The 2019 Formula 1 Season will be remembered as a season of two halves - before and after the infamous French 'Yawn' Prix. In the period before the French Grand Prix (7 races) in June, Mercedes reigned supreme. However, it was in the 14 races that followed that the season delivered blockbuster races, memorable battles and unexpected results. From a 21-race long calendar with so many storylines, here are some that we would like to remember in the times to come.
Lewis Hamilton - Records, More Records
Already a legend of the sport with several records to his name, the 2019 Formula 1 season saw Lewis Hamilton further his status and stature. He was undoubtedly the most-challenged driver for victories through the season - fighting off Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel en route to his 11 wins.
His tyre-saving drives in Hungary and Mexico will be celebrated in the time to come as will the radio messages that were exchanged through those races. In 2019 too, there were a few races that Hamilton won due to his sheer determination to not give up: a classic example being the race in Russia.
" Formula 1 (@F1) October 29, 2019
Valtteri Bottas' opening round strike in Australia hailed the arrival of the porridge-powered 'Bottas 2.0', an avatar that we saw return in Azerbaijan. The Finnish driver, who was winless in 2018, was challenging and beating Hamilton with much ease. However, his title battle started to fade away after only 7 races (Canada). The gap between the two Mercedes drivers opened up to more than a race win (25 points) and never narrowed after that. In all, Bottas' improvement was visible and helped him win two more races before the end of the season - but it wasn't enough to stop Hamilton winning his 6th title. And of course, Bottas' radio messages after his wins in Australia (to whomever it may concern) and Japan (James, it's Valtteri) were absolutely meme-worthy.
Charles Leclerc's first-ever pole
Ferrari's faith in Leclerc's prodigal talent and early promotion was repaid by only the second race of the season in Bahrain. Their young Monegasque driver scored his first-ever career pole position but ended up 'losing the win' due to issues with his power unit. The Bahrain Grand Prix was also the first instance of Leclerc disobeying Ferrari's team orders - an act he repeated a few more times in the season. The most-memorable moment from Leclerc's pole in Bahrain was after the qualifying session when he radioed the team asking what he was required to do in terms of broadcast interviews because he had never been on pole before. Ultimately, Leclerc ended the season with most pole positions for any driver. Of course, it wasn't only his one-lap pace that stood out - his race battles in Austria, Great Britain and Italy were as polished as those of his veteran rivals.
Max Verstappen - Finally Error-free
2019 will be remembered as the first full season when Max Verstappen delivered an almost error-free performance - a type of season Red Bull Racing and his legion of Dutch fans have been patiently waiting for. In beating the Ferrari duo to 3rd place in the Drivers' Championship, Verstappen scored 6 podiums, 3 race wins and 2 pole positions - but the numbers don't reveal the actual nature of his season. In the opening round itself, Verstappen scored a much-important first podium for the Red Bull Racing-Honda partnership. He followed it up with a well-fought race win in Austria (another first for Red Bull Racing-Honda) and error-free drives in Germany and Brazil to add to his tally of race wins. And of course, after nearly a century of races, Verstappen broke his pole position duck in Hungary.
" Formula 1 (@F1) December 8, 2019
Leclerc vs. Verstappen - Rivalry Begins
The two young drivers have battled time and again while working their way up the ladder to Formula 1. In 2019, the Leclerc-Verstappen rivalry officially commenced with both drivers having able machinery to fight each other on track. Verstappen's race-winning move on Leclerc in Austria defined their boundaries of engagement, one that treated us to edge-of-seat action in Great Britain as the two young guns battled for position. After several tense battles through the season, it was Leclerc who dropped the ball, lost control of his Ferrari and rammed into Verstappen in Japan - an error that cost both drivers a good result. It is easy to imagine the Leclerc-Verstappen rivalry creating headlines for Formula 1 for at least the next decade.
Ferrari's Team Orders
If there is one team that has blatantly used team orders time and again, it is Ferrari. Ironically, 2019 was one of those rare seasons that saw both Ferrari drivers disobey team orders time and again often costing the team vital points and good results. Ferrari started the season by publicly declaring that Vettel, their senior driver, would be preferred in 50-50 situations. However, Leclerc's results may have forced the team to rethink their priority driver time and again. Bahrain and Russia saw Leclerc and Vettel ignore team orders respectively, while Italy saw Leclerc not give Vettel the 'tow' in qualifying. In Singapore, Ferrari's race management controversially awarded victory to Vettel even though it was Leclerc who started on pole. The season-long tension finally exploded in the race in Brazil, when both drivers collided and ended up retiring from the race.
💪 @Max33Verstappen has won the FIA Action of the Year award for this epic battle with Charles Leclerc at Silverstone 🇬🇧
" Formula 1 (@F1) December 7, 2019
The former World Champion team started 2019 with one of their most-inexperienced driver line-ups in history. In fact, it was after several years that neither Mclaren driver was a reigning or former World Champion. After their tumultuous years with Honda (2015-17) and only a 6th place finish in 2018, not many would have imagined Mclaren to script a comeback that included dominating the ever-tight mid-field battle in Formula 1. In fact, if you missed watching any of Mclaren's impressive finishes or last-lap battles in the television broadcast, you have Formula 1 to blame because they weren't broadcast as frequently.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished in the 'best of the rest' position (after the top-3 teams) more than any of his mid-field rivals. He finished ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon in the championship standings - the two drivers who shared the duties for Red Bull Racing - by pulling off a last-race last-lap move on Nico Hulkenberg to score a point. Lando Norris, Mclaren's rookie driver, was a delight to watch in and out of the car. His memes on social media were as famous as his moves on track, not to mention the funny radio messages and banter exchanged with Sainz. Norris finished 6th twice in the season - Bahrain and Austria, a position he could have bettered in Belgium had his car not failed on the last lap of the race.
Germany's Last Swansong
It is a bit of a shame that Hockenheim won't be on the calendar for the 2020 Formula 1 season, but it is without a doubt that the wet-dry conditions offered us a spectacular race and the first non-Mercedes podium since the infamous 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Turn 16 will go down in history for the numerous talented drivers it caught unawares: Leclerc and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg, to name a few. This race saw Hamilton's worst performance and result of the season, while giving us a Stroll-Kvyat-Vettel fight for 2nd and 3rd place as Verstappen raced his way to the podium. Robert Kubica scored Williams' only point of the season while Mercedes' comedy of errors proved that they are human after all.
" Formula 1 (@F1) November 20, 2019
Brazil Being Brazil
Unlike Germany, Brazil didn't need changing weather conditions to deliver a blockbuster. It was tight on-track action followed by the Ferrari tangle that spiced up the race time and again. Verstappen won his 3rd race of the season, but it was the result behind him that was surprising. The sights of Pierre Gasly's Honda-powered Toro Rosso out-dragging Hamilton's Mercedes to the finish line for P2 will be a defining memory of the season. After all, not many expected Honda power to match Mercedes, let alone beat it. The most-surprising podium entrant was Mclaren's Sainz, who won a post-race promotion thanks to a penalty to Hamilton. While Sainz missed the official podium ceremony thanks to the FIA's delay in penalising Hamilton (for spinning Albon), it allowed for the entire Mclaren team to get onto the podium to celebrate.
The FIA Stewards had a tough year in 2019. In the initial races, it was the 'five second time penalty' that seemed to be their favourite, one that cost Vettel victory in Canada. However, a mid-season switch to a 'let them race' approach allowed fans and drivers to enjoy on-track duels without the worry of being penalised. Towards the end, duels in Austria and Italy saw little intervention by the FIA. However, the overall sense was that the governing body could not consistently apply their rulebook to certain racing situations. The delays in post-race penalties meant that official results were not declared till several hours after the race - which was especially frustrating when Sainz missed his first-ever podium celebrations in Brazil.
Adieu - Whiting, Lauda & Hubert
Days before the start of 2019, Formula 1 lost its long-standing Race Director, Charlie Whiting. Whiting, who was often seen on the race broadcast deploying the 'start lights' from his high-perched position on the pit-wall, played a major role in increasing drivers' safety in the sport. Mercedes' non-executive chairperson and former Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda bid adieu to the world mid-season (May) after a prolonged illness. Lauda, an architect of Mercedes' dominance in Formula 1, will be commemorated on every Mercedes Formula 1 (and Formula E) car with a red star. Finally, it was the race in Belgium that saw Formula 2 driver Anthoine Hubert lose his life in a fatal crash - a sad reminder on the real dangers of Motorsport.
With this, we bring to end our Motorsport coverage on Firstpost. See you in 2020!