In a year that saw a host of new faces join the ranks, we’ve also said a few sad goodbyes, and there’s plenty more change to come in 2020.
It was Hamilton’s year – yet again – and a winning season for Mercedes – yet again – but things aren’t quite as black and white in the world of F1 as the final standings might suggest. While the Silver Arrows swept up virtually all before them, there were plenty of movers and shakers elsewhere, as teams jostled for position and drivers set out to make a name for themselves.
Hamilton becoming officially the second most successful F1 driver of all time is something that will live long in the memory… until he (almost) inevitably draws level with the great Michael Schumacher, of course. In the end Hamilton cantered to the title with relative ease, but it’s always a joy to see the Mercedes driver in full flow.
While Hamilton appeared almost entirely unflustered, would-be rival Sebastian Vettel’s season was slowly unravelling, and his composure went with it. As well as a few memorable tussles with teammate Charles Leclerc, Vettel’s meltdown came to a head in Canada. Leclerc had been dominating the points, and Seb knew he had to pull off something magical to get his season back on track. Ironically, it was going off-track that spelled out the beginning of the end; approaching a chicane – and with Hamilton in his rear-view mirror – the Ferrari driver went off onto the grass, suddenly swerved back onto track and ended up with a five-second penalty and second place. All of this resulted in Seb swapping his ‘2’ board in parc fermé with Hamilton’s ‘1’ in a moment that generated countless social media memes and actually resulted in Vettel being voted driver of the day.
At the start of the season, there were only two teams who actually retained both drivers from 2018 - aside from Mercedes and Haas, the grid had a very new look. At Ferrari, much-vaunted rookie Charles Leclerc was promoted from Sauber to take Kimi Raikkonen’s place, with the Finn heading to Alfa Romeo. Daniel Ricciardo’s headline switch to Renault, Lance Stroll’s predictable move to Racing Point, Daniil Kvyat’s resurrection at Toro Rosso, Gasly’s promotion to Red Bull and the new McLaren pairing of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz were big talking points, though there was little more newsworthy than Robert Kubica’s seat alongside George Russell at Williams – the Pole making his return to F1 after being away for almost a decade.
Was it naive to expect line-ups to remain intact all season? Perhaps, but it was still a bit of a jolt for poor old Pierre Gasly, who was unceremoniously demoted down to Toro Rosso after a tepid start to the season, with Alex Albon completing the second half of his very first season in F1 in the fabled garages at Red Bull. The arrivals of Albon, Norris and Russell – and the ongoing success of drivers like Max Verstappen and Leclerc – mean that the future of F1 is clearly in good hands. The changing of the guard does mean saying goodbye to a few favourites though – Kubica’s return has been short-lived, with Nicolas Latifi joining Williams for 2020, and Nico Hülkenberg’s long stint in F1 coming to a close as he’s replaced by Esteban Ocon.
The 2019 season was also marred by two crushing and monumental losses to the sport. Charlie Whiting, FIA F1 director, passed away the day before the season’s opening race in Australia. Known to all as Charlie, he managed to combine being incredibly popular with implementing the rules, a feat few could achieve. Then, as the eyes of the F1 world turned to Monaco, the news broke that one of the most iconic, celebrated and inspirational figures in all of sport had been lost; Niki Lauda, three-time World Champion, Mercedes non-executive director and beloved personality passed away peacefully surrounded by family in May, leaving the F1 world poorer.
And what of next year? 2020’s prospects are incredibly exciting; McLaren are (almost) back, Verstappen is raring to go as always, the mid-table teams look more competitive than ever, and the battle at Ferrari is far from over – if nothing else, we can likely look forward to more Seb v Charles fireworks. And then there’s Valtteri 3.0 - we were promised a new and improved Bottas in 2019, though there simply has to be more to come for the Finnish driver to retain his seat.
Watch this space.
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