F1 team-mate wars: Who's winning the in-team battles in 2019?
Tiff Needell is a television presenter and former racing driver who competed in Formula 1, British Touring Cars and at Le Mans.
Before the 2019 F1 season began, I looked at the year ahead of us and predicted how I thought the in-team battles would work out. Who would set the qualifying pace for the team – and who might be in danger of losing their seat for 2020?
The British Grand Prix this weekend is round ten of the twenty one race series so it’s an appropriate time to give out a half-term report. Who’s been the surprise of the season so far? Who needs to try harder? And more importantly for me, how are my qualifying predictions working out?
However, before we get into the detail, perhaps we should start with a couple of special awards for the driver that has most surprised – and the one that has most disappointed.
Top of the list for gold stars awarded for exceeding expectations simply has to be the Thai-Brit Alexander Albon.
Not only for his performances on the track but for his enthusiastic and honest interviews off it. This is a driver who you can see is simply loving being a Grand Prix driver.
Having thought he’d probably never get the chance and agreed to step off the ladder and head to Formula E, he’s absolutely made the most of his last minute call-up to Toro Rosso and matched his more experienced teammate every step of the way with the qualifying score currently just 5-4 against him.
At the other extreme, with no stars at all so far, is poor Pierre Gasly.
It was always going to be a tough ask to join Max’s team, but the very likeable Frenchman has an excellent junior pedigree and had some strong performances for Toro Rosso last season. He has outqualified Max once – but only when red flags stopped the Dutchman getting into Q3 in Canada.
Pierre is brutally honest with his own analysis that he needs to change his driving style to get the most out of the car but if he doesn’t manage to do that and get a lot closer to Max in the next three races before the summer break he could find the ruthless Red Bull chop coming his way.
So what of the rest of the grid? Let's go through them in Constructors Championship order, starting, of course with...
Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton v Valtteri Bottas
While an apparently re-booted Bottas began the year out-dragging and then out-racing Hamilton in the Australian season opener, it didn’t take long for Lewis to put him back in his place.
The sight of Lewis standing on top of his car, punching the air in delight after yet another win while Valtteri looks on with a somewhat bemused expression has once again become the norm.
While Lewis will surely go on to claim another title, and most likely another win at Silverstone this weekend, what should Valtteri and Mercedes be thinking about for the future?
Would Bottas be a happier man if he did what Ricciardo did and find himself a team where he can lead the way? And does Mercedes feel it should give another driver a chance to shine with Esteban Ocon a permanent feature in the garage? These are the questions that will fill the press pages during the summer break! .
Qualifying prediction: Hamilton 17 Bottas 4, currently 6-3
Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel v Charles Leclerc
Yet again the impression that Ferrari were finally getting their act together has dissolved into disappointment. After all the promise of the Barcelona test, engine failures, driver errors and two stewards enquiries that both went against them have left the Scuderia once again living with a black cloud hanging over them.
Although still second in the constructors' race, after Austria, both their drivers lag behind Max Verstappen in the points table and they desperately need a few wins to lift their spirits before next year.
While Charles Leclerc should have won at least one and probably two Grands Prix, Vettel has had another frustrating run of races, but you have to believe they’ll turn it around somehow... don’t you?
Qualifying prediction: Vettel 13 Leclerc 8, currently 6-3
Red Bull – Max Verstappen v Pierre Gasly
While the woes of Pierre Gasly have already been discussed, the speed of Max Verstappen is never in doubt and his stunning drive in Austria came almost out of the blue.
With a Honda engine that still doesn’t quite match the big two ahead of him – but is edging ever closer – Max wrings ever last hundredth of a second out of his Red Bull machine and his ‘Orange Army’ grows ever larger.
So large in fact that Liberty have decided to cash in on his mass following with a Dutch Grand Prix next year – even if there are serious doubts about the suitability of the tight track for F1.
Qualifying prediction: Verstappen 18 Gasly 3, currently 8-1
McLaren – Carlos Sainz v Lando Norris
While most of us remember McLaren’s 2018 season as an embarrassing disaster we still tend to forget that, thanks mainly to Fernando Alonso’s dogged determination, they still ended up sixth in the Constructors Championship and it’s now becoming obvious that the Spaniard and his much under-rated teammate Stoffel Vandoorne also pointed the team in the right direction to improve their car.
Sadly for Stoffel it’s unlikely to rescue his once so promising career, such is the cruelty of our sport, but it has helped McLaren build a quick car that is fast establishing itself as the leading ‘Class B’ competitor, and has the team in a solid fourth place in the table.
Added to that is the fact that Lando Norris is more than living up to expectations and we can all look forward to a decade ahead of the Leclerc-Verstappen-Norris battles that are coming our way – with one or two others joining the fun if they can get competitive cars under them.
Lando not only brings his speed but also, like Albon, an open character that you always look forward to hearing from with his honest reflections after the races.
Yes, Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz has outscored him in the points so far, using his extra experience to good effect, but I don’t see that happening in the long term.
Qualifying prediction: Norris 11 Sainz 10, currently 6-3
Renault – Nico Hulkenberg v Daniel Ricciardo
Before the season started I thought this might be the chance for Nico Hulkenberg to prove just why he should have been in a top team by now but instead it has been more of Daniel Ricciardo proving just how good he is!
Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg need Renault to provide them with a better car (Image: Renault)
With the factory team being beaten by their only engine customer, morale isn’t that good at Renault right now and they don’t seem any nearer their aim to turn the big three teams into a pack of four.
They might be hanging on to fifth in the constructors but having their two drivers tied tenth with just 16 points apiece is hardly what you’d expect from a full factory team and I fear Nico’s days are numbered ...
Qualifying prediction: Hulkenberg 11 Ricciardo 10, currently 2-7
Alfa Romeo – Racing Kimi Raikkonen v Antonio Giovinazzi
Much as I felt Kimi Raikkonen should make way at Ferrari for Charles Leclerc, I’m delighted the Kimster accepted the lead in a mid-field team as there’s always the need for a character like him both on the radio and in the dreaded interview pen.
Not that he’s demonstrated any less determination to do his best on the track and so far has shown his young Italian teammate that he’s still one of the fastest.
Better late than never, Antonio Giovinazzi is beginning to show some of the form that saw him as runner-up to Pierre Gasly in the 2016 GP2 season, but spending the last two years as a test driver was hardly ideal. Mind you it’s always good to have an Italian on the Grand Prix grid especially in an Italian car.
Qualifying prediction: Raikkonen 11 Giovinazzi 10, currently 6-3
Racing Point – Sergio Perez v Lance Stroll
The fact that we are no longer treated to the spectacle of two Pink Panthers forever trying to share the same piece of track unfortunately reflects rather badly on the son of the man who has injected vast sums of money into the team to improve its pace.
Lance Stroll still makes amazing progress in the opening laps but so far he has always started behind his teammate and never got close enough to cause the team the problems they had when Esteban Ocon was in his car.
Sergio Perez continues to be a safe bet, but I don’t think either driver would be in the team without the substantial backing they bring. Harsh perhaps on the Mexican but after 167 Grands Prix I just feel he is one of those drivers that would be best served by taking his sponsorship to Indycar – where he would have a chance of winning – and open up an F1 seat up for someone else to have a moment under the spotlight.
Qualifying prediction: Perez 16 Stroll 5, currently 9-0
Toro Rosso – Daniel Kvyat v Alexander Albon
With Alexander Albon being the surprise of the season and Daniel Kvyat being the comeback kid it’s quite a happy camp at Toro Rosso even if their cars haven’t quite made the step forward hoped for them.
Kvyat sits one place above Albon in the championship and one better in the qualifying stats but there’s really little to choose between the two. Whether either is doing enough to warrant a move to Red Bull should Gasly continue to struggle is another question.
The infamous Red Bull chop has removed Daniel Ticktum from the queue of talent hoping to replace them and Mexican Indycar sensation Patricio O’Ward is the new name at the top of the list.
Qualifying prediction: Kvyat 15 Albon 6, currently 5-4
Haas – Romain Grosjean v Kevin Magnussen
While McLaren have been the biggest mover up the constructor’s table, Haas have plummeted four places to sit ninth with only Williams behind them.
There’s still the occasional promise in qualifying – and Kevin Magnussen has turned my prediction upside down – but when it comes to the races the black cars spend more time going backwards than forwards.
Kevin’s Austrian race pretty much sums up their season. A brilliant fifth fastest in qualifying, dropped to tenth on the grid with a gearbox penalty, gradually fell back to 15th, served a drive-through for jumping the start and finished 19th between the two Williams… things can only get better.
Qualifying prediction: Grosjean 13 Magnussen 8, currently 2-7
Williams – Robert Kubica v George Russell
Like Haas, Williams are a team in complete turmoil with the only positive thing being the performance of their young rookie George Russell. As with Norris and Albon, here is a young man over the moon by simply being a Grand Prix driver.
Despite having a car that he knows is only capable of being faster than the other Williams he has kept a very positive approach and knuckled down to simply doing every lap in his recalcitrant car as quick as it will go. Put a decent car under him and George is another potential star of the future.
His teammate is of course a much loved star of the past making an emotional comeback from horrific injuries. Yes it’s fantastic to see Robert Kubica make a return but I upset a lot of his devoted fans by suggesting he may not be as quick as he was in the past and take no pleasure in being proved right …