F1 team-mate wars: My predictions for who will come out on top in 2019
The test sessions are over, and the first Grand Prix of 2019 in Melbourne is the next stop for the ten teams preparing to do battle over the twenty one rounds of the Formula One World Championship.
Times from testing can always be misleading with different tyres, resurfacing of the Barcelona track and unknown fuel loads all blurring the results – and let’s remember, McLaren were second fastest last year! - but it certainly doesn’t look like the new wing regulations introduced to try and help cars follow more closely has slowed them by the one and a half seconds the teams predicted.
Indeed every team ran faster laps than a year ago, most around a second quicker with Mercedes improving the most by a full 2.176secs - obviously doing a little less sandbagging than they did last year!
At the end of the eight days Vettel pipped Hamilton to the best time by a miniscule 0.003secs but apparently those ‘in the know’ reckon that ‘fuel/tyre corrected’ results put the Ferrari almost half a second ahead and they head to Melbourne as firm favourites – for the opening round at least.
While it’s most likely the titles will go to one of these two teams, for me there is just as much intrigue in each of the ten, in-team battles between two drivers given the same equipment and last year I made my pre-season predictions of how they would turn out in the all-important qualifying battles... and managed to get all of them right within one or two results – except for McLaren where Fernando Alonso simply refused to give up fighting and left Stoffel Vandoorne both bewildered and out of a drive.
Now, I probably ought to rest on my laurels and put away my crystal ball because predicting this year’s results is going to be a lot harder. Only two teams, Mercedes and Haas, have the same driver line-ups, there are three complete rookies (two British and one Thai-British) plus an Italian with just two Grands Prix on his CV from two years ago and the incredible return of a brilliant Pole with 76 starts and one win but who hasn’t started a Grand Prix since a dreadful rally accident a full eight years ago.
So, lined-up in 2018 Constructor’s Championship order, this is how I see those battles working out and my qualifying predictions.
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton v Valtteri Bottas
Once again, Lewis Hamilton surely starts the season as favourite to take yet another title and, if he can continue on the form he showed in the second half of last year, he’ll surely be unstoppable. But all that assumes Mercedes provide him with a car to match his talents and there were plenty of question marks about the team’s performance in Barcelona …
For Valtteri Bottas the target for next year is simple, get closer to Lewis or Esteban Ocon will be in his seat next year! And that’s not just in qualifying but in the races as well where he seemed to fall back in the early stages. I do think the talent is there but perhaps he puts too much pressure on himself.
Prediction: Hamilton 17 Bottas 4
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel v Charles Leclerc
It always sounds a bit stupid to say someone ‘has’ to win something unless their life actually does depend on it but surely Sebastian Vettel has to win the championship this year! Somehow he and Ferrari managed to throw away a title that looked to be theirs half way through last season but a couple of good weeks in Barcelona surely puts them back on the front foot as they head to Melbourne.
There is, however, one small problem. A new, and very talented young driver sits in the other Ferrari replacing a very laid back predecessor who had little left to prove. I have no doubt Charles Leclerc will have ‘Number Two’ written in his contract in bold letters but if he starts outqualifying his illustrious teammate on a regular basis – something Kimi only managed on four occasions – will it begin to scramble Seb’s often fragile head – and Charles was just 0.01secs slower in Barcelona! Remember the effect of Ricciardo arriving at Red Bull …
Prediction: Vettel 13 Leclerc 8
Red Bull: Max Verstappen v Pierre Gasly
Unfortunately, Max Verstappen was one of those that didn’t have the best of times in Barcelona partly because his own new teammate made a habit of throwing their Red Bull into the scenery. Wanting to get as much mileage with their new Honda powerplant as well as the new aero, Red Bull only clocked the seventh best time of all the manufacturers, but their times did look good on the longer runs.
Despite Pierre Gasly’s errors in Barcelona, I have no doubt the young Frenchman has enough talent to keep Max on his toes and, like Max, he’s proved good at making his tyres last, so I don’t see him being far behind on race pace – but qualifying is where Max excels!
Prediction: Verstappen 18 Gasly 3
Renault: Nico Hulkenberg v Daniel Ricciardo
Now this is a tricky one! I think most people are going to assume Daniel Ricciardo is going to step into the Renault team and be the star turn but I reckon he’s in for a bit of a shock. Hulkenberg hasn’t been outqualified by anyone since his debut season in 2010 – which ended with him putting his Williams on pole in Brazil.
He’s a driver that has always just missed out on a seat in a top team and he’s going to see this as a golden opportunity to show teams what they’ve been missing against his highly rated new teammate.
Prediction: Hulkenberg 11 Ricciardo 10
Haas: Romain Grosjean v Kevin Magnussen
Haas is a team that is always ready to spring a surprise and, although down the order for fastest laps in Barcelona, they looked strong in longer runs.
Both of their drivers seem to blow hot and cold from one race to another but while it’s Kevin Magnussen that more often provides the fireworks during the races it’s his one lap speed that lets him down and I think the Frenchman will once again get the better of his Danish teammate in qualifying.
Prediction: Grosjean 13 Magnussen 8
McLaren: Carlos Sainz v Lando Norris
Another teaser! McLaren seem to have had a pretty good couple of weeks in Spain and they have one driver wanting to show that it was he who should have been promoted to Red Bull and another in his debut season that wants to prove he’s every bit as good as his junior formulae pedigree promises.
While well beaten to the F2 title by fellow F1 debutant George Russell, Lando Norris had taken the brave gamble of running with Carlin Motorsport, who were new to the Formula, as opposed to the well established ART team Russell ran with, and qualifying was often their weak point.
However, Carlos Sainz was beaten 13-8 by Hulkenberg last year and I do feel Lando Norris is something pretty special … and I seem to remember another young English rookie upsetting an established Spanish star in a McLaren a few years ago!
Prediction: Norris 11 Sainz 10
Alfa Romeo Racing: Kimi Raikkonen v Antonio Giovinazzi
At the Barcelona tests Kimi Raikkonen seems to have been rejuvenated by his move back to Sauber, now to be known as Alfa Romeo Racing, although the team didn’t look quite as competitive as they became at the end of last year.
Whether or not the much loved Finn can fend off the advances of his new Italian teammate remains to be seen. Early season yes but as Antonio settles in I expect his to challenge strongly. Not raced for two years but was a regular winner in both European F3 and GP2.
Prediction: Raikkonen 11 Giovinazzi 10
Racing Point: Sergio Perez v Lance Stroll
With his Mexican backers helping to fund them, Sergio Perez is now firmly ensconced in the former Force India team, but he now has a teammate who can outbid him in the financial stakes and is very keen to make his point … (there’s going to be a lot of that this season!).
Quite how this is going to pan out between the two of them is going to be fascinating to watch. I’m sure Sergio Perez will win the qualifying battle, but Lance has made some brilliant moves on opening laps and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the two Pink Panthers sharing their coats of paint…
Prediction: Perez 16 Stroll 5
Toro Rosso: Daniel Kvyat v Alexander Albon
After four years of Red Bull management -bouncing from Junior team to Senior team and back again before being stuck on the subs bench three quarters of the way through 2017 - the fast but erratic Russian Daniel Kvyat has been given the rare opportunity of a second chance.
Pitted against him is the Thai-Brit Alexander Albon who seemed to be something of a last choice when he was plucked out of his Formula E seat just before the season began yet was most impressive in Barcelona despite sticking it in the gravel on his very first lap! While he’s always been a front runner he’s rarely the star of the show and, despite three pole positions in F2 last year on his way to third in the championship, I see Kvyat as the faster of the two – but not by much.
Prediction: Kvyat 15 Albon 6
Williams: Robert Kubica v George Russell
Quite a story going on at Williams. A very open documentary witnessed the turmoil of emotions going on in the team and then there was much embarrassment when they turned up late for the Barcelona tests. With the fastest times of the other nine teams all covered by just one second, by the end of the eight days, the best Williams lap was nearly a full second further adrift.
On the plus side they have the enormous feel–good factor with the return of Robert Kubica to the Grand Prix grid. An incredible story of a man determined to get back in a race seat despite still suffering the handicap of a damaged right arm.
While I can see his sheer determination and experience from the past bringing him more points over the season than his rookie teammate, I feel it’s F2 champion George Russell who’s going to come out on top in the single qualifying laps.