F1 2019 Season Preview: Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso begin their second season with Honda power as they look to fight at the top of the midfield battle in 2019.

Who’s Who?

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Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Daniil Kvyat returns to Toro Rosso as he begins his third stint with the team, the experienced Russian has a lot to prove this year in what is likely his last chance to make a success in Formula One.

Alexander Albon will make his Formula One debut after impressing in Formula 2 last season. After a late call to the team following negotiations with Nissan e.dams to break him from his contract Alex hadn’t turned a wheel in a Formula One car prior to the shakedown in Misano. Alex impressed in winter testing despite his lack of experience and is one of our drivers to watch in 2019.

Key changes:

Outside of their driver lineup change there are some changes revolving the technical structure of the team. Jody Egginton replaces James Key as Toro Rosso’s technical directors with James Key heading to McLaren at the end of the month.

Toro Rosso will also benefit from a close technical relationship with sister team Red Bull. Toro Rosso will use the same gearbox and rear suspension with Red Bull as well as having a shared engine partner with Honda. This allows the team to focus more on aerodynamic development as well as working with a rear end that works for Red Bull.

Season predictions:

2019 can be a good year for Toro Rosso, the Honda power unit is getting better and better. They will also benefit from a close relationship with Red Bull, their car has looked okay on track if not hard to read, some are putting them near the front of the mid field and some further down.

Toro Rosso has a very strong driver lineup with a highly rated Alexander Albon and a rejuvenated Daniil Kvyat, Renault will be hard to beat over an entire season but Toro Rosso has the capacity to fight for 5th in the constructor’s championship this season.

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Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

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F1 2019 Season Preview: Williams

Former world champions Williams had their worst ever season in 2018 finishing 10th and last in the constructor’s championship and with consistently the slowest car on the grid but can this change in 2019?

Williams can only improve from where they finished last season but they have already had a troubled start to the season. Getting your car ready for winter testing is always a challenge for every team.

Williams planned on running a shakedown for their car on the Saturday prior to the first week of testing but the car wasn’t ready in time, it also transpired that the car would not be ready for the first 2 days of winter testing. With testing being only 8 days long, losing 2 days is a massive hit, especially when you’re trying to recover after a bad season.

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Williams had only their display car available at the opening two days of winter testing. Copyright: Formula One

The 2018 car was one of Williams’ worst yet, scoring just seven points across two races, with ex-Mercedes man Paddy Lowe in charge of the technical department, there should be no reason for Williams to build a bad car.

Williams have gone from fighting for podiums to brining up the rear of the grid in just a couple of seasons, 2019 has to be a big year if they want to fight towards the front of the midfield again.

The Williams has looked the least convincing during pre-season testing and is expected to once again bring up the rear of the pack in 2019 but according to Paddy Lowe, the feedback from their driver Robert Kubica gives them some optimism that they’re turning a corner.

“Robert has driven the old car around here quite a lot last year and has some very encouraging comments on the qualities of the car.” Said Lowe.

“He feels that we’ve made a huge step forwards in terms of the platform.”

“A car that is far more drive-able, a car that you can work with from a driving point of view, you can control your management of tyre, you can control the balance and pace, was definitely not a description we could have given about last year’s car.”

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Copyright: Formula One

There is huge pressure on Paddy Lowe’s shoulders this season as Williams’ cannot afford to finish 10th in the constructors consistently. The car will need continuous upgrades throughout the season if it wishes to mix it with other teams and regularly fight for the points.

Williams also have new sponsors onboard, following the departure of title sponsor Martini, Williams now have a new title sponsor in mobile phone startup ROKiT as well as new sponsor Orlen.

2019 also sees an all-new driver line-up with current Formula 2 champion George Russell and F1 returnee Robert Kubica who makes his comeback after injury in 2011, both with little experience racing in the current Formula One cars but both equally as exciting.

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George Russell begins his first of a two-year deal with Williams after impressing in his debut Formula 2 season where he won the championship.

George’s mature and calm manner are one of his key strengths, during his F2 campaign he never looked flustered, rarely made an error and had the speed to clinch the title in a very competitive season. His F2 campaign can only be compared to the level that now Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc delivered in his title-winning season and is one of the most exciting young talents around.

There is not real pressure on George this season, it will all be about finding his feet in Formula One, learning as much as he can from his teammate on the feedback side and try to build a team around him.

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Robert Kubica makes his comeback after 8 years when he suffered a rally crash resulting in part of his arm being amputated. Despite his accident, Robert has found his way back onto the grid and has a point to prove.

The driver who was once tipped as a future world champion will find the top ten a struggle this season, the Williams car looks like the least competitive out there and with Robert not being able to put the laps in due to part limitations in testing it will be an uphill struggle initially for the Pol.

“Coming back after eight years, probably I know 20 percent of the things that I should know before going to Australia.” Kubica said, commenting on the lack of running in testing.

“The rest is unknown. I haven’t done longer than 15 laps long run.”

“There is a lot of question marks. But that’s the reality, we cannot change it.”

Williams look set for another tough season but if the team have a better understanding of the car and can out-develop others throughout the season they can at least end 2019 in a much better space.

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Copyright: ROKiT Williams Racing

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What to expect in week two of testing

With one week of testing in Barcelona ahead of the 2019 Formula One season already completed, we take a look at what to expect in the second and final pre-season test in 2019.

Reliability to be mostly resolved:

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Copyright: Formula One

As is always the case in testing, breakdowns are a common occurrence. This is mostly due to the fact that this is the first time the new cars have hit the track and no matter how good your CFD and other calculations are it is almost impossible to predict whether the cars components will work in their configuration until it hits the track.

Teams try to run their cars cooling as aggressively as possible, the more cooling you have on the car the more it affects the car’s performance. Teams of course also try and run as tight as they can with the cars packaging, particularly at the rear to help with aerodynamics but there must be a compromise as cars can easily overheat and shut down.

Most teams and in-particularly Haas had dealt with an array of stoppages in the first week of testing. Some of these issues should now be resolved in-between the two tests and teams should have a more reliable running in the second test.

Lap times to fall:

 

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Copyright: Formula One

With most teams starting to understand their cars more and reliability gremlins resolved we should expect more performance runs from most of the teams.

Nico Hulkenberg currently has the fastest time of a 1:17.393 on the fastest C5 compound but we expect the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari to beat that. Some may choose to sandbag like we have seen in the past but overall the majority of teams will now push their cars to see the performance potential of their 2019 car.

A better understanding of the pecking order:

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Copyright: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

It is always said that you can’t read too much into testing in terms of performance but it does always give fans and rival teams an idea of where some might stand in the pecking order.

Some already have Ferrari clear of both Red Bull and Mercedes with the reigning champions seeming to struggle with handling relatively to their rivals in the first week of testing.

Many also expect there to be a tight midfield battle behind with Renault and Alfa Romeo leading that fight. With a more central focus on performance set to take place this week, expect a clearer picture of the pecking order by the end of the test.

Plenty more car updates:

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Copyright: Formula One

With performance runs having a higher focus this week, expect to see plenty more updates on the cars this week.

Williams in-particular should have a remarkably different car this week compared to last after the team started the test 2 days late when they failed to get the car ready in time. The teams will start to fine tune their aerodynamic packages and expect more complexity to the bargeboards and rear wing mountings.

One thing we will not see this week in tech developments is any dramatic shift in front wing concept from any of the teams. A change in concept would have a massive impact on the rest of the car and will take months to have the changes ready so teams are stuck with the concepts they have now for the first few races at least.

Plenty more laps:

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Copyright: ROKIT Williams Racing

With reliability sorted and more parts available to teams in the second week, it is not hard to expect plenty more running from all the teams as they look at doing more race runs and qualifying sims.

Williams won’t find it hard to beat their lap count from the first week of testing having only completed 88 laps after just a day and half’s worth of running.

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Mexico City E-Prix Preview

As we head into the fourth round of the FIA ABB Formula E championship we also head to Mexico for it’s fourth race in the series.

After a strong couple of races, Sam Bird leads the championship with Jerome D’Ambrosio and Antonio Felix da Costa close behind, Envision Virgin Racing also lead the teams championship.

The Track:

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Copyright: Nio Formula E team

A revised version of the Formula One track with 17 corners with 3 long right handers which will make things difficult for drivers off-line. Overtaking isn’t easy around here as proven by Jerome D’Ambrosio back in season 3 when he was able to hold off a faster pack of cars behind him for a considerable amount of time when he had less energy available.

The most spectacular part of the circuit is the stadium section where cars will race through the stadium surrounded by fans, we have seen incidents there before too so it is a must for spectators. This is also where the attack zone is this year, unlike other circuits due to the slow nature of the corners surrounding it, little lack time should be lost activating it.

PodiumsNot yet dominated:

In the 3 seasons that Formula E has been racing at Mexico, 8 drivers have taken to the podium with 7 of them being current drivers.

Sebastian Buemi is the only driver to step on the podium more than once in Mexico, Lucas Di Grassi has theoretically finished on the podium twice but was disqualified in season 3 so only has 1 classified podium finish.

 

Crunch time for Buemi and Di Grassi:

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Copyright: Nissan NISMO

Season 2 and 3 champions Buemi and Di Grassi are both yet to stand on the podium this season. Both drivers have the package to deliver but have both struggled in the opening 3 rounds of the season. Mexico City is crucial for both drivers if they are serious about mounting a title challenge this year, both need to at least finish on the podium if they want to start building that title challenge.

Who to watch out for:

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Copyright: Venturi Formula E Team

Felipe Massa and Edoardo Mortara have had a difficult start to the season, the Venturi hasn’t had the pace of it’s rivals but both drivers have put in strong performances so far. Massa has been unlucky with collisions and failures so far this season and without this misfortune he would have already scored points. Mortara enjoyed a solid result with 5th in Santiago and will look to emulate this in Mexico City.

Robin Frijns would probably be my outside bet for the title this season, he is quick and has found an equally as fast team with Envision Virgin Racing. Strong results in the past 2 races has him in 4th in the drivers standings, with a strong package behind him expect a challenge for victory in Mexico City.

Felipe Nasr will compete in his first E-Prix this weekend and it will be his first time racing in single-seaters since 2016. Don’t write him off though, he has proved to be a solid runner and has already tested with Dragon before, don’t be surprised if he challenges for a points finish.

Podium Prediction:

1st: Robin Frijns 2nd: Lucas di Grassi 3rd: Jean-Eric Vergne

Ways to watch:

UK TV Times

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Drivers to watch in 2019: The Rookies

In 2019 we have four rookies; Antonio Giovinazzi, George Russell, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon, all of which have had impressive junior careers and have a big year ahead of them in 2019.

Antonio Giovinazzi:

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Copyright: Alfa Romeo Racing

Although Australia will be Giovinazzi’s 3rd race in Formula One, 2019 will be his first full season in F1. Antonio impresses in his debut in 2017 standing in for an injured Pascal Wehrlein although his second and to date last Grand Prix in China was marred by identical crashes in qualifying and the race.

Antonio had an impressive GP2 campaign in his 1 and only season, after a slow start where he scored 0 points in the first 4 races he started his championship charge in Azerbaijan where he took victory in the feature and sprint races. He became a podium regular and finished second to teammate Gasly in the championship.

Until now Antonio has been Ferrari’s simulator driver and has been instrumental in helping the Italian giants find performance between a Friday and Saturday and developed a great reputation for this. Alongside this Antonio has been the reserve driver for Sauber participating in practice sessions, gaining valuable on track experience and time with his new employers for the 2019 season.

The newly rebranded Alfa Romeo Racing is the where Antonio will make his full season debut, he partners the 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen as the team aims to fight at the top of the midfield.

Both he and Raikkonen both have good reputations for car development and feedback which makes them a dream team for a team looking to climb the ladder. Antonio is fast, young and intelligent and with the backing of Ferrari he is set up for a good 2019.

George Russell:

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Copyright: Williams Racing

George Russell begins his F1 career on the back of winning the GP3 title in 2017 and the Formula 2 title last season but will have difficulty containing his winning streak in 2019.

The Mercedes junior joins Williams Racing on a multi-year deal having impressed winning the Formula 2 championship in dominant fashion. Williams have struggled recently, finishing last in the constructor’s championship and will need a revolution if it wants to start fighting for podiums once again.

George has had limited track time in a Formula One car, participating in two practice sessions with Force India in 2017 and in the Abu Dhabi test last season with Williams. This shouldn’t be an issue with 8 days of testing in Barcelona later this month and the nature of how well George has adapted to cars throughout his career.

2019 marks the beginning of George’s career, there is no urgency for results but expect George to show his class in a similar fashion that Charles Leclerc did with Sauber last year.

Lando Norris:

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Copyright: McLaren F1 Team

Since 2014 McLaren have promoted 3 of their juniors into the team with Lando Norris’ predecessors Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne finding it difficult with the F1 giants.

Lando had a difficult 2018 despite finishing second in Formula 2, a win in the season opener in Bahrain would be his only victory that season and by his own admission it was his worst season of his career.

McLaren is in a phase of rebuilding, they are no longer the powerhouse they once were, the last time McLaren won a race Vettel was a 3 time champion and Hamilton had just the 1 title.

Unlike his predecessors Lando will be given time to develop after learning from their failings with Magnussen and Vandoorne. Zak Brown has said that they wont put pressure on Norris to bring McLaren back to the front.

“it’s first and foremost the responsibility of McLaren to get us back to our winning ways.”

“We’ve seen him in our race car a good amount now and what we need to do is nurture him, manage expectations internally and externally, and give him the equipment to show his talent.”

Lando is an exceptional talent and despite last season being “his worst of his career” he still finished second in the F2 championship which shows how talented he is and why he is one to watch this year.

Alexander Albon:

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Copyright: Red Bull

The Thai-British driver Alexander Albon joins Toro Rosso for 2019 after an unexpected turn of events. The former Red Bull junior was dropped when Alex was still in karts but has been given a second-chance after a strong Formula 2 campaign.

Alex finished 3rd in the F2 title behind Norris and Russell in what was a strong second F2 campaign. Despite being initially on a race by race contract with DAMS, Albon coped under pressure and took a hat-trick of pole positions in the first part of the season.

Alex also challenged Charles Leclerc in GP3 in 2016 which of whom regards Alex very highly while George Russell says he is very underrated:

“Apart from his campaign in GP3 he’s had a very tough junior career to be honest, and I think he’s one of, if not the, most underrated driver in junior formulas.”

The Red Bull driver programme is not the friendliest but Alex Albon has had a tough junior career and will be used to the constant pressure to perform every race.

The 4 rookies entering F1 this season are some of the strongest we’ve seen for a while and will all be making headlines in 2019.

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Drivers to watch in 2019: Kimi Raikkonen

The 2007 Formula One world champion returns to the very team where he started back in 2001 this season, although this seems a backwards step expect Kimi Raikkonen on top form.

Since returning to Ferrari in 2014 Raikkonen struggled to find speed and consistency, he scored just 55 points and finished 12th in the championship in 2014 on his Ferrari return and has slowly been improving year on year since.

Raikkonen’s no-nonsense, reserved demeanour has been interpreted as a lack of motivation by many but after Ferrari’s announcement that Raikkonen would be dropped; a switch to Sauber for 2019 would seem to prove otherwise.

This comes off of the back of Raikkonen’s strongest Ferrari season since his championship win in 2007. 12 podiums would be the most Raikkonen has ever scored in a single season and despite numerous reliability failures in his Ferrari throughout the season he still finished 3rd in the championship overall.

Raikkonen has also been strong against teammate Vettel this season, beating Vettel in 8 of the 16 races where both cars finished. Raikkonen also made fewer on track mistakes and showed superb race craft in Monza and Austin, the latter where he took his first victory since 2013.

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Raikkonen is was the first driver other than Lewis Hamilton to win in Austin, Texas since 2013. Copyright: Bell

Raikkonen’s new team Sauber is also on the rise, they finished 8th in the constructor’s championship compared to 10th the year before and have every reason to be confident for 2019.

Ex-Ferrari personnel like Simone Resta have made the switch to Sauber who look to establish themselves at the top of the midfield. Ferrari backing in the shape of Alfa Romeo as well as sponsors like Carrera and Claro also bolster the teams budget.

The team also has Fred Vasseur at the helm, a well-respected leader responsible for some of ART’s success in GP2. Sauber are building a strong team around them making it the perfect place for Raikkonen to continue his career especially with rivals stating that everyone should “fear” Sauber in 2019.

Raikkonen’s signing alone has boosted morale in his team according to Fred Vasseur.

“We need to have a strong leader on the driver side. He has very strong feedback, and he’s probably one of the best, or the best.”

“The reaction in the factory was huge. It’s a huge push to consider that someone like Kimi could join the project, that he trusts the team, he trusts everybody in the team.”

“It’s giving you self-confidence – ‘The guy in front of me, who is a world champion, is considering that I can do a good job, so full push.”

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The pressure for driving at Sauber will also be significantly smaller compared to Ferrari and with a much smaller media commitment which should suit Raikkonen.

A more relaxed Raikkonen that can take the lead in a smaller team that completely backs him is a recipe for success, look at how he performed at Lotus. Repeating his 2018 results won’t be possible but a top ten finish in the championship should be a realistic target for Raikkonen who now enters the twilight of his career.

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Drivers to watch in 2019: Max Verstappen

4th in the drivers standings marked Max Verstappen’s best drivers championship finish to date but we are still yet to see the best of the youngest ever Grand Prix winner.

2018 was a big year for Verstappen, the start of the season was tough, he had speed but mistakes in all of the opening six Grand Prix meant he hadn’t stepped on the podium once while his teammate Daniel Ricciardo won two races.

Verstappen’s impatience was working against him and he was throwing away results causing many to suggest he needed to change his approach.

Canada marked an upturn in results and Verstappen would regularly challenge for the podium as well as winning in Austria and Mexico, Verstappen was in the groove and was eliminating his mistakes. Unfortunately we saw another glimpse of Verstappen’s impetuous nature in Brazil when he tangled with Esteban Ocon who was a lap down costing him victory. All of the mistakes made in 2018 however will serve as a strong lesson that Verstappen will take from into 2019.

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Copyright: Formula One

An altercation off track resulted in Verstappen serving community service for the FIA and would observe how the stewards operate in the Formula E Marrakesh E-Prix earlier this year. The intention was for Verstappen to see how the stewards operate and what they look out for when serving penalties, all valuable experience for Verstappen to take with him.

2019 serves as a fresh start with all of the lessons learnt in 2018 in his arsenal. 2019 will also be a big change for Red Bull with Honda now providing power units and Red Bull acting as a factory outfit.

After 5 years in the sport there are big question marks over Honda and whether they can deliver a competitive package. Verstappen has shown his frustration at the lack of progress Renault have made in the turbo-hybrid era but cannot afford to do so this year. Perhaps he should learn from the McLaren-Honda saga and how Fernando Alonso reacted to the situation, his outbursts no matter how justified they were did not help Honda develop and made Honda and McLaren’s relationship very fractured. Verstappen needs to manage his expectations and help Honda develop now that they are once again in the spotlight with a top team.

Verstappen will also be the experienced driver in the team with Pierre Gasly joining as his teammate. Verstappen would do well not to underestimate Gasly though, Gasly has already made a name for himself in such a short time and has the potential to give Verstappen a hard time.

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Verstappen is one of the fastest drivers on the grid but he must learn from his 2018 mistakes which I believe he will do. I don’t think Honda is ready to help Red Bull to challenge for the title but we will still see Verstappen put him some heroic performances. 2019 is all about developing the Red Bull-Honda relationship and consolidating himself as the number one driver at Red Bull.

Verstappen has been getting better year after year and after a very strong second half to 2018 we should see Verstappen putting in the performances of his career in 2019.

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