Assessing the F1 2019 season

Feature image: @F1

It came and it went: the 2019 Formula 1 season has come to a close, and it’s a season where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both won a sixth world title as the British driver and German outfit continued their partnership and dominance of the hybrid-era.

F1 saw an unfortunate throw-back to the beginning of the hybrid-era as it was a two-horse race between the two Mercedes drivers — Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valterri Bottas — after it became evident very quickly that Mercedes were just a cut above the rest of the field. Though Red Bull and Ferrari made strides during the season to get back in contention to win races, they came too late and, thus, the title was left between Hamilton and Bottas to contest.

By the time Hamilton took victory in France — his sixth win of the season in just eight races (Mercedes victors of the opening eight races) — the nearest non-Mercedes challenger in the form of Sebastian Vettel was already 76 points adrift.

With Ferrari out of the picture for the title, realistically, at that stage, it was Hamilton vs. Bottas, and though Bottas enjoyed a significantly better 2019 compared to 2018, Hamilton was always going to be the favourite in that duel.

And, thus, there were your 2019 drivers and constructors title winners.

While the title fight was a formality for much of the season, the 2019 season should be remembered for much more than number six for Hamilton and Mercedes, though, the F1 season didn’t start very well.

2018 was a great season. The Ferrari vs. Mercedes duel was enjoyable but there were a number of legitimately great races — the bonkers nature of Baku, the nail-biting US Grand Prix, the rain-filled drama at the German Grand Prix to name a few.

2019 did not start well.

With, perhaps, the exception of Canada, the first eight races of this season — as a whole — were bad. Mercedes were dominant, and in the few races they seemed to be second best, some circumstance found a way to sneak in and ensure they won (see: Bahrain and Canada).

That Canadian Grand Prix was especially contentious after Vettel’s victory was taken away, and it painted F1 in a very poor light.

After one of the worst races of the season in the form of the French Grand Prix came, the Austrian Grand Prix followed. It was a weekend where F1 desperately needed a good show off of the heels of a poor first eight races where Mercedes and Hamilton were already running rampant, and not in an entertaining way.

Fortunately, F1 got the race it needed as Max Verstappen claimed a brilliant win in Austria ahead of Charles Leclerc. And more and more entertaining races came.

Though the title race was effectively over when Bottas stuffed it in the wall in Germany, the season as a whole was very enjoyable from Austria onwards, capped off with a madness-filled Brazilian Grand Prix that saw Max Verstappen exact revenge for 2018 and saw Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz (eventually) take the other podium spots.

Perhaps this was fitting, as Gasly and Sainz were two of the season’s main talking points — one starting the season in Red Bull, the other leaving the Red Bull nest for McLaren.

Gasly…was awful at Red Bull and no one should have been surprised when the announcement came that he and Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon would be swapping seats after the summer break. In the end, both drivers did well to end their respective seasons at Toro Rosso and Red Bull, Gasly’s mid-season turnaround obviously highlighted by that P2 in Brazil.

Following Brazil came the underwhelming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory to close the curtain on an enjoyable 2019 season.

Now that it’s all said and done, let’s do a few end-of-season awards and use those to talk further about the season itself.

Best driver: Carlos Sainz

Yes, Lewis Hamilton was the champion. Yes, Max Verstappen was brilliant this season but, for me, Carlos Sainz was the driver of the year.

He became the first driver not in a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull to finish inside the top six since 2015 and the first driver since 2014 that finished inside the top six in a car that did not finish in the top three in constructors standings (Fernando Alonso did it for Ferrari in 2014). A five-race stretch (beginning from France, ending in Hungary) of P6, P8, P6, P5 and P5 helped send Sainz on his way to a very well deserved P6 in the standings in a year he emerged as the ‘Smooth Operator’.

Highlighted by a podium in Brazil, Sainz was not only one of the most enjoyable talents on the track but his off-track humour and relationship with Lando Norris meant that Sainz was an entertaining watch on and off the track.

Sainz displayed his fighting spirit to the very end as he overtook Nico Hulkenberg on the last lap to sneak into the points and guarantee himself P6 in the standings — a truly remarkable achievement.

Best victory: Max Verstappen – Austria

There’s a bunch of races you could put in this spot (Leclerc’s Italian victory in front of the Tifosi, Bottas’ charge in USA etc.) but what better victory than Verstappen’s first of the season and Honda’s first victory in the hybrid-era?

Starting P2 behind Charles Leclerc, Verstappen stumbled off of the line and was behind his teammate Gasly and in P9 by the time the first lap came to an end. Verstappen made his way back towards the top six and was in fourth place to begin lap 50, where he dispatched Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari to return to the top-3.

After that, Verstappen hunted down and overtook Valterri Bottas for P2 on lap 56, leaving the Dutchman to chase the leading Leclerc. The tension rose, as Leclerc was chasing his first race-win but Verstappen — lap by lap — was hunting him down. Verstappen did indeed catch Leclerc and had his first attempt to overtake him on lap 68 of 71 but Leclerc fought off Verstappen well. However, he could not prevent the mist from descending as one lap later, Verstappen muscled his way by Leclerc and went on to take a memorable victory at the Red Bull Ring.

Overtaking, tension for the win and a remarkable comeback made this Austrian Grand Prix one to remember.

Best rookie: Lando Norris

Personally, I ranked Norris to be the best of the rookie trio entering F1 from F2, so it was no surprise to me that Norris performed well. That said, I expected Carlos Sainz to comprehensively have the better of Norris and that wasn’t always the case.

While Sainz did finish with nearly double the amount of points that Norris did (both suffered DNF’s when in strong point-paying positions, but Norris seemed to be a little more unlucky in that department), the battle between the two was much closer than one would have envisioned heading into the season. And with Sainz arguably the driver of the season, their closeness only highlights the excellent job done by Norris across the season.

Norris ramped up his aggression as the season progressed but let his guard down at times, highlighted by Sergio Perez’s last lap overtake in Abu Dhabi, a situation where Norris, really, should’ve been able to see that through.

Norris also prevailed in the qualifying battle between himself and Sainz, edging the Spaniard 11-10 in the final race of the season, having almost thrown his significant advantage away.

His inexperience showed at times but he now forms a fascinating and fun pairing alongside Sainz, one everyone will have their eyes on next season.

Most improved: Valterri Bottas

Valterri Bottas was a joke, in the eyes of many, heading into 2019.

Having gone winless in 2018 (harshly denied victory in Russia), Bottas began 2019 with a bang with a dominant performance in Australia and furthering his early title credentials with a redemption victory in Azerbaijan, with the internet dubbing this new, bearded, porridge version of Bottas ‘Bottas 2.0′.

While Bottas dropped off after those highs — and returned to the old Bottas at times — he stepped up his game near the end of the season with victory in Japan and a very impressive victory in USA. His fight-back against Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone down the inside of Copse was inspiring, as he showed increased boldness in his wheel-to-wheel combat this season.

Adding to that, Bottas’ qualifying performances in 2019 were vastly improved compared to 2018. Impressive pole positions at Spain and Silverstone, Bottas really stepped his game up against Lewis Hamilton in qualifying in 2019. He may not have won the qualifying battle, but he certainly closed the margin between himself and the six-time champion, taking five pole positions on the season — the same as Hamilton.

While he had the benefit of enjoying the grid’s best car, Bottas certainly upped his game all across the board, and you certainly couldn’t fault him for his effort at times, even it ended with him in the barriers, such as Germany (probably Bottas’ worst moment of 2019) and the final moments of qualifying in Mexico.

Whether we get ‘Bottas 2.77’ as Valterri himself claims he needs to be in 2020, we’ll find out but heading into 2020, he’s certainly taken his reputation a long way forward from where it was this time 365 days ago.

Shoutout to Daniil Kvyat too for his comeback season.

Best race: Brazilian Grand Prix

It had to be, didn’t it?

Overtakes galore, Verstappen vs. Hamilton, multiple safety cars, a collision between the two Ferraris, drama after safety car restart and two surprise podium finishers.

Brazil has produced some mad races in the past but 2019 may have been the most bonkers grand prix in recent memory.

Anytime you get to see Verstappen and Hamilton go wheel-to-wheel, you should appreciate those moments — there really is a Alonso/Raikkonen vs. Schumacher feel to it, the new guard taking it to old guard (and it’s the same when Leclerc races Hamilton). To see the two jostle for the lead, back-and-forth, was incredibly entertaining.

Verstappen’s revenge for the win he should’ve had in 2018 was sweet, and in the end convincing, as Mercedes elected not to pit Hamilton after the safety car, whereas Red Bull pitted Verstappen. Hamilton ended up getting involved in a scrap with Alex Albon, making contact with the Red Bull and earning himself an eventual penalty, leaving Albon searching for that first podium in 2020 and handing Carlos Sainz his first F1 podium finish having started from the back of the grid, highlighting the nature of this race and how well Sainz drove (his overtake on Perez into T1 could’ve easily ended in contact but it was a great overtake).

The collision between the two Ferraris was incredible — truly amazing how such minimal contact could have such a catastrophic effect on both cars, both being forced to retire. It’s absolutely Vettel’s fault but who could’ve imagined how much damaged could’ve been caused for minimal contact?

And last but not least was Pierre Gasly’s drag race with Lewis Hamilton for, at the time, was second place (before Hamilton’s penalty) — signifying Honda’s progression with their engine as they won out over Mercedes heading to the line.

A mad race, and a race that’ll live in the memory of all-time Brazilian Grand Prix for years to come — and that’s saying something coming from Interlagos, home of many a-great grand prix.

Best overtake: Carlos Sainz on Nico Hulkenberg, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

You can go in a few different directions for this — you can argue, contextually, what the best overtake was (e.g. Max Verstappen’s overtake on Charles Leclerc for the win in Austria) or in terms of technicality, what overtake was simply the best regardless of context.

There’s also some overtakes that I just personally really loved, such as Valterri Bottas’ move on Lewis Hamilton into Copse and Kimi Raikkonen’s move on Kevin Magnussen in Germany, where he could’ve easily just conceded T1 to Vettel but chooses to sweep in and turns defense into attack, passing Magnussen into T2.

The one I’m going for though is the one that ultimately gave Carlos Sainz P6 in the championship after a last-lap overtake on Nico Hulkenberg in Abu Dhabi:

The last lap of the last race of the season for the last point to seal P6 in the standings to cap off an almost race-long battle between McLaren and Renault — brilliant.

Honestly, you could go in several different directions and it’s all about personal preference, but I’m going for this one.

Surprise of the season: McLaren’s resurgence

Switching from Honda to Renault engines in 2018 didn’t solve a ton of problems for McLaren in 2018.

Sure, they started the season off well but by the time the Spanish Grand Prix arrived, they were already heading backwards and by the time the French Grand Prix arrived, Q1 exits became a pattern for the rest of the season.

Armed with a fresh driver lineup in 2019 and a restructuring of sorts, McLaren enjoyed their best season in hybrid-era, finishing in fourth as ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, and ahead of the works Renault team.

The question many people had after the early start to the season was ‘could McLaren keep this up?’ and bar a few races (such as Monza), they were generally the best of the midfield, ultimately reflected in their 54 point margin between themselves and 5th placed Renault.

F1 is better when McLaren is good and while they aren’t genuine contenders for podiums on pure pace, they’ve taken strong steps in the right direction to do that. Whether that comes in 2020, we’ll see, but a hugely impressive 2019 for the Woking outfit.

Biggest disappointment: Ferrari

Sigh…

Where to even begin?

It all seemed to be going so well, as Ferrari appeared to be the clear front-runner as teams emerged from preseason testing but, once again, were no where to be found in Australia. Now, that isn’t necessarily something new — they were behind Mercedes heading into Australia 2018 but managed to squeak home a victory thanks to a VSC and then went on to have a strong opening to 2018 where they were quicker than Mercedes at various stages.

And it seemed like this was repeating in 2019 — having been no where in Australia, Ferrari struck back in Bahrain through Charles Leclerc, who took his first pole position in the desert.

Ferrari should have had their first win of the season in Bahrain but it wasn’t meant to be, as technical issues prevented Leclerc from taking his maiden F1 victory. As disappointing as it was to see a victory just fall into Mercedes’ lap, you assumed — now that Ferrari had shown the pace many expected from testing — that the Scuderia would come back another day.

This…did not happen.

Ferrari continued to underperform as Mercedes ran away with both titles and by the time the French Grand Prix came and went, both titles were, effectively, already heading back to Brackley.

Eventually, Ferrari made steps with their car to bring them closer to the front but it wasn’t until the Belgian Grand Prix where Ferrari finally notched their first win of the season and would only take two more victories to their tally on the season in Singapore and, memorably, in Monza.

Now, to be fair, they should’ve already had two victories on the season by then at Bahrain and Canada, but they were still far too far away from Mercedes and while the season of Charles Leclerc can be considered a success, Ferrari’s season as a whole can only be seen as a failure. And the less said about Sebastian Vettel’s season the better: it just wasn’t good.

Shoutout to Renault, who were thoroughly underwhelming this year too and were a close contender for most disappointing after effectively beginning their season at Monaco. And shoutout to Haas for inexplicably retaining Romain Grosjean at the expense of Nico Hulkenberg.

Pierre Gasly’s tenure at Red Bull is probably the runner-up, however… The less said about it the better…

 

F1 2020 Lineup Prediction

Feature image: @MercedesAMGF1

With the Hungarian Grand Prix now in the rear-view mirror the F1 summer break is here, and while the action on-track will stop for a few weeks the action off of it will certainly ramp up.

During the break, teams are required to lock up the factories — so to speak — for a couple of these weeks, and it’s here where a lot of the movement for next year’s driver lineup will take place.

There’s a couple of seats already set for next season, such as Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen some of those with a contract in hand for 2020. McLaren are the only team so far who have both drivers confirmed for next year, with the team announcing recently that they would retain both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris for 2020.

Speaking on Thursday ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez says he’s close to agreeing a new deal with Racing Point, and that’ll sure-up the Canadian outfit’s 2020 lineup with Perez and Lance Stroll.

The key to last year’s driver market turned out to be Daniel Ricciardo’s shock move to Renault, which pissed off Mercedes as it seemed Renault had to back-track on their agreement who appeared to have Ocon set to go in that second Renault seat. Red Bull had Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly to choose from, the Spaniard signed with McLaren shortly after, leaving Pierre Gasly to fill the Red Bull vacancy and created another one with his departure from Toro Rosso.

I thought the key to last year’s market may have been what Ferrari were going to do with Raikkonen’s seat, should they have decided to replace Raikkonen — which I was still surprised by when they ultimately did — and that that decision would snowball to Alfa Romeo (with the outgoing of Charles Leclerc), Haas (maybe taking on Leclerc?) and maybe Racing Point (if the Perez to Alfa Romeo rumours were to be believed)…

It could have gone in so many different directions but it ended up being just a straight swap in the end.

So, like last year, I’m going to attempt to predict the driver lineup for next year. Last year I had some good ones, like Carlos Sainz to McLaren (Gasly to Red Bull, by extension of Sainz going to McLaren), Kubica to Williams.

That said, I completely bombed on Toro Rosso’s lineup, as well as reading too much into Perez’s link to Alfa Romeo, was convinced Kimi Raikkonen was going to be retained by Ferrari and that Leclerc wouldn’t be promoted to Ferrari after one season. You win some, you lose some.

Once again this season, it looks like it’s going to be a top tier seat that’s going to dictate the market, and this year it’s Valterri Bottas’ Mercedes seat, for the sole reason that if Bottas departs, his seat is more than likely going to be filled by Esteban Ocon — a driver who is currently not on the grid, which always throws the cat amongst the pigeons for driver movement…a space has to be created somewhere.

So, let’s have a shot at this shall we? Here’s how I think the 2020 F1 grid will shape up and why…

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Some bold stuff out there, but let’s go through it team-by-team.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Esteban Ocon

So, starting with Mercedes, I think they pull the trigger on Esteban Ocon and pair him alongside Lewis Hamilton, leaving Valterri Bottas with a home to find.

Things started well for Bottas this season with two wins in the first four races but things have unravelled somewhat since, including crashing out while trying to overtake Lance Stroll in a race it where Lewis Hamilton was outside the points.

Before that race, however, Toto Wolff had some interesting comments with regards their future lineup, saying their decision would be coming soon.

“For us, it’s not only about making the right decision for next year but it’s also about looking ahead and this is why we agreed we would take the decision in August going forward,” said Wolff.

“We want him (Valterri Bottas) to end the season before the shutdown in a good place and put in two solid performances in Hockenheim and Budapest, and then spend some time thinking about the driver line-up for 2020 and beyond,” Wolf added.

“It is pretty unusual to announce drivers in July. If you want to take all the time, you properly need to assess and you can even drag it into the winter like we have seen in some other teams and it was a standard in the past.

“As we all know it was an unfortunate situation last year that Esteban fell between the chairs. He could have chosen between two seats and in the end nothing came out.

“From our perspective everyone knows about his driving capabilities for Mercedes. Valtteri is showing some very strong performances and merits the seat but equally Esteban has shown that in the past and is a great addition to the team.

“He contributes a lot a lot behind closed doors, he drives the sim overnight on race weekends, he comes in here Saturday and gives us input and he is a great kid overall.

“Putting a Mercedes young driver in the car would be interesting as well. Having said that, there is interest for Esteban among other teams and we need to carefully make a decision for ourselves and with the other interested parties, not only for our own benefit but also for Esteban’s benefit.

“If it would be that we were taking a decision in favour of Valtteri it clearly also means that somebody else would continue to develop him [Ocon] and would mean we would lose our hand for a year or two or more on Esteban. These are the consequences of that decision.”

Those are…interesting comments.

Looking at those, I tend to think that Mercedes are probably leaning towards Ocon. Wolff mentioned the importance of both Hockenheim and Hungary and they ended up being two grand prix where Bottas didn’t perform. Hungary wasn’t really his fault but crashing out while chasing a Lance Stroll for a podium in Germany — on a day where title contender Hamilton was outside of the points — was a massive failing.

With Bottas saying that he has a ‘plan B’ in case Mercedes roll with Ocon, I think that highlights how serious this situation is and how seriously Bottas’ camp are taking this — they’d be foolish if they weren’t looking at their options (and we’ll touch on some soon).

Equally, if Mercedes retained Bottas instead, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me. Either way, it seems likely that Esteban Ocon will be in an F1 car next year whatever does/doesn’t happen at Mercedes.

If it isn’t in a Mercedes, there’s a few options for Ocon out there and we’ll go over those. I rebelled against the idea that Leclerc would replace Raikkonen but I’m not doing that this year with Ocon — so, naturally, Mercedes will retain Bottas just to spite me.

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Not much to say here.

There are some Vettel-Verstappen swap rumours out there but I don’t see it happening. What an awful year for the Scuderia after 2018… The Hungarian Grand Prix showed how far off they really are and how it’s fallen apart this year.

Red Bull Racing: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Here’s where things get interesting, I’ll start with Verstappen…

Red Bull, with Honda, have done a good job giving Verstappen a car he can win some races with, and I expect that to only improve heading into the second half of the season. The Ferrari and Mercedes rumours will be out there, but I think for 2020 Verstappen will be at Red Bull.

Now then, the second driver spot…

I think everyone is in agreement that Gasly will be replaced at the end of the season. Helmut Marko has been fairly clear in that Red Bull will give Gasly the season and will not be replaced mid-season, so he has an opportunity to turn it around.

In the event he doesn’t turn it around, where do they go?

I covered this topic recently, and it’s a tough one…

The question is do they choose from within? Do they see this Gasly experiment as reason not to do the same thing with Alex Albon and promote him to the Red Bull seat after one good season in F1? Do they want to roll the dice with Kvyat again? These are legitimate questions and you can see why they wouldn’t be feasible for Red Bull.

If not, where do they go?

Do they go with Sebastian Buemi (which is an option I didn’t originally cover), who, I know is technically in their programme in that he does some of their demo-runs. I think, many people wouldn’t mind seeing Buemi F1 again, it seems like some people are coming around on that idea?

Do they go with someone like Nico Hulkenberg for a season or two as their younger drivers mature/continue to gain experience? I can’t imagine Mercedes will allow Esteban Ocon to join their rivals and I can’t imagine it suits Red Bull either…

But…if Mercedes decide on Ocon, and if none of the internal prospects at Red Bull make sense for them for 2020 (maybe wanting Alex Albon to gain a little more experience), why not Valterri Bottas?

Bottas would bring race-winning experience to the Austrian outfit and seems very easy-going — he brought some much needed stability to Mercedes after the fiery Hamilton-Rosberg years — which would be beneficial for a team like Red Bull, who know all about fiery driver lineups in the past.

Not only that, but in the event Verstappen leaves in 2021, it still leaves Red Bull with a solid driver to carry on. In terms of actual driver quality, it would probably be the best Red Bull could do for a driver for 2020, depending on how you feel about Nico Hulkenberg. And it doesn’t have to be a long-term thing either if Red Bull decide that Bottas is their best bet for 2020, but then again it kinda goes without saying that any driver moves are probably going to be made with the short-term in mind ahead of the 2021 season and regulations overhaul.

I originally had Bottas here at Red Bull and I was going to stick with it but I changed my mind last minute — I just don’t see it happening. I can’t see Red Bull doing it, I can’t see them going outside their walls.

So based on that, I’m going with Kvyat, just based on the fact that Red Bull will probably look to avoid a possible similar situation with Albon as what happened with Gasly this year.

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

I don’t see much changing here.

Daniel Ricciardo is under contract for next year, so it’s the second Renault seat where there could be an opening, with Hulkenberg coming to the end of his original deal with the French outfit.

Renault team principle Cyril Abiteboul was asked about Nico Hulkenberg’s chances at a seat for next season — here’s what he had to say.

“We have a two-year contract with Daniel.

“Nico’s contract, the initial term is coming to an end at the end of this year but there is some mechanism of options as has been commented on press which I’m not going to disclose in the details that can kick in, so it’s maybe that we continue our journey with Nico.

“Frankly, Nico has delivered for the team, clearly, and if you look at where we were when Nico joined us and where we are today, it’s crazy and the change to the team, to the buzz, and clearly the drivers are no stranger to that, it’s not just engineers.

“So I think we need to give credit to that but also we need to look at the options, like everyone is doing, like I’m sure Nico is doing.

“So, it’s a long answer to tell you that things are open for him and for us but there is also an option in place so that we can possibly continue our journey together.

“We will see, we’ll see probably after the summer break will be the right time to sit down, discuss it on the basis of fact and desire also.”

You can read into that what you will — and I’m sure if the option to sign Ocon for a year or two will be tempting — but I think Hulkenberg makes a lot of sense for them. Like Cyril has said, Hulkenberg has delivered for them and has helped transition from latter midfield to where they are now (including a fourth place finish in 2018) and it makes sense for them to continue.

Again, it doesn’t have to be long-term and it’s in Renault’s interest to keep their options open for the future — they have two impressive young drivers in their academy and both performing well in Formula 2: Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou and Frenchman Anthoine Hubert.

Zhou has been the best rookie this season and I think has a legit chance to win the Formula 2 championship next year, and I think Hubert is fantastic too. Renault have promising options but it’s probably a little soon for either right now in F1, and something short-term with Hulknberg makes sense for all parties — and unless Hulkenberg gets a Red Bull offer, I can’t imagine the German wants to go elsewhere.

McLaren: Carlos Sainz & Lando Norris

Nothing to say here — Norris has been great and Sainz is showing Red Bull why they should’ve given him the drive.

Fun lineup, on and off the track. Long may it continue.

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Again nothing to say here other than Perez’s impending deal takes away one landing spot for Bottas should Mercedes choose not to retain him.

Stroll may be useless in qualifying but is now gaining the reputation of being able to make some of it up in the race.

They should be fun next year, the first car with the Lawrence Stroll money from Day 1 of their car development, having taken over mid-way through last season when the 2019 car would’ve already been in development.

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Valterri Bottas

Right, now this is going to be interesting spot…

I don’t think it’s any secret that Haas aren’t exactly happy with the partnership of their drivers right now. The issue is that the driver who has consistently butted heads with other drivers is their better driver — Kevin Magnussen.

Romain Grosjean hasn’t really gotten into it too much with his former teammates but with Magnussen, it’s kind of hard to avoid and the pair have come to blows on multiple occasions this season (with Magnussen having come to blows with other drivers too).

Change is coming at Haas, and it’s going to be interesting which way they lean: performance or team chemistry? One suggests Magnusssen, Grosjean the other. Or, do they do away with both?

As graining as Magnussen can be, he has shown he can get the job done and scores the bulk of points for his team — I imagine he stays. Besides, it’s been Grosjean who has stuffed it more, the one who hasn’t been getting it done on track and I think his time in Formula 1 has run its course.

A replacement certainly isn’t easy to come by — there are a lot of candidates.

This would be a prime landing spot for Esteban Ocon should Mercedes choose to retain Bottas. Yes, they’re supplied by Ferrari but they have no bearing on their driver choices and do not have as close of a relationship than Alfa Romeo, who do employ a Ferrari academy driver.

When trying to predict these, you need to ask the question: ‘Who does it benefit? Does it benefit all parties involved?’

It seems to tick all the boxes. It’s a move that benefits Mercedes (they get Ocon back in F1), it benefits Haas (who get a quality driver) and it obviously benefits Ocon (who gets an F1 seat).

Again, it comes down to what Mercedes do, and Toto Wolff has said that they are open to Ocon joining other teams and ‘that there are offers out there’ for Ocon and Haas makes a ton of sense.

F2 championship leader Nyck de Vries is also an interesting option here. He has shown improvement this season and has had some very mature drives. He also comes without the baggage and politics of being an academy driver for an F1 team, having been released from the McLaren programme last year. The opportunity to sign a potential F2 champion without already being tied to an F1 team is a rarity these days, and Haas could get in the front door with de Vries at a time Dutch Mania is at an all-time high and the Dutch Grand Prix returning.

Haas also presents a possible — and most likely — opening for Valterri Bottas, if Mercedes give their seat to Ocon. It obviously benefits Haas (they get a race-winner) and it would be a benefit to Bottas too, who stays in F1. It would obviously be a step down from Mercedes but so long as Bottas has a seat for next season, that’s all that matters and if Haas can offer him that lifeline, even if it’s just for a year, that’s all he needs.

It’s a game of musical chairs that’s about to finish — you just need a seat for 2020 and your options for 2021 are much more plentiful with everyone lining their ducks for the 2021 overhaul — most contracts expire after 2020. If you don’t have a 2020 seat, it could be difficult to get back in for 2021. There’s going to be a ton of openings for 2021 that gives Bottas some choices, but in the meantime he certainly could do worse than Haas.

With Racing Point set to retain their lineup, McLaren retaining theirs, Red Bull an unlikely option, as well as Renault, Haas would probably end up being Bottas’ best option for 2020, so it makes sense for Bottas as a temporary stop-gap. It’s certainly more realistic than Red Bull.

This could also be a spot if Ocon actually ends up at Renault and Nico Hulkenberg is in need of a drive. The only awkward aspect would be Magnussen’s and Hulkenberg’s relationship which is, shall we say, a little tense.

Haas could also present an opportunity for Daniil Kvyat. If Kvyat isn’t considered for that Red Bull seat, it makes sense to think that he may not want to spend his entire career at Toro Rosso and that he may be ready — like his former teammate Carlos Sainz — for life outside of Red Bull. He has shown great maturation and his recent podium in Germany has highlighted that. Haas presents him with that opportunity. And Haas would do well to secure his services too.

Haas are certainly not short on options, it’s going to be a coveted seat.

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Toro Rosso are in an interesting bind because their lineup isn’t in their control, and they have Pierre Gasly to thank for that.

Red Bull could go in so many directions for their seat and neither Albon or Kvyat have helped in that regard — in a good way.

Albon has surpassed all expectations so far for being a driver that was promoted mostly because Dan Ticktum failed to acquire a superlicence (in my opinion). Similarly, Kvyat has proven he belongs in F1 again after a year on the sidelines and is still only 25 years old with four full seasons of F1 experience.

Ultimately, I see Gasly being demoted and if he is, then I think Red Bull will ride with Kvyat again.

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Nothing to say here, really. Raikkonen is contracted for next year and Giovinazzi has been performing better of late (though, Hungary was a shambles) and I expect that to continue into 2020.

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

Everyone wanted Robert Kubica’s return to F1 to be a success story but it just hasn’t worked out.

While he has Williams’ sole point so far (by way of both Alfa Romeo’s being handed post-race penalties in Germany), he has been consistently been a long way off of Russell in qualifying and the race.

George Russell has been as good as you can expect in that Williams — his exploits in Hungary have only added to that perception — and I have no doubts he’ll still be with the Grove outfit next year.

As for their second seat, I fully expect that their junior driver and F2 title contender Nicholas Latifi to fill that seat. Not only has Latifi shown improvements in F2 but he also brings with him financial backing, which is obviously important for Williams right now. It just seems like a complete no brainer for Williams.


For me, a lot of all of this is based on what Mercedes do with Bottas/Ocon, so I’ll have another list in the event Bottas is retained by Mercedes.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Charles Leclerc

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Daniil Kvyat

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenberg

Racing Point: Sergio Perez & Lance Stroll

Haas: Kevin Magnussen & Esteban Ocon

Alfa Romeo: Kimi Raikkonen & Antonio Giovinazzi

Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly & Alex Albon

Williams: George Russell & Nicholas Latifi

With the summer break now here, expect the F1 circus to return at the end of the month with more than a few shocks, with that second Mercedes seat the main topic of discussion.

Bottas or Ocon? We shall see…

F1 2019 Season Preview

Feature image: Twitter – @F1

It’s finally here, Formula 1 2019. It’s taken a long time to get here but we are here, the start of it all again.

And it promises to be a fascinating season in prospect, with the gap between the top three teams seemingly as tight as ever, if testing is to be believed (always a dangerous thing).

Let’s break this title down between the top three, the midfield and then those near the back. In the process, I’ll touch on the drivers and the such, before making a few predictions and the such.

We’ll have fun.

The Top Three

Everything in testing should be taken with (many) grains of salt but, listening and reading the thoughts of people — well-informed people — who were there at Barcelona and the experts that were there, it would seem that Ferrari are the early team to beat.

It’s tough to gauge Mercedes in testing because they generally stick to their own programme and tend not to really care about what anyone else is doing, but when you hear the quotes from the drivers being unhappy with the balance and Mercedes bringing a heavily revised car to Week 2 of testing and another revised car to Melbourne, it would seem to suggest they’re on the back-foot (something Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed on Thursday).

I do think Mercedes are closer than people think but if they haven’t fixed their balance issues, it’s going to be a difficult opening for them in Melbourne if they can’t get on top of that quickly.

Ferrari, in comparison, seemed pretty happy with testing — at least in Week 1, all smiles with Vettel and company, though, the second week wasn’t as good as the first, they still set the fastest lap in testing and, according to those who are in the know, Mercedes’ fastest lap of testing wasn’t a true reflection of the gap between the two teams — the lap times suggesting that things are closer than things would appear.

We’ll see what happens but the Scuderia look good.

Red Bull look really intriguing, they’re a team that could easily spring a surprise at Australia, and some think they could be right there with Mercedes.

It’s hard to say where they will fall, we didn’t really see their true pace during Test 2.

They always build good cars but have been left wanting in the power department since 2014. Now armed with Honda engines, they enjoyed good reliability (Pierre Gasly letting them down in Spain more so than Honda) and I think there’s some genuine optimism for the Red Bull outfit.

It’ll be one of two things for Red Bull — they’ll either spring the biggest surprise in the paddock if they can turn up quicker than Mercedes, or we’ll see how much sandbagging has actually taken place between Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull will, again, be a distant third.

We’ll see.

Out of the top three teams, only Mercedes retained their driver lineup of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton comes in as a five-time champion and coming off one of the most consistent seasons I’ve ever seen — I’d imagine he’s in a good place.

It’s a different story for Bottas, who — from race number one — I’d imagine will be under pressure. He’s technically out of contract at the end of this year and Esteban Ocon is lingering, waiting for a seat to present itself. F1’s infamous politics kept Ocon — a member of the Mercedes driver programme — out of a seat in 2019 but a repeat of last season for Bottas would surely result in a change of drivers for 2020.

Bottas was unlucky in many spots last year (Baku, France etc.) but he was poles apart from Hamilton when it counted. If he’s in the title hunt after seven, eight races, Mercedes will probably let them at it — as they’ve historically done when their two drivers have been in genuine contention for the title. But if Hamilton has a significant advantage — as he did last year — you can only see it swinging as it did last year with Mercedes giving their backing to Hamilton.

Bottas says he’s ready and raring to go but we’ll see how he responds in Australia — a track where, of course, he binned it in a major way in Q3.

At Ferrari, it’s a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as Kimi Raikkonen makes way for Charles Leclerc.

Where Mercedes let their cars race — for the most part — Ferrari have held preference in terms of drivers for a while now: it’s Sebastian Vettel > teammate.

Ferrari have been back and forth in their comments about letting the two race and whether Leclerc is a number two or not… It’s all words at Ferrari but until we see it in action for sure, nothing that has been said matters — that’s the reality of it.

If Leclerc gets off to the dream start and beats his teammate in Australia and is ahead of Vettel in the standings, say, after Spain, it’ll make for a fascinating situation at Maranello.

I ultimately think that Vettel’s savviness and experience will edge Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari, and I think this year could prove a learning experience for Leclerc about what it means to be a Ferrari driver, what it means to win races and it means to have every mistake/inconsistency scrutinised.

It’s a pressure he’s never faced before.

That’s not to say he can’t be in the hunt and take it to Vettel — I’m sure he will at times. But over 21 races, everything would point toward Vettel edging Leclerc — experience, savviness and his position in the team, which matters massively at a team like Ferrari.

Their car looks incredibly promising but the issue with Ferrari is their development throughout the season. They had to go backwards to go forwards, shedding the upgrades they had placed on the car from Singapore onwards off at USA and boom, the car was back at the front.

Mercedes, in recent history, have been able to out-develop Ferrari over the course of the season, so if Ferrari have an advantage they need to maximise it in the first few rounds before Mercedes bring those upgrades. Ferrari having their upgrades actually work would also help…

Red Bull officially made Max Verstappen their number one driver as Daniel Ricciardo moves on to Renault. Pierre Gasly arrives from Toro Rosso very much as a number two driver.

I’m not a huge Gasly fan and I think he will struggle against Verstappen.

That pairing is going to be explosive and not in a good way. Danny Ric was great for Max and those two personalities got on well even after a clash or two, they could at least exist but if Max and Gasly come together, you’d fear the worst, and I think those two aren’t going to like each other and it’s not going to take long for that happen.

A personality clash waiting to happen.

Red Bull themselves are an interesting prospect. We have no idea what to expect other than they’ll probably be in the top three. After that, who knows? They do develop quite well historically, so if they’re close to Ferrari and Ferrari have another development disaster, it’s going to be interesting.

The Midfield

The midfield battle looks as tight as ever, and it’s hard to say who’s leading the way.

It’s very unpredictable.

McLaren went for some headline laps in testing, so it’s hard to say where they’re at whereas Racing Point’s car in testing is going to be very different to one we see at Australia — so it’s tough to say where those two teams will figure amongst the pack.

Haas had a mixed winter but whispers are they’re looking decent but I’d imagine the top two in the midfield will come between Renault and I think Alfa Romeo could be in the mix. Their front wing design is one that everyone is talking about and I think they could easily mix it up with Haas and maybe Renault but I’m a bit skeptical about that one.

Toro Rosso, I’d imagine, will be in the lower part of the midfield but there’s optimism for them after a strong testing. Perhaps they could be duking it out with McLaren, we’ll see.

Speakng of, McLaren is where arguably the most change has occurred as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exit, and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come in. Sainz will be fine, he’ll do well. I don’t think there’s any need to worry there. It’s Norris where the unpredictability lies. I like Norris’ superstar potential. I think his ceiling is higher than George Russell’s but I think his floor is lower.

What I mean by that is I think there’s a greater potential for stardom in Norris but more chance of Norris being a bust. There’ll be ups and downs for Norris in his rookie season but I think he’ll be OK — I do expect Sainz to better him in his rookie season though.

Alfa Romeo have also changed their lineup, replacing the outgoing Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi — old and young. Raikkonen is a great addition and I think he’s going to enjoy a somewhat resurgent season, even though I thought he had a good season last year. But he’s free of Ferrari. Free of ‘number two status’, free of the awful strategies Ferrari put him on to help Vettel/hamper Mercedes. As a team leader, I think Raikkonen will have a strong season.

Giovinazzi is already under pressure due to his past. He filled in in 2017 for the injured Pascal Wehrlein and binned it on both occasions when it mattered, as well as binning it in Hungary too in a test with Haas. He’s got to build some consistency and I have no idea what to expect.

All change at Toro Rosso too, as Daniil Kvyat returns and Alex Albon is promoted from F2. I like Kvyat and I think he can have a bounce-back season but I think Albon has a tough season ahead and, with the exception of perhaps Lance Stroll, there’s a chance Albon is the worst driver on the grid — never even setting foot in an F1 car until testing.

Speaking of Lance Stroll, he joins the newly named Racing Point team alongside Perez. Perez should smoke him, I don’t believe in Stroll at all but let’s see. Their car is going to be interesting, let’s see where they’re at with this new car in Australia, again, vastly different from the one we saw in Spain.

Haas were one of the few teams to stick with their driver lineup, in fact, the only Haas and Mercedes are the only teams to retain their lineups in 2019 with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is in good shape but there’s a lot of pressure on Grosjean after his mixed 2018. He’s a good driver, for sure, but is prone to mistakes so if he can iron those out, he should have a good year because the car I think could be promising out of the box.

Renault are an intriguing prospect and I think boast one of the better lineups in Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Hulkenburg.

Many thought (myself not included) that Sainz would come and slap Hulkenburg but it never happened, Nico acquitting himself very well in that battle, besting Sainz in the end. But Ricciardo will be a different beast. As long as he can match, even if he finishes a few point behind Ricciardo (reliability depending, of course), that’s a successful season for Hulk.

In terms of Renault themselves, even if they don’t start out fourth quickest, I thoroughly expect them to end fourth quickest. How close can they get to the top three? I think they’ll be closer but not close enough to compete for podiums on raw pace.

The Rear

Williams, I’m afraid, look a long way off everyone else after their disastrous start, missing the majority of the first test in Spain.

Robert Kubica returning to F1 is a great story but it’s probably not going to be a great year for him in terms of the machinery he has underneath him to work with — he already seemed fed up with the car in Spain in testing. It might be tough to measure Kubica’s season against rookie George Russell, given that Russell, well, is a rookie.

If Russell completely out-paces him, it’s going to be tough to say whether Russell is legit or if coming back to F1 was one step too many for Kubica, faced with physical limitations no other driver has to deal with after his rallying accident in 2011.

I’m hopeful Williams will be better than advertised but it’s not looking good. The car looks great in terms of its livery but in terms of performance… Yeah… Sorry.

Awards/Predictions

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions.

Driver’s Champion: Sebastian Vettel

Constructors’ Champion: Ferrari

Best of the Rest: Renault

Surprise of the Season: Alfa Romeo

Best Rookie: Lando Norris

Most Improved: Daniil Kvyat

Most Disappointment Driver: Pierre Gasly

Most Disappointing Team: Williams

Best Livery: Ferrari, their matte finish and the added black really stand out. What a gorgeous car.

Worst Livery: Racing Point. I like the pink but the blue they added is in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t look great.

Best Helmet:

The most important one of the lot. Here are the helmets, put together fantastically by Racefans.net:

racefansdotnet-f1-drivers-helmets-2019.jpg

Lewis Hamilton’s is great this year, Lando Norris’ is great too as is Charles Leclerc’s.

I’ll say Danny Ric though — just way off the beaten path but looks fantastic — the most wild one out there.

Worst Helmet: Pierre Gasly. Hands down. Awful. There’s 1000 better ways to incorporate the French flag in your helmet, Romain Grosjean does a good job if it but this is awful…


I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

F1 2019 promises to be the most exciting season in recent memory. May she live to the hype.

Let’s go.

Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

We all knew the silly season was coming, but come on…

In what was expected to be a quiet week — with the F1 summer break upon us and the mid-season testing just finished with — Daniel Ricciardo and Renault blew everyone away on Friday afternoon when the rumours broke that the Red Bull driver had signed a contract with Renault for 2019 before the news was confirmed first by Red Bull (that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2019) and then by Renault who were obviously delighted to announce the deal.

This comes as a surprise for many reasons but mostly because, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking beyond Ricciardo for 2019, everything pointed to Danny Ric re-signing with the only F1 team he has considered home (I think that’s fair to say) — it really was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

Heck, even Ricciardo himself gave a pretty strong indication that he would re-signing with Red Bull, telling reporters in Hungary that his extension with Red Bull “…will definitely be done by Spa,” and that “It’s just a little bit of fine tuning here and there…it’s all good.”

A pretty strong indication, you’d have to say.,,

It’s unclear right now (writing this the day the news dropped) what has caused this 180 turn but I have a few theories…

Firstly, I don’t think Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda engines from 2019 onwards played that much of a role. Since Canada, where they brought a significant upgrade, that Honda engine has shown some solid competitiveness — how much worse, if at all, is it to Renaut’s engine now in terms of both pace and reliability? A lot more Red Bull-Renault engines seemed to have given up the ghost more than Toro Rosso-Hondas this season…

I do think finance has played a big part here. Being a works team, it’s no secret that Renault have a bit more disposable income at their discretion than a team like, say, Williams or Force India. I also think it’s no secret that Ricciardo is underpaid across the board, not only for what he delivers on track but off of it too — an extremely marketable (and fantastic) personality with the team itself and sponsors. We don’t know what the figures from the respective Red Bull and Renault offers were, but you’d have to imagine that the Renault offer was significantly more handsome than what Red Bull might have offered — who, it’s well documented and mentioned by team principal Christian Horner, already pay a handsome amount to Max Verstappen…

Speaking of Max Verstappen, I’m sure he played a part in this decision too. Not so much to do with Max himself (they seem to get on pretty well) but everything surrounding him — the hype, the attention (media and fans alike), Max’s growing position in the team (you can definitely sense small elements of Vettel-Webber) and possibly his salary compared to Danny Ric for all we know.

The reasons I’m sure will become a bit more clear when Ricciardo and the F1 circus arrives at Spa near the end of August but the fact of the matter is the Aussie will be donning yellow next season, leaving the team that have nurtured his 7-year Formula 1 career that started in the HRT at Silverstone in 2011…

I think it’s an extremely bold move to Ricciardo to make when he had a very safe option in Red Bull on the table. For sure, Renault have made gains in each season since their return to F1 in 2016 but they still have a long way to go if they want to be challenging Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, and I don’t expect them to be challenging Red Bull next season either unless Renault make significant steps forward with their car and engine and Red Bull fall backwards with Honda power.

But there comes a time where every man has to make a change in his life, the bird must leave the nest at some stage in its life, and Ricciardo I think will do well with a new change of scenery — I’m just worried he’ll be fighting for P6’s, P7’s, P8’s next year instead of top 5 finishes, including race victories.

With this mega announcement, Renault have confirmed their driver lineup next year as Ricciardo joins Nico Hulkenburg, paving the way for what could be a lot of change down the paddock. The silly season had begun anyways but now it’s been ignited with jet propulsion.

And, really, it depends greatly on what Red Bull decide to do with their now vacant seat for 2019. A year ago, if this situation where Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull had arisen, Carlos Sainz would’ve been the no-brainer to be his replacement. But it’s not that simple anymore.

Not only has Sainz, who has been in reported contract talks with McLaren, endured a difficult season at Renault (by his own standards) and has been outdriven by teammate Nico Hulkenburg, who many expected to trail the highly rated Spaniard, but the emergence of Toro Rosso starlet Pierre Gasly — who has performed brilliantly in his Toro Rosso this season, guiding his Honda-powered car to P4 in Bahrain and more recently P6 at Hungary — has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to Sainz and Red Bull.

But more than that, according to RaceFans.net (article linked above), Red Bull’s advisor and head of young driver programme, Helmut Marko, is reportedly against the idea of reuniting former Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Sainz again at Red Bull. With Red Bull already nailing their colours to the mast that is Max Verstappen, that would be a problem for Carlos Sainz and Red Bull, so it would seem unlikely based on that and performance this season compared to Gasly (which may or may not be a factor), that Sainz will reunite with Verstappen…

Sainz has been discussing a possible deal with McLaren, who rate Sainz highly.

“We think Carlos is an excellent racecar driver,” McLaren chief Zak Brown said. “Of course Carlos is potentially on the market, I don’t know his exact situation at Renault and Red Bull but he’s certainly someone as you go down the shortlist of drivers that you’d consider putting in your car.

“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list for a racing seat.”

If it ends up that it’s not Ricciardo for Sainz in a like-for-like swap, it blows the driver market wide open.

Firstly, it opens up the Red Bull seat to, more than likely as discussed, Pierre Gasly. I’d love to see Fernando Alonso in that Red Bull seat but that seems unlikely given how Red Bull normally promote from within — usually from their young driver programme — and possibly Alonso’s relationship with Honda (given how he often threw Honda under the bus during their three-years together) could also play a part.

If Gasly is promoted, that opens up a spot at Toro Rosso and there could be two spots open should they decide not to bring back Brendon Hartley. I still think, if Alonso stays and Sainz joins his fellow Spaniard at Woking, McLaren and Toro Rosso could come into an agreement to send Lando Norris to Toro Rosso for a season/until Fernando Alonso calls time on his stellar Formula 1 career — especially if Norris wins F2, with F2 rules preventing champions from returning to the series. It’s beneficial for everyone: Toro Rosso get a quality driver for a year or two and McLaren have their man in an F1 seat (though the complications there are obvious, it’s just a theory of mine) And after that, I think Toro Rosso are better off sticking with Hartley over test driver Sean Galael… And as for the Red Bull junior driver programme, I think they’re a year or two from promoting another one to Toro Rosso.

At McLaren, there could easily be two spots going there too if the team elect not bring Stoffel Vandoorne back and Fernando Alonso either moves on to another F1 team or retires from F1. Vandoorne has had a terrible season compared to Alonso and he’s definitely under pressure for his F1 future. If Alonso retired, his McLaren career might be safe, depending on what McLaren choose to do with junior driver — and current F2 championship leader — Lando Norris and if they sign Carlos Sainz in the process.

With the Renault lineup confirmed, the Esteban Ocon-Renault rumours disappear immediately, leaving Ocon likely to spend another season with Force India. The other seat at Force India is up for debate, with Sergio Perez rumoured to be heading to Haas and who knows what else will go down there with the recent administration. And where Lance Stroll/Lawrence Stroll potentially figure into things remains to be seen in the midst of the administration/potential new ownership process.

I think it’s at this point in the driver market where the Ricciardo-Renault news begins to have less of an effect when it comes to drives. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Williams, Haas and Sauber…

With regards Perez, he’s rumoured for a seat at Haas, who don’t have anything lined up for 2019, though it’s safe to assume Kevin Magnussen has done enough to secure a seat. I personally believe Charles Leclerc would be best suited for that Haas spot rather than a promotion straight to the best seat F1 might have to offer if Ferrari move on from Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is certainly still quick enough to be in F1 but his consistency has been left wanting this season — involved in a number of accidents/incidents this season.

Perez has also been rumoured to return to the team that gave him his first seat in 2011: Sauber. I’d be surprised if it happened but upon thinking about further, you can talk yourself into it. I certainly don’t expect rising star Charles Leclerc to remain with the Swiss outfit and I think time will finally expire on Marcus Ericcson’s Formula 1 career now that Sauber are in the points hunt again. With that said, and with Leclerc surely moving on, I expect another Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi to take his place. That 2nd spot next to Giovinazzi could end up being the lifeline of drivers such as maybe Stoffel Vandoorne, Romain Grosjean or even Kimi Raikkonen, whose name has been mentioned with Sauber…

At Williams, I’d imagine Sergey Sirotkin will remain but Lance Stroll’s spot is a bit more questionable with this Force India link. Force India, obviously, need the cash and Stroll offers that. If Stroll moves on, I’d expect Mercedes to use their connection with Williams to try push junior driver George Russell into an F1 seat at Grove. Junior driver Olly Rowland would be a good shout for the second drive as is test driver Robert Kubica.

For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas were signed to deals at Hockenheim, so nothing doing there.

And, lastly, at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is secured for another season whereas Kimi Raikkonen’s seat is not guaranteed. Raikkonen has had a strong 2018 (certainly better than his 2017 season) and I think has done enough to earn one more season with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc is the obvious replacement — and he will be one day — but I think it’s a year or two too soon for him. There’s a lot of pressures and expectations that comes with a Ferrari drive and I think the experience at Haas for a year or two would help round him out, improve as a driver and help iron out some of those little errors he makes at times that may not mean much in a Sauber but mean everything in a Ferrari — the difference between pole position and the second row. Plus, it’s not in Ferrari’s nature to promote young drivers to their seats, especially ones heading into just their second season — they just don’t do it. So for those reasons, I’d be very surprised if Ferrari actually went through with it — it would be incredibly un-Ferrari.

So, with all of that said, I’m going to (horribly) predict the F1 2019 grid.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

Should be fun to see how wrong I am, but hey…always fun.

Winners and losers on Renault, McLaren, Honda and Red Bull agreement

Image: Sutton Images 

On Saturday 15th of September it was announced that the multi-team deal between Renault, Red Bull/Toro Rosso, McLaren and engine providers Honda was done. Here’s the lowdown:

Renault get: Carlos Sainz on a years loan from Red Bull

McLaren get: Renault engines from 2018

Toro Rosso get: Honda engines from 2018

So, who won in this flurry of activity?

McLaren (for now)

We’ll start with McLaren, the reason this deal happened in the first place.

They’re finally free of Honda and, with a Renault engine for 2018, might stand a chance of returning to where they belong.

They had to act because everyone was losing in this situation because of Honda’s poor performance: the team, sponsors, the fans and, of course, the drivers. The move also all but ensures that Fernando Alonso hangs around for at least one more season at Woking, ensuring that a world-class driver remains with the team.

There is an issue though. Sure, Honda are gone from the lives of McLaren, but how far will Renault push McLaren? Will that gap to Mercedes and Ferrari ever close up before the new engine regulations expected for 2021? How much happier will they be?

Time will tell.

Red Bull

Red Bull are also winners but not from an engine point of view. Sure, having Honda supply Toro Rosso keeps Red Bull’s options open but from what Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hinted at the end of FP1 that Red Bull could be running Aston Martin engines in 2019.

No, Red Bull are winners from a drivers perspective.

They haven’t lost Carlos Sainz in all of this — he’s loaned to Renault for a year. This is huge for Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen can both hit the driver market for the 2019 season and, if rumblings are to be believed, both drivers are considering leaving — both have eluded to wanting a race winning car and Red Bull haven’t been providing that. Should one, or both of Ricciardo or Verstappen leave, Red Bull could slot Carlos Sainz into the Red Bull, something Sainz has always wanted to do.

The idea of loaning Sainz was an excellent idea and keeps at least one ace card in Red Bull’s driver deck for 2019 should things go wrong with either Ricciardo or Verstappen.

Renault (at least for 2018)

Renault are winners because they now boast a very interesting driver lineup for 2018 with Carlos Sainz joining up with Nico Hulkenburg.

While this is a great lineup to have for 2018, it might only be for that — 2018.

Sainz is loaned from Red Bull and who knows what’s going to happen with Ricciardo and Verstappen from 2019 onwards. What happens at Red Bull will be integral to Renault’s ability to keep Sainz long-term. In an ideal world, Sainz would’ve been locked up for the long term by Renault but that’s not the reality of the situation.

Long term, who knows, but for 2018 Renault look promising.

Losers

Toro Rosso

What did Toro Rosso gain out of this?

They lost their best driver in Sainz and they’re stuck with Honda engines from next year. If that Honda engine anything like it is this year, Toro Rosso are going to be right at the back. Toro Rosso have been used to scrapping for points for years now, it’s been a long time since they’ve been a back-marker team — 06, 07?

Unfortunately, those are the breaks when you’re a B-Team, but at least there’s a seat for Pierre Gasly next year? Yay?

 

Spanish Grand Prix Winners and Losers

Feature image: Sutton Images

Lewis Hamilton netted his second win of the 2017 season in an entertaining Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in second and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in third place.

Mercedes’ strategists 

The real reason Lewis Hamilton won this race was the strategy choices from the Mercedes pit wall. Their choice to get the harder compound of tyre out of the way proved to be an inspired one and it played right into their hands when a virtual safety car was deployed for the Vandoorne-Massa incident that saw the McLaren driver break his suspension.

With Ferrari choosing to run soft-soft-medium, it meant that Mercedes would be on the softer/faster compound to end the race while Vettel would be running the mediums in the final stint. It was looking as though Hamilton would have to make up 8-ish seconds in the final stint on the faster compound but that VSC — and Ferrari’s decision to not pit under it — closed the gap right up and the two were nip-and-tuck heading into the first two turns.

Though Vettel held the lead for the time being, on the slower compound he was always going to be challenged by Hamilton and on lap 44 Lewis made his move.

Even in the moment Vettel acknowledged there was nothing he could do about it and Hamilton saved his tyres very well from there on out, stretching the softs for 30 laps to finish the race.

It’s difficult to say whether Hamilton would’ve been able to catch and overtake Vettel in the absence of a virtual safety car but those strategic decisions — and Vettel being held up by Valterri Bottas after the first set of pitstops — played right into Hamilton’s hands, who closes the deficit to six points.

“…it was important for Lewis to stay close behind Sebastian – and then it was a question of undercutting or not. I think it was realistic for Ferrari to avoid the undercut and pit Sebastian. From that moment it was important to see how he moved through the traffic. We had hoped that [Red Bull’s Daniel] Riccardo would make Seb’s life quite difficult but Seb’s pace was just so much faster that he passed him quite easily – and then we were on the back foot! There was not a lot we could do so we tried to extend Lewis’s stint and hope that towards the end of the race he had a better tyre situation. Then we went on a remote strategy – putting the medium tyres on and keeping the softs for the end to be able to attack. Hopefully attack! And then the VSC (Virtual Safety Car) came and that forced us to rethink our strategy. Our strategy group opted now to do the opposite of what was planned: to pit at the very end of the VSC to make it impossible for Sebastian to react. Our timing was perfect! I take my hat off to James (Vowles, strategy chief) and his guys for that coup.

— Toto Wolff

Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber

It took until a manic and wet Round 20 of the 2016 season for Sauber team to score any points but some wonderful driving from Pascal Wehrlein and an inspired 1-stop strategy helped Sauber along to an eighth place finish (following the implementation of a 5-second penalty for being on the wrong side of the bollard heading into the pitlane) and their first points finish of the season in only Round 5.

Wehrlein himself was involved in a great scrap all race long with the quicker Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz and managed to keep him behind him, the 5-second penalty was the only thing that denied Wehrlein from P7.

“A great result for our team – with a perfect strategy behind it. Both drivers have put in a good performance. Pascal managed to have an excellent race, whereas Marcus also made the most out of the car. Today’s result proves that we are in the right direction and that there is definitely potential in our car. We are curious about what comes next in Monaco when further aero parts will be introduced.”

— Monisha Kaltenborn, team principal

Bigger picture stuff for Sauber: they’ve got themselves on the board while their biggest rivals McLaren (it’s incredibly sad to type those words…) haven’t looked like scoring at all this season and it’s unclear where and when they could score points. So that makes this result even more important for Sauber.

Force India

With the retirements of Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Valeterri Bottas, as well as the problems suffered by Felipe Massa, the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon strolled to a 4th and 5th place finish helped push Force India 43 points ahead of Williams in their battle for 4th place in the constructors while trailing Red Bull by only 19 points for 3rd place.

Shoutout to Esteban Ocon. He has been consistent all season long and 5th place is a new career-high finish for Ocon.

Great day for the men in pink.

The Kimi Raikkonen fan

This poor kid was devastated when his, presumably, favourite driver Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire on lap 1 after he was hit by Bottas which forced him into Verstappen, forcing both Max and Kimi to retire.

However, there’s a happy ending to be had. Ferrari caught wind of this and arranged for the kid to come down to Ferrari and meet Kimi Raikkonen, much to the kid’s obvious delight.

Great stuff from Kimi and Ferrari.

Losers

Red Bull

This was it for Red Bull’s season in terms of challenging for the constructors title. Their upgrades had to bring them closer to the leading pair of Mercedes and Ferrari and the end result was that Daniel Ricciardo finished 1:15 behind Hamilton. As you can probably assume, that’s just not going to get it done.

Team principle Christian Horner has conceded that Red Bull are out of the running for this year’s title, saying “…Ferrari and Mercedes did a better job in interpreting the rules than we did…”

In the engine department, Ferrari and Mercedes continue to improve and control their own engine destiny while Red Bull — a customer of Renault — continue to play catch up…

‘Danny Ric’ did boost Red Bull’s spirits a bit with a 3rd place finish but only because both Raikkonen and Bottas retired…

McLaren and their fight against Sauber

Bad, bad day for McLaren.

With Sauber’s points finish, McLaren are now solely rooted to the bottom of the standings with seemingly no points finish in sight. Fernando Alonso finished 12th for his first finish of the season in a sightly improved McLaren, but finished behind both Saubers and could only muster 12th with three regular points scorers (Raikkonen, Bottas and Verstappen) all DNFing.

For Alonso, hopefully the car is better by the time he returns for the Canadian Grand Prix after his Indy 500 adventures.

Williams

An equally tough day for another former super power of F1. Following a puncture on lap 1, Felipe Massa’s race was ruined and Lance Stroll struggled all race long with other issues. Stroll finished 16 (the last of the classified runners) as he completely fell off near the end of the race.

In the constructors standing, Williams drop to 6th place and have fallen behind Toro Rosso now. This is what happens when only one driver is capable of scoring points…

Jolyon Palmer

After a rough start to the season, things didn’t really get better for Jolyon Palmer in Spain. While his teammate Nico Hulkenburg finished in 6th place, Palmer finished 15th place, 2 laps down.

I wouldn’t be surprised — by the time the Hungarian Grand Prix comes around — if Palmer isn’t relieved of his duties. Hulkenburg’s performances are showing what is possible from that car and Palmer has been way off compared to his more experienced teammate.

Russian Grand Prix Winners and Losers

(Feature image: Sutton Images)

(Quotes: F1.com)

After finally getting a brief taste of what life is like at the front of the pack in Bahrain, Valterri Bottas took his first grand prix victory at the 81st attempt at Sochi. Sebastian Vettel ran him close but ultimately finished 2nd ahead of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen in 3rd.

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Winners

Valterri Bottas

He was on the pace all weekend, out-qualified his much more illustrious teammate Lewis Hamilton and once he took the lead at the start (tucking in nicely behind the slipstream of Vettel and off he went), he was in a league of his own in that first stint, pulling away from the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. And when things got tense at the end, when he was in uncharted waters, he held on, because it sure seemed — one Valterri had that one lockup — that Vettel (on fresher tyres) would reel him in and pass him, but Bottas held on for a memorable maiden win.

“It’s going to take a while to sink in. Normally I’m not that emotional but hearing the Finnish national anthem was very special for me. It’s all a bit surreal, the first win and hopefully the first of many. It was definitely one of my best races ever. The pressure from Sebastian wasn’t too bad; the main issue was with the lapped cars, trying to get past those. It was tricky to pass them without losing time. I also had a lockup with about 15 laps to go that hurt the pace, but it was manageable. I asked for a bit of radio silence just to get on it and focus. I’m sure this victory will give me lots of confidence going forward. I knew I could do these results, I always trusted my ability, but this result confirms it.”

— Valterri Bottas

(A cracking trophy, by the way)

The win not only gets that monkey off of his back (which would’ve only gotten larger as the season progressed) but it also puts Bottas on the outskirts of the title charge, 63 points compared the leader’s (Vettel) 86 points. As Nico Rosberg (and many others before him) would tell you, leads can disappear quickly.

A great win for Bottas, fully deserved.

Force India

Despite some criticism of the VJM-10 (with upgrades coming at Barcelona), Force India continue to finish ahead of their rivals. Another double points finish for the ‘Pink Panthers’, Perez finishing 6th and Ocon finishing in 7th.

To be fair, those finishes should’ve been 7th and 8th, a slow puncture forced Williams’ Felipe Massa to pit from 6th late on, handing Force India some extra points. Regardless, the extra points helps Force India (31 points) tighten their early grip on 4th place in the constructors standings ahead of Williams (18 points, all scored by Felipe Massa).

“…The 14 points scored strengthen our fourth place in the championship and are a nice reward for a weekend where we maximised all our opportunities…”

— Bob Fernely, deputy team principle

Lance Stroll

Lance Stroll finished a race, his first race finish in four attempts after he secured 11th place. Bar the first lap spin under the safety car, he kept his nose clean and brought the car home, even though he didn’t know exactly what to do when the race was over…

“It was so unfortunate. I had a really good start and think I was around P8 at one point, and then I got squeezed on the kerb, there wasn’t much grip and the car just got away from me. I knew I didn’t have any damage, but I fell to the back and it was just one of those things that happens. After that, it was a difficult first stint because I had that spin and then had to spin the car round to keep going, and I overheated the rears quite a bit so I had poor grip. But then I recovered a bit on the second stint and saw the chequered flag for the first time, which was nice. It was a bit disappointing with the spin, as I think it could have been quite a bit better, but we will take our first finish.”

— Lance Stroll

He has had his struggles (and they haven’t all been his fault, to be fair) so it was just good to see Stroll finish a race — should build his confidence going forward.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

A very strange weekend for Lewis Hamilton, he just didn’t have the pace — which is unusual. Very unusual. He was half a second off the pace in qualifying (pretty much all of that time was lost in the final sector) and he dropped off in the race into nowhere, constantly radioing in issues with the cooling, he felt the car was overheating and had to drop back to cool it off.

“…For me it was a very tough weekend. I just wasn’t quick enough. I’ve never had cooling issues like that before but it meant I was out of the race from the get-go. I think I had the pace to fight with Kimi, but the car just kept overheating. Ultimately, if I had better pace then I would have been further up. At least I got some good points for the team. I’m just hopeful that I can pick up the pace at the next race.”

— Lewis Hamilton

As Lewis put it himself, he wasn’t quick enough. Even if he didn’t have the issues he had, whose to say he would’ve even been able to fight with the likes of Vettel and Bottas at the front? He was off the pace all weekend compared to his teammate, I don’t think he would’ve matched him this weekend.

The only saving grace for Lewis this weekend was that Vettel wasn’t able to score maximum points but did see the margin between himself and Sebastian increase to 13 points.

Fernando Alonso and McLaren-Honda

Flip sake… This can’t get any worse, can it? After Stoffel Vandoorne suffered a DNS (did not start) at Bahrain, Fernando suffered the same fate in Russia — an ERS issue meant that, for the first time since Indianapolis 2005 (the infamous Michelin tyre scandal), Fernando did not start the race.

“It’s tough, it’s frustrating – every weekend is the same.

“My power unit didn’t have the usual power during the formation lap, so my engineer told me to change some settings on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and towards the end of the lap the engine shut down. My race was over before it started.

“Not being able to take part in the race today and not being able to finish any race so far this season is extremely tough.

“But Formula 1 is my life, so hopefully we can improve the situation soon.”

— Fernando Alonso

Racing director, Eric Boullier, also didn’t hide his disappointment:

“You cannot hide behind a result like this: finishing 14th is not why McLaren-Honda goes racing, and, believe me, we are working hard to make sure this level of performance doesn’t last for long.

“That said, it’s still extremely disappointing to run into reliability and performance issues during a race weekend – we must work together to pull ourselves out of this position.

“As for Fernando, I share his frustration – it’s not acceptable to start the second consecutive grand prix with only one car, and we need to address this shortcoming immediately. He is naturally disappointed, but things will get better.”

— Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda racing director

I hope he’s right. I hope things will get better. This is beyond a joke and I can’t help but worry if this is steering Fernando closer to retirement/formula outside of F1.

Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer

Sure, let’s lump both of these together.

Grosjean was caught out in qualifying by the two accidents at the end of Q1 and qualified P20 (started P19 once Vandoorne’s 15 place grid-penalty was applied) and Palmer spun on his final hot-lap in Q1 after his team stayed up after hours to change the chassis.

They say start as you mean to go on. I guess it was fitting then, given both of their weekend had gone up to that point, that they collided with each other on lap 1 and were forced into retirement.

Looking at the accident, I don’t think it was anyone’s fault but it summed up their disappointing weekends, for sure.

“The weekend ended how it started – badly. I think the best thing we can do is put it behind us and concentrate on Spain…”

— Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal

“I had a decent-enough start then heading down to Turn Two there was a Sauber on my outside then Romain made a very ambitious move over the kerbs on the inside from behind. There was no space for me to go because of the Sauber, so maybe Romain wasn’t aware of that, but he kept it in, hit me, then we were both out of the race. That was a shame for both of us really. I feel for my crew this weekend as they’ve worked so hard on the car, then we had such a short race. Now it’s reset, reload and look to Barcelona.”

— Jolyon Palmer

It hasn’t been easy-going for Jo, he needs a good result and he needs one quickly. Nico Hulkenburg is absolutely decimating him in the inter-team battle and some would say Jo was lucky to get the seat this season to begin with…

Felipe Massa’s slow puncture

Massa was running in a very handy 6th place and was having a great weekend having already split the Red Bull’s in qualifying but a slow puncture forced Massa to pit late and, as a result, he fell to 9th place.

“I’m disappointed, we were just unlucky with the tyres. I was really taking care of the car and the tyres, keeping the gaps in the right place, and we had a sixth position in our pocket today. It is unfortunate and painful for the team that we have lost good points, but we can’t do anything about it. The car felt good, it was consistent with a good pace, I had a good start and first lap. I was around eight seconds ahead of Perez, we were just unlucky…”

— Felipe Massa

As Felipe said, nothing you can do about it but it’s unfortunate. He was on for some good points…