The second part of my 2019 review will focus on the best of the midfield teams of the year. If you missed the first part of my season review, you can find it below.
After years of struggles and woes, McLaren finally began to make their way back to the front of the F1 grid. With a new driver line up of experienced driver Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris, the team made progress in leaps and bounds. By the end of the season, the team had achieved fourth in the Constructor’s Championship – solidifying themselves as the ‘best of the rest’ and had gained their first podium position finish since 2014. Whilst there were still a good few mistakes made this season including several DNFs for both drivers, it has easily been McLaren’s best year of the Hybrid Era. Both drivers are thriving within the team and this shows in their relationship both on and off the track. As McLaren continues down this path into 2020, the dynamic between the two drivers may have to evolve but until the two start competing properly for podium positions, this shouldn’t cause a problem just yet. With such a positive year for the team, both they and we will be hoping it wasn’t a flash in the pan moment and that this level of performance can continue next season and McLaren can get back to where they belong at the top of F1.
The Spanish driver made the switch from Renault to McLaren for 2019 and, overall, the move worked - the beginning of the year didn’t go well for him with two DNFs and he had a further two later in the year in Spa and Monza – but for the remainder, he finished consistently within the top ten, not a bad result by all accounts, especially by recent McLaren standards. He finished in fourth place in Brazil but after Hamilton’s demotion, he was moved up into third place and got McLaren their first podium finish in five years. This culminated with him securing sixth place in the driver’s championship – also quite impressive for McLaren and himself. A mature driver by this stage in his career but still with plenty of speed, Sainz was many people’s driver of the year for being able to get the maximum out of the McLaren. When it comes to qualifying, there is still a lot he needs to improve on seeing as he was narrowly beaten by his rookie teammate this year. As the car and the team develop and improve going into next year, this will certainly be one aspect Sainz will want to sort out in order to show Norris that he’s the one leading the team.
The rookie British driver was also many people’s driver of the year. The meme lord is fiercely quick and isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with the big boys as he proved on the opening lap of the Austrian Grand Prix when he went wheel to wheel with Lewis Hamilton. He won the inter team qualifying battle 11-10 and achieved his highest finishing position of sixth place twice during the year. If he is displaying this level of talent in his first year in the sport, then there is surely a future driver’s championship with his name on it. 2019 will have been an invaluable year for him to learn the ropes and once he applies these lessons, it will be fascinating to see how his second season unfolds.
Toro Rosso had one of their best – if not the best – years in Formula 1 in 2019. The team welcomed back Daniil Kvyat for his third go in F1 and the decision to do this was the right one. Newcomer Alex Albon was also a hit, so much so that he got promoted to Red Bull after the summer break. Pierre Gasly returned to the team to replace Albon and settled back in fairly well, helping them to achieve sixth place in the Constructor’s Championship, just six points behind Renault. For the Red Bull ‘B’ team, Toro Rosso really came into its own this season. It was their performances – and results – that made for memorable and classic F1 moments this year and everybody loves it when an underdog is able to pull a trick like this out of the hat a few times.
The Russian came back into the sport in 2019 with a mission to prove he’d changed from the person he was and that maybe in a couple of seasons, he’d be worthy of another promotion back into Red Bull. He scored points for the team in ten of the year’s races – his best result coming in Germany where he managed to get a third place podium finish. This happened just a day after the birth of his daughter too which made it one rollercoaster weekend for him. It was the first time Toro Rosso had been on the podium since Sebastian Vettel won for the team in Monza back in 2008. Kvyat did slip into his old ways occasionally throughout the season and there were a few torpedo moments but on the whole, he’s improved as a driver and definitely earned the right to keep his spot at Toro Rosso for next year.
The rookie Thai driver proved himself to be naturally quick during the first half of the season. Whilst mistakes were made and not every race went his way, the raw talent that he has was clear for all to see. It didn’t come as a big shock then when he was promoted to the senior team for the second half of the season where he continued to impress. Albon’s quick rise in the ranks shows why having a system like the one Red Bull and Toro Rosso have is good for the sport as it enables new drivers to showcase their skills with a real chance of promotion if things go well. The same can be said in reverse as well as we are about to see with the third Toro Rosso driver of 2019.
The Frenchman didn’t have what it takes to stay in the top team but following his return to Toro Rosso, he appeared to be more comfortable and more able to fulfil his potential. This is why the Red Bull/Toro Rosso partnership works – they can chop and change their driver line up with ease so that it works in both teams interests and ensure that drivers like Gasly are more prepared for the senior teams of the sport when they are given the chance to driver for them. Gasly’s best result came in Brazil when he managed to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton for the final handful of laps and beat him in an almost photo finish for second place. This marked Toro Rosso’s second appearance on the podium in 2019 and was their most successful result in the sport since 2008.
The rest of Gasly’s season with Toro Rosso was a mixed bag but he did well overall. He stays in the team for 2020 and if he can build upon and learn from the many, many lessons 2019 has given him, then he may be worthy again of a promotion to Red Bull in 2021 or 2022.
After a few years of progress, Renault stalled somewhat in 2019. The power the car needed wasn’t there and this was frustrating for the team and the drivers throughout the year. Both Renault drivers are capable of much more than their results of 2019 displayed and there is a lot of work to be done at the team to ensure that these mistake doesn’t follow them into next season. As they now only have to focus on themselves in terms of engine supply, it may be easier for them to effectively develop their car over the winter and into the opening races of 2020.
Having a competitive package is essential for them, particularly if they want to keep one of their drivers from jumping ship in 2021.
The honey badger made the bold move to jump from Red Bull to Renault for the 2019 season, a choice that many might feel he is questioning after the difficult season they’ve endured. He had DNFs for three of the first five races and had to deal with two more and a disqualification during the rest of the season. His best result came in Italy where he finished fourth and he managed to achieve a decent sixth place several times over the course of the season. He also got to make a great number of his trademark overtakes in several Grand Prix, even if the positions he was fighting for weren’t particularly impressive. They did make for great entertainment though and Ricciardo never disappoints when it comes to putting on a show – both on and off track. But for a race winner who loves being at the front of the pack, it was a frustrating year for the Australian who will be praying that Renault make all the necessary improvements for 2020. If they don’t it’s not difficult to see him trying to get a seat at Ferrari or Mercedes for 2021 where he would no doubt dominate.
The German is perhaps one of (if not the most) underrated drivers on the F1 grid. A victim of circumstance most of the time, he is another driver who is far more capable of achieving greatness than he appears to be. The car simply wasn’t there for him this year and this has led to the unfortunate outcome that 2019 may be his final year in the sport. He doesn’t have a seat for 2020 – replaced at Renault by Esteban Ocon – and the 2021 driver market is too far away to be able to say if he’ll make a comeback then or not. His highest result of the year also came at the Italian Grand Prix where he finished fifth. He managed to come home seventh a couple of times but aside from this, he was left fighting for mediocre positions not worthy of a driver of his calibre, let down by a car that really should have been better. F1 is a harsh and cruel sport at the end of the day and Nico is certainly aware of this. It would be great to see him back in F1 at some point in the future but at present, there is no telling when that might be.
What do you think of my assessment of the top midfield teams? Will McLaren get back to their winning ways next year? Can Toro Rosso repeat the success of 2019 in 2020? And can Renault bounce back in style and give Ricciardo the car he deserves? Let me know in the comments below.