With testing over and the Australian GP coming up this weekend, it’s time for the yearly predictions for the StatBlog crew, with often mixed success.
Jack Elleker – F1StatMan
I’ll start at the top, I think Mercedes will keep both titles, or at least the drivers’, Hamilton again on top, but Bottas closer than he was last year. Ferrari I believe will have the faster car and get an early lead, but later on with two top drivers be taking points from each other until tensions rise, mistakes, accidents and before you know it Mercedes and Hamilton are taking the lead of the championship. From past years Vettel hasn’t dealt well with pressure, particularly when it’s coming from his teammate.
Charles Leclerc will undoubtedly become only the second Monegasque driver to be on the podium, and almost certainly the first to win a race, the only question is how long it will take him. Bottas will actually win a race this year after a dismal 2018, if not I can see him being replaced by Ocon for 2020.
Red Bull is a tricky one, the Honda power seems to be better than it was in the McLaren years, but Red Bull are known to push components to and then over the limit, this could definitely bite them. They should win the odd race or two, but whether they’ll have enough pace for a proper fight I do not know.
Renault will grab a podium or two, but of course it won’t be Hulkenberg, Ricciardo will take that position. The midfield generally will be tight, Renault will top it, by some margin, followed by Racing Point, Haas, McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso.
Last year Williams scored a terrible seven points, this year I don’t think they will even get one, the car is a mess, the team is a mess, Martini have gone, Stroll’s money has gone, Paddy Lowe has gone and all hope is gone.
My final prediction? The point for fastest lap will make no real difference to the championships and will be scrapped for 2020.
Craig Woollard – IndyCar Writer
The new regulations shouldn’t shake the order up too much, but there are some notable groups emerging. Ferrari looks the team to beat, and Sebastian Vettel absolutely must beat Charles Leclerc this year. One needs to pick himself up after a disaster of a 2018, while the other remains a rough diamond.
Mercedes has a bit of catching up to do, as does the new Red Bull-Honda partnership. Both Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly have points to prove, for very different reasons. Lewis Hamilton should face a bit more regular opposition from more drivers this year, while it is time that Max Verstappen proved that he can fight for a championship.
While I can see Mercedes catching up and Red Bull to avoid the sort of woes McLaren had with Honda, I expect both these teams to win with both drivers, but the titles to go to Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari respectively.
In the ‘Class B’ battle, it seems as if the upper echelon of that will consist of Renault, Haas and Alfa Romeo. This is an important year for Renault, who absolutely must be fourth-best far more convincingly than it was in 2018. Haas seems to have gone under the radar a bit in testing, but save for a few reliability problems, appear to have a strong package. Alfa Romeo is also in this mix.
Nico Hulkenberg, surprisingly after beating Carlos Sainz Jr and obliterating Jolyon Palmer, seems to be a man under pressure. His objective, former Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, is no easy opposition. This is the most interesting team-mate battle of the year.
Romain Grosjean is ‘peakier’ than Kevin Magnussen, as their time at Haas has shown, so I expect this to be another closely-thought battle that may come down to individual form and a bit of luck. Kimi Raikkonen should thrive away from the politics of Ferrari, and against Antonio Giovinazzi, who is very much overdue a full-time drive. Both are regarded as excellent development drivers.
The lower-reaches of the midfield is where Toro Rosso, Racing Point and McLaren all sit, possibly in that order. Toro Rosso shares more with its big sister Red Bull than in previous years, and also runs with two drivers with a point to prove in the returning Daniil Kvyat and Formula 2 frontrunner Alexander Albon. Interestingly, both have previously been deemed ‘not good enough’ for Red Bull’s junior programme.
Racing Point is a curious one, because it completed so few laps in testing, and is expected to bring pretty much a new car to Melbourne. It should be expected that Sergio Perez fends off Lance Stroll, but the Canadian does have some strong traits behind the wheel. Expect this team, still lingering from the hangover of the financial troubles last year, to climb back to the sharp end of ‘Class B’ by the end of the year.
After being found out last year, McLaren again starts a season on the back foot. Sainz, driving for his third different team in as many years, needs to prove that he can lead the fallen giant back to where it feels it belongs. Lando Norris, I feel, needed another year in F2 before jumping to F1.
At the very back, is Williams. Williams is now the fully-fledged backmarker. But it has an excellent young talent in George Russell, who basically ‘did a Leclerc’ on the ladder up to F1. I expect him to soundly beat ‘feel-good story’ of the winter – Robert Kubica, after his eight-year absence from professional motor racing. The whole team is woefully underprepared for the year ahead.
Jack Amey – StatBlog Contributor
Testing is done and soon the 20 cars will be lining up on the grid in Melbourne. Most teams endured some issues throughout testing, including the normally imperious Mercedes outfit. But despite its setbacks, Mercedes still managed to complete the most laps of anyone by lapping Barcelona 1190 times.
Ferrari did seem to be faster than Mercedes throughout testing and this is why I think Mercedes’ dominance of Formula 1 could come to an end with Ferrari able to claim at least one title. It now has a line-up for a four-time world champion in Sebastian Vettel and a highly impressive youngster in Charles Leclerc.
One of these drivers will win the drivers’ title – Vettel, as the established Ferrari driver, will start as favourite. But if Leclerc can claim his first F1 win in the first few races, there is every chance he could assert his authority on the team and championship.
Mercedes and the new Red Bull-Honda partnership don’t appear to be too far behind Ferrari and it is very possible that Honda will claim its first victory in the turbo hybrid era. It would be a massive step up for Honda after three years with McLaren saw its reputation plummet. A year out of the spotlight with Toro Rosso has given Honda a chance to regroup while McLaren is still languishing towards the back of the field.
Valtteri Bottas has a point to prove after a winless 2018 and it would not be a surprise to see him on the top step early on in 2019. Red Bull has two drivers proving points in different ways: Max Verstappen will see this as a chance to fight for a title and prove he can while Pierre Gasly is a rookie in the team that has been promoted, in the words of Christian Horner, a year too soon (F1 Racing via Autosport).
Renault is another team that has made a step forward although it does seem to be a bit off the top three. A clear fourth place – almost in a class of its own (‘Formula Renault’, anyone?) is a requirement. Star signing Daniel Ricciardo faces up to Nico Hulkenberg, a very strong line-up for a midfield team. Renault could find that its main opposition in the battle for fourth is itself.
Behind Renault appears to be a tight battle between Haas and Alfa Romeo although both teams could mix it up with the French outfit on occasion – depending on how much progress its engine has made – would put Haas and Alfa Romeo as a battle for fifth. Haas is one of only two teams to keep the same driver line-up from 2018 (Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen) while Alfa Romeo has two new drivers – 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen and highly-rated Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
It’s hard to separate the two Haas drivers. Although Grosjean’s sometimes-unfair reputation suggests he should be getting beaten easily, he does tend to have lots of peaks throughout a season. His recovery from a disastrous start in 2018 to take fourth place in Austria was a remarkable turnaround. The key this year will be to start off well, and be consistent.
Behind Haas and Alfa Romeo will be Toro Rosso, now sharing more equipment with its sister Red Bull team, Racing Point (formerly Force India) and McLaren. Only one driver out of the six in these teams is the same as 2018 in Sergio Perez, who remains at Racing Point.
Perez’s experience could be key in getting an early upper-hand over Toro Rosso (fielding the returning Daniil Kvyat and rookie Alexander Albon) and McLaren (fielding an all-new line-up in Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz), although Sainz’s experience – in F1 rather than at McLaren – could be helpful for the Woking outfit.
Behind them will be Williams. The Grove outfit had a terrible start to the year after cancelling a shakedown then missing the first two-and-a-bit days of testing. Not only was the car late, but it looked slow as well. Last season was horrendous for Williams, and there’s no sign that 2019 will be any better.
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