FEATURE: Who Is In The Hot Seat For The 2019 Formula 1 Season?

by Aaron Gillard
Valtteri Bottas - Helmet

The 2018 FIA Formula 1 Season may have only just reached its conclusion, but the 2019 season isn’t too far away and the drivers are already preparing for another competitive year in F1.

Some drivers have excelled over the year and brought a lot of attention and rewards to their respected teams. Lewis Hamilton wrapped up a record-breaking fifth world championship, whilst drivers such as Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly impressed the big teams such as Scuderia Ferrari and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, clinching a seat at the top tier of the sport.

But there are those who failed to impress the eyes of the public, and a few who will join into the sport with a weight of expectation on them, putting them under a lot of pressure heading into the 2019 season. A few drivers are already in the hot seat and will need to make a big impression if they want to keep their seat, or even stay in the sport. So who will have to impress in the paddock and prove their worth in the sport?

VALTTERI BOTTAS – MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT

Valtteri Bottas - Mercedes - Paddock

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

The 2018 Formula 1 Season for Valtteri Bottas will be a year of ‘what could of been’ for the Finnish driver. Bottas is the only driver out of the top 6 to not win a race, but he still ended the year fourth overall in the drivers’ championship. His year was plagued with so many factors that hindered his season and subsequently played a supporting role to his Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team-mate in ensure the two titles were secured. Bad strategy calls, unexpected mechanical and car failures and team orders were the main factors that prevented him from clinching victories over the season. Some even could of played a defining moment that could of seen Bottas be a potential championship contender, or even leading the series come the German Grand Prix.

But by the end of the season, Bottas repeated his form from the end of the 2017 season. Off the pace, couldn’t compete for a race win and was generally off the ball. Whilst he does play a great supporting cast for Mercedes and Hamilton, fans are not pleased with his end of the season despite feeling sympathy for him at the beginning of the year. Question marks are on his future at the team for the 2019 season, as the Finn signed a one-year extension deal at Germany. Whether he’ll get a new deal will be the question that’ll be asked come midway through the season, when drivers and teams start negotiating for the 2020 season. Bottas’ biggest threat for his seat in 2020 is Esteban Ocon, who will be sitting on the sidelines at Mercedes next year. Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff has stated multiple times that Ocon will be a Mercedes driver in the future. Could that happen as early as 2020? It’ll all depend how well Bottas does next year.

ROMAIN GROSJEAN – HAAS F1 TEAM

Romain Grosjean - Haas - Paddock

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

It took nine races for veteran Romain Grosjean to score his first points of the 2018 season, coming at the Austrian Grand Prix with a fourth place result. But the beginning of the year saw the Frenchman suffer bad luck and accidents that raised eyebrows throughout the paddock. He was constantly out-performed by his team-mate Kevin Magnussen throughout the year and scored majority of Haas F1 Team‘s points over the year. Grosjean’s season came alive between Germany and Belgium where he scored on each occasion. His points finish at Monza was taken away from him due to being disqualified for an illegal floor the team used, the protest came from rivals Renault Sport Formula One Team, who were passed by the American team after the race in the constructors’ standings.

For 2019, Grosjean was kept on by Haas along with Magnussen for another year, but no doubt pressure is on the Frenchman’s shoulders next year to prove he still has the pace and consistency. At 32 years of age, Grosjean will need to show Haas and F1 that he hasn’t lost any talent. Pressure could be mounting on Grosjean as Haas brought in Pietro Fittipaldi and Louis Deletraz for the post-season Abu Dhabi test and potential future roles within the team. If Grosjean has another season where he doesn’t deliever results, Haas could seek a change of line up for 2020. Grosjean has been part of the Haas team since their formation and has delivered their best results in its short history. But in their best season, Grosjean has been down the order and the pressure will be on to make a turn around next year.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL – SCUDERIA FERRARI

Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari - Paddock (1)

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Finishing second in the drivers’ championship once is impressive. But when the team forged a car and package to compete with the best and in some cases, become the best, second place for the second consecutive year is not good enough. Sebastian Vettel revieved Ferrari’s ambitions in 2015 and made their first push for a title in the V6 Hybrid era in 2017. Their title collapse at the end of the season saw them finish second fiddle to Mercedes and Hamilton. In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari were in a great position to stop Mercedes and looked to have developed the best car. But multiple mistakes and setbacks, including a crash whilst leading the German Grand Prix, halted any chance of Vettel winning his fifth title in F1.

Vettel has gone under a lot of criticism over the past two years for his mistakes during the championship battle, but he still remains the man to lead Ferrari to their first title since 2008. But next year, a change in Vettel’s team-mate will look to create competition within the Italian camp. Kimi Räikkönen is swapped with Charles Leclerc after impressing in his first season in F1, adding some fresh blood to the Ferrari team. Whilst it may take time for Leclerc to settle and find his feet at Ferrari, this move will certainly be a wake-up call for Vettel to deliver in 2019. If all fails, Vettel may lose the number one role at the team to his new team-mate. Will Leclerc play a support role to Vettel next year? Who knows. But the clock is ticking on Vettel to win a title at Ferrari before eventually, the reigns get passed onto Leclerc.

DANIIL KVYAT AND ALEXANDER ALBON – RED BULL TORO ROSSO HONDA

Alexander Albon - Daniil Kvyat - STR

Credit: James Bearne/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

The pair haven’t even turned a wheel yet at Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda. But both drivers will have something to prove for the 2019 season. Daniil Kvyat is back in F1 after a year away from the sport. For the third time, he returns to Toro Rosso and hopes to restart his F1 career after a messy spell with the team following on from his Red Bull demotion in 2016. Alexander Albon on the other hand, will be looking to make his mark in F1 as Thailand’s first F1 driver since Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh in the 1950s. After an impressive FIA Formula 2 season, Albon was re-signed by Red Bull to takeover Brendon Hartley‘s seat for 2019. Albon, like Kvyat, was a former Red Bull junior driver but after the 2012 season, was cut from the programme. But his return will see Toro Rosso field a new line-up to the team.

This line-up however, will be a stock gap line up in preparation for 2020, when potentially Dan Ticktum could be making the step up to F1. Ticktum is a few points short of a Superlicence and Red Bull tried their hardest to find any loophole to secure a licence for the British driver. If Red Bull do aim to bring Ticktum into F1, it’ll most likely start at Toro Rosso, meaning either Albon, Kvyat or both could lose their seat as early as 2020. A freshly motivated Kvyat will need to prove that he was worthy of a third chance and Albon has to impress in his rookie year that he was the right pick for the job. If both perform well and above expectations at Toro Rosso, it could delay the arrival of Ticktum or open further opportunities with other teams on the grid. Either way, both Kvyat and Albon will be pushing their best for their F1 careers.

ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI – ALFA ROMEO SAUBER F1 TEAM

Antonio Giovinazzi - Ferrari - Paddock

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

The Italian has already got two races under his belt, coming from Sauber as a last minute replacement for the injured Pascal Wehrlein in 2017. But 2019 will see Giovinazzi start a full-time season with Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. Over the last two years, he has tested with three Ferrari powered teams: Sauber, Haas and Ferrari. He’s tested and prepared himself for a potential future F1 drive and after a year since making his debut, Giovinazzi was signed on to Sauber for the 2019 season alongside Räikkönen.

Giovinazzi however, will need to show Sauber that he has changed from his two drives from the 2017 season, where he crashed twice in one weekend in China at the same corner. Some may argue that he was very raw in his first two races. That he didn’t have enough time in the car to learn and eject more pace out of it. That argument maybe correct, but during the 2017 season Giovinazzi made multiple errors and mistakes in his Practice runs. He is up against tough competition with Räikkönen as his team-mate in his full debut season. They’ll be cases where he’ll make a couple of mistakes and that is normal for a rookie. But Sauber will be expecting to make a push in the midfield with their two new drivers and Giovinazzi will have to show why Sauber made the right choice. If not, it may put a lot of pressure on his shoulders for 2020 to deliver. If he can make it there.

ROBERT KUBICA – WILLIAMS RACING

Robert Kubica - Williams - Paddock

Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

Everyone loves a comeback story. Everyone loves it when a former athlete overcomes a massive setback to their career and then fights to make it back on to the sporting stage. We’re talking about the Tiger Woods‘, the Eric Berry‘s, the Michael Jordan‘s. A star that made a return to the stage and excelled. Robert Kubica was considered to be one of best talent to arrive into F1 during the 2000s, a talent that was taken away from us due to his rally accident in 2011, sidelining the Polish driver for the 2011 season and never returned since. But in 2019, Kubica is back! He’ll make his return to F1 in 2019 with Williams Martini Racing, completing an incredible comeback story.

The appointment of Kubica has received mixed reactions however. Some are happy that he has been given a second chance and able to complete a heroic story that’ll fans remember for some times. Whilst others have questioned whether Kubica still has the same skills as he had beforehand in the late 2000s. Next year will be a challenge for Kubica. Now that the story is now complete, he has to show the world and F1 that he can still perform in the sport, eight years after his last race in the 2010 season. The pressure is on Kubica to perform and to keep pace with team-mate George Russell throughout the season, otherwise we could see Kubica’s time in F1 cut short. It may take time for the Polish driver to develop and learn F1 again in a racing environment but it’ll be whether there is enough time for him to get back on pace. It is also unknown how long Kubica will be in F1. He is currently 34 years of age and reaching towards the bracket where drivers start thinking about retirement. Whether Kubica’s tenure at Williams will be a one-year term or a future long deal remains the question.

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