The 2019 F1 season is only a few days away and the excitement levels are sky-high. Last season, we saw Ferrari put down a strong challenge to Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship as their lead drivers Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battled for supremacy. We saw intense pressure at Red Bull Racing as teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen took each other out at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The midfield battle was tight, as was the fight to stay off the back of the grid. The 2019 F1 season promises to offer all this – and more. The grid has seen a sea of changes, including the promotion of Charles Leclerc to Ferrari, Ricciardo moving to Renault, Sauber evolving into Alfa Romeo Racing and Red Bull Racing moving to Honda engines.
Following are 10 reasons why you must not miss the upcoming season of Formula 1:
1. The Ferrari vs Mercedes (vs Red Bull Racing?) battle
Do Ferrari have what it takes to decisively challenge Mercedes in the 2019 F1 season – all the way to the end? Will the new partnership with Honda pay off for Red Bull and propel them to the top or would it demote them to the mid-field? Since all three of these front-running teams have so-called ‘number one drivers’ (Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen), the rivalry between them will be exciting. Will Hamilton, who seems on top of his game in every way, continue to stay motivated?
Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly will add freshness to the mix at the front, while Valtteri Bottas will work hard to prove his worth to the team – and hopefully extend his contract. For a sport that has been struggling to retain its viewers and grow, a three-car race up front could be exactly what the doctor ordered. Interestingly, the sport is also giving a bonus championship point for the driver with the fastest lap in the race, provided he finishes in the top 10. What implication will this have on the championship standings?
2. Four exciting new rookies
Four drivers make their Formula 1 debuts this season – George Russell (Williams), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) and Lando Norris (Mclaren). As we remember, it is probably one of the few seasons in recent times where there are more rookies than world champions on the grid!
Russell, last season’s Formula 2 champion, and Norris (the runner-up) had their share of duels last season, but could now well be battling to stay off the back of the grid as both Williams and the Mclaren are not in top shape. After the recent successes of talented rookies – Verstappen and then Leclerc – the spotlight on them has only gotten brighter, and the expectation has grown heavier. Speaking of rookies, Mick Schumacher (Michael Schumacher’s son) races in F2 this season and it is only time before he lands a F1 test.
3. The heroic return of Robert Kubica
This is something we have been eagerly waiting for – the heroic return of Robert Kubica to the grid with Williams after his life-threatening rally crash in 2011. We were there when he ran his first official F1 session (Barcelona, 2017) and it was very special. How will Kubica perform over the course of the strenuous Grand Prix weekend, given his physical limitations? Woefully, the Williams car is the slowest on the grid, and Kubica will have to work doubly hard to prove himself. His rookie teammate George Russell is at a starkly different point in his career – but with as much to prove and could be a tough competitor.
4. F1’s milestone 1,000th world championship race
2019 marks a special milestone for Formula 1 as a whole – the series’ 1000th world championship race, which will happen at the Chinese Grand Prix. All eyes are on Liberty Media and what they are planning to celebrate the milestone event. For the drivers and teams, winning the sport’s 1000th race will be a special achievement. Interestingly, the first-ever Grand Prix (in 1950) was won by Alfa Romeo – a team that makes a comeback to the grid this year through their partnership with Sauber.
5. Aerodynamic changes – leading to 2021 changes
Seldom has the sport invested so much time and effort in researching rule changes – as they have done for the 2019 aero changes. The desired outcome from these rule changes is closer racing and more on-track battles for the drivers and fans alike. If the aero rules deliver, a pat on the back for Liberty Media and the FIA – it only makes their task for the 2021 rule changes easier.
However, if they don’t, one wonders how future rule changes would come into play while of course hoping that we don’t have a snore-fest in 2019. All in all, the racing this season could serve as a preview of the future formula of Formula 1.
Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Renault was shocking and sensational in equal measure – and in a few races time, judgments will be passed on whether it was a pure genius or career suicide. As their best ever season since their return to Formula 1, Renault will be hoping to challenge the top three teams more closely this season.
7. The challenging and chaotic midfield battle
Last season, the mid-field battle was arguably even more bloody than the big war at the top of the field – and 2019 promises to be even more competitive. Renault, Haas, Racing Point, Mclaren and Alfa Romeo could all be scrapping for the coveted ‘best of the rest’ tag. They’ll also be hoping to grab the odd podium, especially at the notoriously unpredictable races like Azerbaijan.
Each team has its own strengths – Renault has an enviable driver line-up while Haas is one of the two teams with driver continuity from 2018 and their controversial partnership with Ferrari. Both will be riding high on the fact that 2018 was their best result ever since they joined the grid in 2016, and at the same time, will be hungry for more.
Racing Point will be looking to make a point after Lawrence Stroll’s investment in the team, while Alfa Romeo will look to leverage their new partnership and the presence of former world champion Kimi Raikkonen. Mclaren would be out to prove that they are on the mend and 2019 is a step forward in every way. Finally, if Honda’s lack of power puts Red Bull Racing in the mid-field, the action in Formula 1.5 (unofficial title for the mid-field) could be more interesting than the action in Formula 1. Ricciardo said that in the midfield, the driver will make all the difference – let’s wait and find out!
8. Mclaren vs Williams at the back of the grid
Times have been tough for both world champion teams as they have scuttled to keep themselves off the back of the grid. Red Bull’s Helmut Marko said that this is yet another season where Williams and Mclaren fight for the bottom slots – will this prove to be true? If you’ve been watching the recent Netflix series on Formula 1, you know how dire the situation is for both teams. Finishing last means the smallest slice of the pie in terms of earnings (aside from their historical bonuses). It also means that advertisers and sponsors do not find the teams attractive, star drivers (Fernando Alonso) leave, investors (the Strolls) move on, and the general morale is low. Specifically for Williams, the financial health and survival of the team hangs in balance.
9. A new era at Ferrari emerges?
Ferrari has traditionally been a team that chose experience over potential – and World Champions over rookies. Hence, their promotion of Leclerc (in place of former World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen) was a surprise for many. It made us sit up and take note – is this the new Ferrari we are seeing? At the same time, questions about the dynamic between Vettel and Leclerc also remain unanswered. For Vettel, time may be running out to show the team that he is the one who will dethrone a seemingly invincible Hamilton. It is worthy to note that the last time Vettel had a young teammate (Ricciardo at Red Bull racing in 2014) he was beaten on points and number of victories.
Can Leclerc manage to pull off a similar upset? The prospect of Leclerc battling Verstappen is also deliciously exciting, in what could be the battle of the ‘next generation of Formula 1 champions.’
10. Lance Stroll – no more excuses
Too much has been said about Lance Stroll – and in a way, the driver just doesn’t stop surprising us. He has had several bizarre crashes – and at the same time, managed to grab a podium for a struggling Williams out of nowhere. His move to Racing Point – made possible by his father Lawrence’s investment in the team – gives him a car that is known to be competitive.
The paddock will be waiting to see what Stroll can do in this car, and also against teammate Sergio Perez who is known to be one of the best drivers out there. This is especially in light of the fact that Lance displaced Esteban Ocon (a well respected talent and Mercedes junior driver) to get this seat, and hence needs to show that he deserves it. One thing’s for sure – Stroll Jr will have to take ownership for his results and will not have the luxury of deflecting things onto the team.
The 2019 F1 season promises to be a real blockbuster with action up and down the grid. Don’t miss tuning in – it’s going to be a real cracker!
This post was first published on Firstpost