Formula One 2019 - The Season Preview



It’s that time of year again! The largest and most expensive travelling circus gets underway for the 70th time this weekend as 20 of the worlds best drivers battle it out for the chance to become Formula One World Champion. We’ve got three former World Champions in the field this year; Lewis Hamilton is chasing his third successive title and four time World Champion Sebastian Vettel appears to, once again, be his main rival. There are driver changes and debuts galore, too! Only two of the 10 teams on the grid keep the same driver line up as 2018 with four of them having changed their line up all together, there are three drivers who are due to make their debut in Australia and three drivers are making comebacks, some more sensational than others. I’m looking at you, Robert Kubica. And Daniil Kvyat, actually.

A Tribute To Charlie Very rarely does a sporting death make my heart sink and make me cover my mouth in shock but that’s what I did when I heard about Charlie Whiting’s death on Thursday morning. Charlie had been F1’s Race Director and Safety Delegate since 1997 and his work in making the sport safer along with Michael Schumacher and a number of other drivers is probably the one thing he’ll be remembered for. He’s a huge loss to the sport and his apparent charisma and personality will make the paddock, pit lane and race directors box seem a darker place without him. Rest In Peace, Charlie. We already miss you dearly.

What’s new this year? New front wings. Fans of the sport have been crying out for more simplistic front wings for a few years now. In basic terms, cars have become less capable to follow another one closely and this has led to a distinct drop in race action and entertaining races. You obviously get a few of them each season but on a ‘normal’ race day, it often turns out to be a game of follow the leader for a couple of hours. I hate using clichés but time will very much tell if the new front wings produce closer racing on track.

Points to be awarded for the fastest lap inside the Top 10. I’m genuinely not sure about this one. It seems a bit ‘gimmicky’ to award a point to the driver and team who set the fastest lap of the race out of the points scoring positions inside the top 10. In fact, in 2018 Mercedes scored the most fastest laps during the season with 10 and Ferrari weren’t far behind. Haas were the only team outside of the top three teams to set the fastest lap during a race in Singapore thanks to Kevin Magnussen. On the other hand, if you allowed the non-points scoring positions to join in with it, you’d get drivers pitting for a new set of the fastest tyres with two laps to go which would be just as farcical, to me.

Race Calendar A couple of notable footnotes about this years schedule. The first one being that it could be the last British Grand Prix at Silverstone (for the time being at least) as the Northamptonshire circuit decided to activate a clause in their contract which allowed them to pull out of their race-hosting contract which was due to run until 2027 due to the race fees being too high. The other one is that the races in America and Mexico have swapped with the race in Mexico City being held before the race in Austin. There are five back to back race weekends and thankfully, especially for the families of everyone involved in any given race weekend, there won’t be a repeat of the back to back to back weekends we had last season. Yay for more time at home!

F1 moves to Sky TV in the UK. Thanks to the deal that Sky made with Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management before Liberty Media took hold of the sport, the TV rights for the sport have moved to the satellite giants with the only race shown on a free-to-air channel (probably Channel 4) is the British Grand Prix although there will be extended highlights on the channel, too. The contract runs until 2024, too.

Team by Team Mercedes Drivers: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. 2018 in five words: Five Time Double World Champions. The hybrid era has been largely Mercedes dominated its fair to say although the pack have been closing in considerably year by year and the now Five Time Drivers and Constructors’ champions still remain one of the teams to beat. Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton is once again partnered by Valtteri Bottas who begins his second season with the team. Hamilton seemed unstoppable at times last year and on the other side of the garage, Bottas failed to win a race despite being ahead of Hamilton on the track at a couple of races in 2018 (Germany and Russia especially) before the team gave priority to Hamilton on the road to his fourth World title in five years. It would perhaps be a brave shout to bet against the German team again this season.

Ferrari Drivers: Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. 2018 in five words: Early Season Advantage Turns Sour. It could be argued that Ferrari should have challenged Mercedes deeper into the 2017 & 2018 seasons was it not for an implosion by the team in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan in ‘17 and then mistakes of Vettel’s own doing in Italy, Japan and finishing well off the pace behind Hamilton in Singapore in ‘18. Aswell as throwing away a probable race lead when the rain arrived in Germany, of course. For 2019, there is more promise than the Scuderia can deliver their first World Champion since Kimi Raikonnen in 2007 and their first since Constructors title since 2008 as young French driver Charles Leclerc replaces Kimi Raikonnen. Leclerc impressed with Sauber last year and there is an expectation in Italy that he can be more of a competitive team mate to Vettel than Raikonnen had been in recent times. Ferrari will hope the new ‘matte’ finish of the bodywork will make them more streamlined this year. The devil is in the detail.

Red Bull Drivers: Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. 2018 in five words: Exciting new era with Honda Red Bull had a mixed 2018 in all fairness. Two wins a piece for the departing Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen was encouragement enough but for Ricciardo, four retirements in six races during midseason not only put pay to an unlikely title tilt for the Australian but also seemed to drive him to near insanity! The Milton Keynes outfit will be glad to see the back of Renault and their engines. This year, Honda arrive with a new power unit and already Verstappen and Pierre Gasly (the latest graduate to the main team from Toro Rosso have been more positive during pre-season testing. Verstappen has his strongest challenge of an albeit unlikely shot at Lewis Hamilton’s crown now that he is undoubted number one driver. The same colour scheme remains which is pleasing on the eye although most fans of the sport will say they would have liked the team to have stuck with the livery the team launched with in February.

Renault Drivers: Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo. 2018 in five words: Best finish since the 80’s. Despite some solid reliability, Renault’s 2018 was definitely a tale of two sides of the garage. On one side, Nico Hulkenberg showed why he’s arguably an underrated driver by finishing fifth place at his home race along with a handful of 6th place finishes in the Middle East and the Americas while the departing Carlos Sainz had one fifth place in Baku and a sixth place in Abu Dhabi as his best results of the campaign. Renault have stuck with the same black and yellow colour scheme as with previous years and with Daniel Ricciardo joining the Enstone team from Red Bull 2019 may very well be a transition year before hoping to push on further either in 2020 or after the regulation revamp in 2021. If he wants to be World Champion, Daniel Ricciardo may have opted to play the long game but Hulkenberg will be more than a competitive partner to the Australian.