This season preview is dedicated to Charlie Whiting who died in Melbourne just before the race weekend. The ultimate poacher-turned-gamekeeper, a genuine and generous individual who will be missed.
Formula 1 In 2019
I really don’t know how to feel about this year.
On the one hand I’m excited for the competition. During testing I watched Will Buxton’s videos on the F1 YouTube channel, Marc Priestley’s F1 Elvis channel too, I was getting really amped up for season 2019 looking very competitive.
On the other hand I’m disappointed at the loss of free-to-air TV in the UK. Restricting fandom is detrimental to the long-term health of the championship in this country. Okay yes, we still have same-day highlights and live British GP on C4, as well as live radio coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live and the F1 app. But it won’t be the same. Not only will existing fans be priced out but the chance to develop young fans will essentially be restricted to households with Sky Sports F1.
On their side Sky have worked to lower the barrier to entry. The first two races will be simulcast on Sky One. There are offers available for Sky Sports F1 or the Sky Sports package as a whole during March 2019 which run for up to 2 years. I’ve taken one of them and it’ll be installed on the 25th.
And also maybe I’m just a little tired? The season is so long now. 21 races feels like hard work for a fan let alone someone working in it. But that’s a topic for another day.
There seem to be more questions this year! And that’s a great thing. F1 is dull when it is predictable and I’ve had enough of predictable F1. Maybe that’s why I grew tired.
Let’s look at some storylines for the year ahead. There are a lot of them and that’s why I think 2019 will be a really interesting season.
Liberty are continuing to develop their vision for 2021. This coming season will be when the various strands and threads come together. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with.
F1 has a lot of structural problems, not least the vastly unfair payment structure which created the two-tier F1 we have today of manufacturers and B-teams (plus McLaren and Williams) and the loss of so many other teams. The technical regulations will probably get the most media focus but the commercial settlement needs even more work.
And more immediately, how will the new front wings and enormous DRS race. or affect future plans?
Mercedes v Ferrari … v Red Bull?
You have to take testing with a pinch of salt, or a bag of sand, however Ferrari genuinely look like having a serious shot. F1 needs at least two competitive teams every year.
Ferrari have had a quick car for a couple of years, only to throw away title chances during the season with operational errors, driver errors, or simply falling behind in the developmental race. Or simply that Hamilton & Mercedes did a better job and never relented.
Charles Leclerc ought to be a challenge for Sebastian Vettel. Perhaps not at every race in the first year, but most of them. Will he be a help or a headache?
At Mercedes, how does Valterri Bottas rebound from a bad 2018? Another year overrun by Lewis Hamilton will surely see his seat go to Esteban Ocon – unless Hamilton retires and Ocon takes that seat. It didn’t help him that Hamilton in 2018 was at peak form, probably driving better than ever. From no.44’s perspective that bodes well for yet more wins and another title.
What of Red Bull? The Honda looks considerably improved after the work they and Toro Rosso put in last year. I think they’ll be ahead of where they were last year but not quite on terms with the silver and red cars.
If Max Verstappen makes overtakes like nobody else and can be a joy to watch. But if he continues to expect the world to revolve around him he may again lose points and it isn’t an endearing character trait. I expect Pierre Gasly to run him close and might even outscore him if Max gets into scrapes.
It’s hard to call it the midfield now. You have the front three. At the other end the only ‘tailender’ now is Williams. And the other 6 teams are the midfield. You see why some last year called it ‘Class B’.
Last year if you removed Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull from the race you could rarely guess who would “win”. Renault, Haas and Force India / Racing Point all had the edge at different times.
I always pick a Best Of The Rest. Who does the best job behind the leading teams?
My bet is Renault. Serious investment in facilities in 2017 will bear fruit this season, this’ll be the first car developed in the new environment. Then add Daniel Ricciardo alongside Nico Hulkenberg. Nico knows the team, Dan has a point to prove after the Red Bull relationship went sour and will only be encouraged by the team, with the Red Bull / Renault breakdown in relations still very sore.
And of course the works team now has the senior Renault supply, no need to bow to the demands of a faster outfit. At least, that’s unless McLaren leap forward. They’ll definitely be ahead of last year and could ‘win’ Class B in some races. Will they be consistent? I’m not sure, they seem to still struggle tactically and if their pace is the same I still think Renault will emerge ahead for that reason. Carlos Sainz we know, he’ll be on it. How fast can Lando Norris settle in? If the car is fast, will Fernando Alonso step back in by summer?
Sauber has rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing, though to honour history it should rightly be named Alfa Corse. Names aside, Fred Vasseur is working wonders where others failed. He’s got Ferrari on board and investing, even if it is only branding, but I imagine there’s more to it. Hence the swap with Leclerc to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen as Alfa lead driver. I expect Alfa Romeo to be right up there challenging Renault and a half-step ahead of most of the rest. They are definitely a team to watch.
Kimi might’ve been in pre-retirement mode in past seasons but he came alive in 2018 and he lives for this breed of high-downforce car, expect the same again. Antonio Giovanazzi was hit or miss in sporadic outings in F1 but is worth watching, it’s interesting the media are talking about others and seemingly not Tonio. If F1 had a Rookie Of The Year I think he’d win it.
Toro Rosso is an interesting one. Fast car last year and more of the same will put them up there. Alex Albon is interesting rookie and the return of Dani Kvyat is incredible, I never thought he’d go near the Red Bull system ever again after last time.
I honestly don’t know where to place the next two.
Haas have potential yet keep making mistakes. Sometimes the team, sometimes the drivers. Often the drivers. They make a quick car – a lot of input from Ferrari, more than any other customer in F1 – but sometimes it looks hard to drive. Maybe the setup window was narrow, maybe that’s why they get into scrapes. If Grosjean and Magnussen can stay off the walls they should go well, but there’s a lot of competition, not scoring points will punish you harshly.
Racing Point (or SportPesa Racing) are obviously a quick outfit and they’ll be getting investment from Stroll Snr. It might not show until 2020, when factory upgrades take effect, but they’ll be able to continue developing the car this year. Sergio Perez arguably the senior driver but as he’s been outgunned financially by the Strolls, will his nose be put out of joint? He won’t be calling the shots. Lance Stroll continues to learn, still makes odd mistakes but he certainly has speed, I’m looking forward to seeing that speed unlocked.
Racing Point had a disruptive 2018 with the ownership change. That’s the only reason I’ve marked them down. I’ve marked them 9th in points but they are just as likely to finish 5th.
And finally Williams. And it will be Williams at the back unless something drastic changes. The car was late but that can be recoverable. Force India sometimes failed to arrive at testing, or ran a year-old car, yet were still competitive when they brought a new one. Williams ran just over half of testing and tailed the field throughout. The saving grace is they looked possibly closer than last year. But that’s no good when everyone else stepped forward as well and you’re 2 seconds off them.
I admire that they haven’t become a B-team the way Racing Point, Alfa, Toro Rosso and Haas are. Unfortunately those links with big-spending teams are why the B-teams are faster than Williams who don’t have the ability to spend to keep up.
In terms of management all is not well. Rumours of ongoing disagreements and emergence of a blame culture means the situation is very much not under control. A successful team is a happy team. A finger-pointing, back-biting team will always fail.
Robert Kubica is the comeback story of F1. To be able to race after suffering those injuries is a testament to his perseverance. I’m intrigued to find out whether he can manage a race distance competitively, something the car problems prevented him from doing in testing, which is a real worry. He’s always been tenacious and this year will be no different.
George Russell is the real deal. Even if he looks like an artificial life form, like Jude Law in the film AI: Artificial Intelligence. Once he adapts to life in F1 he’ll make the car go as fast as it will go. But how fast is that?
Red Bull Honda