What to expect from the 10 2019 F1 team launches
The Formula 1 team launch season is nearly upon us. Eight of the 10 teams have new driver combinations for 2019. Let’s look ahead to what has changed and what each is facing as the countdown to Melbourne on March 17th ticks on.
1. Toro Rosso (February 11th)
Red Bull’s second team will be the first to reveal next week, and the big news is Daniil Kvyat’s Lazarus act. Second chances used to be rare in F1, but comebacks appear to be in vogue.
There’s no doubt Kvyat is talented, but would the senior Red Bull team really consider taking him back after dropping him in 2016? If the answer to that is ‘no’, you have to wonder why Toro Rosso has hired him again, given that its very existence is largely to develop talent for the A-team.
Thai-born Alexander Albon raced in the shadows of the top two British drivers in Formula 2 last season, but has earned his big chance alongside Kvyat. Albon will know the pressure he will face to perform – and fast. Red Bull driver development boss Helmut Marko is hardly known for patience with his young chargers.
2. Renault (February 12th)
We’ll get our first look at Daniel Ricciardo in yellow and black next Tuesday, following the Australian’s surprise switch from Red Bull. The smiles will be wide, as always, and we can expect plenty of bonhomie with Nico Hülkenberg – at least to start with.
This promises to be one of the juiciest team-mate rivalries on the grid. Hülkenberg remains highly rated – and his stock will rise further if he can at least give seven-time Grand Prix winner Ricciardo a run for his money.
The key for both is just how competitive Renault can be. Is this team ready to challenge F1’s Big Three? It’s about time.
3. Mercedes (February 13th)
It’s business as usual for the world champions. Lewis Hamilton is the obvious favourite for a sixth title, but Mercedes was pushed hard by Ferrari last year and complacency isn’t an option for the Silver Arrows.
The man in the other car is the one under real pressure. Valtteri Bottas simply wasn’t close enough to Hamilton’s level last year, even if the champ hit new heights of brilliance. The Finn knows if he doesn’t raise his game this time, he’ll lose the best seat in the house.
4. Racing Point (February 13th)
A fresh start for the team formerly known as Force India, so the launch on Wednesday next week should be one of few to offer genuine insight. Under the new ownership of Lawrence Stroll and partners, how is F1’s perennial over-achiever shaping up?
Having the boss’s son, Lance, in the other car might be disconcerting for Sergio Perez. But the Mexican is immensely experienced, probably under-rated and should score more points over the course of a season.
5. McLaren (February 14th)
What next for this once-great team? Two new drivers, for starters. Carlos Sainz Jr. joins from Renault and faces highly rated British rookie Lando Norris. Like Hamilton, Norris has seemed destined for F1 from karting and how he deals with the hand now dealt him, and a decent team-mate who also has much to prove, will be fascinating.
At least he isn’t up against Fernando Alonso… But does McLaren still have what it takes to produce a truly competitive F1 car? Strange to ask that question given the history – but sadly it has become a valid one.
6. Ferrari (February 15th)
The first week of launches ends with the biggest of the lot. At Ferrari, expect serenity from Sebastian Vettel, who will surely have spent a difficult winter getting his head back where it needs to be after a hugely disappointing 2018.
Will he be sensitive to questions about handling his new team-mate Charles Leclerc? At this stage, we can expect smiling dismissals about such concerns. But the smile will quickly turn sour if the young Frenchman can ‘do a Ricciardo’ and beat the four-time champ.
Bizarre as it might seem for a man who has achieved so much, this is a critical year for Vettel that will shape what remains of his F1 future.
7. Alfa Romeo (February 18th)
The following week will kick off with a big one as Alfa Romeo takes the wraps off its first factory F1 entry since 1985. The commitment for this illustrious brand to take over Sauber so completely is much-needed good news for F1 and its rights-owning promoter.
The team made great strides under Fred Vasseur last year and should maintain that progress, especially with Kimi Räikkönen on board. Joining a relatively lowly team on the up proved just what he needed when he returned to F1 with Lotus (Renault) in 2012 – and it might well be a similar story this time, too.
He is joined by promising rookie Antonio Giovinazzi, who already has a couple of starts to his name with the team after subbing for an injured Pascal Wehrlein in 2017.
8. Haas (TBC)
The only team other than Mercedes with an unchanged driver line-up, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean will be looking ahead to another season in which unofficial Ferrari B-team Haas should contend for best of the midfield.
9. Red Bull (TBC)
Honda’s new partner has yet to tell us when the wraps will come off its 2019 challenger. Max Verstappen is joined by Toro Rosso graduate Pierre Gasly, but won’t be losing any sleep over that. Of greater concern will be Honda’s ability to at least maintain Red Bull’s status as a Big Three race winner. If it can’t, how will volatile Verstappen handle the situation? It’s a huge season for the team and its fabulously talented driver.
10. Williams (TBC)
Like McLaren, big questions surround Williams – but surely 2019 will be better than last season, although only because it couldn’t be much worse…
The fantastic return of Robert Kubica dominates, but George Russell’s chance in the other car is significant too. The F2 champion has worked so hard for his F1 shot. But everything relies on the team, which will run in new colours this year after losing its Martini backing, actually giving him a shot worthy of the term. Like every rookie, the novelty of just making it to F1 will quickly wear off if he’s left struggling at the back each weekend.
Photos provided by Motorsport Images.