Formula 1‘s class of 2019 found new and ingenious ways to thrill this season, showing the absolute zenith of driving skill and commitment in a variety of different machinery, with a variety of different experience levels. It was a season that crowned a six-time world champion, saw drivers flourish with different teams and continued the irrepressible rise of young talent.
If there was a defining theme in 2019, it was the further expansion of the F1’s burgeoning cast of next-generation hopefuls, with each of the three rookies earning consistent plaudits throughout the season. However, as much as F1 can look forward to the rise of the next wave of hotshots, 2019 only served to reemphasise the uphill task faced by any driver who seeks to displace the sport’s established megastar…
10 – Alexander Albon – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 6/18
Beat team-mate in race: 5/16
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 481/1130
Qualifying margin (to Verstappen): +0.51s
He might have spun on his very first lap in testing, but Albon burst onto the F1 agenda in 2019 to quite the most improbable extent. Following a heavy crash in FP3, a drive from pitlane to points in Shanghai was the first of several experience-defying performances from Albon. Another was sixth-place at Hockenheim – his very first taste of driving an F1 car in the wet. His promotion to Red Bull chucked him headlong into the deep end, however, he did a great job of carving through the field on his Red Bull debut following an engine penalty at Spa. Although Albon couldn’t get within range of Verstappen in qualifying, he tended to be much more respectable in race trim. His resilience following crashes in Russia and Mexico also impressed the team. A lunge from Hamilton cost Albon a possible podium in Brazil – robbing him of a headline result from an otherwise strong season.
9 – George Russell – ROKiT Williams Racing
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 19/19
Beat team-mate in race: 16/18
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 906/1151
Qualifying margin: -0.62s
Hamstrung by the deadly slow FW42 and partnered with an uncompetitive team-mate, it was up to Russell to mark his own homework in 2019. Radio calls like ‘good lap’ or ‘scruffy job from my side’ were generally the only way of measuring the former F2 champion’s progress. And yet, the telltale clues were there. A lap for sixteenth on the grid in Hungary – which came within hundredths of being Williams’ only Q2 appearance of 2019 – was unmistakably the work of a top performer. A superb race in Monaco – which saw Russell use an ‘overcut’ to pass both Alfas and Lance Stroll – was another highlight. In the car, Russell perhaps had the most confidence of all the rookies: able to maximise his rather deficient machinery whilst making very few errors. Out of the car, he delighted Williams with his maturity and intelligence. It was a slow start, but the future is bright for Russell.
8 – Daniel Ricciardo – Renault F1 Team
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 14/21
Beat team-mate in race: 10/15
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 686/1078
Qualifying margin: -0.07s
Put a top-drawer driver in a midfield world and don’t be surprised if he comes up against stiffer opposition than expected. Although it took Ricciardo a couple of races to acclimatise to his new surroundings, it wasn’t long before the Aussie was delivering predictably stylish performances and beating team-mate Hulkenberg in the process. At times he forgot he wasn’t in a Red Bull: resulting in an ill-fated lunge on Kvyat in Baku (before reversing into him in the run-off) and an over-aggressive final lap in France. There was brilliance too. A lap to out-qualify Gasly and the Mercedes of Bottas in Canada was nothing short of remarkable. Ricciardo produced stellar recovery drives from lukewarm grid slots in Japan and Mexico before delivering a banzai weekend in Austin – his fourth and final midfield ‘win’ of the season. Different team, same classy Ricciardo.
7 – Sergio Perez – SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 18/20
Beat team-mate in race: 14/17
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 783/1128
Qualifying margin: -0.13s
But for one major exception this season, Perez continued to prove that he is among the most rock-solid performers on the grid. A crash in the wet in Germany – in a race where his team-mate would go on to claim fourth place – was a rare missed opportunity at yet another podium cameo. Other than that, the Mexican spent the season completely maximising his rather underdeveloped RP19. The first of Perez’s four midfield ‘wins’ came in Baku – a historically happy hunting ground. An upgrade after the summer break contributed to an impressive sixth place at Spa before Perez produced his moment of the season on home turf as he diced with Ricciardo for midfield honours in Mexico. He produced what he described as “the best move” of his career to steal seventh from Norris on the final lap in Abu Dhabi – capping-off another impressive season in fine fashion.
6 – Lando Norris – McLaren F1 Team
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 10/20
Beat team-mate in race: 5/14
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 382/982
Qualifying margin: +0.03s
If you allowed Norris to give his own verdict on his rookie campaign, you probably wouldn’t hear much evidence of the speed, maturity and intelligence he showed all season long. The fastidiously self-critical Brit managed to steal a place in Q3 in his very first race, and whilst Sunday in Melbourne proved more challenging, a combative drive to sixth in Bahrain proved that he wasn’t just a qualifier. Alongside one of the very best performers of the year, the fact that Norris out-qualified Sainz across the season stands among the very finest achievements of the year. A tricky cocktail of unreliability, small errors and a tendency to be conservative in races rather hurt his points tally relative to Sainz. A difficult cycle of mistakes in qualifying followed by the usual self-flagellation cast a slight shadow over the latter part of his season, but there was no mistaking the arrival of a future superstar.
5 – Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 7/21
Beat team-mate in race: 6/19
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 326/1233
Qualifying margin: +0.12
The fact that Bottas definitely turned over a new leaf for 2019, produced unquestionably his best season at Mercedes and yet posed no real threat for the championship must have been a sobering experience for the Finn. The bearded Bottas ‘v2.0’ announced his arrival with a supreme win in Melbourne – 23 seconds clear of Hamilton. Unfortunately, the new Bottas didn’t really emerge in race trim again in 2019. The Finn continued to impress in qualifying; racking up five pole positions – the same number as Hamilton. His best weekend came at Austin: scoring pole position (having tended to eclipse Hamilton in high-speed S-bend complexes in 2019) before managing to pass the one-stopping Hamilton in the closing stages. Bottas made a good step in 2019, but the extent of his team-mate’s superiority in race trim will haunt any dreams of a title assault in 2020.
4 – Charles Leclerc – Scuderia Ferrari
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 11/20
Beat team-mate in race: 7/17
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 571/1078
Qualifying margin: -0.07s
There were two moments of utter brilliance from Leclerc in 2019. The first came in Bahrain where, despite a scruffy opening lap, he would have won easily if not for an engine issue. His ability to calmly digest the heartbreak in Bahrain echoed in Spa, where he took the first win of his career under the cloud of the tragic death of childhood friend Anthoine Hubert. Coupled with his supreme mental resilience was a frightening turn of single-lap pace which saw Charles claim six pole positions, more than any other driver in 2019. There were rough edges: costly crashes in Hockenheim and Baku plus a general tendency to be slightly less competitive in race trim. Leclerc couldn’t always match his team-mate’s race pace, but the SF90 was generally less impressive on Sundays. Overall, 2019 confirmed Leclerc’s fated stardom, with a small number of development pointers for 2020.
3 – Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 18/19
Beat team-mate in race: 15/18
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 985/1159
Qualifying margin: -0.74s
Having been virtually perfect in the second half of 2018, the race was on to produce a flawless campaign in 2019. And yet, Verstappen suffered moments of lingering impetuousness: slicing up the inside of Raikkonen at La Source and Bottas at the Foro Sol resulted in inevitable race-ruining contact. Boasting in the qualifying presser in Mexico that he hadn’t lifted for yellow flags wasn’t smart either. And yet, for the most part, Verstappen continued to astound in 2019 – completely maximising his RB15 (routinely stealing podiums from faster cars) and taking Honda to new heights in the process. His maiden pole in Hungary probably stands as the finest lap of the season: a masterclass on how to drive an F1 car. Elsewhere he produced a heroic win in the wet in Germany, mugged Leclerc for the win in Austria and was utterly imperious in a chaotic race in Brazil. Predictably superb.
2 – Carlos Sainz Jr – McLaren F1 Team
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 10/20
Beat team-mate in race: 9/14
Laps spent ahead of team mate 600/982
Qualifying margin: -0.03s
Having been thoroughly beaten by team-mate Hulkenberg in 2018 and joining a team in the midst of an ongoing crisis, there was no guarantee of success for Sainz in 2019. And yet, despite a rocky opening trio of races, he was soon showing speed and racecraft above and beyond anything he managed in F1 previously. His European campaign was majestic: points at every race before the summer break, a supreme recovery drive from the back of the grid in Austria and an outrageous round-the-outside move on Kvyat on the opening lap in Monaco. However, his greatest triumphs came in the fly-aways. Carlos transcended the midfield completely at Suzuka, producing pace fast enough to resist the recovering Ferrari of Leclerc. Brazil was even better: another truly stellar recovery drive this time culminating in the first podium of his career. Smooth operator, indeed.
1 – Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
Beat team-mate in qualifying: 14/21
Beat team-mate in race: 13/19
Laps spent ahead of team-mate: 907/1233
Qualifying margin: -0.12s
Hamilton’s latest season perhaps wasn’t the equal of his miraculous ’17 and ’18 campaigns. He was markedly less potent in qualifying and suffered an uncharacteristic pair of crashes in the wet in Germany. And yet, overall it was still a paragon of utter sporting excellence. At times it felt like Hamilton was deliberately diverting attention away from qualifying: routinely producing devastating Sunday performances on the back of lukewarm Saturdays. He demolished the field in Abu Dhabi, massaged the tyres in Mexico and produced a defensive masterclass against a rampant Verstappen in Monaco. His masterpiece was his execution of a bold strategy call in Hungary – catching and passing Verstappen in the dying laps. Hamilton’s mastery of the Pirellis wasn’t subtle: repeatedly delivering fastest laps on aged hard tyres. Don’t expect short odds on a seventh world title next year.