F1 team-mate wars: How many of my 2019 pre-season predictions did I get right?
Before a wheel was turned in anger, I predicted how each team-mate battle would go – so how did I do?
Tiff Needell is a television presenter and former racing driver who competed in Formula 1, British Touring Cars and at Le Mans.
Having somehow pretty much got my 2018 intra-team qualifying battle predictions spot on last year, I did suggest I should rest on my laurels for my 2019 preview but, like a fool, I didn’t. so now it’s time to own up to how well I did this year.
With only two teams, Mercedes and Haas, keeping the same driver line-up, it was perhaps a little too much to ask for me to be as accurate as last year – and so it turned out. This time I only got six of the ten the right way around: one spot-on, four within three scores and one way out – but sometimes it’s nice when things aren’t too predictable.
One thing that was perhaps predictable was another Lewis Hamilton title despite Ferrari’s promising form in testing.
Lewis Hamilton was once again imperious in 2019
Now just one title short of Michael Schumacher’s magnificent seven – and just seven wins shy of the German’s once thought uncatchable 91 victories – there can be few who doubt Lewis will go on to rewrite the record books.
Another eleven wins in 2019 matched his score for last year while Valtteri Bottas restored his reputation somewhat with four wins that helped to prevent his seat being taken by Esteban Ocon.
Max Verstappen went one better than last year to stand atop the podium on three occasions equalling the season total for the much feared prancing horses who continued to shoot themselves in the foot from time to time and ended with two for Charles Leclerc and just one for Sebastian Vettel.
So, in Constructors’ Championship finishing order here’s how they all fared.
MERCEDES (739 POINTS)
Hamilton once again had the measure of Bottas
QUALY PREDICTION: HAMILTON 17 – BOTTAS 4
QUALY ACTUAL: HAMILTON 14 – BOTTAS 7
After a dominant win in Australia and then making it two wins apiece in Azerbaijan it looked like a rejuvenated Bottas might actually give Hamilton a run for his money, but a run of four straight wins for Lewis soon put a stop to Valtteri’s dream.
Lewis actually seems to get better and better with age and, despite his constant panicking over the radio as he worries about strategy and tyres, his relentless speed can only be admired.
Mind you, Mercedes did seem to overthink their race strategies on more than one occasion giving Lewis good reason to question what was going on but, once again, overall they were by far the best team on the grid and the results showed it.
HAMILTON 1ST (413 POINTS)
BOTTAS 2ND (326 POINTS)
FERRARI (504 POINTS)
Leclerc turned the tables on Vettel at Ferrari
QUALY PREDICTION: VETTEL 13 – LECLERC 8
QUALY ACTUAL: LECLERC 12 – VETTEL 9
Despite not fulfilling the promise of their pre-season testing pace, Ferrari did at least get back in front of Red Bull in the Constructors’ battle – albeit thanks mainly to their rivals performing with one hand tied behind their back.
While we all knew Leclerc was a huge talent on the way up, I don’t think anyone expected him to outqualify Vettel in just the second race of the year in Bahrain and then waltz off into the lead only to be robbed of a well earned maiden win by a sick engine.
It began a season that turned my qualy prediction upside down and had many thinking Sebastian might be heading into early retirement. His swerve across the road into Charles in Brazil was a simple childish tantrum having been passed by the young pretender at the previous corner.
Charles did blot his copybook by driving into the scenery a few too many times but if Ferrari are going to get back to the top he’s the man to take them there.
LECLERC 4TH (264 POINTS)
VETTEL 5TH (240 POINTS)
RED BULL HONDA (417 POINTS)
A dominant season at Red Bull for Max
QUALY PREDICTION: VERSTAPPEN 18 – GASLY 3
QUALY ACTUAL: VERSTAPPEN 19 – GASLY 1 / ALBON 1
One qualifying prediction I didn’t have to worry about was that of mercurial Max. Two very different, highly talented drivers took on the challenge, but each only beat him once when problems intervened.
Max battled for every last tenth from the beginning of the season until the end and each of his three wins came fighting the odds and coming out on top. The team’s partnership with Honda is really beginning to gel nicely and it’s something that promises a lot of excitement in 2020.
Pierre Gasly was the first choice to partner Verstappen and he just didn’t seem to be able to either handle the pressure or get on with the way the car works the best. Fortunately he got another chance at Toro Rosso where he salvaged his reputation in some style.
The beneficiary of Pierre’s downfall was the surprise of the season, Alexander Albon. From being destined to droning round tight little tracks in Formula E, he made the most of a last minute call-up to Toro Rosso, matched Kvyat 6-6 in qualifying and showed a refreshingly honest and positive attitude whatever the circumstances thoroughly deserving his promotion to the big team when Gasly faltered.
While Alexander’s excellent race craft was given plenty of exposure, as he more than often started on the back foot, he still needs to find two or three tenths of outright speed if he is going to become a Grand Prix winner of the future.
VERSTAPPEN 3RD (278 POINTS)
ALBON 8TH (92 POINTS)
MCLAREN RENAULT (145 POINTS)
Very tight at McLaren, but Norris sneaked it at the end
QUALY PREDICTION: NORRIS 11 – SAINZ 10
QUALY ACTUAL: NORRIS 11 – SAINZ 10
Everyone loves Lando Norris but his final qualifying effort in Abu Dhabi put him on top of my Christmas card list as he made my pre-season prediction come precisely true!
McLaren have made huge progress since last year, moving up two places in the Constructors’ table to be ‘best of the rest’ – and most of last year’s points were only thanks to the dogged determination of Fernando Alonso.
While Lando proved he has the speed, the points table shows he’s yet to have the race craft to make the most of it – although on a few occasions he was left out on tactical calls that didn’t help his cause.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the garage, it seems I’m the only one yet to be convinced that Carlos Sainz is a superstar of the future. With 102 Grands Prix under this belt he used that experience well to make the most of the reinvigorated McLaren, but he was outqualified by a rookie this year and 13-8 by Nico Hulkenberg last year. Expect Lando to come to the fore in 2020.
SAINZ 6TH (96 POINTS)
NORRIS 11TH (49 POINTS)
RENAULT (91 POINTS)
Ricciardo had the edge on the departing Hulkenberg at Renault
QUALY PREDICTION: HULKENBERG 11 – RICCIARDO 10
QUALY ACTUAL: RICCIARDO 14 – HULKENBERG 7
Oh Regie, wherefore art thou Regie? Being pushed back a place by a customer team can hardly be part of Renault’s great masterplan and I fear the news that McLaren, their only customer, is switching to Mercedes in 2021 will give them the opportunity to quietly back out of F1.
But, for now, the arrival of Ricciardo was a breath of fresh air and the Aussie was on top form both on and off the track. He’s probably happier now than under the Red Bull pressure and, if the rumours are right, his bank manager is pretty pleased too. He’ll be pushing hard in 2020 but I can’t see any more podiums coming anytime soon.
I’ve always been a big Hulkenberg fan and felt this was his chance to show how good he really is against a proven teammate, but it just didn’t happen.
I have to say I’m happy the German didn’t pick up a drive elsewhere, as he’s made to vacate his seat for the highly touted Frenchman Esteban Ocon. He’s had nine years driving in the most glamorous racing series, won Le Mans and earned enough to keep him comfy for a while. His will always be a ‘what could have been’ reputation but it’s time to give someone else a chance.
RICCIARDO 9TH (54 POINTS)
HULKENBERG 14TH (37 POINTS)
TORO ROSSO HONDA (85 POINTS)
Will next year be Kvyat's last in F1?
QUALY PREDICTION: KVYAT 15 – ALBON 6
QUALY ACTUAL: ALBON 6 / GASLY 7 - KVYAT 8
After a season of being Honda’s guinea pig, Toro Rosso reaped the reward for their endeavours as they climbed three places in the Constructors’ battle and very nearly pushed Renault even further back.
After a year with Toro Rosso, getting promoted to Red Bull, being sent back to STR and then being dumped by them as well, it was perhaps surprising to see Daniil Kvyat back for more.
He now has 93 Grand Prix starts under his belt, but he was matched 6-6 by rookie Albon in qualifying and then thrashed 7-2 by the returning Gasly in the second half of the season. I sense next year might be his last.
The good news for Kvyat is that there aren’t any more Red Bull protégés at the top of the ladder, which was why Albon got the late call. But keep an eye out for Estonian Juri Vips or perhaps Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda – especially as Honda are keen to find a home grown star.
GASLY 7TH (95 POINTS)
KVYAT 13TH (37 POINTS)
RACING POINT MERCEDES (73 POINTS)
Perez comfortably beat Stroll at Racing Point
QUALY PREDICTION: PEREZ 16 – STROLL 5
QUALY ACTUAL: PEREZ 18 – STROLL 3
Whether it be a Force India or a Racing Point, I still think it’s a silly name for a racing car – and don’t get me started on Alpha Tauris when we already have Alfa Romeos! If the FIA need a name censor I’m their man.
They should really be called ‘Strolls’ because this is the team that Daddy bought – with Perez also bringing plenty of financial clout with him. In effect they are what we used to call ‘Privateers’ in days gone by and, despite my mockery, they are very much an important part of the Grand Prix mix.
Whatever the name they still remained seventh in the Constructor’s standings and Perez made the most of what’s always been a decent car – doubtless enjoying not having the pressure of Ocon in the other seat after he was beaten 16-8 by the young Frenchman last year.
Stroll continues to be a bad qualifier but a good racer, especially on opening laps where he generally makes up a place or two and I actually thought he’d give Perez a harder time than he did. But he didn’t...
PEREZ 10TH (52 POINTS)
STROLL 15TH (21 POINTS)
ALFA ROMEO FERRARI (57 POINTS)
Kimi came out on top at Alfa Romeo
QUALY PREDICTION: RAIKKONEN 11 – GIOVINAZZI 10
QUALY ACTUAL: RAIKKONEN 12 – GIOVINAZZI 9
It looked like Sauber would be going up in the world when they got rebranded as Alfa Romeo and filled their seats with a former World Champion and a highly fancied young pretender, but it turned into more disappointment than glory.
I was only one out in my qualifying prediction but unfortunately their two positions were more often towards the back of the grid than the front, with the team seemingly unable to bring any consistency to the handling of their cars.
Kimi showed plenty of effort and added a few more classic radio calls to his repertoire while, after looking like his seat was in jeopardy after a shaky start, young Antonio made it 5-5 over the final ten races and earned his stay – and in any case you should always have at least one Italian on a Grand Prix grid.
RAIKKONEN 12TH (43 POINTS)
GIOVINAZZI 17TH (14 POINTS)
HAAS FERRARI (28 POINTS)
I got the Magnussen/Grosjean prediction the wrong way round
QUALY PREDICTION: GROSJEAN 13 – MAGNUSSEN 8
QUALY ACTUAL: MAGNUSSEN 13 – GROSJEAN 8
Oh woe is the world of Haas! Slumping from fifth to ninth with a car that never seemed to handle the same from one session to the other – especially if Romain Grosjean was doing the explaining.
Kevin Magnussen managed to reverse the qualifying result from last year – on which I naively based my prediction – and at least got his head down and made the most of an awful season.
The fact that both remain for another year probably owes more to the reality that, after the arrival of Albon, Giovinazzi, Norris and Russell, there’s a bit of a dearth of promising young talent with F2 being dominated by seasoned veterans and FE soaking up all the would-have-could-haves with well-paid drives.
MAGNUSSEN 16TH (20 POINTS)
GROSJEAN 18TH (8 POINTS)
WILLIAMS MERCEDES (1 POINT)
Russell completed a qualifying-clean sweet against Kubica in 2019
QUALY PREDICTION: RUSSELL 14 – KUBICA 7
QUALY ACTUAL: RUSSELL 21 – KUBICA 0
And so, rather sadly we come to Williams. Still rooted to the bottom of the table with another dog of a car. How we’d all love to see a turnaround of their form and we have to believe things can only get better.
There was, however, a huge feel good factor helping them get through a torrid year with the performance of George Russell. A young man simply loving being a Grand Prix driver and never dropping his head under such trying circumstances.
His feedback for the team helped bring a two second gap to their nearest rivals down to less than half a second by the end of the year and his experience will doubtless hold him in good stead for the future.
Alongside him, and sadly whitewashed in qualifying, was Robert Kubica. It was fantastic to see him make a return to F1 after his awful injuries, but I always feared it would be too great a task for him to return to the level he once had, and I doubt the single consolation point at the chaotic German Grand Prix will help ease his disappointment. Hopefully DTM will bring him greater satisfaction.
KUBICA 19TH (1 POINT)
RUSSELL 20TH (0 POINTS)