It seems like just a few short weeks ago that Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso were putting the final touches on the 2018 season with a synchronized doughnut display worthy of a perfect 10 score by the judges at the Yas Marina circuit, but here we are with new cars, new rules and regulations, new driver pairings and fresh optimism for a new championship. The pursuit of building the perfect racing machine is never ending for the ten constructors comprising the grid, so let’s dive right in and make some predictions about where they stand as we close in on the green flag at Melbourne.
Disclaimer- I’ll just get this out of the way now: F1 cars should be loud and should be a handful to drive, even for a top flight professional who has been racing since the age of five. Unfortunately, the 2019 cars do not fit this description.
The word for the 2019 season is PRESSURE. F1 is always a pressure packed environment, but I can’t remember a season where you have more young talent trying to fight their way to the top while the established old guard is fighting to keep the status quo. This will be the ultimate game of driver Survivor and more than one career will be made or broken over the coming 21 events.
Constructors Battle: It’s Ferrari vs Mercedes in a flat out development race that will continue all the way to Abu Dhabi. I’d love to say that Red Bull Honda are going to join this fight right out of the gate, but I think they will need a season before they are legitimately in the title hunt. The trend the past 2 seasons has been for Ferrari to start the season with a slightly better package, only to lose out to the German marque as the season progresses. In an attempt to remedy this situation, Ferrari sacked the movie star cool Maurizio Arrivabene as team principal and replaced him with Mattia Binotto. I don’t know too much about Binotto, but he has the look of a hard core engineer so maybe the Scuderia will get back to the glory days of Jean Todt and Ross Brawn at the helm.
Driver Battle: The 2019 title fight will be all about 5 time world champion Lewis Hamilton, 4 time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, Dutch Sensation Max Verstappen and the relatively unknown, Charles Leclerc. Hopefully this will be epic, but what really has me jazzed up are the inter team battles from Merc all the way down to Williams. There will be 10 mini wars taking place in each garage up and down the paddock that will be exciting to track throughout the year. Here’s a closer look:
Mercedes: Lewis vs Bottas. We’ve seen this movie before. Hamilton and Bottas start the year relatively equal over the first quarter of the season, but then the Finn runs into some bad luck (Baku puncture while leading) and before you know it, Lewis is miles ahead in the points and Toto Wolff is referring to Bottas as the “wing man.” Bottas then seems to become demoralized and is trounced by his teammate after the summer break. With Estaban Ocon waiting in the garage, this will be the last chance for Bottas to prove he belongs with the sports finest team. He is going to need to pull a Nico and rattle Lewis early or else he’ll be looking for work in the mid field for 2020 (if he’s lucky). Prediction for the higher classified car at the end of each GP: Lewis 16 – Bottas 5
Ferrari: Vettel vs Leclerc. Team leader Vettel loses the comfort of a compliant #2 in Kimi and suddenly finds himself having to prove his worth against a young man who clearly has some genius behind the wheel. Leclerc was the 2016 GP3 champ, the 2017 GP2 champ, and last year was the breakout rookie for Sauber. This battle should be fascinating. Vettel still has the speed to win more titles but his racecraft was below average on more than one occasion last year. Leclerc had the Sauber in positions it had no place being in last year so there will be multiple weekends when Vettel will have to take a backseat to the Monégasque prodigy. Will they be able to coexist if this happens? Who will crack first? Prediction: Vettel 14 – Leclerc 7
Red Bull: Verstappen vs Gasly: Max comes into this season as the true team leader and should thrive without having to worry about Danny Ric stealing his thunder. Gasly will be desperate to prove to the Red Bull brass that they made the right decision and will be on the limit and then some trying to keep Max in his sights. He will also be lobbing a healthy dose of schadenfreude at the Toro Roso drivers in hopes of keeping his seat safe. Gasly is legit and will be quick, but I’m calling that this is the year Max becomes the full package and takes the next step towards becoming the world champ. He reminds me of Senna and Schumacher in his unwavering self belief and dedication to his craft. The guy truly was bred to be in this position and I still believe he will go down as one of the 10 best ever when it’s all said and done. Prediction: Max 16 – Gasly 5.
Renault: Hulkenberg vs Ricciardo: For Nico, this is a huge opportunity to prove to the paddock that it’s been his equipment holding him back over the years and he really is worthy of a big time ride. It’s insane to think that he’s never had a podium after 9 full seasons, but now he’ll face a motivated teammate in his prime with 29 podiums and 7 wins to his name. For Danny Ric, first he’ll have to be on top of his game to get the best of Nico before he can focus on building a team around him with big aspirations and factory resources. The Aussie can certainly get it done on the track, but it remains to be seen if he has that ruthless political side that is necessary to bury his teammate and take a team to the top. Prediction: Ricciardo 13 – Hulkenberg 8
Haas: Grosjean vs Magnussen: The French artist vs The Viking. It seems that when the mood is right, the lighting is right, the wine is tasting splendid and she’s giving him the look, Grosjean can deliver big time. On most others days he’s pretty dreadful. Magnussen on the other hand is all right foot and big balls. It’s a strange driver pairing and I don’t think they are helped by their strategists on race day compared to the rest of the field. If Grosjean can keep the car off the walls then he should prevail, but if he has a repeat of 2018 he will likely be looking at a career in FE or WEC. Prediction: Grosjean 11 – Magnussen 10.
Alfa Romeo: Raikkonen vs Giovinazzi: I just love this pairing. At this point Kimi is sticking around purely for the love of driving an F1 car on the limit. He may be the only guy on the grid without an ounce of pressure and will likely thrive under the circumstances. Giovanazzi on the other hand is an Italian rookie in the unofficial Ferrari junior team going against a man they (Ferrari) just sacked because he couldn’t get the job done next to Vettel. Talk about pressure! If he can’t beat Kimi on a regular basis then Ferrari will likely go with another option when the time comes to replace Vettel. Prediction: Kimi 13 – Giovinazzi 8.
Racing Point: Perez vs Stroll: Another intriguing battle pitting a young driver in Stroll out to prove that he’s more than just the son of the team owner against an established vet in Perez fighting to keep his reputation intact. If Stroll does prove to be a worthy competitor, look for more fireworks along the lines of Ocon vs Perez. Checo made it very clear over the past two years that he will drive his teammate into the wall on a regular basis if necessary. Here’s hoping for a Carlos Slim – Lawrence Stroll chest bumping, finger pointing argument in the back of the garage at Monza. Prediction: Perez 16 – Stroll 5.
McLaren: Sainz vs Norris: Yet another great case of a veteran at the ripe old age of 24 in Sainz trying to keep his career trajectory headed in the right direction. To do so, he will have to comprehensively squash British boy wonder, Lando Norris. Sainz didn’t do himself any favors with a mediocre year at Renault alongside Hulkenberg in 2018 so his F1 career now likely depends on leading a McLaren resurgence. At 19, Lando comes to F1 with a really cool name, a world karting title, the Euro F3 title and a series runner in GP2 under his belt and no doubt will be determined to show that he’s the next Lewis Hamilton. If McLaren produces another dog these guys will likely both be tossed to the scrapheap. This should be fun. Prediction: Sainz 14 – Norris 7.
Toro Rosso: Kvyat vs Albon: This is an intriguing battle between two drivers that have not had an easy road to the 2019 F1 grid. For Kvyat, this is his third go round with the Red Bull brass. The first two attempts obviously didn’t end well but maybe a year away at the Ferrari finishing school has given the Russian the right tools to maximize his talents. Somebody with some pull at Red Bull obviously rates this guy because getting a third chance is unheard of. For Albon, just getting to F1 has been a minor miracle because he didn’t have a Brinks truck full of cash or factory backing for much of his time in the junior categories and his results were all over the board. Last year in GP2 was a true breakout for the 22 year old by winning four races so it will fascinating to see how he gets along with the pressure of Red Bull on his shoulders. Prediction: Kyvat 12 – Albon 9.
Williams: Russell vs Kubica: And bringing up the rear of the field may just be the best interteam battle of them all. Kubica, essentially driving with one arm after an eight year layoff, is taking on yet another British Boy Wonder, the 2017 GP3 champ and 2018 GP2 champ, Mercedes protege George Russell. I’ve always considered the Pole to be in the Alonso, Lewis, Vettel class prior to his devastating injury but taking on a kid with the golden boots may be a tall order. I’d love to see Kubica dominate the kid, but if the Williams is consistently bringing up the rear of the field it will likely play into the hands of youth and exuberance. Prediction: Russell 14 – Kubica 7.
So with that said, here are the 2019 Predictions:
Hamilton – 8 wins
Vettel – 7 wins
Leclerc – 2 wins
Verstappen – 3 wins
Bottas – 1 win
And just for good measure here are 5 Bold Predictions:
-Last year there was one podium finish for those not driving for Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. For 2019, there will be………..2!
-Kimi Raikkonen will be spotted in a rooftop bar in Singapore drinking cocktails 2 hours before the start of the GP and will then finish 4th.
-Liberty Media will make such a mess of the 2021 rules and prize money distribution package that the 2021 grid will be comprised of the following teams: Williams, Racing Point, USF1, Gentilozzi Racing, Andrea Moda F1, Harding-Steinbrenner, RuSport, Jaguar, Minardi and MasterCard Lola F1.
-Vettel is going to toss away a 20 point advantage to Hamilton over the final 3 races and will retire to the German countryside to focus on German Beard competitions.
-Lewis will capture his 6th title and will then retire to focus on his global brand and get his first of many plastic surgeries that will eventually lead to him resembling the late Michael Jackson. The 2020 Mercedes lineup will be Ocon and Russell.
Enjoy the season and RIP Charlie Whiting!