As the first race in Melbourne draws closer the pecking order for the season is beginning to take shape, perhaps altered by new aerodynamic regulations for this year. It’s difficult to be sure where every team stands at the moment, as statements to the press have been predictably guarded, but it seems that testing in Barcelona has given some teams cause for optimism and others plenty to worry about.
Mercedes have won the Drivers’ and Constructors’ double in each of the last five seasons. Under the excellent leadership of Toto Wolff, they have produced the longest winning streak since Schumacher and Brawn’s Ferrari team of the early 2000s. Continuing with Hamilton and Bottas, the team has one of the most experienced driver partnerships on the grid and are a safe bet to continue competing for poles and victories this year.
A likely challenger to Mercedes’s dominance, Ferrari has withstood a winter of significant changes. Maurizio Arrivabene has been replaced as team principal by Mattia Binotto whilst Kimi Raikkonen lost his seat to Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc. These changes–alongside increased spending–have seen a racy-looking car arrive in Barcelona. The rhetoric accompanying this has been fierce, with Vettel stating that “Ferrari has everything it needs to win the title”.
The third team with hopes of the championship will be Red Bull, who hope that the switch from the unreliable Renault package to Honda engines will allow them to take the fight to Ferrari and Mercedes. They claimed to have the best chassis last year and arguably had the fastest driver in Max Verstappen. If Honda can compete with the Mercedes and Ferrari engines ahead, Red Bull will be a serious contender.
Renault are likely to continue being ‘best of the rest’ but they will hope to challenge at the front this year, high ambitions that led them to the signing of Daniel Ricciardo. However, there are few signs Renault will have the car to fight those ahead. Haas F1 will also aim to build on a strong 2018, their best-performing year since they entered the sport, and will be continuing with the same strong pairing of Romain Grosjean and the often-controversial Kevin Magnussen. The success of their new striking black and gold car may depend on Ferrari’s ability to continue winning the engine development battle against Mercedes.
Alfa Romeo will be the new name of the team which ran as Sauber last year. They made huge improvements throughout 2018 and they will aim to continue this progress in 2019. Kimi Raikkonen will be sure to push the car to its limits: don’t be surprised if he gets the team their first podium since 2012. New team Racing Point will take over Force India, buying them out after they had run into financial difficulties. Talk of increased investment under new ownership will be welcomed, and new driver Lance Stroll will be looking to shake off the ‘pay driver’ tag sometimes assigned to him, competing against established runner Sergio Perez.
Towards the back of the pack, Toro Rosso have praised their engine suppliers, Honda, in what should be good news for sister team Red Bull. The rookie Alex Albon and Daniil Kyvat form a slightly suspect driver partnership. Expect an unspectacular, if consistent, performance this year. Another team that is tipped to struggle this year is McLaren: after a poor finish of 2018 the Surrey-based team have little cause for optimism after losing a huge asset in Fernando Alonso and using weak Renault engines. This could be a year to forget for a team already gearing up for the big rule changes in 2021. Williams’ season is already off to a bad start after they arrived at pre-season without a car. This caused them to miss two days of running, and the car that then arrived looked unsophisticated and will be unlikely to pose any real challenge to the field.
Formula One 2019 may well be the most unpredictable season since hybrid engines were introduced, with three strong teams that each have a genuine chance of being champions come November. This level of competition hasn’t been seen since 2010 and I for one cannot wait.