The racing season is officially underway in North America. NASCAR started last month in Daytona while the IndyCar drivers officially kicked off their season last weekend on the streets of St. Pete. Now, it’s Formula One’s turn to showcase their talents to the world with the annual season opener in Australia.
Here are five storylines heading into the 2019 season.
Is Bottas On The Hotseat?
2019 will be year No. 3 for the Finnish driver. Hopefully for him, this isn’t the finish line with Mercedes. See, Bottas has been solid in his first two years with Mercedes, but solid isn’t good enough for a team of Mercedes’ caliber. Bottas, replaced the retiring Nico Rosberg following the German drivers’ championship campaign in 2016. Rosberg, won 20 times in a three year span in that seat. In the two years since, Bottas has won just three times, all coming in 2017.
Last year, he went winless in a fifth place finish in the final standings. Compare that to when Lewis Hamilton wins 11 times last season to go along with the season championship for the second consecutive year, Bottas has to produce more.
Where he did shine is that he had seven runner-up finishes a year ago and six in 2017, but playing second fiddle isn’t what Mercedes hired him to do. Over the final 10 races last year alone, he had only three podium finishes in total. His final four starts saw him come home fifth in each race.
When Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne are the reserve drivers waiting in the wings, Bottas has to be driving with one eye over his shoulder.
To make matters worse, Australia, the site of this weekend’s race, hasn’t been among the best tracks for Bottas. He only has one podium (2017) and has scored just three top 10 finishes in six tries.
Can Ferrari Put A Full Season Together
For the second straight season, Sebastian Vettel was celebrating in Australia last year. In fact, the start of the year always goes great for Vettel. It’s the midway mark on that puzzles him.
See, after a winless season in 2016, Ferrari has won 11 times over the past two seasons. Vettel has won 10 of those 11 races. They’re just not finishing the year off the way they started. Vettel, won back-to-back races to start 2018 off but self destructed after.
The Prancing Horses used an upgrade in Spain and it was the worst decision possibly made. Instead of going forward, they in turn went backwards. Vettel meanwhile, pushed too hard to overcome it which as a result put him in troubling situations.
They won three of the first seven races last year but over the final 11 races, they won just three times. There was a dropoff. Hopefully, that doesn’t occur in 2019.
Verstappen Championship Ready With New Honda Power?
Red Bull has always wanted to make Max Verstappen the youngest F1 champion. After a few years of sharing the thunder with Daniel Ricciardo, the spotlight is now solely on him. Yes, Pierre Gasly joins the team and is actually 2 years older than Verstappen, but Gasly is only in his second full time season – people may be more patient with him.
Verstappen’s championship pace is now. He won two times in each of the past two seasons and is Red Bull’s clear No. 1 driver. Can he now compete with Hamilton and Vettel on a weekly basis though?
He closed out 2018 with five straight podiums and had nine straight top fives to close out the year. Can he carry that over to 2019?
The pressure is on.
He has to do so with a new powerplan as Red Bull switches from Renault to Honda. Can Honda keep pace with everyone else or will Red Bull have a dropoff?
New Drivers In Top Teams – Youth Movement On Full Display Overall
Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull Racing for Renault this past offseason. Kimi Raikkonen and Charles LeClerc swapped rides from Sauber to Ferrari. That leaves LeClerc in a Ferrari and Pierre Gasly replacing Ricciardo in a Red Bull.
When Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have combined to win every race the past five years and 118 straight overall, this is a shockwave game of musical chairs.
LeClerc, is only 21 years old. Ferrari doesn’t usually hire drivers that young or unproven. He replaces Raikkonen who made 291 career starts in his career for himself with just 21. His best finish was sixth in Azerbaijan. Overall, LeClerc looks the part with giving Sauber 10 top 10’s a year ago. Imagine what he can do with a Ferrari. Will he challenge Vettel?
Gasly, has made only 26 career starts in his career and now pilots a ride that has won seven times over the past five season. Is he ready for that? He did have five top 10 finishes with Toro Rosso.
They’re not the only new faces in new rides this year. Antonio Giovinazzi is with Sauber and is only 25 years old. 19 year old Lando Norris joins newly signed Carlos Sainz Jr. with McLaren. Alex Albon (22) heads to Toro Rosso. 21 year old George Russell is with Williams. Lance Stroll leaves Williams to join SportPesa Racing Point F1 (formerly Force India).
That’s a lot of young talent that F1 needs. Will they shine in their first years in their new roles? The future of F1 starts now.
After an eight year hiatus, Robert Kubica returns to a full time seat in F1. It’s no secret, his journey was long and steady but he climbed back. He was severely injured in a non F1 race years ago which in turn kept him out of his ride. He eventually lost it when it appeared he would never race again. Not only has he worked to get behind the wheel, he’s back full time.
Kubica, has made 76 career F1 starts and even has a win and 12 podiums. He was once a rising start and finished sixth, fourth and eighth in the final standings in a three year span between 2006 and 2010. Now, he joins George Russell with Williams.
Daniel Kvyat is also back. He originally started with Toro Rosso in 2013 on a reserve role and took over full time in 2014. After a successful season and Sebastian Vettel moving over to Ferrari, Kvyat replace him with Red Bull Racing. That’s where the downfall started. His attitude got him in some trouble and after four races into the 2016 season, RBR grew tired of his antics and lack of success and dropped him. Back to Toro Rosso he went. After the first 14 races of 2017, Toro Rosso dropped him. He made a cameo in the United States Grand Prix later that season, but that was the last time he’s been in F1.
Now, Toro Rosso brings him back.