Photo: Wolfgang Wilhelm

Heptagon Viewpoints: Seven Takeaways from the First Third of the 2019 F1 Season

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

One third of the Formula One season down, and it’s been the Mercedes show in all the first seven races, but it doesn’t mean there’s been a lack of headlines.

Such as Ferrari being the only team that’s tried contesting with them, but they’ve either choked during the race or the FIA Race Stewards reprimanded them out of a grand prix victory. Even the battle for “Best of the Rest” has seen some twists and turns people didn’t expect.

Although it may be a Silver Arrow runaway, those and others stories have caught my eye and I’ll be discussing those in my new installment of “Heptagon Viewpoints.”

F1’s Montreal Screwjob

Let’s get this one out of the way. Sebastian Vettel’s bid of ending the dominance of Mercedes was taken away from him after the stewards deemed that he re-joined the track in an unsafe manner. This gave the win to Lewis Hamilton and the crowd booed. Vettel showcased that F1 drivers do (and always have) show personality by moving the No. 2 board to Hamilton’s car as a symbol of ‘screw what they think, I won the Canadian Grand Prix.’

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise refreshing grand prix that’s sorely been needed in my book.

Vettel made an honest mistake in Turn 3. It happens, and the FIA felt it was wrong. Well, they’re wrong and if they felt that he blocked Hamilton, then guess what? They’re wrong too. That was a simple driver error and pretty much a lot of experts have felt the penalty was rubbish.

Consequently, Vettel is 62 markers behind Hamilton which is a reach for him to stop the five-time World Champion at this rate. It’s going to take a lot of wins and issues from Hamilton to even consider him a title contender this year and much like 2014, Hamilton is on his way for another runaway.

The Leclerc Effect

As I’ve stated in my column regarding Ferrari’s issues, Charles Leclerc has been the focal point on some of those. Leclerc is a racer and he simply doesn’t give a damn – he wants to win.

Ferrari are in an odd spot where you have a promising driver, that could represent the future of the sport, not backing down and wanting to prove that he’s faster than Vettel. It’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but I can’t blame his desire of winning.

He should’ve won at Bahrain. No doubt that was his race, but an engine issue plagued him from capturing that maiden win in his second start with Ferrari. Leclerc settled for a disappointing third as Hamilton was victorious. If anything gained from the second race, he gained Hamilton’s respect and is one of the feelgood moments from the opening third of 2019.

While he’s entering the French Grand Prix fifth in the championship standings, I do see Leclerc winning at some point. That’s if Ferrari lets him race and if they’re worried about having a moment such as Mercedes at Catalunya 2016, McLaren at Suzuka 1989, and of course Force India from 2017-18, I get it. It’ll suck if they must restrict him because it won’t be positive, and I don’t want to see any friction from the Monegasque.

Let the Ferrari racers race and just hope they don’t tangle. Only time I’d be on Ferrari’s side if they want Vettel out in front is if he’s battling for a win, then that’s where Multi 21 comes into play. Vettel is the guy going for the championship while Leclerc, for the time being, can go for wins when he’s in position of doing so and perhaps Vettel is not in contention.

The Waiting Game for Ocon

You may be wondering why am I talking about Esteban Ocon, who hasn’t made a start this season? There’s one simple reason – Valtteri Bottas.

Ocon is the reserved driver for Mercedes after losing his ride at SportPesa Racing Point thanks to necessary backing from Lawrence Stroll, which meant his son Lance Stroll will be driving the pink Mercedes.

There was some slim chance that we may see Ocon in a Mercedes, but after the Australian Grand Prix, it’s unlikely that will see the Frenchman race.

Bottas had the finest drive of his F1 career and had a warranted mean streak that he sorely needed because he was on the hot seat. If he doesn’t deliver, Ocon will have no problem taking over and see if he’s really a talented racer when given a more competitive car.

Right now, Bottas is the only threat to Hamilton but he’ll have to outperform him more just to be safe for 2020. If there’s any sign of regression, the man who loves his porridge is out the door by season’s end.

However, I see Bottas seat secured this season, so Ocon would have to play the waiting game and probably beside himself. It stings, but that’s just part of Formula One. You may be gifted, but sometimes, luck and money will win. Something Ocon hasn’t had in the last year.

McLaren Has A Sign of Life

Both Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Lando Norris may have had some share of retirements that’s set them back a little, but I can’t deny that McLaren has shown tons of promise and making a mass turnaround.

Sainz has truly become a driver that’s made tons of improvement and making the most out of the new Renault powered machine. With him, McLaren has suddenly become “Best of the Rest,” as they currently sit fourth in the Constructors Championship, two points ahead of Renault. This is thanks to two sixth place finishes at Bahrain and Monaco that’s put the Spaniard seventh in the driver’s points.

Norris has had strong qualifying runs, but he just needs luck. If both cars hang around in the points battle on a more consistent basis, then the once great team can make a tight battle for fourth into a runaway. Safe to say they’ve got their program together and that switch from Honda to Renault has made a huge difference.

If McLaren don’t worry about how the papaya orange look is, then they’re are far from done making positive noises.

Same Tale, Different Year for Haas

Haas has rotten luck and they’ve been out beat thus far, but what else is new at this point?

At least Romain Grosjean scored a total of two point after finishing 10th at both Spain and Monaco, unlike last year where he didn’t score a point until the ninth race of the season at the Austrian Grand Prix. However, my concern is how much longer will Haas keep the veteran around because it’s clear as day that he can’t be relied on compared to Kevin Magnussen, who has 13 points.

This has been a recurring theme since Haas arrived in Formula One and sooner than later, change must be made if they’re going to make any progress to not only be “Best of the Rest,” but be a contender for wins.

If Grosjean doesn’t step up, then his tenure may be up and likely the fans wouldn’t bat an eye as many haven’t forgotten his dubious incidents over the years.

Bottom line – consistency is a must going forward, but it’s gotten to the point that it sounds like a broken record. At least the Netflix series has provided some entertaining soundbites from Team Principal Guenther Steiner for both right and wrong reasons.

Red Bull Is Quietly A Non-Factor

With Mercedes dominating every grand prix and Ferrari’s unreliable race performances, what about Red Bull?

They’ve been a non-factor in their new Honda powered cars.

Sure, they’re third in the Constructors with Max Verstappen scoring two podiums with the rest of his finishes being either fourth or fifth, but they’ve not been knocking on the door for race wins.

The way things are going, I see now signs of Red Bull even winning this season unless both teams ahead of them have problems or weather favors Verstappen.

Thus far, the Hondas hasn’t been a true problem like many people would’ve expected but they’re not as strong like they were last year. Pierre Gasly has scored his points but hasn’t been able to replicate Daniel Ricciardo’s success in that ride. He just hasn’t gotten the job done and that is a problem for the young Frenchmen, who had a nice second half of 2018 when he was in the Toro Rosso.

Like Leclerc, I’ll give Gasly time to get his foot mudded and hopefully see him go for podiums. Problem is, with Mercedes taking spots of the podium, it only leaves one more spot which he and Verstappen have struggled doing so after seven races.

More than likely they’ll end up third for a third straight season, but it’s far from flashy performances compared to the past two seasons.

The Lewis Hamilton Show

I’ve purposely put this reflection last because there’s far more compelling headlines that’s defined the early portion of the Formula One season.

There’s no denying that it takes a lot to stop Mercedes, winning all seven races and scored 1-2 finishes in the first five grand prix. Hamilton is already poised for another championship to his name as he’s chasing Michael Schumacher in both wins and championships. He needs 13 victories and two title to equal Schumacher, and fans might as well expect it.

No doubt Hamilton’s luck has been on his side and he’s simply the strongest car on the grid. It’s not even close, no matter if Bottas’ two wins were superb. Last year, he struggled in the opening seven races as Vettel was the car to beat, but the momentum he carried from the second half of 2018 just keeps growing.

If Hamilton continues this trend, you might as well give the championship to him. Much to the chagrin of Ferrari and other fans alike who are probably tired of him dominating the sport.

Conclusion

The season will continue to have intense outcomes and once the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard Circuit commences June 23, it’s another grand prix where people will have something to discuss.

Ferrari needs to get their act together while McLaren may be the surprise of the season if both drivers continue to impress. Time will tell if Bottas can be a legitimate threat for the championship that could play a huge role in Ocon’s future. Sure, it hasn’t been that dramatic during the races, but the headlines have been spectacular.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.