Its 12 races down and 9 to go in the 2019 F1 Season. This isn't the midpoint of the season but the sport is enjoying its Summer Break and it gives us ample time to unwind and take stock of whats gone by and whats in store.
The second half of the season is a fortnight away and we shall also enter a phase where resources of some will get strained and grid penalties will start to become a common feature.
Lets have a quick look of how the teams have fared going into the break.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes, can they ever put a foot wrong? Yes Germany, their home race and their 200th in F1 was a fiasco but put that aside and its very difficult to find faults with the team. Lewis Hamilton looks set to lift his 6th title sooner than expected while Valtteri Bottas who started a season on a strong note is gone into a lean patch, a patch that could jeopardize his chances of retaining his seat for 2020. Lewis leads the Championship with 250 points, 62 points clear of his team-mate who is in 2nd. Lewis is on 8 wins to Bottas' 2. He started strong but Lewis flexed his muscles and started pulling away from the Spanish GP. Valtteri had a great chance of reducing the deficit in Germany but a driving error put him into the wall and retirement from the race. The Finn will now be looking over his shoulder and has only a 7 point buffer to Max. He cannot afford mediocre drives. There is a lot riding on the second half of the season ( his seat included ). I do hope he has a good second half.
Mercedes are in a league of their own. Their greatest strength ( besides the car ) has been the strategic calls from the pit wall. They are a comfortable 150 points ahead of Ferrari. Their car has been more reliable too. There aren't many tracks in the second half which would make life difficult for them. Constructors' Championship is theirs already!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari has had a horrid first half of the season. They were the fastest car in the Pre-season tests and even had the fastest car in straight line. However they are yet to win a race this season! They came close with Charles LeClerc in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel in Canada but fell short, reliability in the first case, controversy in the second. Their Achilles heel has been cornering speed and the lack of downforce. There still are some power circuits left on the calendar so we could see some wins coming their way but the team has gone down the wrong path of development. Sebastian Vettel was given preference but Charles LeClerc showed he is equally capable of being number 1 in the team. Vettel is going through a resurgence of sorts and should be stronger in the 2nd half of the year. He enjoys a 24 point cushion to LeClerc and has finished all races in the points with 6 podiums. Charles rookie errors in Monaco and Germany cost him dear; had he kept it clean he would have won in Germany. He is quick but needs to stop overdriving. Baku is another example. He will come around eventually but Ferrari's shot at glory is done and dusted. The Mercs will have to self-destruct at multiple races to bring Ferrari back into contention.
Ferrari's focus should be to win a couple of races in the 2nd half of the year and keep Red Bull off their backs. They also need to shift focus to development for 2020 and 21. Shambolic calls on Race Strategies have cost them time and again. The lesson is to stick to their plans and not be unnerved or unsettled by what their competitors are doing around them. A lot has to be mended for the glory days to return.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull Racing lost a great driver in Daniel Ricciardo to Renault. Pierre Gasly got promoted to partner Max Verstappen for 2019 and he has been nowhere near the performance level of Max. Red Bull has run out of patience and demoted him to Toro Rosso from the Belgian GP while Alexander Albon has inherited the seat ( more on that later ). Max Verstappen's performances have given Honda enough reasons to celebrate. He won in Austria & Germany besides finishing on the Podium in Australia, Spain and Hungary. Max also grabbed his maiden pole in Hungary and would have won but for a strategic masterplan from Mercedes. He sits in 3rd with 181 points, breathing down Valtteri Bottas' neck. He should be able to finish 2nd in the championship with the momentum he has going into the break. Gasly is languishing in 6th place in the standings with just 63 points to his name and no podiums. 4th was the best he could conjure at the British GP.
Red Bull Racing are on the up and the general consensus is that they are the 2nd best team on the grid. Red Bull's resurgence in the past few races means that Ferrari's P2 in the Constructors is under serious threat. Its imperative for Red Bull to ensure that both sides of the garage have optimum equipment and can produce optimum results. Finishing P2 would give them a major boost for 2020. Gasly scored only a third of the points so far and Red Bull can't afford to have mediocre days, specially when his team-mate is producing stellar drives week in week out. Patience is something that teams don't have in abundance, such is the nature of the sport. Gasly was unable to deliver what was asked of him and as cruel as it may sound, I believe the team did what was in their best interests. I am skeptical about the replacement though. I personally feel that Kvyat was a safer bet than Albon ( no disrespect to him ). Albon is a rookie and he could end up making rookie errors while pushing too hard. Honda is due to bring upgrades in the second half and there is a possibility of Red Bull copping penalties. This is a golden opportunity for Red Bull to beat Ferrari to P2.
McLaren Racing F1 Team :
McLaren promoted their Protegee Lando Norris from F2 while Carlos Sainz Jr came in to replace his childhood hero Fernando Alonso. Its really amazing to see McLaren in P4 going into the summer break. The Turbo Era has been tough on them and even with an unreliable Renault engine, they are doing a fine job. Carlos has been more consistent of the two with 8 points finishes to Lando's 4. Carlos sits P7 in the Championship ( leading the B Championship as folks in the media like to call it ) while Lando is 10th. Carlos has been one of the top performers on the grid. Lando is going from strength to strength in his rookie season and will be a force to reckon with in the coming races.
I believe McLaren won't be able to better P4 by the end of the year. Toro Rosso in P5 aren't really a threat inspite of their strong performances going into the break. McLaren however must aim to reduce the pace deficit to the front runners to improve their chances for 2020 and also for a podium at one of the races in the second half of the season. They aren't there yet but they will be..soon enough!
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso in in fine form in 2019. The Honda Customer team and Red Bull's B Team is sitting 5th in the Constructors Championship with 43 points, 4 Points clear of Renault Sport F1 Team. Its amazing to see two Honda Powered teams in the top 6. The Japanese manufacturer has been at the receiving end of a lot of criticism and this is like a redemption of sorts. There will be penalties due when performance upgrades are brought in but the issue of reliability seems addressed.
Daniil Kvyat leads the intra-team battle in 9th with 27 points. The best result was the podium ( 3rd ) in Germany! It was nice to see an unlikely podium for Toro Rosso, a great drive by the Russian after returning to the team this year. Alexander Albon is 15th with 5 points finishes and 6th being his best in Germany. Albon has now been promoted to Red Bull with Gasly making his way back to Toro Rosso. The majority are unhappy with the decision as they believe Kvyat should have been the ideal replacement for Gasly. The Top Brass at Red Bull share a different opinion and I hope they haven't made an error with this decision. Gasly will need a couple of races to settle into the team so the onus will be on Kvyat to carry them forward and if possible retain 5th. Their biggest challenge is staying ahead of Renault and Red Bull will cherish this if the same is accomplished. The Toro Rosso has a great package and once again they have shown that they are no pushovers.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Its disheartening to see, Renault, a works team languishing in 6th in the Constructors. They finished 2018 in 4th and the team would have hoped to be closer to Red Bull if not beating them. 2019 seems to be anything but that. Daniel Ricciardo was signed in from Red Bull ( a prize catch ) to partner Nico Hulkenberg. Both are talented drivers, the former a multi-race winner but retirements and mechanical failures are affecting their performances. Daniel is on 22 points and 11th in the Championship while Nico is 14th in the Championship with 17 points. Many experts believe that Daniel will be regretting his decision to leave Red Bull. Citing the current situation it seems they are right but Renault is a works team and are bringing in a lot of capable people to overturn this rut.
Renault's best shot is at P5 by the end of the season. McLaren seem clear favourites to retain P4. Renault must iron out their reliability issues and aero performance over the summer break if they are to make any headway into the points deficit. I don't see them go better than P5 or P6 at the races in the 2nd half of the season ( unless we have a chaotic race like Germany ). Mediocre performances in F1 can cause a lot of damage to a brand and it shall be interesting to see how patient Renault is willing to be in their quest to be the best again. The clock is ticking....they better get their act together and fast.
Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo made a return to F1 in 2019, acquiring the majority stake in Sauber F1 Team. The acquisition led to better R&D facilities, hiring new staff and the results are starting to show on the racetrack. Kimi Raikkonen returned to the team he started his F1 career with in 2001. Antonio Giovinazzi was roped in as well for 2019.Antonio has scored just a solitary point for the team ( Austria ), the Italian struggling to make it work. Hopefully he is able to turn things around in the second half. He has the talent and needs to gain confidence by scoring more points at the races. He has a great mentor in Kimi and I wish the best for him.
Kimi is a transformed racer at Alfa. He is enjoying his time racing in the midfield, free from politics that existed at Ferrari and living his life to the full with his family. He sits 8th in the Championship with 31 points, having scored almost all the points for the team. His best finish is P7 but will be looking to improve on that in the 2nd half. As a fan, I am so glad to see Kimi racing unhindered and showcasing his skill and racecraft.
Alfa is a great team with a capable set of people. The upgrades are coming in at a steady pace and bringing the desired results. Pit Stops and Strategy calls are hurting the team and if they can iron those out, even finishing P5 is a possibility. The Ferrari engine at the back is an ideal weapon for attack or defense in straight line and we have seen many instances of these this year. Alfa trail Renault and Toro Rosso by 7 and 11 points respectively and a lot can change in just one weekend. Keep an eye out for those Red and White Stallions!
Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :
Racing Point is an old team in new colours and new ownership in 2019. Sergio Perez was joined by Lance Stroll for this year. The team currently sits in 8th, on 31 points, 5 clear of Haas F1 Team. Stroll is currently leading the intra-team battle with 18 points to Perez' 13. Stroll's best finish was P4 in Germany, a strategic masterstroke by the team in variable conditions. His drive to P9 at his home race in Canada was a memorable one too. Perez' scored his maximum with P6 in Baku followed by 8th and 10th in China and Bahrain respectively. His form has waned a little and the summer break will be a good time for him to rest and recuperate. The team is hot on the heels of Alfa Romeo, only a point separating the 2 teams. Unlike last year, financially they are in safe hands and that might prove to be decisive in this midfield melee. If they keep this development curve alive then snatching 7th or even 6th place in Constructors is a possibility.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 is going through a tough year in F1. They are struggling to make the car work and the tussle offtrack with their Title Sponsor Rich Energy was an unwelcome hassle . Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen aren't the best of friends and the former seems to be under immense pressure fighting for his seat. Kevin Magnussen has amassed 18 points to Grosjean's 8 and its pretty evident that the latter needs to arrest this decline. Romain has finished in the points in 3 races with 7th being his best result in Germany. He needs to stop making mistakes and build on his confidence..finishing in points will follow. Kevin's best finish was P6 in the season opener in Australia followed by points finishes in 7th and 8th in Spain & Germany respectively. Kevin's crash in Canada during qualifying was one of his rare mistakes. He needs to stay consistent if Haas has to have any chance of moving up the order. In a mid-field where the competition is intense, its the fine margins that decide who comes out on top and who doesn't. The Team is aware of this and needs the duo to follow the same vein of thought. I see them being banned from racing each other in the second half. Beating Racing Point in 8th seems to be the only realistic target for them.
Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :
Williams was the 3rd best team on the grid in 2014. One Bad Decision sent them into a downward spiral and the team have never been able to reverse this. George Russell teamed up with Robert Kubica after Lance Stroll's switch to Racing Point F1 Team at the start of 2019. Stroll's switch also caused a heavy financial blow. Russell and Kubica have struggled to even keep up with the rest of the field, lapping 3 to 4 seconds slower than the others at certain tracks. The more recent rounds offer a ray of hope but the possibility of finishing better than last at the end of the year seems bleak. Russell has performed better over the first half of the year but its Kubica who has bagged the team's only point after finishing 10th in the chaotic German Grand Prix. Russell is a star in the making and I hope he has a car to showcase his talent.
The titles seem decided at the summer break. Such has been the dominance of the Three Pointed Star. However there is a lot to play for in the midfield and this season has seen one of the tightest battles. Who will be the best of the rest? It still is difficult to predict. One thing is certain though, Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are the Runaway Favourites!