A look back at the season gone by, with an eye on the future
It was a bit of an anti-climatic end to the season, but unfortunately for the Yas Marina circuit it often is
SO THERE WE GO – THE 2019 FORMULA 1 championship has drawn to a close with Lewis taking another victory and the two young pretenders to his crown standing alongside him at the final race. It was a bit of an anti-climatic end to the season with a dull race in Abu Dhabi but unfortunately for the Yas Marina circuit it often is.
Lewis and Mercedes were in a class of their own all weekend and once he got to the first corner first, there really was nothing anybody else could do to stop him. Max did another strong race, finishing over 50 seconds ahead of Alex Albon showing that Red Bull really do rely on Max to deliver while Ferrari have never gone particularly well around this circuit.
With the race being a bit uneventful, I thought it’s probably a good time to look back at the season on the whole. Mercedes were the best team as a package of competitiveness. Lewis has been very good all year, especially on the Sundays. He shouldn’t have won races like Canada, Russia and Mexico but he was there to capitalise on errors from the opposition and the commanding wins in Spain and Silverstone where despite being behind Valtteri on the grid, he turned the tables in his favour.
Valtteri had a better year than the last one. The wins in Japan and Austin showed that he was capable of hitting the highs he needs to beat Lewis, but in a very BarrichelloSchumacher sort of way. Like Rubens, Bottas is up against the best driver of his generation, so it’ll be a tall order to beat him across the year and he’ll need to dig deep to do so.
Ferrari had another year of under-delivering. They looked brilliantly fast in pre-season testing but then we got to Melbourne and they were nowhere in comparison to Mercedes. In 2017 and 2018, Vettel could have been champion, while this season, Leclerc could at least have taken the battle to the final round. When we add up all the errors, he should have arrived in Abu Dhabi nine points behind Lewis. On the whole, Mercedes had a faster car than Ferrari for probably 75 per cent of the season but the Scuderia still underdelivered on what they had.
The Italian team were lucky that Red Bull’s second driver didn’t really match Max. The Anglo-Austrian team seemed to be affected by the change in front wing regulations more than some others and did struggle at the start of the season. By the time we got to
Austria, the championship challenge didn’t look like it was on the cards anymore but Verstappen was able to rack up three victories and secure third in the Championship. Honda looked like it made decent progress this season and the reliability was a lot better.
When you look at the qualifying comparisons, Gasly was on average 0.417 away from Max, whereas Albon was actually further away at 0.433. The problem for Gasly was that early on in the season, the Red Bull wasn’t as good a car and therefore he would often get caught up battling with the midfield runners. Albon did seem to make progress in the races a bit better than Gasly, but considering the gap to Max, you have to wonder how much of that is the car now being a lot better than it was at the start of the year?
The midfield battle was as tight as ever this year. McLaren did an outstanding job over the winter to go from sometimes having the slowest car on track in 2018 to being the clear best of the rest in 2019. It’s not often we see such a turn-around from a team, and it shows that if your fundamental concept is wrong, as it seemingly was in 2018, giving up on it and committing to a whole re-think can be rewarding. With Andreas Seidl and James Key leading the team, Zak Brown selling the dream to sponsors, two good drivers, a Mercedes engine deal and a new wind tunnel coming, they seem to finally have the foundations in place to be a top team again.
This was a breakout year for Carlos Sainz. Until now, we did wonder just how good he actually was but in 2019 he seemed to find a whole new level and establish himself as a true star of F1. Lando Norris has clearly got great speed and his Qualifying performances were very impressive but his inexperience in the races showed sometimes. Carlos was able to put together better Sundays in general to get nearly twice as many points.
Renault, Haas and Williams will be disappointed with their seasons while Racing Point seemed to match their expectations in what is a year of transition for the team. Alfa Romeo had an inconsistent season where they sometimes had no idea why a car that could get into Q3 one week, couldn’t even get out of Q1 the next. Toro Rosso had some brilliant highs with the podiums in Hockenheim and Brazil and they will benefit from a stable driver line up for next season. So there we have it, another year over and done with. Hope you’ve all enjoyed my columns this season and I look forward to bringing you more insights in 2020! ⌧