In addition to a raft of new technical regulations for 2019 which promise closer, more competitive racing, the upcoming Formula One season will also feature new driver pairings and the long-awaited arrival of Honda engines in the back of the Red Bull racers.
By Graham Duxbury
The combination of Honda’s new 2019 power unit, the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB15 and Max Verstappen, currently the brightest star in the F1 firmament is, for me, one of the most exciting and eagerly-anticipated developments.
Honda, who made significant strides forward in terms of performance and reliability last year (at the expense of Toro Rosso grid penalties it must be said), is certainly hungry for a return to race-winning form. Will the new Red Bull be the car to deliver on this expectation?
Another interesting change is the arrival of the young Monégasque driver Charles Leclerc at Ferrari. He replaces Kimi Raikkonen. Charles will surely keep four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on his toes. If Seb’s form takes a dive (as it did when Daniel Ricciardo joined him at Red Bull in 2014) or he suffers the consequences of on-track mistakes, similar to those he made in 2018, then a new Ferrari team leader or even Ferrari-powered world champion could emerge by season’s end.
Speaking of Kimi, he moves to Sauber (alongside Antonio Giovinazzi), the team with which he entered F1 seventeen years ago. It will be sad to see the Finn, in the twilight of his career, fighting for positions at the tail end of the top ten. His legion of fans will hope for some Iceman-inspired surprises.
I am disappointed by Daniel Ricciardo’s sudden move from Red Bull to Renault where he join Nico Hulkenberg. Most F1 fans (including Daniel) acknowledge that the French team will be hard-pressed to compete with the top three (Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Red Bull).
However, his decision was probably prompted by the clear writing on the wall at the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes foretelling of a team increasingly focused on Verstappen, the team’s defacto number one driver.
Ricciardo is replaced by Pierre Gasly, promoted from the fizzy drinks company’s Toro Rosso junior team. It will be interesting to see how the young Frenchman deals with Max, his old karting rival. The team dynamic’s development should be interesting to observe. Gasly, as we’ve seen, is no push-over.
Given that his father is now a part-owner of the Racing Point (formerly Force India) team, Lance Stroll’s move from Williams has been a formality. He joins the well-funded Sergio Perez in the pink-liveried team, unfortunately relegating the highly-regarded Esteban Ocon to the side-lines and the role of a Mercedes third/ reserve driver.
Ocon’s manager is Toto Wolff, the influential Mercedes boss, so we can expect Esteban to maintain a high profile in the F1 paddock in 2019.
Mercedes-Benz, incidentally, will continue with its driver line-up of Lewis Hamilton (now a five-time world champion) and Valtteri Bottas. The only other unchanged driver pairing in the field is at Haas where Kevin Magnussen again partners Romain Grosjean.
At Toro Rosso, the once demoted, dropped and reinstated, and then finally sacked Daniil Kvyat is inexplicably brought back for another crack at F1, this time alongside 2018 F2 third-place finisher Alexander Albon. Alexander is the first Thai driver to compete in F1 since Prince Birabongse of Siam in the early 1950s.
It is all change on the driver front at McLaren too, where Carlos Sainz and F2 star Lando Norris will make every effort to deal with the recalcitrant, uncompetitive orange racers abandoned by Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. It could be disheartening for Sainz, who is still seen as an emerging talent, and Norris who has much to prove in his rookie year.
In one of the sport’s “feel good” stories, Robert Kubica will make a keenly-anticipated return to F1 with the Williams team. A supremely talented driver and F1 race winner in 2008, Robert has spent many years recuperating from a severe rallying accident sustained in 2011. He still does not have full use of his right arm and, to a large extent, drives one-handed.
He is joined at Williams by the current F2 champion George Russell. The pair will be charged with helping the Grove-based squad recover from their worst-ever season in F1. It won’t be easy.