Formula 1, the Pinnacle of Motorsport has given its fans so many champions... Senna & Schumacher being the most popular. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas ( 5 Championships for each ) have broken a lot of records since the return of the Turbo Era in 2014. The competitors ran it close on many occasions but the three-pointed star prevailed. The 2018 season saw a close fight between Scuderia Ferrari F1 and Mercedes. The former would have a great base to mount their challenge in 2019.
2019 also saw a lot of Personnel changes. Charles Leclerc moved to Ferrari while Kimi Raikkonen went the other way to Sauber F1, now known as Alfa Romeo Racing F1. Daniel Ricciardo switched to Renault Sport F1 while Pierre Gasly got promoted to the Red Bull Racing Team. Robert Kubica made a return to the sport with Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team, a feat after his career-ending injury in rallying in 2011. George Russell ( 2018 F2 Champion ), Lando Norris and Alexander Albon were the rookies making their entry into the big league.
2019 was also the year where drivers would also be awarded a point for the fastest lap in the race ( should they finish in the top 10 ), a great way to mix things up when it comes to strategies on track.
How did the season unfold for the champions and the contenders? Let us have a quick recap!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes weren't the fastest team in 2019. However, they raced as a team, fought as a team and eventually won as a team! They made winning in 2019 seem so easy! Neither Valtteri Bottas nor Lewis Hamilton put a foot wrong when it mattered. Germany and Brazil were their only blemish, although those races were a lottery due to changeable conditions. Valtteri started the season on a great note with a win in Australia, two 2nd places in Bahrain & China and another win in Baku. His next win, however, didn't come until Japan and then Austin but by then it was too late to sustain a challenge for the Championship. He eventually finished 2nd in the Standings with 326 points, 4 wins and 11 podiums.
Lewis Hamilton was in a class of his own again! It didn't take him much time to get up to speed and capitalized whenever the others slipped up. His team-mate was his only true competitor in the second half of the season and he sealed the Championship at the United States GP. Lewis amassed 413 points with 11 wins and 6 podiums! He suffered no retirements unlike Bottas who didn't finish Germany and Brazil and his worst finish was 9th in Germany. Lewis deserves all the credit for being relentless in his quest to win and being consistent throughout the season. A 6 Time World Champion..surreal!
Mercedes AMG Petronas flattened their opponents in 2019. The Strategic calls throughout the season were on the money, they managed both drivers well and wrapped up their 6th Championship at the Japanese GP. The only disappointment of the season was at the German GP, a GP where the team celebrated 125 years in Motorsport and their 200th F1 Race Start ( oh the irony ). After locking out the front row in qualifying, a 1-2 was all but confirmed on Sunday. However, the weather played havoc and what unfolded was a chaotic race ( The Race of the decade for me ) with Bottas crashing out and Lewis finishing 9th after a couple of incidents on track. I am sure this disappointment would be long forgotten. The quest to win the 7th beckons!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari roped in the services of their wunderkind Charles Leclerc who would partner the 4 times World Champion and Hamilton's closest contender in 2018, Sebastian Vettel. They had put up a valiant fight in 2018 and hopes were high after being the fastest car in pre-season. However, it was anything but that. The team was plagued with strategic errors, reliability issues ( Charles Leclerc should have won the Bahrain GP but for engine issues ) & even Driver errors ( Germany & Brazil ). Sebastian Vettel was denied victory in Canada after Marshalls penalized him for dangerously rejoining the track while leading the race. The team had a resurgence of sorts after back to back wins in Belgium & Italy for Charles Leclerc followed by victory in Singapore for Sebastian Vettel. They finished 2nd ( again ) in the Constructors' Championship with 504 points. Charles Leclerc won the intra-team battle, finishing 4th in the Championship with 264 points with wins in Belgium & Italy, podium finishes in Bahrain, Canada, France, Austria, Great Britain, Singapore, Russia and Abu Dhabi. Sebastian Vettel was 5th with 240 points with a solo victory in Singapore and podiums in China, Baku, Monaco, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Japan & Mexico. The team had made it clear that Vettel would have a preference but over the year his younger team-mate challenged this claim and beat the veteran ( cause for friction between the 2 as well ). Vettel seemed to be a mere shadow of his former self amid the challenge mounted by his younger team-mate. The coming together of the two team-mates in Brazil summed up the season for Ferrari..a thorough disappointment after all that the pre-season had promised.
It turned to be another year of "What could have been". Mattia Binotto, the Team Principal admitted that there was a fundamental flaw in the design and they were in damage limitation mode with their 2019 contender, something that didn't go down well with the Tifosi. Ferrari needs to get their act together both on track and off it if they want to mount a serious challenge against the Mercedes. Not much has changed in 2019..hopefully 2020 will be different.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull Racing chose to switch to Honda Power ( a 2-year deal ) for 2019 and 2020. It was a big move because the Engine Supplier had struggled with Pace & Reliability Issues since its return to F1 in the Turbo Era. Red Bull also promoted their protegee Pierre Gasly from Scuderia Toro Rosso to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo. Red Bull wasn't the fastest but they pounced on every slip-up by their competitors. Max Verstappen was brilliant as ever, Gasly had a very mercurial start to the season. Eventually, the bosses decided that Gasly wasn't the best fit for the team and replaced him after Hungary. Rookie Alexander Albon got the nod ahead of Daniil Kvyat from the Toro Rosso team and performed very well in the second half. Max Verstappen finished 3rd in the Drivers' Championship, a great feat beating the Ferrari duo. He had 3 wins to his name - Austria, Germany & Brazil, Germany being the most memorable one. He also had podiums in Australia, Spain, Hungary, Singapore & USA. Gasly's best finish with Red Bull came at the British Grand Prix ( 4th ), along with 8 other points finishes. Alexander Albon matched Gasly's best finish in Japan and always finished in the top 6 ( except Brazil where he was robbed of a podium by Hamilton ) after his promotion to the A-Team. Gasly & Albon finished a close 7th and 8th with 95 and 92 points respectively.
Red Bull can be immensely proud of their season gone by. Honda as an engine manufacturer has announced their return to the sharp end of the grid with the Victories and the podiums ( even with the sister Red Bull ). Its onwards and upwards from here for the Milton Keynes based outfit. Red Bull finished the season in 3rd with 417 points, comfortably clear of the 4th placed McLaren F1 Team.
McLaren Racing F1 Team :
McLaren sported a new lineup with Carlos Sainz Jr. & Rookie Lando Norris in 2019. They finished 4th in the Constructors' Championship with 145 points. The Team had a slow start to the season and it wasn't smooth sailing after either. However upgrades kept trickling in throughout the season and the team were rewarded for their efforts when they bagged 3rd place with Carlos Sainz Jr. in Brazil, a podium after 5 years ( 2072 days to be precise )! Carlos Sainz Jr. was the best of the rest in 6th place ( winning the B Championship as many call it ) with 96 points. His best finish was 3rd at the Brazilian GP along with points finishes in 12 races. Lando Norris was 11th with 49 points to his name, 6th in Bahrain and Austria being his best finishes along with 9 other Points Finishes.
Carlos Sainz Jr. has been a great asset for the team. He is the Driver of the Season for me. His consistency and ability to maximize results helped the team in 2019. Lando Norris had a decent first season but I wasn't expecting the deficit between the two to be this big. He needs to up his game, considering the talent that he is. A lot of credit must also go to Andreas Seidl who came onboard as the Team Principal this year. His experience in the world of motor-racing be it in WEC or Formula E has been extremely beneficial. This is a great base to build from for 2020 and the added financial benefit ( of finishing higher ) is the icing on the cake.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault Sport F1 had a good 2018 and were hoping for a better outing in 2019. Daniel Ricciardo joined forces with Nico Hulkenberg to help the team return to the sharp end of the grid. The arrival of Ricciardo was a big boost for the team but a bold move for the driver. He gave up his place in a race-winning car to be with a works team still coming up the ranks. Nico Hulkenberg was the experienced warhorse, consistent and dependable. Renault, however, had a very mercurial 2019 with reliability issues hampering their progress throughout the year. McLaren, their customer team were able to beat them to 4th while they only just managed to beat Scuderia Toro Rosso, who finished behind them in 6th place. Renault has work to do over the winter.
Daniel Ricciardo outperformed his team-mate and finished on 54 points ( 9th in the Standings ), 4th in Italy being his best result. Nico Hulkenberg was 14th in the standings with 37 points, his best result coming at the Italian GP as well ( 5th ). Ricciardo finished in the points on 7 other occasions while Hulkenberg could manage 9. The Team also suffered disqualification after the Japanese GP ( 9 points lost ) after the discovery of an illegal breaking aid. Renault F1 are blessed with good personnel and infrastructure to turn things around but it is taking longer than anticipated. It also remains to be seen whether the parent company is willing to stay patient or sees this as a sport that is bleeding their finances. Ricciardo is in a really difficult position, hopefully, 2020 will be kinder. Hulkenberg bid adieu to the team at the end of 2019 and will be replaced by Esteban Ocon, a Frenchman ( in a French-owned team ). I think 2020 will be their "make or break" year.
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Scuderia Toro Rosso had quite an eventful 2019. They began their season with Daniil Kvyat ( who returned after a short stint as a reserve driver with Ferrari ) and rookie Alexander Albon. The latter was a sensation in F2 and it was time for his entry into F1. Albon's year got even better when Red Bull decided to promote him to the main team after Gasly couldn't meet the team's expectations. The announcement came just a week after the Hungarian GP during the mid-season break. It came as a surprise to many since Albon was still a rookie and being consistently beaten by his team-mate. Kvyat proved that he deserved to be in F1 after a stellar 3rd place in Germany. He also finished in the Points in 9 other races; ending the season in 13th with a total of 37 points. Albon, after a really slow first half, finished in the points in 6 races with 6th in Germany being his best finish. Gasly ( who replaced him ) stepped up his game in Toro Rosso and even bagged 2nd place in Brazil ( besides finishing in the points in 4 other races ). He finished the season in 7th with 95 points, 3 more than Albon. A statement had been sent out to the bosses of Red Bull.
The performance of a more reliable Power Unit along with a balanced chassis played a big part in catapulting them to 6th in the standings at the end of the season. They were narrowly beaten by Renault ( who were 5th with 91 points ) but they can take great encouragement from the fact that they can beat even those with a larger financial kitty. Kvyat had a really strong return to the sport while Gasly has come into his own after his demotion. The future looks promising for both.
Racing Point F1 Team :
Racing Point, an old team with a new name & new ownership were in a rebuilding phase in 2019. Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll's father led the consortium of investors who completed the takeover of the team. Sergio Perez retained his drive while Lance came in from Williams replacing Esteban Ocon (despite intense pressure from Mercedes ). The former team-mates ( Perez and Ocon ) didn't enjoy a healthy relationship and the team lost a considerable number of points due to incidents on track in 2018.
Racing Point ended the 2019 season with 73 Points ( 7th in the Constructors' standings ). Sergio Perez was 10th in the standings with 52 points while Lance Stroll was 15th with 21. Lance brought home the team's best finish with 4th in the highly entertaining German Grand Prix ( he even led the race for a few laps ). He finished in the points on 5 other occasions. Sergio Perez's best finish was 6th in Baku & Belgium with points finishes in 9 other races. He deserves all the praise for his performances and consistency throughout the year. Lance Stroll had a decent maiden year with the team but has a lot to learn from his team-mate. The Team will need both their drivers to perform at a consistent level if they are to challenge those in this extremely close midfield. There is a lot of scope for improvement..thankfully they have the finances to improve results on the field.
Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :
Sauber F1, rechristened as Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team ( thanks to Alfa Romeo becoming the title sponsor ) was another team to have a new driver lineup in 2019. Kimi Raikkonen returned to the team he started his F1 career within 2001 and he had the Italian Stallion Antonio Giovinazzi ( A Scuderia Ferrari Protegee ) partnering him. Charles Leclerc switched seats with Kimi while Marcus Ericsson took up the reserve driver role. It was a tale of 2 halves for the team. Kimi Raikkonen scored all points ( but one ) for the team and was 8th in the standings! Giovinazzi scored his first point of the season in Austria. However, the team struggled in the second half of the season. Giovinazzi managed a 9th and 10th in Italy and Singapore respectively but Raikkonen failed to be in the points up until the Brazilian GP. Brazil saw a big resurgence from the team, narrowly missing out on a podium with Kimi who was 4th and Giovinazzi who ended up 5th. Kimi Raikkonen eventually finished the season in 12th with 43 points on the board. A stronger second half helped Giovinazzi finish with 14 points and 17th in the Championship. Kimi is the seasoned campaigner and is an ace at turning things around. Giovinazzi came into his own in the second half of the season, one must remember that he has been away from competitive racing since the past 3 years.
Strategies and Outright race pace were the Achilles' heel for the team. The team struggled to keep up with the competitors ( in terms of R&D and funding ) but they had a much better outing compared to 2018. They will also have a bigger kitty to work within 2020, not to forget the sponsors coming onboard..they can be proud of the season gone by, not to forget the bouts they had with the bigger fish in the pond.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 persisted with their lineup of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2019, something that baffled everyone. Continuity can be the only plausible reason behind this decision. They finished the season in 9th with 28 points on the board. Kevin Magnussen won the team-mate battle, scoring 20 points ( 16th in the Championship ) to Grosjean's 8 ( 18th in Drivers' Standings ). Magnussen's best finish was 6th in Australia and finished in the points in Spain, Germany and Russia. Grosjean's best finish was 7th in Germany and scored a point each in Spain and Monaco. Another disappointing season for the Frenchman.
It was a season to forget for Haas. They were flying high in 5th at the end of the 2018 season but 12 months later they are languishing in 9th. Flaws in Car Design is one of the major reasons, friction between the team-mates another. Team Principal Guenther Steiner had to play peace-maker often and I think this affected the performances of the team as a whole. They have a lot of work to do over the winter to make things right and they do have the personnel to accomplish it, even though they would have taken a considerable financial hit due to their final position in the standings.
Rokit Williams F1 Racing Team :
2018 F2 Champion George Russell teamed up with Robert Kubica for the 2019 season. It was a great achievement for Kubica to make a return to F1 after all that he has been through since 2011. The team did lose a considerable amount of investment after Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll's ( Williams driver in 2018 ) father decided to direct his funds away from the team to Racing Point, his son's new ride in 2019. There was some consolation with PKN Orlen, Kubica's backer but Williams' woes on the track continued in 2019. They struggled to stay in touch with the rest of the field, lapping consistently slower all season long. Upgrades towards the end of the season did help performance to some extent but not enough to beat other back-markers. They scored a solitary point with Robert Kubica at the German GP ( thanks to a penalty to the Alfa Romeo Team ) but it meant nothing in the grander scheme of things. George Russell's best finish was also at the German GP in 11th. Both suffered a couple of retirements in the season, so reliability wasn't an issue.
It is getting really difficult for the bosses at Williams to stem the tide. They require a complete overhaul, personnel at the top included..but will it happen??
2019 promised to be a close contest between the top 3 teams but it turned out to be a mauling. Mercedes once again proved to be the class of the field, emphasizing the fact that you win as a team and having the fastest car doesn't equate to being a championship-winning car. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were efficient and consistent, the former once again showing why he deserves to be a 6 time World Champion. Bottas will hope to offer a stronger fight in 2020; as for the competitors in Ferrari, they need to have a hard look at the way they operate on a race weekend and the strategies they devise from the Pit Wall. Red Bull capitalized on every opportunity and know they can mount a big challenge in 2020. Renault has a long winter ahead, so does Haas, Racing Point and Williams F1. McLaren, Toro Rosso and Alfa Romeo will be pleased with what they have achieved in 2019.
Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team can bask in the glory of their 6th Championship..the 7th beckons next year..can't wait for the 2020 season to start!