The 2019 Formula 1 season has come to a close and are we already looking forward to the 2020 edition of the sport we so dearly love.
The past season has brought plenty of moments that we’ll remember for a time, and it gave us plenty to talk about as we reminisce over what has been.
As we already know, several sessions make up an F1 race weekend - starting with the first two practice sessions on a Friday, the third practice and qualifying on a Saturday, followed by the race on Sunday.
And while the race is the part of the weekend where points are scored, drivers need to be on top of their qualifying game to achieve the maximum result the next day. However, qualifying in first place does not mean that victory will automatically come your way; as we’re about to find out.
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The below list of top qualifiers in 2019 might bring an I-didn’t-know-that moment to the fore, but overall it will highlight the rued chances some of these drivers faced in 2019.
Image: Getty / Marco Canoniero
Charles Leclerc - 7 pole positions
Leclerc is 2019’s biggest revelation. Drafted in from Alfa Romeo to partner four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari, Leclerc showed speed and class throughout the year. At the Bahrain Grand Prix, the second race of the season, Leclerc stunned the F1 world when roared his Ferrari race car to pole position.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself when, during the race, his car’s engine failed, and he had to limp to a third-place finish. It was a repeat of his 2017 participation in the same race in Formula 2 - the feeder series to F1.
That did little to deter the Monaco-born Ferrari driver, as he went on to claim a further six pole positions throughout the season. The other races he was the top qualifier in are Austria, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Russia, and Mexico.
Lewis Hamilton - 5 pole positions
Hamilton, the 2019 F1 champion, has very little left to prove in the sport. Following his 2007 debut, the Britain acquired numerous accolades throughout the last 12 years in the sport, and are we, perhaps, paying witness to history being rewritten.
Despite only claiming five pole positions this year, Hamilton is the driver with the most number of pole positions to his name: 88! The great Michael Schumacher managed 68 in his career, and Alain Prost 65. This year, Hamilton had a less than comfortable time in qualifying and was always pushed by Leclerc and Mercedes team mate, Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton secured pole positions in Australia, Monaco, France, Germany, and Abu Dhabi. Following the German GP where he secured pole position, Hamilton had to wait for ten GP weekends before securing another. And what style to do it at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP as 2019 F1 champion.
Interestingly, the longest period Hamilton has had to wait between pole positions was one year four months and three days (Canada 2010 - South Korea 2011). That’s 27 race weekends!
Valtteri Bottas - 4 pole positions
For the last number of seasons, Bottas made sure the media and fans knew that he was ready to take the title fight to Mercedes team mate, Hamilton. And each year, Bottas would walk away having not achieved his goal. But the Finnish driver is at least a team player and can support Hamilton when and where the need arises.
In 2019, Bottas again failed to match or better Hamilton in the overall title race, but he at least made sure that the team knows he still has some speed. Bottas took his first pole position of the season at the European GP, held in Azerbaijan, and followed that up with pole positions in Spain, Britain, and the USA.
Bottas might not be championship material, but he has underlined his position at Mercedes as the support driver. He does not ruffle Hamilton’s feathers too much and does at least ensure that the team claims maximum points from each race weekend. And for Bottas, that might be enough.
Max Verstappen - 2 pole positions
Max Verstappen is regarded as a future champion. But since coming to the sport in 2015, the Dutchman failed to secure pole position. Even when drafted to Red Bull Racing a few races into the 2016 season, Verstappen came close but could never really smoke the cigar.
A couple of seasons later and one race weekend before the mandatory summer break, Verstappen secured the first pole position of his career at the 2019 Hungarian GP. Both he and the team were overtly elated at the achievement! Finally, after 93 qualifying sessions in F1, Verstappen started his first race from the front.
At the penultimate race of the season, the Brazilian GP, Verstappen secured the second pole position of his career and the season.
Sebastian Vettel - 2 pole positions
If we’re quite frank, Vettel was overshadowed and out-driven by his Ferrari team mate, Charles Leclerc, in 2019. The German driver failed to get into the groove throughout the year, and it showed at every race. It was quite sad, because you would not have expected a four-times world champion to look like a mere shell of the man who dominated the sport from 2010 - 2013.
But Ferrari gave Vettel plenty of chances to prove himself and get his act together, yet he only managed two pole positions in 2019. His first of the year came in Canada, and the second only much later at the Japanese GP. In the all-time list, Vettel sits in fourth place on 57 pole positions, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll surpass Schumacher and Prost.
The 2020 season kicks off on 13 - 15 March with the Australian GP and can we only hope for better, closer competition.