The 2019 F1 season will see 10 teams fight for the top honours. As dramatic as that may sound, we know that not every team will be fighting for Championship honours in the Formula One World Championship. (Read: 10 Reasons Why F1 2019 Is a Must Follow)
Here, we explain what each team needs to do to call the upcoming season a success.
The reigning World Champion team is one of only two teams to have retained their driver line-up from last season. At the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes would be aiming for their sixth title double in a row — eclipsing Ferrari’s five title doubles from their days with Michael Schumacher. An important achievement to consider given that Mercedes’ battle with Ferrari extends to road cars too.
Mercedes has set the benchmark across all the seasons in this hybrid-turbo era (from 2014) of the sport, but more than ever before, their reign at the top seems like it could come to an end with Ferrari’s seemingly better form during pre-season testing. However, the F1 2019 season is 21 races long and Mercedes’ in-season development program is second only to Red Bull Racing’s, so expect them to battle till the very last race.
If rumours from pre-season testing are anything to go by, Mercedes could be approaching the season with a two-spec car approach — one that would make them lethal across all kinds of circuits. As the season progresses, how to handle the Bottas-Ocon situation could become Mercedes’ major headaches, should Bottas go winless in the first half of F1 2019. All in all, we expect Mercedes’ professionalism and ruthlessness to make it only that much tougher for Ferrari to beat.
Our prediction: Drivers’ Championship (1st, Hamilton), Constructors’ Championship (2nd)
The wait for Ferrari to become World Champions is only getting longer; their last wins were back in 2007 (Drivers) and 2008 (Constructors), statistics that almost every Formula One fan has heard several times now. In their desperate attempt to return to title-winning ways, Ferrari sport a new line-up of drivers and technical staff this season.
Sebastian Vettel, starting his fifth season with Ferrari, will be partnered by Ferrari’s junior driver, Charles Leclerc — also the team’s youngest drivers since the 1960s. The Vettel-Leclerc relationship will define Ferrari’s challenge through the season. At least in the early season, Ferrari have thrown their weight behind Vettel, but it will be interesting if their young prodigy is able to challenge the veteran.
Mattia Binotto, Ferrari’s Chief Technical Officer for the past several seasons, was promoted early in the year to the role of Team Principal. Binotto’s appointment reminds us of team appointments from the earlier eras where the most senior role was served by a technical member. If pre-season testing form is any indicator (but it usually isn’t), Ferrari start F1 2019 as favourites — as they did in 2018 and possibly 2017 too.
However, the past few seasons have shown how Ferrari have thrown away titles despite having a better car. So, for F1 2019, one would be hoping that Binotto has sorted the team’s politics out to ensure that they are able to cross the finish line in first place. Seemingly, the fight between Ferrari and Mercedes is going to be close and it could be that the team committing the least number of mistakes could come out triumphant. Ferrari’s title scars from the last two seasons will make them formidable opponents.
Our prediction: Drivers’ Championship (2nd, Vettel), Constructors’ Championship (1st)
Red Bull Racing
First things first, one needs to applaud Red Bull Racing’s guts for their switch to Honda power. Basically, they ditched the second-slowest power units (of Renault) to use the slowest power units (of Honda) from last season. Second, they did so because they were confident of their capabilities of developing a strong chassis that would overcome the deficit of Honda’s power units and still have them finish third – as a worst case. Red Bull Racing have made multiple claims in the pre-season – Helmut Marko’s target of five wins, their race pace comparisons to Mercedes (faster than) and Ferrari (slower than) and above all else, the possibility of Max Verstappen be crowned the sport’s youngest World Champion.
In F1 2019, Honda will decide Red Bull Racing’s fate. For the first time since Honda’s return to Formula One, the Japanese manufacturer had fewer issues with their power units during pre-season testing. In fact, Red Bull-Honda have publicly stated the possibility of them using five power units through the season (instead of the mandated three), offering us an indication that they will choose a balance of power and reliability to suit their needs through the season. If Honda deliver to Renault’s power unit levels from 2018, Red Bull Racing will be in the fight. If not, could Red Bull Racing slip down the order and end up competing in the competitive mid-field? This could be the key narrative of the F1 2019 season.
The other aspect that could impact Red Bull Racing’s performances this season is that of drivers — Verstappen (21 years) and Gasly (23 years) form the youngest driver pairing among the top three teams. Will Verstappen’s youthful impatience cost the team strong finishes? Is he mature enough to lead his team forward? And of course, will Red Bull Racing (read: Marko) be patient as Gasly finds his feet in the Verstappen-obsessed team?
Our prediction: Third (Constructors’) – with a rollercoaster of a season where they could be fighting Ferrari-Mercedes at a some of the races and in the mid-field in the others
The F1 2019 season could define Renault’s future in sport. From supplying power units to four teams in 2017, the French manufacturer will be supplying to only two teams in F1 2019 – Mclaren and themselves. Will the lack of competitive reference hamper Renault’s progress to the faster end of the grid? Renault have made it publicly clear that the absence of big budgets and their desire to not-outspend is the key reason behind their performance lag with the top teams, but the team did manage to infuse fresh investments last season. Let’s hope this money didn’t go in securing the services of Daniel Ricciardo alone.
Ricciardo’s arrival has buoyed Renault, and to keep the Australian driver happy, they will need to do much more than produce social media videos. Nico Hulkenberg starts his third season with the team and the strong and stable Ricciardo-Hulkenberg partnership should give Renault the edge over their rivals in the mid-field. Although highly unlikely, if Red Bull-Honda struggle, Renault would be eager to pounce on them and fight for the third place.
Our prediction: 4th or 5th (a lucky podium for Hulkenberg and a couple of podiums for Ricciardo? Oh, that’s wishful thinking)
The American-owned Formula One team is expected to go quicker in F1 2019, given the stability in driver line-up (only team after Mercedes to have an unchanged pairing) and the stronger but controversial customer ties with Ferrari. The upcoming season could cement Haas’ image in the sport of Formula One — they could go from being the youngest team on the grid (okay, Racing Point is just Force India) to a consistent mid-field team in just their fourth season. As Haas continue to succeed, expect their customer ties with Ferrari to come into stronger focus. The Magnussen-Grosjean pairing is experienced, but also mistake-prone, especially with Grosjean. Have the teams ironed out their problems and eliminated rookie-mistakes for F1 2019? Let’s remember, Grosjean no longer has Marcus Ericsson to blame his errors on!
The former World Champion team is trying all it can to get back to competitive ways — and it should. After an embarrassing few seasons with Honda, Mclaren would have found solace in finishing sixth in 2018 with Renault power. However, the past giants of Formula One know that their place is at the front of the grid, to expand the top-3 into top-4, but it seems that only a complete regulatory change (in 2021) could make that possible. Or, if Mclaren develop their own power units! The team from Woking has more changes to its technical staff than any other team on the grid. Gil de Ferrari’s experience from Indy Car, Peter Seidl’s experience from the World Endurance Championship and James Key’s technical brilliance is who the team has placed its bets on for resurrection. However, the impact of this trio’s inputs may only be seen by or after the mid-season, so let’s hope that the first half of the season doesn’t yield embarrassing results.
On the driver front, for the first time since decades, Mclaren are fielding an all-new driver line-up with Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris. Fernando Alonso, who is always around and ever-so-ready to jump in the car, is expected to mentor the team’s relatively inexperienced driver line-up. For Sainz-Norris’ case, let’s hope that Mclaren have a half-decent car for F1 2019. For their failure could have devastating effects on the careers of two fine and under-development racing drivers.
Astonishingly, Mclaren’s last title triumph was back in 1998 — and it seems that their wait to go back to championship winning ways is still a few seasons away. For F1 2019, the team would be hoping for consistent points finishes with at least one, if not both the cars.
Our prediction: 7th or 6th or worse, 8th
Force India, the ‘best bang for buck’ champion team, is rechristened to Racing Point after a mid-season buyout in 2018. The team’s most recent news has been about the positive impact of the new investors’ financial infusion, the team’s desire to fight with the best, the plans of a new factory and announcement of several new sponsors, including a title sponsor. Racing Point, who actually had clocked lesser laps in testing than in 2018, are also working on delivering updates to their cars for every race of the season – an almost-unheard-of position to be in for a mid-field team.
However, the team has been the ‘best of the rest’ in 2016 and 2017, and they certainly know how to build a stable car and develop it through the season. But will the team’s Achilles heel be owner Lawrence Stroll’s son Lance’s lack of pace? The young Canadian driver won’t have the car to blame as often in the upcoming season, especially if Sergio Perez is able to deliver as consistently as he has in the past several seasons. In Perez-Stroll, Racing Point have the two drivers who have claimed the non-Ferrari/Mercedes/Red Bull podium since 2017. All in all, F1 2019 could go a long way in defining the fate of the Stroll family in the world of Formula 1.
Our prediction: 4th – 5th (Perez to score a surprise podium this season too? Will it be in Baku again?)
Alfa Romeo – Sauber (Read: Alfa Romeo: Already The Best Team Of 2019)
The marquee Italian car manufacturer’s first wins in Formula One date back to 1950 and 1951, however, it seems unlikely that they will be winning in their first year of return as Alfa Romeo Racing (earlier Sauber). Like Haas, Alfa Romeo’s biggest strengths lie in the technical partnership with Ferrari — will this drive them to the sharper end of the mid-field? The team’s pre-season testing form was impressive, but will the Raikkonen-Giovinazzi partnership be able to deliver an edge over the seemingly stronger mid-field pairings? For Alfa Romeo, F1 2019 will serve as a platform to stabilise before strengthening their presence in Formula One. Let’s remember, the team did show an upward step towards the end of 2018.
Our verdict: 5th – 7th
2018 was a season of sacrifice for Toro Rosso, the Red Bull B-team; and we expect F1 2019 to be one even more so. From testing drivers, Toro Rosso have been testing Honda’s power units for Red Bull Racing. The departure of James Key is not expected to impact Toro Rosso’s progress in F1 2019 – like Haas-Ferrari, Toro Rosso aim to work closer with Red Bull Racing than before. Alexander Albon was snatched from his Formula E contract at the last minute and was impressive in testing. As for Daniil Kvyat, it is heartening to see the talented youngster get so many chances. While they may not be the slowest team-car on the grid, let’s hope that excessive engine-related penalties don’t see Toro Rosso finish at the bottom end of the championship.
Our prediction: 9th or 10th
The most successful team of the 1990s is enduring its worst phase as a Formula One constructor. This is despite having championship-winning power units (from Mercedes) in their cars. It seems strange that it was only a few seasons ago when Williams were fighting for podiums, claiming pole positions and finishing third in the championship. For the first time in their history in the sport, the team missed two and half days of pre-season testing. Strangely enough, their reasons aren’t linked to financials — unlike other mid-field teams, Williams receives a preferential payment from Formula 1 irrespective of their performance through the season. Paddy Lowe, Mercedes’ technical chief who was offered as a swap to Williams in exchange for Bottas’ services, reportedly took off on personal leave after the team’s delayed start to testing. Will he come back at all, or has Lowe departed for good? Can Williams survive without his technical guidance or who will they hire as his replacement?
The 2018 Formula 2 Champion, George Russell, will partner former Formula 1 prodigy, Robert Kubica, at Williams for F1 2019. The pair might not be able to showcase their pace and talent given that Williams’ lack of pace from pre-season testing is public knowledge. If F1 2019 ends up being a disaster, expect Williams to make an early switch to planning for 2020 ensuring that they don’t end up from two disastrous seasons to a third — as is the case in Formula One usually. Finally, could F1 2019 be the last year when Williams competes under their own brand name? Could a team-sale or a management shake-up be in the offing?
Our prediction: 10th
This post was first published on Firstpost