Saturday, October 24, 2020

F1 2019 – Season Review and awards

Well… what a year it has been. We came into this season with two ‘new’ teams, several new drivers and some interesting new regulations. There have been some significant high points, some heartbreaking low points, but the sport seems to have found a way to reconnect with it’s fan base and is beginning to regain some of the magic that had felt lost in past seasons.

Coming into pre-season testing, fans were excited for a few different reasons. We would be seeing the debut of former F2 stars George Russel, Lando Norris and Alex Albon, while Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc would be making the step up to Red Bull and Ferrari respectively. The youth movement was fully in swing in Formula One. This season would also see the return of Robert Kubica after his horrific rally injuries back in 2011.

We would also be seeing the introduction of some new regulations aimed at making wheel to wheel racing a little easier, in the hope of creating more on track overtakes not aided by DRS. It’s safe to say that regardless of how well these new regulations worked, we had one hell of a season. Let’s break it down.

Best Driver

At this point, how much more can be said about the greatness of Lewis Hamilton? While it could be argued that Max Verstappen can stake a claim as best driver this season, the bottom line is that for the time being, Lewis Hamilton is still the best on the grid. He has worked out so many of the issues that we saw in his formative years and now presents what is essentially the model driver.

Hamilton keeps his nose clean throughout race weekends (mostly), finishing this season without a single DNF, he also finished on the podium in all but three races this year, just going to show how dominant a season this really was for Hamilton.

We saw some fantastic races from Hamilton thorughout the calendar; at France, Britain, Hungary, Belgium, Mexico and USA. All showing different qualities, but all incredibly impressive in their own rights. He definitely made some mistakes, looking at Germany and Brazil, but you would be hard pressed to find a single driver that made less errors than him this season. He’ll be on the hunt for number seven in 2020.

Best Drive

There are a number of performances that could make the cut for this selection, we have witnessed some utterly incredible performances throughout this season and it’s difficult to select just one to take this prize. Lewis Hamilton chasing down Max Verstappen at Hungary was one of his more impressive drives, but in the end for me it came down to two – Max Verstappen at Germany and Carlos Sainz at Brazil. Sainz just edges it.

Watching the highlights of his rise up the grid in that race is utterly captivating, his move on Perez for P15 is fantastic and it’s a sign of the driver that he has become. Securing a first podium for McLaren since the very first race of the turbo hybrid era back in 2014. He was helped out along the way by a couple of incidents, but taking the hard tyres for an incredible 43 laps (far longer than their estimated lifespan) is a testament to his ability.

Best Rivalry

The best rivalry we have seen this season is a new one, but it’s one that we should have the great pleasure of watching unfold over the next decade at the very least. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen.

The pair of youngsters had some sensational battles on track this season, both showing why they’re so highly rated and both showing why they are expected to be world champions in the not too distant future. Watching the pair go head to head at Silverstone could be one of the highlights of the season, one race after their epic battle in Austria. Watching Leclerc defend like a madman, pulling out all of the tricks that we’re used to seeing from Max, followed by the swooping defensive move around Stowe… that’s a battle that I could watch week in and week out without hesitation.

Both drivers hold a very similar style when it comes to defending a position, while both drivers are equally as aggressive while trying to take a position, it’s a combination which makes for incredibly impressive and exciting racing, hopefully this will prove to be the pairing that we always wanted Hamilton and Vettel to be, but never quite got.

Best Team

While there is a fair bit of competition for this spot, I think there is one team that stands out above the rest – it isn’t Mercedes.

The resurgence of McLaren is the story of the season for me, watching their pair of young and incredibly talented drivers torch the grid race after race has been utterly enjoyable. I will admit to a small amount of bias on this one, McLaren have been my favourite team in F1 since I started watching the sport back in 2009, so seeing them come back to the top of the midfield this season (and hopefully begin a push back further up the grid), has been thrilling and led to one of the most enjoyable seasons of Formula One for me to watch in a long time.

McLaren finished one place off the bottom in the 2017 season, their last with Honda engines, it was painful to watch for long standing fans of the sport. Their comeback season in 2018 didn’t live up to expectations, and while they doubled their points haul, it was still only good enough for sixth in the championship.

This season however, the team has looked entirely different. The spirit and friendship of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris has seemed to be a breath of fresh air into the team, as they would go on to more than double their points haul once again, finishing the season as best of the rest with a tally of 145 points. If you had told fans in 2017 that McLaren would be back leading the midfield so quickly, most wouldn’t have believed you. It’s great to see them making their way back to the top.

Best of the Rest

I think this one is pretty predictable. Carlos Sainz has had the best season of his career to date, finishing his fifth season in Formula One at just 25 years old. He will be a vital asset for McLaren for as long as they can keep hold of him and with every weekend that goes by he continues to show exactly why he was so highly regarded by Red Bull through the years.

His move to McLaren seemed like a bit of a risk following a slightly underwhelming season with Renault, however it has proved to be the making of the Spaniard. Leading the team, leading the midfield and finishing the season as best of the rest, finishing sixth or above on eight different occasions this season and it would have been more if not for a handful of untimely retirements. He has been one smoooooooooooooooooth operatooooooooor. VAMOSSSSSSSSSS

Best Rookie

This is a really hard one to pick. George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon have all had fantastic debut seasons in their own right. Russell has led a struggling Williams team all year and provided them with a fantastic level of consistency, but never really had a chance to show exactly what he could do further up the grid, but shutting out Robert Kubica 21-0 in qualifying is no mean feat and is something that deserves a huge amount of respect.

Lando Norris has been a vital part of McLaren’s resurgent season, picking up 49 points and finishing the season ahead of names like Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.

Alex Albon has had one hell of a year. Starting out at Torro Rosso, the London born driver impressed massively throughout the first half of the season, so much so that he would replace the relegated Pierre Gasly at Red Bull midway through the season and was cruelly denied a first podium of his career in Brazil when he was taken out by Lewis Hamilton.

The three drivers have almost been at opposite ends of the spectrum at all points this season, and I think it would be cruel to choose between them, all three have massively impressed in their first seasons and we can only hope it is a sign of things to come from the trio.

Underwhelming Driver

It’s never a pleasant one to discuss, especially when it’s a man as decent and genuine as Sebastian Vettel, but this was a poor season by the four time world champion’s standards.

The first thing to say, is that I would love to see Vettel push back next season and have an incredible year. As much of a menace as he was to me as a fan back when he was dominating at Red Bull, I’ve come to massively respect and like Vettel as a person throughout the years.

However this season did not go to plan, at all. As I mentioned at the start it seemed as though Ferrari would have the upper hand this season, yet Vettel came away with only one win on the year – though it should have been much more. Running wide at Canada and picking up a penalty under the pressure of Hamilton would go on to cost him a win, tailending Max Verstappen at Silverstone would be yet another black mark on his record of the past few seasons. Spinning at Bahrain before losing his front wing would go on to cost a win there, after his teammate would retire, but the biggest mistake of this season has to be his spin and subsequent penalty at Monza.

It has been a rough season for the German, finish behind Charles Leclerc in almost every conceivable way (points, wins, podiums, poles and head to head qualifying). Hopefully we’ll see him bounce back next year.

Hardest Moments

There are two moments from this season that I would be remiss to mention. Ahead of the first race of the season in Australia, long time Race Director of Formula One, passed away. It was a huge blow for the sport, as Charlie was an ever present at race weekends for well over 20 years and his legacy in the sport can never be diminished, bringing in a wave of new safety features that have already and will go on to save the lives of countless Formula One drivers. We can never thank Charlie enough for his contributions to the sport, nor can it be understated just how much Formula One continues to miss him.

As if the world of motorsport hadn’t already been hit hard enough by the loss of Charlie, we also lost another legend, Niki Lauda.

Lauda was a three time world champion, known for his fantastic rivalry and friendship with James Hunt, as well as his unparalleled resiliency. Niki was a huge part of the Mercedes team that have captured the last six Drivers and Constructors championships in Formula One, he is another that will be missed for a very, very long time. The tributes that poured in following his passing were truly beautiful, along with both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel donning tribute helmets for the Monaco Grand Prix.

We can only hope that 2020 brings a season of pure joy, with no more of the sadness, as we will continue to remember these two legends of the sport.

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