By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
First seven rounds of the 2019 Formula One World Championship – underwhelming to the bordeom. Last seven rounds however – sheer utter chaos with minimal boredom.
From the rise of Charles Leclerc at Spa and Monza to the beautiful rally by Max Verstappen at Hockenheim. There was a lot to digest during the second leg of the F1 campaign and it’s time to recap my seven most memorable moments.
The Instant Classic That Was Hockenheim
I’ve already said it awhile back, but the German Grand Prix is no doubt race of the year. While a lot had to do with the ripple effect on a lot of drivers’ seasons and futures, but can you blame people thinking that way?
Both Mercedes cars had consequential outcomes, Sebastian Vettel’s amazing charge to get a podium had the German crowd roaring, and Leclerc exited in self-anger.
While all of that boiled down, one man persevered and left with pride. That guy was Verstappen, who went from spinning to pull a strong rally to score his most recent grand prix victory.
This was far from the main story as his soon-to-be former teammate became a takeaway of its own.
Gasly’s Fall from Grace
Hockenheim was the breaking point for Pierre Gasly’s tenure at Red Bull. While he’s had decent runs, but it simply wasn’t enough and didn’t prove his worth enough to last the entire season.
Two rounds later, the Frenchman was demoted back to his ride from a year ago – Scuderia Toro Rosso.
In my mind, I thought Danil Kvyat would’ve got the nod after bringing Toro Rosso its first podium since Vettel won at Monza in 2008. Nope, they went with youth over experience and promoted Alexander Albon.
Time will tell how Albon will fare and whether or not he’ll be welcomed back in 2020, but after two rounds with Red Bull, it’s been stout with a fifth in Spa and sixth in Monza.
If he gets a podium during the final seven rounds, I sense Christian Horner will be happy and perhaps more eyeballs on Albon’s potential.
He’s not a Leclerc but Albon isn’t too terrible right now.
Ocon Will Be Back, But Not Where People Thought
Once again, Esteban Ocon stands out without making a single lap. Well, we now know where he’s going in 2020.
It’s not at Mercedes as Valtteri Bottas has secured his ride with the Silver Arrows. Definitely the right choice in my book.
Instead, it’s Renault, a team that’s been anything but hot this year.
With Bottas staying at Mercedes and Ocon moving to Renault, the biggest loser is Nico Hulkenberg which is kind of shame but a warranted decision.
Hulkenberg has been in the game for awhile and yet to have reach the podium in 172 grand prix starts. Sadly, we’re not going to see that legit potential some people feel about the German.
Having Ocon paired up with Daniel Ricciardo should be a fun development of events to follow, but the mystery remains how long until any signs of friction happens.
Let’s not forget his tenure with Force India and teammate Sergio Perez. Awful, just awful.
I do hope no tangles happen and let them race the way they want to without team bosses interfering.
The Haas Woes Is Getting Old
The lone American squad on the F1 grid continues to be a laughingstock. Just the German Grand Prix is both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen’s highlights as they both scored points.
Everything else? You might as well put a paper bag on your head because it’s that bad.
Change on the driver’s side is vital because Grosjean, who’s been in the sport for a decade, is damaged goods.
Magnussen has yet to do anything worth a damn to help the team be “Best of the Rest.”
Thursday morning, Haas decided to stick with the duo for 2020.
I wish them well and going forward, no more BS from Haas. Plain and simple.
Vettel’s Series of Unfortunate Events
What is going on with Vettel and his uncharacteristic antics?
Never have I seen a former world champion be a klutz and on the verge of being banned than Vettel, who was the only true threat to Lewis Hamilton since Nico Rosberg retired three years ago.
Locking the brakes and plowing into Verstappen at Silverstone was bad enough, but to embarrass himself at Monza by heading into oncoming traffic, collecting Lance Stroll in the progress is baffling.
You just don’t have that moment happen in front of the tifosi crowd and became the unintendedly official passing of the guard where they turned on Vettel and are now siding with Leclerc.
If Vettel were to get three more penalty points added to his name over the next three rounds, he’ll be forced to sit out and he leads the category. Yes, he’s more endangered of being banned than Grosjean and Stroll. Let that sink in.
Now going into Singapore, he sits fifth in the World Championship and no doubt out of contention of stopping Hamilton, who’s on the verge of winning his sixth championship soon.
Leclerc’s Mainstream Rise
Why did I use the word “mainstream” to describe Leclerc’s rise, especially the last two rounds?
Here’s why. I’ve noticed his strong runs from a year ago when he drove and carried Alfa Romeo. I knew that the moment he signed with Ferrari, everyone’s going to see him blossom.
Sure, the journey has been hell for him where it took him until the 13th round of the season to finally capture that maiden win at Spa.
He’s hard on himself and I can’t blame him for it because he’s a perfectionist and wants to be the future of Ferrari.
That win and backing it up at Monza, Ferrari’s holy grail no less, proved to me that we’re about to see the rise of a young superstar that could carry the torch in the Double 20s coming up.
Calling it a spade of spade, Leclerc is now the man at Ferrari.
Once Verstappen and Red Bull become stronger like they used to be in the early 2010s, we’ll have a rivalry for the ages between the cocky Danish and the determined Monegasque.
Their battle at Austria and Silverstone was a sneak peak of what lies ahead. Sooner than later, those battles could be for the championship and I can’t wait when that happens.
Gloomy Weekend at Spa Overshadows Everything
Personally, this tragic moment does have an impact in Formula One because they were robbed of a promising driver during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.
I was at Portland, covering the NTT IndyCar Series race when I saw the footage of the horrific F2 crash involving Giuliano Alesi, Juan Manuel Correa and two-time winner Anthoine Hubert.
The latter would succumb to his injuries while Correa is still under treatment. Hubert’s death was a huge blow because the dark side of motorsports rear its ugly head and it’s just not fair.
His death shook me similarly to Dan Wheldon’s death in 2011 where I just don’t like thinking about their demises. Neither willing to hear the comparisons of similar accidents or how badly mangled he was. That’s just inappropriate.
After final practice in Portland, the entire INDYCAR paddock paused for a moment of silence and there were no champagne celebrations from the Road to Indy disciplines, all to honor the Frenchman.
A day after that tragic August 31st afternoon, Leclerc won but there was no celebration. He dedicated his win to his fallen friend who won’t be forgotten in the grand prix community.
I want to think about the positive highlights, not their deaths. That’s how I love to see Wheldon and the same goes for Hubert. A man with potential that could’ve joined Leclerc, Gasly and Ocon on the F1 grid.
We’ll never know now which is extremely disheartening.
As sad as Spa was, the other grand prixs were mostly memorable which was sorely needed. Who’s to say how the final seven rounds will shape up.
Under the lights at the Singapore Grand Prix will kick off the final leg of the 2019 season and while it’s Hamilton’s title to lose, there’s a lot of angles that people should look closely because there’s many futures at steak this year than a year ago.
Will Vettel get his mojo back and return to the top step of the podium? How will certain drivers like Grosjean and Hulkenberg’s future be impacted? Could we see another driver emerge from the doghouse to the promise land?
Those are the things I’ll be paying close attention as the dramatic world of F1 will keep on rolling.