Scenes from the paddock – Best of 2019

On many levels, 2019 was a captivating season. From the many fiercely fought battles to the thrills and spills that make or break a triumph, this year’s campaign brought a host of memorable moments.

Meanwhile, in the paddock, the scenes were often just as enthralling.

As we put the year in the rear-view mirror, here’s our race-by-race ‘Scenes from the paddock’ best of.

©VladimirRys

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F1 fans have chosen their favourite race of 2019

Over 13,000 Formula 1 fans cast their vote for their favourite race of 2019, with this year’s frantic German Grand Prix topping the results.

Max Verstappen conquered his seventh career win at Hockenheim, the Red Bull charger avoiding the pitfalls and traps set up by the elements on that thrilling and wet Sunday afternoon.

Despite a 360 degree spin, it took the Dutchman the better part of 30 laps to put himself in charge, helped by a mishap by Lewis Hamilton who crashed on lap 29 and then received a penalty for entering the pitlane on the wrong side of a safety bollard.

Sebastian Vettel, who had started last after failing to set a time in qualifying, stormed through the field to secure a brilliant runner-up spot behind Verstappen while third-placed man Daniil Kvyat delivered to Toro Rosso its second podium of its history.

The Brazilian Grand Prix – another Verstappen triumph and podium for Toro Rosso – was unsurprisingly voted the second best race of the season by the fan community.

The Italian and Austrian Grands Prix – won respectively by Leclerc and the ever-present Verstappen – received an equal number of votes to complete the top four races of 2019.

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F1i Team Reviews for 2019: Alfa Romeo

We continue our look at how each of the ten teams on the grid fared in 2019, including our thoughts as to how each of them may perform next season.

Alfa Romeo

The team picture

  • Constructors standing: P8, 57 points

Things had been looking up for Alfa Romeo in its previous guise as Sauber. After several seasons bumping along at the bottom and making up the numbers at the back of the grid, there was a real sense of optimism within the team at the end of 2018.

Rebranding as Alfa Romeo came with closer ties with Ferrari and the latest engine spec for 2020. They had to give up Charles Leclerc, but they got the veteran Kimi Raikkonen in his place to balance the rookie talents of Antonio Giovinazzi. It looked like a strong strategy for success in 2019.

In fact the progress has been minimal. While they scored nine points more than last year they still finished in the same place in the standings, and actually fell further behind those teams ahead. A large proportion of their points came from a single race (Brazil), and they lost out on a double top ten success in Germany due to penalties for using driver aids at the start.

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Alfa Romeo Racing with Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing on the drivers parade.

Head-to-head

  • Kimi Raikkonen: P12, 43 points
  • Antonio Giovinazzi: P17, 14 points

You’d expect the experienced Kimi Raikkonen to come out on top in any comparison of the Alfa Romeo drivers, and you’d be entirely correct. The Finn secured 43 (75%) of the team’s championship points. Along the way he beat Giovinazzi in qualifying on 13 occasions, and 14 times in final race classifications.

But that rather hides the underlying trend. Giovinazzi was essentially a rookie this season (despite two prior race outings with Sauber at the start of 2017 subbing for an unwell Pascal Wehrlein) and so it was obviously going to take him some time to get used to the car and to racing full time in F1.

Once he did, he was applying increasing pressure on the Finn in the second half of the season. After taking his maiden point in Hungary, he was in the top ten again in Italy and Singapore while Raikkonen was struggling. After Hungary he failed to score at all until Brazil, where he and Giovinazzi claimed their best results of the whole year in fourth and fifth respectively.

Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA) Alfa Romeo Racing C38.

Looking to the future

It’s looking harder and harder for Alfa Romeo to find a way off the plateau on which they currently find themselves. Nor can we see where the necessary inspiration is going to come from, with Frédéric Vasseur perhaps taking too much upon himself in a sparse management structure following the in-house promotion of chief aerodynamicist Jan Monchaux to the post of technical director.

Far from providing the team with fresh leadership and direction, the 40-year-old Raikkonen has appreciably waned over the course of the last 12 months. With 312 Grand Prix starts to his name, the Iceman is F1’s senior citizen. But hopefully won’t drive like one in 2020.

While he’s made solid progress over his first full season in F1, Giovinazzi is currently no Leclerc ready to assume the mantle of team leader. It was touch and go whether the team even kept him on for a second season. He’ll need to do much more to prove himself in 2020 now that he’s got some proper experience under his belt.

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F1i Team Reviews for 2019: Williams

We begin our annual F1i review analysing how all ten F1 teams fared in 2019 with Williams, including a look ahead to speculate on what’s likely to be in store for the beleaguered independent next season.

Williams

The team picture

  • Constructors standing: P10, 1 point

Could the midwinter look any bleaker for the hard working Williams team? 2019 has been an absolute shocker, but the signs were right there at the start when they failed to get their new car ready in time to take part in the first few days of pre-season testing in February. Even when they did show up, the mismatched assortment of body components would have been an embarrassment to Frankenstein.

Technical director Paddy Lowe took the fall for that acutely embarrassing episode, but the problems were now ‘baked in’ to the FW42 and there was little that anyone could do about the situation. For the rest of the year, the final car running on track – invariably a lap or more off the leaders – would be a Williams.

The team just managed to avoid the ignominy of finishing the season pointless and has to be praised for some good reliability. But it was still a very sad state of affairs for the team that was once home to the likes of Nigel Mansell, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Ayrton Senna. And not forgetting Pastor Maldonado of course.

©Williams

Head-to-head

  • Robert Kubica: P19, 1 point
  • George Russell: P20, 0 points

In almost all respects, Williams had the most one-sided team mate battle on the grid. George Russell whitewashed Robert Kubica 21-0 in qualifying, and by a whopping average margin of 0.57s. However neither driver was able to make it into Q2 in 2019: the nearest Russell got was in Hungary where he missed out on progressing by just half a tenth. In the races themselves, the rookie beat his team mate 17-3 with both drivers failing to finish in Russia.

But balanced against that, it was Kubica who proved responsible for 100% of Williams’ entire season tally … of a single championship point. It was one of only three times the Pole finished ahead of Russell, on this occasion by a slender margin of 1.5s in Germany. After crossing the line in 12th place he had the good fortune to be promoted into the points by hefty post-race penalties on both Alfa Romeo drivers, leaving Russell out in the cold in 11th. So close!

Looking to the future

We confess: we’re very worried about Williams. Given the depth of their performance woes in 2019, you’d have thought they would have prioritised building up their technical team over the course of the year. Instead there’s been no replacement announced for Lowe, while vague assurances that the iconic Sir Patrick Head would be popping into Grove every now and then to keep an eye on things didn’t seem nearly enough to tackle the growing sense of malaise and inertia.

At least Nicholas Latifi will provide some fresh energy in the cockpit and keep Russell on his toes. However Williams may find themselves missing Kubica’s experience and highly regarded technical acumen – not to mention all that corporate sponsorship money he brought in.

Unless Williams is keeping a surprise well hidden under its racing overalls, we fear that 2020 might achieve the seemingly impossible – and actually prove to be even worse for the once-mighty constructor than 2019.

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Scenes from the paddock: Interlagos

Whether it’s the track or the spirit of a Brazilian legend that inhabits the circuit, there always seems to be something very special going on at Interlagos.

On Sunday, there were thrills and spills up and down the field, and in the end a well-deserved victor on the podium flanked by a pair of first-time visitors.

Such a high-octane weekend of entertainment naturally deserved its fair share of scenes from the paddock.

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The scenarios Hamilton needs to bag the title in Mexico

Lewis Hamilton’s mission in Mexico City will be to secure his sixth world crown, but to do so the Briton will need to outscore Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 14 points, plain and simple.

Next weekend’s race will be Hamilton’s first opportunity to seal the title, and the 34-year-old can achieve this feat in Mexico for the third year in succession with three races to spare.

But at the very minimum, Hamilton will need to finish on the podium next Sunday, a result beyond the top-3 will delay the title fight to the US Grand Prix in Austin.

In summary, if Hamilton wins, Bottas will need to finish P5 or lower for the Briton to be crowned.

However, Hamilton could secure the title if Bottas finishes P4 under the condition that he also secures a bonus point for the fastest race lap.

-If Hamilton finishes P2, he shall be crowned world champion if Bottas finishes P8 – and doesn’t secure a bonus point for fastest lap – or lower.

-If Hamilton finishes P3, he shall be crowned world champion if Bottas finishes P10. However, the Briton could still secure the title if Bottas finishes P9 under the condition that he also snaps up a bonus point for the fastest race lap.

©Formula1

As one can see, the odds are heavily in favour of Hamilton surpassing next Sunday the five titles of the great Juan Manuel Fangio and putting himself just one championship short of Michael Schumacher’s record seven titles.

But Valtteri Bottas won’t go down without a fight. “I don’t really give up on anything as long as there’s a theoretical chance,” said the Finn.

“Everything’s possible although I’m realistic as well that I will need to be very lucky, that’s a fact, to win all the rest of the races but yeah, I don’t really think about that much at this point.”

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Epstein: The bigger the success Miami is the better for F1

Circuit of the Americas (COTA) chairman Bobby Epstein believes says the prospect of the Miami Grand Prix is good for the sport as his organisation bide their time ahead of negotiating a new Formula 1 contract for the United States Grand Prix in Austin.

The Texas track’s existing deal agreed with Formula 1’s former supremo Bernie Ecclestone runs to 2021 with an annual escalator clause.

COTA chairman Epstein would like to secure better terms from the sport’s new U.S.-based owners Liberty Media, as do other promoters in the global series who have long complained that high hosting fees make it hard to turn a profit.

Liberty’s eagerness to add a race in Miami, possibly as soon as next year, could see a change to the old business model with media reports suggesting that deal will have shared risk and revenues.

“I think there are nine or 10 circuits that have to renew their deals before we do,” Epstein told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“So I am sure by the time ours comes up, there’ll be a lot more precedents set. And you know, hopefully the sport will have taken off in the U.S. (by then) and the reliance on the promoter income might not have to be as heavy.”

Hockenheim, which hosts this weekend’s German Grand Prix and is in the last year of its contract, has already said it cannot continue unless any new deal is risk-free.

Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix, has a year remaining on its contract having exercised a break clause, while even countries like Azerbaijan that pay more than most are seeking revised terms.

Liberty see the United States as a key market for the sport’s growth and are keen to add at least a second race.

COTA is the country’s only purpose-built Formula One facility.

Epstein, who said he was not planning on starting conversations about a new F1 deal until much closer to the 2020 race, also has a MotoGP contract to renew but he was not worried about that, “MotoGP is a great event for us and we’re not going to lose it.”

COTA has drawn big crowds to the F1 race by putting on big-name concerts on the Saturday and Sunday to drive sales of family tickets.

Epstein said this year’s headliners Bruno Mars and Britney Spears meant sales were “on top of where they were last year” when Justin Timberlake and Stevie Wonder topped the bill.

He added, however, that the circuit was almost ‘maxed out’ as far as the concert crowd and future growth would have to come from increasing the sport’s popularity.

Miami, he said, might siphon off some fans but would be good in the long run, “I certainly think there’s a core group of the curious fans, just as we saw the first year of our event, who want to go experience the new.”

“And they will go to Miami and I hope Miami will be a great success because the bigger the success Miami is, the better it is for the sport. So that will lift all of us. At least that’s the hope.”

The Miami Grand Prix is by no means a certainty, but Epstein felt something would be sorted for 2020 if not next year.

The uncertainty has meant a 2019 draft Formula 1 calendar has yet to be published, with Liberty waiting on the Florida city before confirming any dates.

If Miami happens then it would be scheduled with Austin, Mexico and Brazil in a sequence for the later part of the season, with Canada retaining a June slot.

“I’ve a feeling they’ve got their schedule and calendar fairly well pencilled in,” said Epstein, who added that the date of the Austin race — on 21 Oct0ber — could change from next season.

“They’ve mentioned the possibility of a (date) change to us. Within three weeks either way of our existing date. It might be early November,” added Epstein.

Big Question: How important is the Miami Grand Prix for Formula 1?


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