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The Haters Guide to the 2019 F1 season - Part 2

FEATURE BY GUEST AUTHORS
12/03/2019

We're down to the final five teams in the second part of this year's F1 season preview.

Such has been the competition disparity between the top three teams and the rest in recent years, it's unlikely that there's going to be any great surprises here. But there are still enough new pieces in play, such as Honda at Red Bull and Leclerc at Ferrari, to keep things interesting.

Haas

Wow, a JPS knock-off black and gold livery. It's only been a couple of seasons since we last had one of those! Still, I suppose it's better than the "doctor's waiting room" insipid colour scheme that they've run in the last few years...

And what about that sponsor, Rich Energy? Who has ever heard of them before? Their CEO claimed that Haas is "vastly superior by every metric" to rivals Williams and McLaren. Despite Haas only being four years old. And Williams and McLaren having won 36 titles between them. It looks like being an amusing year as far as press releases go, and since the departure of the likes of Flavio Briatore, the sport has been lacking the type of person you'd politely describe as a "character".

The frustratingly inconsistent Romain Grosjean returns. Remember when he had aspirations of driving for Ferrari? That looks like being just a distant memory now. In some ways, Grosjean is lucky to still be here, considering his awful start to last season. Let's just hope, for everyone's sake, that his form doesn't further regress to when he last drove a black and gold car.

On the other side of the garage, Kevin Magnussen is likely to remain the grid's irritant. He'll put in the occasional strong drive, be strangely anonymous at other races, and be the source of many other drivers' team radio rage. There's seemingly never a dull moment when mad Magnussen's around.

Renault

It's another year of disappointment for anyone who was hoping Renault would return to having a predominantly yellow car. Although given the gilets jaunes movement in France, perhaps that's a wise move...

Renault is one of the most interesting teams this year, thanks to their surprise signing of Daniel Ricciardo. The sport's most frequent grinner didn't have a whole lot to smile about last year, despite winning two races. There became a regular monotony in seeing Ricciardo's Red Bull break down, and he failed to finish 10 races in total.

On the face of it, this move seems an odd one. Has anyone told Daniel that it was Renault engines that forced many of those retirements? Although given Red Bull's new deal with Honda, maybe he felt it was safer to be with the devil you know.

Ultimately, this is a move for the future, and aside from possibly a strong showing at Monaco, it's unlikely we'll see him drinking champagne out of his racing boot on the podium very often. His rivals must be delighted at his move to Renault for that very reason - expect stomach bugs to be less common in the paddock this year.

Alongside him will be Nico Hulkenberg, who, amazingly, still has not had a single podium since entering the sport back in 2010. He's been around for so long he's starting to feel like this era's Nick Heidfeld - a driver who is easy to forget about till he's upside down on the first lap or having a confrontation with Kevin Magnussen after a race.

Despite the lack of podiums, Hulkenberg is still a very dependable driver, and how he fairs against arguably the strongest team mate he's ever had in his time in the sport will be one of the intriguing subplots of the year.

Renault is cautious about their performance this year - so cautious in fact that they'd prefer us not to make any predictions of where they'll finish in the championship. But I'm going to really stick my neck out, and say they'll finish somewhere between first and last. You heard it here first.

Red Bull

Another year, another Red Bull launch when they unveil their car in a livery they're not going to use for anything else. What really is the point of those? "You like this livery? Too bad, since we're not using it."

The bigger news is that one of the longest running sagas is finally at an end. Red Bull and Renault have parted ways at last. You could call it "Rexit", I suppose. The two have been bad mouthing each other for several years, like a dysfunctional couple, and finally decided to file for divorce. Red Bull have won custody of the child in Max Verstappen, and already moved on to a new partner with Honda.

They're in the honeymoon period of their relationship right now, but should the Japanese manufacturer once again fail to deliver, then this could turn into an even more spectacular fallout. Given that having a Honda engine has only been slightly preferential to having a pedal-powered car in recent years, there's every chance that this could become a new hit soap opera.

But equally, should Honda finally get their act together, this could be a potent mix. Despite sounding like he's only eight years old when he's on the radio, and having the mentality at times of a stroppy teenager, Verstappen has established himself as one of the fastest drivers on the grid. If he can avoid a repeat of the crash filled start he endured to the beginning of last season, then Verstappen could be a championship challenger from the first race. Some have him down as the driver most likely to give Lewis Hamilton sleepless nights.

On the other side of the garage is Pierre Gasly, who fulfils the team's requirement of having two cars on the grid. In normal circumstances this wouldn't have happened - Red Bull made it clear of their desire to retain Ricciardo. But due to his exit and limited options elsewhere, they've not really had any other choice. Gasly is a solid driver who may well score some decent results, but on balance he's unlikely to give his star team mate too much to worry about at this stage - something that, however much they'd undoubtedly deny it, is likely to be a welcome relief within the team.

Ferrari

It's now been ten years since Ferrari won either championship. To put that in perspective, in a decade, you and I have won the same number of championships as the oldest and most successful team in the sport's history.

And with every year that passes, it becomes ever clear this is not the same all-conquering team from the early noughties. Disaster is never far away - in the last two years, Ferrari has suffered a catastrophic collapse in the second half of the season that a demolition outfit would be proud of. If you squint a bit, the red Ferrari livery and yellow badge could in fact be a "caution" sign - the caution here being to not to get your hopes up before they inevitably suffer yet another heart-breaking defeat.

But perhaps there is reason for optimism this season, particularly after a very strong first test. In a Red Bull inspired move, Ferrari has replaced Kimi Raikkonen for the second time in ten years. In his place is Charles Leclerc, one of the most exciting young talents on the grid. It's probably worth guessing now when Ferrari will replace him only to bring him back a few years later.

After a tricky couple of races, Leclerc was one of the standout stars of last season, and how he adapts to the pressure of a championship contending team will be one of the stories of 2019.

And what of Vettel? As strange as it sounds for a four-time champion, this may well be the year that defines his legacy. He's on thin ice after looking like he was driving on ice for most of the second half last year, where he spent a large part of the season facing the wrong way or finding ever more creative ways to throw away points.

Comparisons are already being made to 2014, when Daniel Ricciardo was Vettel's new team mate at Red Bull. Ricciardo took three wins that year, Vettel took none and left for Ferrari before any further damage to his reputation could be done.

Will history repeat itself with Leclerc? It's time for Vettel to show us how he won those four championships.

Mercedes

Prepare yourself for yet another season of Mercedes desperately trying to convince everyone that they are really the underdog. Toto Wolff made the bizarre claim in the off season that due to the new aerodynamic regulations being introduced, even Williams could be a threat to them. Yeah, right.

While this is likely just an attempt to convince those who've become bored of Merc's success to not give up on the sport, you shouldn't believe a word of it. Make no mistake, while ever these V6 turbo engines are being used, Mercedes are as close to being the underdog as Williams are to winning the World Championship.

Unsurprisingly, Mercedes had a very quiet opening test, and you will no doubt read stories about how Ferrari and even Red Bull are significantly ahead. But this is still a team that has won a whopping 74 races since 2014, and is yet to relinquish either championship to a rival team since the new formula was introduced.

They are also the only team this year to have continuity in their driver pairing, much to the despair of everyone wishing to see Lewis Hamilton challenged by his team mate again. Indeed, Hamilton's biggest error last year was describing his home town as a "slum" at a BBC awards show, and, whatever you think of him as a person or of his lifestyle, you have to concede that he has emphatically outperformed all his rivals in recent years.

Valtteri Bottas meanwhile simply needs to have more of a contribution to the season than just getting out of Hamilton's way. It's incredible that in a car that won 11 races in the hands of Hamilton, he won zero. Although arguably he was hard done by - most noticeably in Russia, where he handed a clear win to his teammate at a time the championship was pretty much already out of reach of Ferrari and Vettel.

But with two talented youngsters in Esteban Ocon, who will be watching this year from the sub's bench, and George Russell on Mercedes' books, Bottas is under pressure to deliver like never before. Watch him do just enough to earn a contract extension and annoy everyone who isn't a Lewis Hamilton fan again.

Predictions

It's easy to go with the clear favourites in Hamilton and Mercedes to claim yet another championship, and you definitely wouldn't get good odds on them at the bookmakers.
But I feel that this season is potentially something of a changing of the guard, albeit one that depends on a lot of ‘ifs'. If Honda can finally deliver, then this could be Max Verstappen and Red Bull's year. If Ferrari can finally put a full whole season together, this could finally be the year they end their championship drought. If Leclerc can cope with the pressure at Ferrari, he could become champion in only his second year in the sport, or push Vettel to the heights we saw from the German in 2011 and 2012.

It's sure to be a fascinating year. Lewis and Merc start as favourites - but this season could be their toughest one yet.

James Singleton

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1. Posted by TokyoAussie, 13/03/2019 3:39

"Who wrote this drivel? It's quite good."

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2. Posted by Anthony, 12/03/2019 13:57

"Good article!"

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