The off-season hiatus is over and all the testing and garage work is about to be put to the test once more, as the Formula 1 season gets underway in Australia this coming weekend.
Much has changed since Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth world title, with many drivers switching teams, leaving for other disciplines or entering the F1 circuit for the first time.
Here is our list of things to watch for in 2019.
Can Ricciardo bring Renault back to former glory
After four seasons of turmoil at Red Bull, Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo will begin the season on his home course with a new team. Leaving Red Bull for Renault could be a stroke of genius or a serious step backwards for Ricciardo, and the great part is that we won’t know which truth will prevail until several races have been run. Can Renault rival Red Bull? And if so, will we see some serious head to head action between Ricciardo and former teammate, friend and nemesis Max Verstappen? The duo had some heated moments on the track last season and should now finally be free to go full throttle against each other.
Red Bull and Honda
Lets face it, Honda have had some serious issues in recent years and Red Bull’s decision to team up with them looks like risky business. Of course, we’re on the outside looking in, but unless something big has happened between seasons, Red Bull could be facing a long season.
On the flip side, if Honda have turned the corner, then perhaps Max Verstappen finally has the wheels to fight for a championship. With his aggressive driving style, a competitive car could make for some serious action and competitive throwback battles between the Ferrari and Mercedes big dogs.
Hamilton’s 6th world championship title bid
Lewis Hamilton, by now, has cemented his name in the history pages of the sport and continues to chase down and smash records, and given his supreme display last season, there’s no reason to doubt that he will again be the man to beat this coming season.
Add to that an impressive display during testing, albeit surely not firing at full pace as looked to be the case for several teams as allegations of “sandbagging” arose from over teams pits. Hamilton has showed that he is a player in each of his seasons in the discipline and is always a worthy adversary. There is no reason to doubt that he and Mercedes will be once more at the forefront pushing for trophies.
Vettel versus Leclerc
If Ferrari are going to be serious championship challengers this year, they will need to see a little more from their main man, Sebastian Vettel. A four time world champion while with Red bull, Vettel’s Ferrari career has yet to see the German star continue the success most thought would continue once he joined the famed Italien manufacturer.
With Kimi Raikkonen being swapped to Sauber in favor of Charles Leclerc – in a very uncharacteristic move from Ferrari, who have traditionally placed their faith in older, experienced pilots, it could well give Vettel the challenge and the boosthe needs to finally get the best of his longtime rival, Lewis Hamilton.
Robert Kubica’s return
Williams had a rough start to their pre-season testing and practice sessions, and were two days late even getting a car onto the track. Once a giant of the sport, Williams have struggled in recent years and hopefully the return of Robert Kubica to Formula One will provide the team with the required spark to get them back to being mid-pack players.
Kubica was seriously injured in a rally car accident and despite many rumors of his return to racing, many thought his days were done. One of the nicest drivers on the circuit, and also one of the more respected, Kubica’s return has the potential to become one of thr highlights of the season. Should Williams find their way, that is.
Can Bottas do more?
Valtteri Bottas was harsh on himself during the off-season and seemed to be questioning himself and his career. Could this be the needed fuel that lights a fire underneath him and propels him towards a career-defining season? Since joining Mercedes, Bottas has played the part of the perfect wingman to five time world champion Lewis Hamilton, but perhaps as early as this season, we will see Bottas emerge from out of Hamilton’s shadow and challenge him the way Nico Rosberg did during his championship winning year.
Can McLaren get back on track?
Like Williams, McLaren are a big name in the sport that has seen better days. The teams struggles are puzzling, and even a legend like Fernando Alonso wasn’t able to right the ship. McLaren are said to have put in an extraordinary amount of work on their new ride, and it remains to be tried and testing on the tarmac. With two new drivers, perhaps things will begin to go their way again.
Raikkonen and Sauber
Kimi Raikkonen might be rejoining Sauber at the best possible moment. Last season was a solid output for Sauber and saw them raise their profile and stand out in the midfield battle. Perhaps they won’t be ready to battle the top teams but could potentially give Renault, Racing Point and perhaps Red Bull something to worry about – and with the Iceman strapped into the cockpit, anything could happen. This could be the year Sauber makes it move up into the upper echelon of Formula One royalty.
Lance Stroll and his Pink Panther
Another interesting story we will be following closely this season is that of twenty year old Lance Stroll. After two seasons with Williams, Stroll joins the renamed Force India team that his father partly purchased late last season.
Stoll’s sophmore year was fairly rocky, as was Williams season as a whole. He was devastated to have crashed out on the first lap of his home grand prix in Montreal last year, the same track where he earned his first podium appearance, and will be gunning for a top-notch placing on his third go round. It will be interesting to see how Stroll does with a new team.
We’ve mentioned Stroll (20) and Verstappen (21), who are both still very young, and there’s Leclerc (21) snd Pierre Gasly (23) who have moved up into bigger teams, but there is also a whole new wave of youth that make this years class one of the youngest… ever. Moreover, these youngsters are talented and hungry.
Lando Norris (19, McLaren), George Russell (21, Williams) and Alexander Albon (23, Toro Rosso) combine for seven of twenty drivers that are under the age of 24 years old.
The 2019 season, at least on paper, has every indication of being a thrilling year for racing enthusiasts and with just a few days before lights out in Australia, our blood levels are on full octane.
Photographs courtesy of Kieron Yates archive.