2019 F1 drivers’ world champion?

Luke Smith: Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari has looked super strong through pre-season testing, and I'm backing Ferrari's changes to have the long-desired effect at long last this year and deliver Vettel his fifth world title.

Lewis Larkam: Charles Leclerc. Yes, I’m sticking my neck out with this one and getting well and truly on the Leclerc bandwagon. That's because he has shown signs of being the real deal so far in his short F1 career and he does not appear fazed by the massive step up to Ferrari. I think he will get the better of Sebastian Vettel - like Daniel Ricciardo did in his first season at Red Bull - and shock the field by claiming a maiden drivers’ title at the first attempt in race-winning machinery. 

Five Storylines to look out for in F1 2019

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Haydn Cobb: Sebastian Vettel. Ferrari's pre-season testing pace will have unsettled Mercedes but what is key is Ferrari keeping pace in the development race and learning from its mistakes from last year. With Mattia Binotto at the helm, all the pieces of a title-winning campaign look in place.

2019 F1 constructors’ world champion?

LS: Ferrari. Again, backing Ferrari to end its long title drought and pick up a first constructors' crown since 2008 this year. The combination of Vettel and Charles Leclerc should be strong enough to fight Mercedes' pairing of Hamilton and Bottas - but it will go all the way to the final race of the season.

LL: Ferrari appears to have all the ingredients in place to finally end its long drought without championship silverware in 2019. A change of management will benefit the team and help it avoid the pitfalls of last season, while I’m backing a strong driver pairing of Leclerc and Vettel to take advantage of its competitive machinery to finally end Mercedes’ dominant run of success. 

HC: Mercedes. While Ferrari will pose a major threat, the collective points tally between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas should be greater than Vettel and new boy Charles Leclerc who will impress but also make mistakes costing the Italian squad vital points over the season.

One wish from the 2019 F1 season?

LS: Clarity over what the future will look like. It's still so, so unclear what 2021 and beyond will look like for the sport, and time really does appear to be running out for some final decisions to be taken. The powers that be need to work hard to get an agreement set for everyone involved.

LL: That we will see more midfield teams on the podium. Just two teams have managed it in the past two seasons (both coming at Baku) and it would be brilliant to see some new faces get in the mix. I hope to see Ricciardo doing a Shoey after his first podium in Renault colours and the likes of Haas achieve a maiden rostrum. 

HC: The 2019 rule changes don't make overtaking too easy. Some drivers say it won't change much and others say it will. Ultimately it could come down to circuit characteristics and at certain tracks with long DRS-aided straights it'll be embarrassingly straightforward.

Biggest shock of 2019?

LS: More midfield teams scoring podiums. The midfield does seem slightly closer to the 'big three' teams than in previous years, and with talented drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen at Renault and Alfa Romeo respectively, there is perhaps more hope of the domination being broken at the front. Here's hoping...

LL: Lewis Hamilton not winning a sixth drivers' world championship (this year, at least). He will prove to be Ferrari’s greatest challenger and rack up several race wins throughout the season but ultimately the Scuderia’s stronger package will help the team prevail to both world titles. 

HC: The 2021 F1 rules are drawn up and confirmed before the end of this season.

Rookies vs teammates? (Russell vs Kubica, Norris vs Sainz, Albon vs Kvyat)

LS: Russell to beat Kubica and Albon to beat Kvyat, but I think Sainz will beat Norris at McLaren given his greater experience. But none of the rookies will have too terrible debut seasons.

LL: George Russell to convincingly beat Robert Kubica, while Carlos Sainz’s experience will give him the edge over Lando Norris and Daniil Kvyat will rediscover some of his best form to pip Toro Rosso newcomer Alexander Albon, who will also impress. 

HC: Both Russell to beat Kubica and Kvyat to beat Albon convincingly and the decider in Rookies vs Teammates to be decided at the final race between Sainz and Norris - with Sainz narrowly winning that battle.

The driver to impress the most?

LS: Charles Leclerc. May be a bit of an obvious answer, but I think he will be competitive straight away for Ferrari and take a number of race wins this year. Vettel will still come out on top in the intra-team fight at Ferrari, but Leclerc will have enough to stand out as a future champion.

LL: Leclerc. Much is expected of the highly-rated Monegasque driver but few expect him to beat Vettel in their first year together as teammates at Ferrari. In doing so, he will become the sport’s youngest F1 world champion at just 22 years old. 

HC: Leclerc is an obvious candidate and I also fancy Nico Hulkenberg to catch the eye against Daniel Ricciardo at Renault while ending his long F1 podium drought.

Australian GP pole position and race winner?

LS: Lewis Hamilton take pole - because, you know, it's Lewis Hamilton - but I think Ferrari will have too much over a race distance, giving Vettel a third straight Melbourne win to start the year.

LL: Hamilton has an excellent record on a Saturday in Melbourne and he so often makes the difference when the pressure is on in Q3, but this year I’m predicting Ferrari to make the perfect start to a title-winning campaign with Sebastian Vettel claiming both pole position and victory in Australia.

HC: A clean sweep of pole and victory for Sebastian Vettel to cement Ferrari's dominance at the start of the season.

Renault or Red Bull Honda?

LS: Red Bull Honda. Honda has made good strides with its power unit over the winter, and will be more competitive than any of its previous years since returning to F1 in 2015. That combined with the Red Bull RB15 chassis should be enough to see off Renault.

LL: I’m backing Red Bull Honda here. Both teams have been praising their respective gains over the winter but Red Bull should have more than enough to come out on top of this battle. I expect the partnership of Red Bull-Honda and Max Verstappen to prove to be a race-winning one and Honda looks to have made further progress. I don’t envisage it turning into disaster…

HC: Red Bull Honda over the course of the season but I'd expect both to pick up podiums when possible. I think both the highs and the lows will be greater at Red Bull, while Renault will be curtailed by its performance gap to the big three teams.

Red Bull or Haas? 

LS: Red Bull will be #BetterThanRichEnergy this year

LL: Haas will not be #BetterThanRedBull in 2019, so this one comprehensively goes the way of Red Bull. 

HC: As much as Rich Energy wish to be #BetterthanRedBull in the battle of the F1 energy drinks, even Haas must admit beating Red Bull looks a tough ask.

Winner of the F1 midfield battle?

LS: Renault. The amount of spend Renault has put into its F1 project means it really has to take P4 if it wants to justify what it is doing right now. The arrival of Daniel Ricciardo should be a really good boost, and I think that combined will give them fourth quite comfortably.

LL: Renault will come out on top of this fight for a second successive year - and it really has to if it is going to have any chance of meeting the long-term targets it has set to return to winning ways in F1. Renault looked to be in front of the (albeit tighter) chasing pack following pre-season testing. In Daniel Ricciardo, the French squad finds itself with a top-line driver with race-winning experience. He and Nico Hulkenberg should make a formidable line-up as the class of the midfield.

HC: Renault, and by a distance, as it finds itself in no man's land behind the top three but ahead of the rest of the midfield.

Most intense inner team fight?

LS: I reckon this will also come at Renault. Nico Hulkenberg is eager to end his podium drought in F1 and prove himself to have the talent to fight at the front of the field. Ricciardo is the perfect yardstick for him, meaning he won't be willing to back down.

LL: I feel this one will go to Verstappen and Pierre Gasly. Both are talented young drivers who are extremely fast and both share feisty temperaments inside the cockpit. We witnessed Verstappen’s angry outburst towards Esteban Ocon in Brazil last year, and in the same race Gasly was not afraid to question a team orders call at Toro Rosso. In the bid to create a little bit of history with Honda and stamp their authority within the team in the heat of battle, I’m expecting some fireworks. 

HC: Perez and Stroll doesn't look like a marriage made in heaven at Racing Point given both have fiery temperaments and a colourful history when it comes to teammate fallouts. The inner team politics could provide some tasty behind-the-scenes gossip.

Final constructors' order (1 to 10 finishing order)

LS: 1. Ferrari. 2. Mercedes. 3. Red Bull. 4. Renault. 5. Alfa Romeo. 6. Haas. 7. Racing Point. 8. Toro Rosso. 9. McLaren. 10. Williams

LL: 1. Ferrari. 2. Mercedes. 3. Red Bull. 4. Renault. 5. Haas. 6. Alfa Romeo. 7. McLaren. 8. Racing Point. 9. Toro Rosso. 10. Williams

HC: 1. Mercedes. 2. Ferrari. 3. Red Bull. 4. Renault. 5. Haas. 6. Alfa Romeo. 7. Racing Point. 8. McLaren. 9. Toro Rosso. 10. Williams

Click here to see how we predicted the 2018 F1 season and whether we turned out to be right or wrong...

 

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