IN exactly 60 days a brand-new season of Formula 1 will kick off in Australia. A new decade and new challenges await but there is one more moment to appreciate the greatest hits of the 2019 season. Team of the year The easiest choice would be to pick Mercedes as team of the year. Their staggeringly impressive run of six consecutive double world championship triumphs certainly makes them one of the most prolific teams ever. And such is their record in the Hybrid era that it seems near impossible to be matched or beaten by anyone else. But the team of the 2019 Formula 1 season is McLaren. Just two years ago, in 2017, McLaren ended the season in ninth place with a paltry 30 points scored by then-drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne under the leadership of Eric Boullier. In 2019, now headed by former Porsche LMP1 boss Adreas Seidl, McLaren scored 145 points to finish fourth overall. It hasn’t been so much of a turnaround for McLaren as it has been a rebuilding. The relationship with Honda never hit its stride and the atmosphere created by Alonso simply wasn’t conducive to an environment needed to move a team forward. The appointment of Seidl and various other changes to the management is one part of a concerted effort that began to stimulate the team’s resurgence. They haven’t yet reached the point of challenging the ‘Big Three’ (Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari) but they are trending upwards in a manner that is very exciting. The misery that the team endured was tantamount to torture for the once majestic championship outfit. Before Carlos Sainz’s third place in Brazil, the team had last visited the podium in 2014. But the podium finish was just a bit of icing on the cake. They also outscored the Renault works team but most impressively had built a car that worked, nearly, in all areas. Here’s to the dark days of McLaren being truly behind them.Driver of the yearWith six world titles, a convincing case could be made for Lewis Hamilton. But it is difficult to look beyond Sainz. Throughout the season the Spaniard continually proved his prowess and exceptional talent. His sixth place finish in the driver’s championship is all the more impressive when his season is deconstructed. His season started with zero points in the first three rounds and he would fail to score on eight occasions in total, which included three retirements. But the 13 point scores he did rack up were mightily impressive. From the sixth place in Monaco to the fourth in Hungary and certainly his first-ever podium in Brazil were all marvellous successes. But what truly underlined Sainz’s splendid ability and underlined his tremendous season was the 10th place finish in Abu Dhabi, passing Nico Hulkenberg on the final lap of the race. There were a lot of doubts when Sainz severed ties with Red Bull and moved to McLaren, not least of all for the driver himself. But now he’s proven himself more than capable of mixing it with the best of them. Race of the yearThe 2019 German Grand Prix is likely to go down as of the most chaotic and exhilarating races of all time. But this year’s Austrian Grand Prix just edges it in the stakes for best race of the year. It was an emotional weekend at the home race of the recently departed Niki Lauda and it turned out to be a race most befitting of the three-time champion. Anti-stall at the start of the race seemed to fell any chance Max Verstappen had of challenging for the win as he dropped from second to eighth by the first corner of the race. But if unyielding tenacity were a person it would be Verstappen. Dazzlingly, he carved his way through the field and by the time the pitstops were sorted he was running fourth. In the true uncompromising Verstappen fashion, he made short work of Seb Vettel on lap 50 and a few laps later dispatched of Valtteri Bottas for second place. Only Charles Leclerc stood in his way now. With three laps to go Verstappen spectacularly barged his way past the Ferrari and was on his way to the most impressive win of his career. It was an amazing feat for Red Bull to win their home race. But even more so for Honda who had reclaimed the top step of the podium for the first time since 2006. To say that Honda has had a torrid time in F1 would be an understatement. As a proud Japanese company they suffered the blows to their reputation with grace and humility. To see Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1’s technical director, in tears, is all you needed to know just how difficult it had been and how much the victory meant. Rookie of the yearThree rookies started the season in Australia and all three conducted themselves in a genuinely impressive manner. But Lando Norris’s relentless consistency and standout performances in, among others, Bahrain, Belgium, and Singapore, announced the Brit on the world’s biggest motor racing stage. As the season progressed Norris suffered, effectively, five retirements overall and racked up 12 points-scoring races. Aside from the numbers, his race craft proved faultless to the point that most forgot that he was a 19-year-old rookie. It is unquestionable that if McLaren should produce a competitive car in 2020 that Norris will be more than equal to the task.