2018 was a great year for Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton as they lifted the title for the 5th time. 2018 also saw Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 do a fabulous job, be it Fan Interaction and Access Trackside or coverage off it.
2019 is upon us and the Pre-season tests have finished. The First Race is merely 10 days away and the excitement is already building. 2019 will see Sauber rebranded as Alfa Romeo, Sahara Force India as Racing Point F1.
The sport will also have rookies like George Russell ( reigning F2 Champion ), Lando Norris, Alexander Albon while Daniel Kvyat and old gun Robert Kubica return from their sabbaticals!
2019 is also a teaser for the Technical Regulations overhaul in 2021. A lot has changed in terms of Front Wing Design, Barge boards, Brake Ducts design, Rear wing width which will affect downforce and promise to improve wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking.
Lets have a quick look at the Rule Changes for the Season ( source : www.formula1.com )
Technical Regulations :
1) The front wing endplates are reshaped to alter the airflow across the car and reduce the effects of aerodynamic turbulence. Winglets above the main plane of the front wing have been banned.
2) The slot in the rear wing is wider, this will make DRS more powerful. Two additional rear lights, one on each endplate to improve visibility in poor weather conditions. These must be illuminated at all times when a driver is using intermediate or wet-weather tyres.
Pre-season tests also saw green coloured tail-lights on Albon's car; these indicated that the driver didn't have the required super-license points ( for a Grand Prix ).
6) Driver weights are no longer considered when measuring the minimum weight of the car. Drivers who weigh less than 80 kg will have to make up this weight with ballast, located around the seat to minimise possible performance gains. This will aid Drivers who have a taller or larger frame, Nico Hulkenberg for example.
7) New Standard for helmets and stricter crash helmet specifications
8) Biometric Gloves for drivers so that their vitals can be monitored at all times and valuable information can be relayed in the event of a crash.
A lot more is explained in this Video Link :
Pirelli complied with the FIA and FOM's request to simplify the naming conventions for Tyre compounds for race weekends. Dry Tyre Compounds will be termed as "Soft, Medium and Hard" besides the Intermediates and Full Wets. Now each Grand Prix will feature simply a white-marked hard tyre, a yellow-marked medium, and a red-marked soft. However, the actual compounds used for those three designations will change depending on the circuit, with Pirelli having five treads to choose from – C1 being the hardest, C5 the softest ( Tyre Treads and characteristics mirror the range from Hypersoft to Hard from 2018 to some extent ).
Marc Priestly has done a fabulous job at explaining the Tyre Changes ( Video Link ) :
So how do the teams stack up and what are their chances for 2019? Here are my 2 cents..
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes retain their lineup for 2019 with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. The Latter will have to prove his worth to warrant a seat in 2020. Lewis should be able to maintain the edge over his team-mate and I see him as a favourite for the title. Bottas will have a stronger 2019 and should aim to win races first to make a strong case for himself in the Title Fight.
Mercedes was not the fastest car on the grid for the major part of 2018. 2019 seems to be a similar story based on the results of the pre-season tests. However they were always there to capitalize on the mistakes made by their competitors. They managed the Drivers' Title Fight in a professional way, prioritizing results for Lewis who they believed could bring the trophy home and the 5 time World Champion didn't disappoint. They also need to improve results at street circuits and ensure optimum engine performance at higher altitudes, the Achilles' heel of their car. Mercedes cannot afford to be complacent in 2019. The Gap at the front is now non-existent.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari the most successful team in the History of F1 is yet to lift the title in the "Turbo Era". The Talent has always been there, be it off the track or on it but they have come up second best. 2018 was their best shot at both titles and sadly they blew it with strategic blunders and some driver mistakes. Ferrari replace Kimi Raikkonen with Charles LeClerc for 2019. It is no secret that he is the next big thing and will eventually be champion...whether he will be able to beat a 4 time World Champion in Sebastian Vettel is a completely different story. The Team has stated that they will favour Vettel in the opening few rounds, a logical decision considering LeClerc will need time to adjust to his new team. LeClerc posted some blistering laps during the tests and if he does manage to outdo his more experienced team-mate, things might get fiesty. The bosses have to be clear and precise in their decision making, we all know what unfolds when the team-mate battle heats up. Vettel must ensure that he doesn't repeat his mistakes on track, his greatest weapon will be his experience.
The team has also gone through a Management Overhaul over the winter while some have left to move to greener pastures. Ferrari are the team to beat based on the results of the tests. They have the strongest driver pairing on the grid according to me. The Constructors should be well within their grasp. The people should be allowed to carry out their respective roles without any hindrance or interference, something that they failed to adhere to in the past year. Will they prevail in 2019 or will team politics be the cause of their undoing? Only time will tell.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull had a tough time with Renault since 2014 and decided to switch to Honda Power for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo bid adieu to the team and Pierre Gasly was promoted to partner Max Verstappen. Max had a strong second half in 2018 and will be hoping to maintain the momentum. Gasly isn't expected to be as quick as Max ( the team believes so ) and might have to play second fiddle for the majority of the season. Max is another contender for the crown, the chink in his armour would be the reliability and performance of the Honda power unit. The car put on some decent mileage in the tests and both drivers agreed that there was a performance deficit to the cars in front. The team is capable of overcoming that with a better aerodynamic package and are they sandbagging? We shall know soon.
Red Bull have always been there when the top two teams slipped up. They know how to win Championships and with 2 drivers hungry for the title, they can make it a reality. They are serious contenders for 2019.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault got the prize catch of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for 2019, that in itself has been a huge morale booster. Nico Hulkenberg is the other driver for the Enstone based outfit while Carlos Sainz Jr left to join McLaren. Renault was P4 in the Championship and will aim to go one better in 2019. They have a race winner in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is a consistent points scorer. Ricciardo knows that he has taken a challenging decision. He is in a place where he has to rear the team back to the top of the pile. Hulkenberg will have a good point of reference and his performances will improve too. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team will be a force to reckon with.
Renault's goal should be to finish P3 in the Championship. Finishing on the podium will be as good as a win. Their rise to the top is about to get tougher now. They have the funds as a works team and I do hope they accomplish what they set out to achieve.
Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :
Sportpesa Racing Point F1, the new name for the Force India F1 team preserves the livery from 2018 ( well almost ). They have relieved Ocon of his services and roped in Lance Stroll to partner Sergio Perez. Stroll's appointment was no surprise since his father spearheaded the acquisition of the team and saved it from going into administration. It wasn't smooth sailing between Ocon and Perez in the last 2 seasons, hopefully things change in 2019 with a new entrant. The team must focus on maximizing finishes in the points if they want to be the best of the rest. The car isn't without flaws but Racing Point is known to come into its fore once the European leg kicks off. Perez will be the better performer according to me. It will be a steep learning curve for Stroll.
The team has a considerable number of sponsors ( funding ) and with the Mercedes engine at the back, they can be the fastest customer team on the grid.
McLaren F1 Team :
McLaren a name that is synonymous with wins and titles. The last few years have been anything but that. Life in the Turbo Era has been an uphill struggle for them, first with Honda and then with Renault. The switch to the latter revealed the design flaws in the car and the team had to start afresh for 2019. Thankfully the signs look positive after pre-season testing. I still don't think they will be in the sharp end of the grid but more as a strong midfield team. McLaren sports a completely new driver lineup with Stoffel Vandoorne making way for Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso taking a sabbatical to be replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr.
McLaren won't have much in terms of Drivers' experience but with Alonso allowed to participate in some tests, they should get constructive feedback . Norris is the future and hopefully he can showcase his talent in 2019. Sainz Jr has been in the sport for sometime now and will know how to maximize results whenever the opportunity arises. A lot is riding for the team in 2019. They simply can't have another mediocre year.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 is the only other team to retain its driver lineup in 2019. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen had a decent 2018, the former still suffered from braking issues. Pre-season tests yielded productive results and Haas should be able to remain the fastest Ferrari customer team. The main challenge for Haas will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1. They do need more financial influx and sponsorship deals to improve on the R&D front. Lets hope 2019 opens up new vistas for them.
Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo, the iconic Italian brand makes a return to the sport after a long hiatus. The Sauber F1 Team got officially rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing. They have roped in the services of the Iceman Kimi Raikkonen, who swapped seats with Charles LeClerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Life in F1 has come full circle for Kimi, returning to the team where his journey first began. Kimi will also have the freedom to race and express himself, a freedom he rarely experienced in Ferrari. The Team Factory is also pretty close to his home in Baar, Switzerland, so its a win win for both parties. For Antonio Giovinazzi its a make or break year. This is his chance to showcase his talent and convince the top bosses at Ferrari that he has it in him. He will be well trained under the watchful eyes of Kimi who is also a mentor in the team.
The team ended 2018 on a good note and will have a strong base going into the 2019 season. There is work to be done but pre-season tests have given us a hint of the car's true potential. Hoping the best for the Iceman, who knows maybe a podium this year!
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso had a mediocre 2018 and they will be hoping to better things in 2019. Toro Rosso re-hire Daniil Kyvat alongwith rookie Alexander Albon for 2019. There is a lot of inexperience in the lineup but then Toro Rosso have always been the auditioning team for Red Bull. Kvyat has a second shot at F1 and will be hoping to justify his appointment. Albon was an accomplished racer in Formula 2 but F1 is a totally different ball game. However I do see him getting the better of Kvyat over the course of the year.
Toro Rosso don't have the plethora of resources like their big brother. They will have a potent chassis as always and will be hoping for races of attrition to end up in points scoring positions. I don't see them go better than P9 in 2019.
Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :
Williams Martini Racing got rechristened to Rokit Williams Racing F1. Rokit, their title sponsor is a global telecommunications company. They also showcased their new livery, a White and Blue combination. The car was launched on schedule but it wasn't ready in time for testing! Their challenger eventually made it to Barcelona on Wednesday, 2 days later than the rest, not to mention the valuable mileage lost. The First couple of days were essentially shakedowns before they actually got down to business. They seem destined to be backmarkers for the start of the season. The team lost a couple of sponsors to Racing Point ( after Lawrence Stroll acquired Racing Point ) A team that has so much history about it, its sad to see them devoid of finances, sponsorships and direction. Will the team be able to turn their fortunes around? I really hope!
Reigning Formula 2 Champion George Russell and the veteran Robert Kubica are the drivers hired for 2019. The Latter's selection came as a surprise since he has never been at the same level of racing after his horrific accident. He had to leave the sport and after a lot of hard work and dedication, he has made it back to the grid so kudos to him. He has a loyal fan base from Poland so I am sure that Liberty wouldn't be complaining. It will be intriguing to see how he copes with the physical and mental strains of a full season. Russell beat Norris with some fabulous performances in F2 and will have an edge in the intra-team battle.
Lewis Hamilton faces one of the toughest tests in his F1 career. Sebastian Vettel is thirsty for his 5th Title. Charles LeClerc wants to join the elite club of Drivers to win the Championship in their maiden year with Ferrari ( Kimi Raikkonen was one of them ). Max Verstappen will leave no stone unturned in his challenge. Valtteri Bottas cannot play 2nd fiddle again, his ride is on the line. Ricciardo in a Renault and Raikkonen in an Alfa Romeo will make life tough for the true contenders.
F1 has always seen periods of dominance throughout its history. We had the McLarens and the Ferraris in the late 90s and early 2000s, Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 and then throne was usurped by Mercedes AMG F1 who are yet to be beaten. The battle in the front has gotten intense with each passing year but the three pointed star always found a way to prevail at the end. Ferrari seem to be the fastest ( like in 2018 ) but they need to win the smaller contests first to eventually win the war. The competitors must rally their troops and ensure minimal slip-ups else the status quo will remain.
2019 will be a spectacle to behold.
The neutrals want a new king..Will it happen in 2019? Only time will tell.