10 things we learned from the 2019 Formula One World Championship
The Formula One season concluded in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at 10 things we learned from the 2019 campaign.
1. Six of the best for Hamilton
The show-stopping moments of previous seasons might be absent from Lewis Hamilton’s latest world championship triumph. But the 34-year-old has still performed at an impressive level, laying the foundations for his sixth title by winning six of the opening eight races. Aside from his Hockenheim nightmare, Hamilton has delivered arguably his most consistent year in a Mercedes car which has been second-best to Ferrari for large chunks of the campaign. Hamilton’s ability to remain at the peak of his powers year-after-year should not be under-estimated, too. He will start next season as the favourite to win his seventh title and match Michael Schumacher’s record.
2. Ferrari flatter to deceive
This could have been the year Ferrari ended a drivers’ championship drought which stretches back to 2007. But mistakes by Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc and the team have contributed to an underwhelming season. While Ferrari returned stronger after the summer break – with Leclerc victorious in Belgium and Italy before Vettel triumphed in Singapore – they failed to win as many races as perhaps they should have. Team principal Mattia Binotto is regarded within the Scuderia as a decent chap. But whether he possesses the ruthless streak required to lead the sport’s grandest team is certainly up for debate.
3. Vettel facing uncertain future
Leclerc’s strong first season with Ferrari has left plenty of question marks over Vettel’s future. Leclerc finished ahead of Vettel in the championship won more races, and secured a greater number of poles, too. The pair’s fractious relationship boiled over in Brazil after they crashed out. It seems improbable that Vettel’s £36million-a-season deal, which expires at the end of next year, will be renewed. And Binotto’s flirtatious remarks towards Hamilton here in Abu Dhabi will have done little to ease Vettel’s fears that next season will be his last with Ferrari.
4. Verstappen proves his worth
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has arguably been the sport’s star performer. In inferior Red Bull machinery, Verstappen won brilliantly in Austria, in the wet in Germany, before passing Hamilton twice en route to victory in Brazil a fortnight ago. There have been some unsavoury moments. Verstappen crashed in Belgium and then talked himself into trouble after qualifying on pole in Mexico. But Verstappen, still only 22, has boosted his credentials, with many paddock observes now believing he could beat Hamilton in the same car. The race for Verstappen’s signature in 2021 will be one of the hot topics next year.
5. McLaren show return to form
McLaren emerged from the doldrums this season, securing fourth in the constructors’ championship – the British team’s highest position in seven years. Carlos Sainz also ended McLaren’s five-year podium drought after he finished third in Brazil. Andreas Seidl, the no-nonsense German team principal, has been a welcome addition to the team, while drivers’ Sainz and British rookie Lando Norris have helped to bring back a feel-good factor sorely missing after a number of lacklustre seasons. Yet we should not forget that McLaren exists to win races and championships. Further improvement is the bare minimum required for next season.
6. Ricciardo’s Renault gamble backfires
Daniel Ricciardo shocked everyone when he ditched Red Bull for Renault. Red Bull wanted to keep Ricciardo, but the Australian – fearing that Verstappen had become the team’s priority while also chasing a pay hike – moved to Renault. However, the French manufacturer have slipped down the pecking order this year, and Ricciardo ends the campaign ninth in the championship with a best-finish of fourth. Are Renault likely to improve dramatically next year? No. Will Ricciardo already be planning his exit strategy? Almost certainly.
7. British rookies establish their names
McLaren’s Lando Norris and Williams driver George Russell have both enjoyed strong debut years in the sport, albeit in contrasting ways. Norris, 20, has largely been able to match his more experienced team-mate Sainz, and out-qualified the Spaniard 11-10. Russell, 21, has wiped the floor with Robert Kubica, completing a qualifying clean sweep here by beating the Pole over one lap at all 21 rounds. The Englishman however, ends the year as the only driver without a point. A mention, too, for the London-born Thai Alex Albon. He earned a promotion to Red Bull midway through the year before a run of steady displays guaranteed his stay would be extended into next season.
8. Williams flounder in year to forget
The tone for a miserable season was set when Williams failed to get their car ready for the first winter test. Chief technical officer Paddy Lowe, deemed too controlling by Grove management, became the fall guy. Williams turned up to the first race in Melbourne desperately off the pace, and there has been little improvement since. Deputy team principal Claire Williams has pinned her hopes on next year. But if fortunes for the British team – winners of a combined 16 individual and team honours – fail to improve, her job will surely be on the line in 2020.
9. Sad end for Kubica
Robert Kubica completed one of sport’s most remarkable comebacks, returning to Formula One eight years on from a rally crash which nearly cost him his life. The Pole, a one-time grand prix winner who was regarded by Hamilton no less as one of the finest of his generation, has failed to get up to speed, out-performed by rookie Russell at virtually every round. Kubica scored one point, at the rain-hit race in Germany, before it was announced in September that his short-lived comeback would soon be over.
10. A sad year for motor racing
Triple world champion Niki Lauda’s death cast a shadow over May’s Monaco Grand Prix, while the passing of long-serving race director Charlie Whiting on the eve of the first race in Melbourne rocked the sport. Formula Two racer Anthoine Hubert also became the first driver killed at a grand prix weekend since Ayrton Senna perished at San Marino in 1994.