By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The 2019 Formula One season is now in the books and the last third of it didn’t disappoint.
There are drivers and teams who flourished with some getting more respect than others, while others never figured their flaw out.
One thing is certain, Lewis Hamilton continued ruling F1 with now six titles to his already illustrious name.
However, guys like Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen had brilliant drives which leaves me hopeful that it can lead to an even better 2020 campaign which will see the number of rounds up to 22 instead of 21.
Therefore, it’s the last ever installment of “Heptagon Viewpoints” where I discuss my seven takeaways from the final seven rounds of the 2019 season.
What About Carlos, Jr.?
In case you’re wondering or might’ve forgotten already, Carlos Sainz, Jr. finished sixth in the World Championship and a key contributor to McLaren’s resurgence from bottom of the barrel (the GP2 engine days) to “Best of the Rest.”
Obviously, people should recognize the Spaniard’s strong consistency that saw him outscored everyone from teams like Renault and Racing Point with 96 points.
Unfortunately, Sainz’s season has slipped under the radar and people are finally realizing this factoid. Now some are saying that Sainz is worthy of being F1 Driver of the Year and a potential super talent heading into the Double 20s
Fortunately, a podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix which was his first and McLaren’s first since Melbourne in 2014 validated his solid campaign.
At the same time, it was given to him because the podium was a result of Hamilton receiving a time penalty for colliding into Alexander Albon, a guy who finally impressed me in this stretch of the season with the Japanese and Mexican Grand Prix being his highlights.
I was pleased see McLaren’s improvements paying off but would’ve been as sweet that Sainz got to share it with race winner Verstappen and second-place Pierre Gasly. At least the entire papaya orange squad had their moment on the podium booth a few hours later.
I’m thrilled to see how further McLaren can grow and see if they’ll eventually be back as the sport’s top dogs like they used to be for decades.
Formula One’s Mr. Lonely
Last year, all 20 drivers scored points. This year, it’s poor George Russell who failed to achieve a top-10 while everyone including his Williams Racing teammate Robert Kubica did it relatively quick.
Bobby Vinton’s timeless tune “Mr. Lonely” is all I’ve been thinking of when Russell ended up having a goose egg on the driver points column.
To be fair, had both Alfa Romeo Racing drivers didn’t got penalized for using driver aids at the final German Grand Prix for the time being, Kubica wouldn’t have gotten that point. Russell ended up 11th after the penalties were handed out.
While Russell would have to wait until 2020 to get that elusive point in F1, he did out qualify Kubica in all 21 rounds which puts him in a rare category of going undefeated in qualifying. Kubica won’t be back with Williams as Nicholas Latifi will be replacing him in 2020.
Should make for a compelling driver combination and skeptical if these young guys can earn points outright without other team’s expenses like the past two seasons.
No Seating Line for the Hulkster
Nico Hulkenberg is officially out of a Formula One ride after a decade-long career that saw him score a pole at Interlagos in 2010 and sadly never scoring a podium.
Compared to some drivers throughout the 2010s, Hulkenburg was one of the better ones so when he brought the Renault home one last time at Abu Dhabi, it was bittersweet and as good as he was, he’ll be another “what if” career.
I’ve said once that Sergio Perez is this decade’s Nick Heidfeld, Hulkenburg may be another guy I put in that category.
I’d love to see him give INDYCAR a go, even if it’s just the road races, but reports say he’s uninterested. Therefore, why not sports car racing where he was part of the overall winning group at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans?
I know that’s been the typical backup plan for many open wheel racers over the years. Look no further than former F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais, who’ll be running IMSA full-time in 2020 after being let go from his INDYCAR ride.
Time will tell what racing discipline Hulkeburg will be focusing on, but when I look back at the German’s career, I’ll remember his tenure at Force India with Perez because in my eye it’s one of the most underrated duos in history.
The fact they’ve never shared the podium or even win in their time period as the quintessential “Best of the Rest” squad of the 2010s is unfortunate. Then again, that’s just the cruel nature F1 sometimes is.
A Campaign to Forget for Vettel
Sebastian Vettel finally won this season at the Singapore Grand Prix. Everything else was purely infuriating to follow with dumb mistakes like colliding with Leclerc at Interlagos or simply not having the pace like he used to, showcased his low points and now it’s mercifully over.
Leclerc won more poles than anyone else with seven, including four-in-a-row. Vettel ended up with just two which and along with some nice drives on the street circuits, those were the only positives to look back upon.
I’ve expressed a lot in my previous installments, but it’s still hard not to ignore as 2020 must be a turnaround season.
Whatever beef there may be with Leclerc shouldn’t destroy Vettel’s morale. It should wake him up during the off-season because getting away from the madness that is F1 is necessary in order to put the past behind him.
If you want something comparable, Ayrton Senna came into 1990 fired up and determined to not let Alain Prost win the another championship or get the best of him like what happened in 1989. That’s what I’m hoping happens to Vettel in 2020, enter Melbourne fired up and not let his mistakes or Leclerc eat him up.
Otherwise, a once respected champion may be permanently damaged goods.
Gasly’s Redemption at Brazil
Red Bull Racing tends to sack guys who don’t deliver to their expectations and at times, who can blame them. Gasly did alright in his tenure, but when Verstappen is your teammate and a fierce competitor, it’s hard to match.
After a poor showing at Hockenheim, I knew the writing of the wall was there and RBR eventually demoted Gasly back to Toro Rosso.
However, Gasly was able to get the last laugh as he brought Toro Rosso its second podium of the season at Interlagos. The way Gasly did it was an example of beautiful driving as he beat Hamilton at the line by inches. It was true poetic justice that it even stole some of Verstappen’s thunder.
When you listen to both Gasly and Toro Rosso’s body language and radio communications, the passion was evident and it’s what makes the sport wonderful.
An excellent redemption story and let’s be honest, nobody really expected Toro Rosso to score one, let alone two podiums in a single season.
They went 11 years without one and now they’ll enter 2020 as the renamed Scuderia Alpha Tauri with tremendous momentum.
More importantly, seeing Gasly turn a dark year, highlighted by his demotion and losing his friend Anthoine Hubert, into an unforgettable race performance that the Frenchman and fans will never forget.
The Grueling Schedule Takes Its Toll
While the 2020 season is a few months away, the buzz around the paddock has been the 2021 campaign where a new car, budget caps and possibly aiming for a 25-race schedule being the main topics.
I want to reflect on the latter because one driver was vocal more than anyone regarding expanding their season that averaged about 16-17 races for a long while to now being at least 20 the last few years.
Verstappen implied in early October that more races would result in divorces. Already, that reality may have come into fruition as heading into the finale at Abu Dhabi, Valtteri Bottas and wife Emilia have split up, citing career difficulties being one the reasons for their divorce.
I’m not a guy that would dive into the drama, but I’d imagine this isn’t going to end anytime soon.
Bottas’ divorce is a definite red flag when thinking about the potential of 25 races in 2021. However, his case may be that he’s a dedicated racer, proven with his off-season rallying Sunday. It’s his priority over marriage at the moment, but some are just strictly F1.
Either way, this brings up a fearful question NASCAR fans and personnel have been dealing with, is the season too long and when is enough, enough for the drivers who have families or want a true living?
That’s up for debate and only the drivers would know the difficulty of balancing a racing career and having romantic relationships but bear in mind what Verstappen said if this alarming trend were to continue.
Hamilton’s Legacy Continues to Grow
Once again, when people think Hamilton is finally going to be dethroned, think again.
Look at the guys who tried to take him down such as Bottas, Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc – they’ll outsmart and down right dominate Hamilton, but they don’t have any form of consistency to really challenge the six-time champ long-term.
In 13 seasons, he’s won 84 times (11 of those coming this season) and was the fastest man on the grid 88 times. What does Hamilton have left to prove himself as arguably the best racer in history?
One man comes to mind that I know everyone will be bringing up – Michael Schumacher.
Going into next season, Hamilton will be going for a seventh title and aim for 10 wins in order to reach Schumacher status.
If the rumor mill implies Hamilton may switch from Mercedes to Ferrari after 2020, this lethal driver/team duo may end and if it were to happen, no doubt Mercedes will do anything to give Hamilton a shot of equaling “Schumi’s” titles and eclipse his all-time win mark.
I don’t think his dominance is far from over, but 2020 may be his toughest bout yet if those four guys I’ve named polish their consistency.
People applaud the 2012 campaign as the greatest in recent memory, but I’m confident that next year we’ll see something that could eclipse it.