THE summer break typically denotes the ‘halfway’ mark of a Formula 1 season.
Though there is technically less than half a season remaining in 2019 it’s in this ‘cool down’ period where teams will assess their performance to date and begin to plot the way forward for what remains.
Before moving forward, however, it is imperative to assess the standout performance, good or bad, in the first 12 races of the year.
BEST ROOKIES IN A DECADE
In Australia, George Russell, Alex Albon, and Lando Norris lined up as F1 debutants and they haven’t put a wheel wrong since. As difficult as it is to shine in the lethargic Williams, Russell has impressed by completely wiping the floor with teammate Robert Kubica. Additionally, his positive demeanour out of the car has shown his high level of professionalism and respect.
Thai-born driver Albon has been slightly under the radar but no less than any of the rookies. Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost, notoriously merciless, has nothing but praise for Albon. And Red Bull obviously agrees as they’ve slotted Albon into the senior team alongside Max Verstappen from the Belgian GP onwards.
McLaren’s Norris is easily one of the most entertaining drivers on and off the track (his Instagram profile is definitely worth a follow) and he has some remarkable speed to boot. It’s clear that McLaren has made progress in 2019 but it still requires drivers to realise that improvement which Norris, and Sainz, have emphatically done. In fact, Norris has been so exciting and impressive that you’d be excused for forgetting that he still only 12 races into his F1 career.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT FERRARI AND PIERRE GASLY
It is now clear to that Ferrari’s design philosophy for their 2019 car is flawed. Their choice to focus on horsepower has seen them deliver the most powerful engine in the sport but at the cost of neglecting to concentrate on downforce.
It’s come at a significant price for the Italian team, which is yet to win a race in 2019. ’nIt hasn’t only been a flawed design path that has cost Ferrari this season. Several instances of poor decision-making on the pitwall have resulted in some embarrassing gaffes.
Their drivers haven’t been operating at the top of their powers either. Seb Vettel has occasionally cut a despondent figure this season, while new recruit Charles Leclerc has made several mistakes at crucial times. Ferrari isn’t the only one experiencing an annus horribilis in 2019. Pierre Gasly’s season can only be described as a shambles. The Frenchman never found his feet at Red Bull. Twice he was embarrassingly lapped by his teammate and those weren’t even his worst Sundays. So woeful were his performances that he’s been ejected from the seat and sent back to Toro Rosso.
BEST TEAM – MERCEDES
The German juggernaut simply picked up from where it left off in 2018. While there have been a few blips, read Austria and Germany, the Mercedes team has performed as clinically as ever. Valtteri Bottas hit the ground running in Australia and for much of the first half of the season seemed as if he would be a genuine contender for the title against teammate Lewis Hamilton. But the Finn has faded somewhat in crucial moments.
The championship battle between this pair is far from concluded but is certainly slanted towards Hamilton who always finds another gear towards the conclusion of the season.
The added incentive, or pressure, for Bottas is that he is driving for his life at Mercedes.
Team boss Toto Wolff has been open about the fact that the decision on who will partner Hamilton in 2020 is between Bottas and reserve driver Esteban Ocon. Despite Ocon’s impressive stint at Racing Point (formerly Force India) he remains an unknown quantity. Whereas Bottas has proven his ability to rack up the constructor’s points and even, on occasion, push Hamilton. Mercedes know what they have in Bottas and can hardly afford a Gasly-Red Bull type situation with Ocon. If Merc does stick with Bottas there may be a spot for him at Williams.
BEST DRIVER – MAX VERSTAPPEN
In qualifying for the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, Verstappen’s exuberance got the better of him. He ended up in the wall and out of victory contention. But he learnt a lesson that day that speed and precision equal results. It is clear that he has grown and matured in leaps and bounds since that moment.
It’s transformed Verstappen from a quick racer to a driver ready to contend for a championship. Now if Red Bull could deliver a car on par with Verstappen’s considerable talent, he’ll be a champion before long.