Bob McMurray: the movers and shakers of the Formula 1 silly season
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The 2018 Formula 1 season has been good one.
Competition from the front to the back of the grid, whichever division you look at, was intense for most of the season. And there were more races than usual where the winner was not settled until the last few laps.
Maybe I have my rose-tinted glasses on, and perhaps I am conveniently forgetting the odd race where the most exciting thing about it was figuring out how to stay awake, but overall the season was enjoyable.
This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has become almost irrelevant as championships go, so the focus will be on the race and the following post-season two-day test session.
A lot of attention will be on the rise of the new young breed of drivers led by Monegasque Charles Leclerc — so highly thought of by the senior Ferrari management as to be recruited into the Scuderia to replace arguably one of the grid’s best drivers, a world champion and a grand prix winner in the 2018 season, Kimi Raikkonen.
They are big shoes to fill and only time will tell if the move is an inspired one.
Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly has also scored a major seat for 2019 joining the senior squad in the bewildering world of Dietrich Mateschitz’ myriad competition teams, the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 outfit, in place of Daniel Ricciardo.
It’s a potentially volatile but intriguing combination with the proven on-track capabilities and his occasional aggressive nature of Max Verstappen matched against new boy Gasly, who will be eager to fight his own corner.
The dynamics in that team will be a lot different to the Ricciardo/Verstappen mix.
Talking of team dynamics, the McLaren F1 team must desperately be in search of some.
It has two new drivers for 2019 with one, Carlos Sainz, teetering on the brink of being in the sport’s departure lounge or becoming the team saviour; and the other, Toyota Racing Series Champion Lando Norris, either going to
make a major impression on the sport or possibly go the way of
the previous four young drivers to join the team since 2008 and have their promising careers all but ruined.
I am sure Heikki Kovalainen, Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne will follow Norris’ season with great interest.
Similarly, the well-connected George Russell must be looking at his upcoming season with basement dwellers Williams F1 with excitement, mixed with trepidation, as will the new Sauber F1 driver Antonio Giovanazzi when he is compared to Raikkonen in that team.
Williams has yet to announce a driving partner for Russell with the answer to “how deep are your pockets” likely to be a major influence on any decision.
There is one more possible newbie to add to the list with the rumoured entry of Alexander Albon to the Toro Rosso team.
But this would mean Hartley will have to step down and I don’t think their relative performances at this point in their careers warrants that move.
Hartley’s points score is admittedly some way behind his current teammate at Toro Rosso. But his value as a solid, experienced, development driver, as well as being a current Formula 1 driver, is something the new alliance between the Red Bull funded teams and Honda will surely need during 2019.
With all these new team-driver alliances, eight of the 10 teams having new combinations and new rules coming in for the cars themselves, the 2019 season is already looking tasty.