?

Where to start with Ferrari?

With sharper operational decisions, better reliability and fewer errors from Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, the Italian marque could still be in with a slight shot at clinching a first constructors’ title since 2008.

That, however, would require a combination of Mercedes having a series of off-days and for Ferrari to fire consistently between Spa this weekend and Abu Dhabi in November.

They have somehow got to this stage of the season without a victory – they had four wins at this point in 2017 and 2018 – but wins in Belgium and Italy would add some gloss to what has been a disappointing season so far.

The mistakes from both team and drivers are too long to list compared to their rivals Mercedes and Red Bull. But the truth is that the SF90 is not capable of winning at every track like the Silver Arrow and when it has been capable, a Vettel error or some sheer unluckiness from Leclerc has denied them victory.

Chances will come their way but it would be a disastrous season to end winless for the Maranello outfit.

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