20. IMSA: Sebastien Bourdais to JDC-Miller MotorSports
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After losing his IndyCar ride at Dale Coyne Racing, Bourdais becomes the latest driver to find refuge in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, partnering Joao Barbosa in JDC Miller MotorSports’ Mustang Sampling-backed #5 Cadillac DPi.V-R.
JDC struggled in its first year of running Caddys, but the arrival of ex-Action Express Racing man Barbosa and Bourdais could help transform it into a contender – at least for wins, if not overall honours – in a slightly thinned-out 2020 DPi field.
Predecessor: JDC-Miller has yet to confirm any of its 2019 drivers for next season, so Bourdais is probably better viewed as the successor to Filipe Albuquerque alongside Barbosa in the Mustang Sampling car, which was run up to now by Action Express.
Why it could backfire: IndyCar prowess usually translates well to the sportscar racing arena, so the bigger question mark here is whether Bourdais can successfully adapt fully to DPis after years of racing the Ford GT in IMSA for Chip Ganassi Racing – and get used to a smaller, perhaps slightly less slick outfit than he’s used to racing for.
19. IndyCar: Rinus VeeKay to Ed Carpenter Racing
Much like fellow rookie Oliver Askew, VeeKay joined the Road to Indy in 2017 in USF2000 and has taken a step up the ladder every year since, this culminating in a full-time IndyCar ride with Ed Carpenter Racing for 2020.
After taking Juncos Racing to Pro Mazda glory in 2018 and only just missing out on Indy Lights honours last year to Askew with the same team, VeeKay arrives in the big leagues with a burgeoning reputation – at the very least, expect him to give road/street course teammate Conor Daly a hard time.
Predecessor: Spencer Pigot, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire but was a reliable points-gatherer, as well as a front-row qualifier in the Indy 500. He took five top-10s in each of the past two seasons with ECR, peaking with second place at Iowa in 2018.
Why it could backfire: VeeKay has something of a reputation for being fast but wild, and given his self-stated ambitions of becoming the Max Verstappen of the IndyCar world, some fireworks can be expected. Recent Indy Lights grads haven’t had much trouble adapting to the top tier though, so as far as rookie signings go VeeKay seems like a safe-ish bet.
18. DTM: Lucas Auer to BMW
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Following a semi-successful detour to Japan with Red Bull’s backing in the aftermath of Mercedes’ DTM exit, Auer is back to where he has excelled in the past, and will this time don the colours of BMW.
His arrival is a bit of a step change for BMW, which has gotten by with a largely unchanged line-up periodically freshened up by rookies since its arrival with a star-studded roster in 2013.
Predecessor: The BMW seats that will go to Auer and presumably Robert Kubica were occupied by its first DTM champion Bruno Spengler and Joel Eriksson. They finished the 2018 season ninth and 11th respectively.
Why it could backfire: Good DTM drivers don’t always instantly click with new machinery (see Edo Mortara at Mercedes), and a hiatus might be costly in a series where most drivers enjoy continuity – although Auer says he is “not worried” about re-adapting.
17. Formula E: James Calado to Jaguar
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Calado has carved himself out a perfectly good career – and became world champion and a Le Mans 24 Hours class winner – as part of Ferrari’s factory GT roster, but his run to GP3 runner-up behind Valtteri Bottas in 2011 and subsequent standout rookie campaign in GP2 have long suggested huge potential in open-wheel racing that had gone untapped since.
A surprise Jaguar Formula E call-up has now given him the opportunity to dive back into single-seaters, and though he already put up some points on the board in the Saudi Arabia opener, expectations will be higher than that for the rest of the campaign.
Predecessors: Nelson Piquet scored just one point for Jaguar in the first half of the season, and though Lynn fared better after replacing Formula E’s first-ever champion, he didn’t make enough of an impact to leave Jaguar with no choice but to keep him on board.
Why it could backfire: At Jaguar, Calado is going up against one of Formula E’s top drivers in Mitch Evans, so there’s always the risk in following in the footsteps of Adam Carroll and Piquet and being shown up by the Kiwi. Calado is also obviously rusty when it comes to single-seaters, though he himself is convinced it’s a non-issue, as “it’s like learning to ride a bike”.
16. NASCAR Cup: Tyler Reddick to Richard Childress Racing
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Cole Custer will have on paper the better ride at Stewart-Haas, and Christopher Bell (who will join the Gibbs-affiliated Leavine Family Racing) has more Xfinity wins, but it’s Tyler Reddick who might just be the most intriguing Cup debutant of 2020.
Back-to-back Xfinity titles with different teams and an eye-catching run to ninth place in his second-ever Cup start in Kansas are good indicators for why Richard Childress Racing is looking to build around the 23-year-old as it seeks to return to its past status as a potent force in the Cup series.
Predecessor: Despite claiming Rookie of the Year honours, the #8 RCR car’s previous driver Daniel Hemric was ousted after finishing 25th overall, four places and 170 points down on squadmate Austin Dillon.
Why it could backfire: Reddick came up big when it mattered at Homestead two years in a row, but you could certainly make the argument that Custer and especially Bell have looked better bets for NASCAR stardom in the long term. There’s no guarantee Reddick will be an instant upgrade on Hemric for RCR, although having a top-10 Cup finish already sure is encouraging.
15. Formula E: Andre Lotterer to Porsche
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Though he’s somehow still chasing his first Formula E win, Lotterer proved his credentials in the all-electric series during two seasons with Techeetah – and his Porsche ties made him a natural fit for its nascent FE outfit.
The choice has already paid off with Lotterer giving it a debut podium in Saudi Arabia.
Predecessor: None, as Porsche is new to the series.
Why it could backfire: In Lotterer and his former LMP1 squadmate Neel Jani, Porsche has comfortably the oldest driver roster in Formula E. Should either, or both, decide they’re ready to move on at some point or start declining, it may struggle to find Formula E-ready replacements, through it definitely has considerable reserves of young talent in other programmes.
14. Supercars: Chaz Mostert to Walkinshaw Andretti United
Walkinshaw Andretti United
A winner of 12 Supercars races during his time with Tickford and Ford, Mostert represents a huge coup for the Walkinshaw team that had endured a complicated stretch in the series since losing its Holden factory status three years ago.
Mostert was thought to be on Penske’s radar but decided not to wait around for the opportunity, and though joining Walkinshaw Andretti squad is a step down in the short term, it will give him the chance to spearhead a rebuilding period in a major organisation.
Predecessors: The identity of Mostert’s 2020 teammate is not yet confirmed (though Super2 champ Bryce Fullwood has been tipped for the seat), but what is known is that both James Courtney and Scott Pye will race elsewhere. Courtney and Pye finished right outside the top 10 this past season, while the latter was responsible for Walkinshaw’s sole win in the past three years at Albert Park in 2018.
Why it could backfire: Motorsport history is littered with drivers taking a step down the pecking order with the aim of building a team around themselves, only to end up disillusioned and with a shortage in the trophy cabinet.
13. World Superibke: Toprak Razgatlioglu to Yamaha
Razgatlioglu was just 22 years of age when he became World Superbike’s first privateer winner in a long while (just how long depends on your personal definition of a WSBK privateer), rising from 16th on the grid on his Puccetti-run Kawasaki ZX-10RR for a stylish Misano triumph. While the series is picking some big new ex-MotoGP names, as far as homegrown talent goes it’s Razgatlioglu that is WSBK’s next big thing.
Yamaha clearly understood as much once his relationship with Kawasaki soured, and moved to snap up the rising Turkish star, who should make up a fascinating line-up alongside WSBK’s previous ‘next big thing’ Michael van der Mark.
Predecessor: Alex Lowes beat van der Mark to third in the championship in 2019, and even the Dutchman himself admitted that it was “a bit weird” to see Lowes lose the ride in that context. But in the end Lowes wound up with the consolation prize of a Kawasaki gig, so he’ll be fine.
Why it could backfire: Razgatlioglu is clearly immensely talented and will get to grips with the Yamaha sooner or later (sooner if post-season testing is anything to go by), but both he and Yamaha might be looking a bit pale-faced during 2020 should Lowes really click with Kawasaki, as direct comparisons will be inevitable.
12. IndyCar: Patricio O'Ward and Oliver Askew to Arrow McLaren SP
In the first year of its IndyCar partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, McLaren has placed its faith in youth, signing up Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew and exciting youngster Pato O’Ward to form one of the youngest pairings on the 2020 grid.
Askew has proven himself in every tier of the Road to Indy ladder so far, so there’s little reason to think he won’t eventually succeed in IndyCar, while O’Ward has already proved in a short space of time he’s a raw (if a little unrefined) talent on a par with just about any other rookie to have joined the series in past seasons.
Predecessor: James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson were both dumped by SPM to make way for the newcomers. While Ericsson was able to bag himself a drive with Ganassi in a third car, Hinchcliffe was left high and dry by McLaren’s late decision to pursue O’Ward when it became clear his shotgun marriage with Red Bull wasn’t destined to last.
Why it could backfire: Running a rookie and a driver with just eight IndyCar starts to his name in such a critical transition season is without doubt a risky strategy. Clearly McLaren hopes it will pay off in the long run, but there’s a chance that it could find itself stranded in the mid-pack or lower without an experienced head to lead the way on set-up.
11. Formula E: Maximilian Gunther to BMW i Andretti Motorsports
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A former Formula 3 standout, Gunther did his reputation no damage in his first Formula E season, scoring the vast majority of the backmarking Dragon outfit’s points tally even as he was sidelined for several races.
He was always going to be high on any FE manufacturer’s shopping list, and was quickly snapped up by BMW following an evaluation test once the Bavarian marque had a seat available.
Predecessor: Antonio Felix da Costa had his best season yet in the all-electric series following BMW’s arrival as a full-on works entry, but was subsequently lured away to Techeetah.
Why it could backfire: Gunther scored no points in his first outing with BMW in Saudi Arabia, but would’ve gone down as a podium finisher if not for a post-race penalty. He’s still unproven at the top end of the series, but clearly has the pace.
10. World Superbike: Alvaro Bautista to Honda
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Honda riders scored a total of 116 points in World Superbike last year. Over at Ducati, Alvaro Bautista put up 498 all by himself.
Luring him over for next year represents a big statement of intent from the Japanese manufacturer that its long-ailing WSBK programme is finally about to get on the right track.
Also indicating this are a revamped structure and the addition of Leon Haslam as the second rider.
Predecessor: Leon Camier was Honda’s lead Superbike rider for the past two years, but spent a very big chunk of 2019 on the sidelines through injury and thus struggled to have much of an impact on what was a really rough campaign overall for the brand.
Why it could backfire: Though it will campaign an all-new Fireblade, Honda surely won’t become a WSBK world-beater overnight, and on the heels of an 11-win run to kick off his season this year Bautista’s patience is likely to be tested by some growing pains.
9. MotoGP: Johann Zarco to Avintia Ducati
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His tenure at KTM proved a crushing disappointment, but keeping Zarco on the grid is undeniably good for MotoGP, and should serve as an impetus for improvement at MotoGP’s only real straggler Avintia – even if it does lose its status as the series’ only real privateer team as a result.
Zarco was sceptical about signing for the Spanish squad, but the move makes sense for both himself, the team and Ducati, which was the driving force behind what looks like a low-risk, high-reward roll of the dice on a rider that was the premier class’ top prospect just over a year ago.
Predecessor: Karel Abraham was last of MotoGP’s full-time riders of 2019 on nine points, and was seemingly blindsided by having a two-year contract terminated early for Avintia to subsequently accommodate Zarco. Rumour has it he could find refuge at Aprilia if Andrea Iannone’s suspension holds up.
Why it could backfire: The 2019-spec Desmosedici will be closer to Zarco’s liking than the KTM RC16, but considering the emotional Frenchman struggled to motivate himself to fight for the lower reaches of the top 15 while with the Austrian manufacturer, he may yet encounter a similar mental hurdle here.
8. Formula E: Antonio Felix da Costa to DS Techeetah
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Da Costa has been a Formula E regular since the beginning and has always been rated highly, but had to wait until season five to get his hands on equipment that would allow him to be a regular frontrunner.
Techeetah fielded him in its previous guise as Aguri (and they combined for a famous win), and though it has since become the benchmark FE team, he was still the obvious man to target to partner Jean-Eric Vergne.
Predecessor: Andre Lotterer, now at Porsche, failed to win a race during his two seasons with the team but acquitted himself well, and helped DS Techeetah to the teams’ title in 2018-19.
Why it could backfire: Da Costa might be a bit of an incident magnet at times and is not the most consistent Formula E performer. That said, he more than deserves the top-line seat.
7. MotoGP: Alex Marquez to Repsol Honda
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There were periods in Marquez’s career in the lower classes during which he looked as good as anyone anywhere in motorcycle racing, but those periods were short – the Moto3 run-in in 2014, a six-race run that was the backbone of his 2019 Moto2 title, and that’s about it.
But if Repsol Honda can regularly coax out that version of Marquez, like Petronas Yamaha has done with Fabio Quartararo this year, then MotoGP had better watch out.
Predecessor: Jorge Lorenzo spent all of 2019 either injured or worried about being irreversibly injured, and in the end scored only a meagre 28 points. This made for comfortably the worst season of the three-time champion’s storied career.
Why it could backfire: The Honda RC213V forced Lorenzo into retirement, so any move could backfire for the Japanese manufacturer at this point. Signing Marquez also carries that added risk of being a distraction for his all-conquering teammate/brother, although it equally could help motivate Marc to commit himself to Honda for years and years to come.
6. IndyCar: Alex Palou to Dale Coyne Racing
Palou stunned the Super Formula establishment as he came within an ace of winning the title at the first time of asking this year with the unfancied Nakajima Racing team. His reward for that exceptional season is a step up to IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing.
While making such a big impact in IndyCar will be a much tougher task, Palou was mightily impressive in his test earlier this year with DCR at Mid-Ohio, where he was said to have been 0.8 seconds a lap faster than ex-Formula 1 driver-turned IMSA ace Felipe Nasr.
Predecessor: Sebastien Bourdais - without doubt a tough act to follow, as the four-time Champ Car title winner took two race wins and an impressive seventh overall in his three seasons with Coyne.
Why it could backfire: Replacing a proven winner with a rookie is necessarily a risky strategy, albeit one forced upon Coyne due to financial reality. Palou will have to rapidly adjust from working with a Japanese team to an American one, while learning a new car and a host of new tracks – not to mention getting his head round ovals. It’s certainly a tall order.
5. Formula E: Nyck de Vries and Stoffel Vandoorne to Mercedes
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We’re really stretching the definition of a ‘new signing’ with Vandoorne, who was added to the works Mercedes Formula E team after proving himself in a learning first Formula E season with HWA.
Having already bagged a podium in 2018-19, he already has two more from this campaign’s opener and looks en route to establishing himself as a top-line FE driver.
De Vries – a fellow McLaren outcast and F2/GP2 champion – likewise acquitted himself well in Saudi Arabia, and makes up a very promising driver pairing.
Predecessors: There’s a clear line of continuity from Mercedes to HWA, so de Vries can go down as a replacement for Gary Paffett, who shone on occasion in 2018-19 but was conclusively beaten by Vandoorne overall.
Why it could backfire: It won’t. This is exactly what a Formula E line-up should be.
4. World Superbike: Scott Redding to Ducati
Though the riders' title went to Kawasaki's Jonathan Rea again and Alvaro Bautista defected to Honda, Ducati's 2019 punt on an ex-MotoGP rider for its World Superbike programme ultimately goes down as a success - and the Italian manufacturer will hope for a similar return this time around.
Its new hire is Scott Redding, whose flagging MotoGP career flatlined with a miserable year at Aprilia in 2018 but who bounced back with a British Superbike title the year after and now holds one of the best motorcycle racing jobs outside of grand prix racing's premier class.
Predecessor: Bautista won 11 consecutive races to start the season, but his title challenge ran out of steam midway through.
Why it could backfire: History dictates that success in the specialised BSB series is no guarantee of similar achievements on the world stage, but then again Redding is very much unlike most BSB-to-WSBK converts in terms of past international pedigree.
3. WRC: Sebastien Ogier, Kalle Rovanpera and Elfyn Evans to Toyota
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Where do you even start with this one? Forced into a full re-shuffle for 2019 by the shock exit of its champion Ott Tanak, Toyota has ended up with a roster made up of one of WRC’s most successful drivers ever, its hottest junior property and its best performer outside of the ‘big three’ that fought for the title in 2019.
The long-anticipated signings of ‘rallying’s Max Verstappen’ Rovanpera and Evans meant Toyota was always in for a deeply fascinating season, but the late addition of Citroen refugee Ogier means it is absolutely ‘loaded’, even if losing Tanak will sting.
Predecessors: Tanak won the drivers' title, and convincingly so, but both Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala were inconsistent and the manufacturers’ title was lost to Hyundai.
Why it could backfire: It couldn’t – sure, Rovanpera could prove erratic, and Ogier could grow frustrated by the same technical hiccoughs that helped drive Tanak away, but once the Estonian decided to walk, Toyota couldn’t have done better than this.
2. F1: Esteban Ocon to Renault
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Ocon was thoroughly impressive during his time at Force India, and in no way deserved to spend a year on the sidelines. Renault’s show of faith for 2020, though, goes some way towards rectifying that injustice, the French manufacturer finalising a move that would’ve already happened in 2019 if not for Daniel Ricciardo’s sudden availability.
Predecessor: Mind you, neither does Nico Hulkenberg deserve to find himself out of a seat for this year. Hulkenberg was a solid squadmate for Ricciardo in 2019, making up a line-up that was far stronger than Renault’s final points tally suggested.
Why it could backfire: There will be a lot of pressure on Ocon to regain race fitness right away, given he is going up against a top-level driver at a factory team that badly needs to start delivering on its stated aims, lest it exhaust the patience of its corporate overlords.
1. WRC: Ott Tanak to Hyundai
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By having succeeded in its audacious pursuit of WRC’s hottest property, Hyundai has clearly stacked the deck in its pursuit of an elusive drivers’ title, as it now employs two of the championship’s ‘big three’.
WRC has reliably delivered big helpings of intrigue since its switch to the current regulations, but Tanak’s Hyundai link-up sets up what could be the most fascinating season in decades.
Predecessor: Andreas Mikkelsen never really clicked with the i20 WRC since joining Hyundai in 2017, and often found himself sidelined last year as team boss Andrea Adamo freely rotated his line-up.
Why it could backfire: Hyundai has to bring home the drivers’ crown in 2020, but both of its under-contract rallying superstars will desperately want to be the one to do it – which in motorsport is always a recipe for at least one big team tactics-related headache during the season.