Our Formula One writer Sarah Yip diagnoses the season just gone, and asks if anyone can catch now six-time championship winner Lewis Hamilton in the future.
To nobody’s surprise, Lewis Hamilton was crowned Formula 1’s 2019 Champion for the 6th time. After finishing 2nd at the Circuit of Americas, he brought the driver’s championship battle to a close 2 races before the season finish. Although Hamilton has been the Champion for two consecutive years now, he described this year the “toughest” season for him, winning only winning ten races out of the nineteen completed and claiming only four poles.
Before the season started many fans were hopeful that Ferrari could challenge Mercedes, who have dominated F1 since the turbo hybrid era, after their positive winter testing sessions. Ferrari fans themselves placed their hopes on the shoulders of their rookie, Charles Leclerc.
Mercedes: Predictable Luck
Hamilton’s first victory of the season came at the cost of Charles Leclerc’s misfortune. Leclerc, in only his second race as a Ferrari driver, took pole at Bahrain and led for the majority of the race. Leclerc would’ve won had it not been for the failure of his MGU-K, the motor generator that recovers kinetic energy to assist the petrol engine to produce more power.
Hamilton’s victories continued in Spain after Bottas’ clutch failure at the start of the race and in Monaco, following Niki Lauda’s death. Lauda, regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, was a non-executive chairman of Mercedes-AMG Petronas and often acted as a mentor and advisor to the Mercedes drivers. The three time world champion was particularly close to Lewis Hamilton, being instrumental in the latter’s move to Mercedes in 2013.
In the seventh round of the season Hamilton crashed in free practice and almost crashed again with Ferarri’s Sebastian Vettel in lap 48 of the Canadian Grand Prix. Vettel, taking his first pole of the season in Canada, led throughout the race but after running wide, was handed a five second penalty for “unsafe re-entry” onto the track. Hamilton – who was running second and battling Vettel through turn four – remained second even after Vettel’s re-entry onto track, but would later classify as first thanks to the FIA’s controversial penalty.
But the journey to the Championship title is never easy. In Germany, Ferrari were the favourites to win that weekend after topping the tables in all free practice’s but failed to translate their dominance in qualifying. Vettel and Leclerc disappointed, qualifying at 20th and 10th respectively.
The dramatic wet race at Hockenheimring saw Lewis Hamilton finish only 9th after leading and losing control behind the safety car and damaging his front wing. Under any other circumstance, this would’ve been a minor problem, but the Mercedes garage was not ready for him to pit, leaving him idle in the lane for 50 seconds – a huge 46.6 seconds more than the average. This, along with spinning again and damaging his front wing, saw Hamilton cross the line in 11th, his lowest race finish in 2019. After the race, the FIA handed Hamilton a penalty for entering the pit lane outside of the bollard, creating an unsafe situation.
Ferarri: Better late than never
Ferarri fans had quickly lost hope in Sebastian Vettel and even more so in Charles Leclerc after drivers suffered from mistakes from both the themselves and the garag, along with plain misfortune.
To put it simply, Ferrari did not have the pace and consistency most days, struggling to translate their dominance in free practice and qualifying on race days. Although this year’s strategy improved from the disasters last year, it still wasn’t enough to really challenge Mercedes.
However, mid-season upgrades to the chassis and power unit of their car saw Ferrari dominate in the races preceding the summer break. Charles Leclerc, only age 21 at the time, collected four consecutive pole positions (and seven overall) while Lewis Hamilton did not manage to claim a single pole position after the break. Leclerc won the first race after the break in Belgium, dedicating the win to childhood friend and former competitor Anthoine Hubert who had died the day prior in a race accident at Belgium.
The Monegasque driver restored hope in Ferarri, winning the next race in Monza and taking second in Singapore while his older teammate Vettel won the race. Singapore showed the world what Ferarri really were capable of, at a track they were not supposed to be suited for.
Vettel, whose season was less than brilliant, congratulated Lewis on his 6th title, saying he “deserves all” the success. Vettel “respects” what Hamilton and the Mercedes team have achieved, despite being unhappy with how far off the pace Ferrari have been. After Hamilton won, rumours sparked in the paddock that the four-time world champion would retire at the end of 2020, when his contract with Scuderia Ferrari was up. He has not commented on these rumours.
Once again, Lewis Hamilton is reigning world champion and with the regulations not set to change until 2021 (when the racing will hopefully be a lot closer due to new aerodynamic regulations), it seems like Mercedes will continue to be the most dominant team in Formula 1 history.