Potential storylines to follow during the 2019 Formula 1 season

Whether the new 2019 technical regulation tweaks improve the racing or not doesn’t really matter, as there are more than enough potential storylines up and down the 2019 Formula 1 grid to make the sport worth watching this season.

Hamilton v Vettel Part 3

The smart money is expecting very little change in the competitive order. It therefore looks set for another championship battle being contested between Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel at Scuderia Ferrari.

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FERRARI SF90 / Sebastian Vettel / GER / Scuderia Ferrari” by Artes Max licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This will be the third time the two have battled each other for the title, having challenged each other in the last two seasons. There is hope that Scuderia Ferrari will mount an even stronger challenge in 2019 having made some changes in the personnel within the team. They have built on this by having a strong pre-season testing, despite some notable mechanical failures.

Hopefully the 2019 title fight between Hamilton and Vettel will last beyond the Mexico Grand Prix, where the title has been decided in the previous two seasons.

Leclerc at Scuderia Ferrari

After an impressive career in junior formula, and a stellar rookie season in Formula 1, Charles Leclerc has gained a rapid promotion into one of the most coveted seats in Formula 1.

Regardless of expectations either from the team or fans, it will be fascinating to see how Leclerc performs and develops throughout the season. With the car likely to be at the front and capable of race victories, it will be exciting to see just how close to or how many pole positions and race victories Leclerc will achieve during 2019.

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This, for me, is the main focus when it comes to Leclerc and his first season at Ferrari, rather than trying to compare how he will perform in direct comparison with Sebastian Vettel. 2019 should not be seen as a boom or bust season for Leclerc, but more of a season to set himself a marker to improve on in 2020 with Ferrari, and hopefully beyond.

Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes

With Mercedes backed Esteban Ocon lurking in the back of the Mercedes garage during 2019, Valtteri Bottas will be under a lot of pressure throughout the season. Despite a positive start to 2018, Bottas suffered bad luck as well as from the team focusing late in the season on getting Hamilton’s fifth title over the line, which dented Bottas own chances of a victory in Russia. All this meant it was hard for the Finn to build on his first season with Mercedes in 2017.

How Bottas bounces back from a disappointing 2018 and how he copes with the very real pressure of his seat being under threat could have a major impact on how successful his 2019 campaign will be. What he ultimately achieves in the upcoming season and whether it is enough to secure a Mercedes drive for 2020 will be intriguing.

Red Bull and Honda

Red Bull Racing begin a new engine partnership in 2019, having ditched Renault for Honda.

All looks relatively promising for the new partnership going by pre-season testing as Honda managed to rack up the laps with the help of Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

With the minimum expectation appearing to be for Honda to help Red Bull maintain their place as third best team on the grid and for their to be progress throughout 2019, it will be interesting exactly when in the season Red Bull will be able to claim a podium finish and a race victory.

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There is the possibility that a podium finish or race win could be achieved very early on in 2019 with Honda having shown well at Bahrain in 2018, thanks to Pierre Gasly in the Toro Rosso.

Another aspect to look for during 2019 in terms of the new relationship is how each side reacts when things start to go wrong, especially if successive issues materialise over consecutive Grand Prix.

Renault

Renault have made positive noises about their 2019 challenger. However, the proof will be in what time the stopwatch shows as they attempt to break clear of the ‘Class B’ battle during 2019 and to close the gap to the top three teams in the sport.

Renault have made steady progress since re-entering the sport in 2016 full time and this season could potentially be seen as their most challenging as there is a lot of expectation that has been built around the team throughout 2018 and the early part of 2019 with some high profile recruits, notably Daniel Ricciardo on the driver front, investment in their facilities and pushing hard on making gains on the chassis and engine side.

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They, like Mercedes and Ferrari, are a fully fledged manufacturer and are therefore expected at some point to break clear of the ‘Class B’ championship with some within Formula 1 expecting this to take place during the 2019 season.

However that is easier said than done with Alfa Romeo and Haas being serious contenders to claim fourth place in the constructors championship during 2019, not to forget Racing Point now having solid financial backing to help them mount a stronger season.

Nico Hulkenberg

A lot has been made about Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Renault, understandably, and how he gets on at Renault will be a major storyline during 2019. But another potential storyline to materialise from Renault will be Nico Hulkenberg’s value as a Formula 1 driver and its potential to increase during 2019.

Hulkenberg has perhaps become slightly underrated having not achieved the sort of results some believe his talents deserve in Formula 1. But he managed to outperform Carlos Sainz during the Spaniard’s time at Renault during the latter part of 2017 and during 2018.

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Therefore do not be surprised should Hulkenberg more than rise to the challenge of having Daniel Ricciardo as a teammate. Many will perhaps expect Renault to become Ricciardo’s team, to a certain extent, and it will therefore be fascinating to see how Hulkenberg attempts to prevent that with the potential of the German using the upcoming season to remind everyone that he deserves to be placed in the same group as the current top drivers within the sport.

Haas F1 Team

Since joining Formula 1 the Haas F1 Team have made steady progress having finished eighth in 2016 and 2017, managing to increase their points total season on season to the point where in 2018 they nearly hit the hundred point mark on their way to finishing fifth.

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When you consider the lost points in Australia alone, Haas should have finished well clear of the hundred point mark. Whether they have managed to iron out the mistakes that cost them big points hauls during the season, including making sure Romain Grosjean scores points more consistently throughout 2019, will be vital for Haas if they want to build on their 2018 performance in what looks like an ultra competitive midfield.

With Renault aiming to break clear of the ‘Class B’ championship and with Alfa Romeo and Racing Point being in a stronger position either in terms of the baseline of their 2019 car or their financial resources, there is a possibility that Haas could find themselves seventh or lower come the end of 2019 should the team make too many mistakes throughout the season.

Lance Stroll against Sergio Perez

Perhaps one of the least respected drivers on the grid, from a fan perspective, is Lance Stroll having ultimately cost highly regarded and Mercedes backed Esteban Ocon a drive in 2019, and being seen mostly as a pay driver.

However despite the substantial backing from his father, Lance Stroll is a talented racing driver, having won the FIA Formula 3 European Championship (now Formula European Masters), like Ocon and 2019 rookie, Lando Norris.

He should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent in 2019 by being in a team that has forged a reputation of being a competitive midfield team. Like Hulkenberg, Stroll has a tremendous opportunity during 2019 to increase his value as a Formula 1 driver.

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His cause will be helped by having an experienced and talented teammate in Sergio Perez who has beaten both Hulkenberg and Ocon during their time at the Silverstone based team.

The only concern is that should Stroll indeed get the better of Perez at any point during the season, that people need to see it as being due to his talent, rather than any politics going on at the team to help the owner’s son shine.

Alfa Romeo

The Sauber name has disappeared from Formula 1 in 2019 to be replaced by that of Alfa Romeo.

The Hinwil based team had a competitive 2018 campaign after several difficult seasons, which included flirting with bankruptcy. Last season sent a strong statement as did the signing of 2007 F1 champion, Kimi Raikkonen.

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With an even closer tie with Ferrari and ambitious owners, as well as a very experienced and much liked lead driver, the team could yet again be the surprise of the season and have everything in place to make serious progress from their 2018 campaign. They will hopefully become a major factor in the battle for fifth or fourth in the constructors championship and are yet another team along with Renault, Haas and Racing Point that will make the midfield a fiercely contested battle worth following during the season.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso will enter 2019 continuing with an engine supplier for the first time since the 2014 and 2015 seasons and with a stronger technical partnership with Red Bull Racing. All of which could make Toro Rosso a more regular top ten challenger in qualifying and during races when compared to their occasional points scoring during 2018.

They may however end up being sacrificed to help the ‘senior’ team, and with Red Bull backed Briton, Dan Ticktum, waiting in the wings to replace either one of Daniil Kvyat or Alexander Albon, it will be important for both Kvyat and Albion to try and stay out of trouble and to capitalise on any point scoring opportunities that present themselves, much like Gasly did with the team in 2018, and to generally get the absolute best result possible at every race weekend.

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The driver situation and how quickly and seriously Ticktum’s name is linked with a Toro Rosso seat either for 2019 or 2020 will be intriguing as the team has a history of showing their drivers no mercy, considering how quickly Brendon Hartley’s future was thrown into doubt in 2018, not to forget one of their 2019 drivers, Daniil Kyvat, whose own experiences with Toro Rosso and Red Bull are another example of how little time drivers have within the Red Bull driver programme and within Formula 1 in general to make an impression.

A closer technical partnership with Red Bull Racing will hopefully help both Kvyat and Albon in having a more competitive car for 2019 and potentially make Toro Rosso a surprise team in the midfield battle, much as Sauber surprised during 2018.

Robert Kubica’s return

The feel good story for 2019 is the return of Robert Kubica after his rally accident in 2011, having finally managed to secure a return to the Formula 1 grid with Williams.

It will be difficult to judge what he may have lost, or even gained, from his time away from the sport, in part due to how competitive the Williams 2019 car is throughout the season. Therefore the easiest measurement will be against his teammate, George Russell, who is highly rated.

How often Kubica can outqualify Russell will be worth following, as well as ultimately who is more consistent during races and who can score the most points, if any, throughout 2019.

Rookies

There were two rookies in 2018 with Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin making their debut in the sport. However there wasn’t much of a battle between them due to ultimately the uncompetitive Williams.

However there will be four rookies in the sport in 2019 with Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo, George Russell at Williams, Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso and Lando Norris at McLaren. Although Giovinazzi did make two appearances in 2017, he has stated that 2019 will be his proper rookie season.

There is the potential for a very enthralling rookie championship taking place within Formula 1 during 2019 as all four will be part of the intense midfield battle that will take place and all will hopefully have multiple opportunities to score points during the season and to battle with each other on track. All of this will hopefully help the four rookies make their mark on the sport which in turn will aide in them securing their medium to long term futures within Formula 1.

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There may be a lot of politics off the track, concerns about the wheel to wheel entertainment on it and whether the new for 2019 technical regulations have worked or not. But there are plenty of storylines to keep track of throughout the upcoming 2019 Formula 1 season, which will hopefully keep people interested in the sport, and will help them keep following Formula 1 in some way throughout 2019.

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