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Column: How the rookie campaigns could play out in 2019

  • Published on 10 Jan 2019 15:04
  • comments 2
  • By: Fergal Walsh

In years gone by, there have been calls for an injection of young drivers into Formula 1, with the hope and belief that they possess talent and flair. We have seen a sprinkle of these youths come through the high, steely F1 gates over the last handful of seasons, but 2019 brings along the flood.

Amidst the whirlwind of the unpredictable and ever moving driver market last year, a fine branch of talented rookies managed to attract the attention of different teams and pen their names to contracts. And in what is set up to be a titanic year for the sport, the new boys are worth keeping an eye on.

But how will each be expected to fare? Although they possess talented junior careers, the ruthlessness of F1 was demonstrated once again in 2018 when Stoffel Vandoorne, who was hailed as a future world champion lost his seat - to a rookie.
 

Lando Norris


Granted, entering F1 as a rookie is never easy, but the pressure will be on Norris from day 'go'. The Briton boasts himself as the youngest driver on the grid, and will line up in Melbourne at just 19 years of age.

The McLaren junior received the promotion to a full-time seat following a somewhat disappointing season in Formula 2. After demonstrating his impressive racing skills and raw speed on his way to the Woking seat through the junior categories, Norris was one of the favourites for the F2 title.

He didn't do a terrible job by any stretch of the imagination, but coming away with just a single victory (at the opening race of the season), expectations were a little higher for Norris, who ended the championship in second place, 68 points down on eventual champion George Russell.

McLaren has indicated that it will give Norris time to adjust to Formula 1, and he will benefit greatly from having an experienced teammate in Carlos Sainz - but will be hoping not to repeat the failure of Vandoorne, who was dominated by Fernando Alonso.

Much depends on what kind of car McLaren produces. It switched its focus to developing its 2019 challenger in October, following the failure to successfully develop the MCL33. Only with a somewhat competitive car will Norris be able to show his abilities.

It would be surprising if Norris manages to get the better of Sainz initially, however a battle for supremacy could brew between the two as they battle to settle themselves into a position that would make them a sweeter long-term option for McLaren when/if it returns to the front of the grid.
 

Antonio Giovinazzi


Giovinazzi has had to wait a long time for his breakthrough. Following an impressive rookie season in Formula 2 in 2016, Sauber drafted in the Italian for the first two races of the 2017 season in place of Pascal Wehlein, who had injured himself at a spectacular World of Champions crash.

His first weekend was impressive. He missed out on making Q2 by two-tenths, and advancing into the session would have put him ahead of teammate Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson's time in Q2 was slower than Giovinazzi's Q1 lap, which must have disgruntled the Italian. He held his own in the race, and impressed many around the paddock, only to tarnish his reputation at the next race in China with two self-inflicted crashes in qualifying and the race.

Another crash during FP1 in Hungary with Haas certainly didn't do Giovinazzi any favours. It was a less than desirable year, but he has previously said that he doesn't expect these outings to benefit him as he heads into his maiden full season. The 2016 GP2 runner-up spent 2018 deeply integrated at Ferrari, spending time with and learning from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and veteran Kimi Raikkonen.

The latter mentioned driver will be a tough teammate for Giovinazzi in 2019, as he will not be constricted by Ferrari or feel the pressure from the Scuderia. Raikkonen has the freedom to race and push as he pleases. While Giovinazzi could struggle against the Iceman, it is expected that he will learn plenty from the man who is set to become the most experienced driver in F1 history.

Giovinazzi will be keen to prove his worth to Ferrari, after seeing how quickly it promoted its other junior Charles Leclerc. Although Ferrari is unlikely to promote Giovinazzi anytime soon while its targeting championships with Sebastian Vettel and embedding Leclerc for the long-term, a strong season against Raikkonen could go along way.

Considering the rate of development that Sauber went through in 2018, it will be expecting to consistently fight in the points throughout the 2019 season, A top ten finishing position in the drivers' championship could prove to be difficult due to the close nature of the midfield fight, however getting close should be considered successful.
 

Alexander Albon


Albon was the last addition to the F1 2019 grid, with Toro Rosso confirming post-season that the Thai-British driver would take over Brendon Hartley's seat for the upcoming season. Albon arrives in the sport with a respectable record and high praise from his fellow competitors, with former rival Leclerc stating that he is "really strong".

After just losing out on the 2016 GP3 title to Leclerc, Albon spent two years in Formula 2, picking up four wins, three pole positions and ten podiums. Albon was Russell's closest rival for much of the 2018 season, but had to settle for third place in the 2019 standings after being pipped by Norris.

Albon was axed by the Red Bull junior programme in 2012, but has been brought back in (as has teammate Daniil Kvyat) to fulfil Toro Rosso's needs. While Albon has gained a respectable amount of experience in the junior categories, F1 will be a completely new ballpark.

With Dan Ticktum on the sidelines and pushing for his super licence points, the pressure will be on Albon to show his worth by bringing home the results for the team. In theory, the STR14 should be stronger than its predecessor as it brings in a collection of parts from Red Bull and will run with a developing Honda engine.

The Albon/Kvyat pairing could prove to be one of the more intriguing on the grid. Albon possesses the talent but doesn't exactly bring the same hype as Leclerc, Norris or Russell. Battling against Kvyat, who through previous stints has been left well integrated at Toro Rosso, he will be keen to get on top of the Russian and stamp himself down as a future option for other teams.

Scoring points will be the goal for Albon, but faces the same tall task that Norris does - the tightness of the midfield could value experience more than anything else. The 22-year-old needs to be careful and stay out of trouble while maintaining speed and consistency - or face analysation from the cold hands of Dr Helmut Marko.
 

George Russell


Russell enters the year as the driver that holds the strongest record out of the rookies. Ahead of an impressive championship-winning season in GP3 and coming off the back of two respectable years in European Formula 3, the Briton was signed up to the Mercedes junior programme alongside Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon - and will be the only one of those three that will race in F1 next year (Wehlein lost his Mercedes backing at the end of 2018).

Russell graduated to Formula 2 for the 2018 campaign and it was soon clear that he was the favourite for the title. Picking up seven wins, 11 podiums and five pole positions, Russell eased to the title, ending up 68 points ahead of second-placed Norris.

The focus of the Briton was made clear when he rejected an FP1 outing at Monza with Force India in favour of concentrating on his F2 duties. The 20-year-old kept on top of his priorities in 2018, knowing that another successful year could land him a seat in the pinnacle of motorsport. 

Williams was praised for taking on the Mercedes junior driver, and it is understood that he is held down by a long-term contract. Russell will be aiming to impress his management, but faces the tall order of doing so in a Williams. It is unclear how the Grove squad will perform after a disastrous 2018 season, where it failed to compete with even the midfield pack.

However, a major jump is unlikely, and it could be a year of catch-up for the team provided things go right. Driving alongside Robert Kubica, Russell has a respected and determined teammate to confide in. Both drivers have made it clear is not to compete against each other, but rather to focus on getting the team back to the top.

But it's easy to call balderdash on that. Sure, they share the common goal of getting Williams further to the front of the grid, so they can properly showcase their abilities. But both will benefit massively from beating the other. The matchup of a potential future star and the return of a resolute, formerly hailed competitor has the makings of a Hollywood drama.

With Esteban Ocon in line to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020, Russell must set his eyes on Lewis Hamilton's seat when the five-time world champion decides to move team or quit F1. It will be no easy task to fill Hamilton's shoes, but Mercedes has placed Russell in F1 to see if he has what it takes to be worthy of the seat. Matching and/or beating Kubica will be an important task for Russell in 2019 as he aims to get himself up and fighting with F1's other young stars.


Replies (2)

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  • mcbhargav

    Posts: 973

    Irrespective of the performances, one of the TR drivers ( most likely Kvyat) will make way for Tiktum.

    • + 0
    • Mar 5 2019 - 05:51
  • I expect that only Lando and Russell will have careers in F1. The rest are there largely due to lack of better talent. Albon would have never made it to Toro Rosso any year prior to 2018. Giovinazzi, first of all, not a proper rookie as he already has F1 experience. I guess he may breakthrough, even though we've actually gotten to see him be somewhat underwhelming in a Sauber already.

    With Russell it will be tricky, because while I think he is talented, that Williams might make him look really bad. Also, he has a very motivated teammate who at least used to be extremely talented.

    If I had to be on rookie of the year it would be Lando. I actually think he has a good chance of beating Carlos Sainz.

    • + 0
    • Mar 5 2019 - 22:32

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Formula 1 Calendar - 2019

Date
Grand Prix
Circuit
-
Spain
-
Spain
15 - Mar 17
Australia
29 - Mar 31
Bahrain
-
Bahrain
12 - Apr 14
China
26 - Apr 28
Azerbaijan
10 - May 12
Spain
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Spain
23 - May 26
Monaco
7 - Jun 9
Canada
21 - Jun 23
France
28 - Jun 30
Austria
12 - Jul 14
United Kingdom
26 - Jul 28
Germany
2 - Aug 4
Hungary
30 - Sep 1
Belgium
6 - Sep 8
Italy
20 - Sep 22
Singapore
27 - Sep 29
Russian
11 - Oct 13
Japan
25 - Oct 27
Mexico
1 - Nov 3
United States of America
15 - Nov 17
Brazil
29 - Dec 1
United Arab Emirates
See full schedule

Formula 1 Calendar - 2019

Date
Grand Prix & Circuit
15 - Mar 17
Australia Albert Park
29 - Mar 31
12 - Apr 14
26 - Apr 28
Azerbaijan Baku City Circuit
10 - May 12
23 - May 26
Monaco Monte Carlo
7 - Jun 9
21 - Jun 23
France Paul Ricard
28 - Jun 30
Austria Red Bull Ring
12 - Jul 14
United Kingdom Silverstone
26 - Jul 28
Germany Hockenheimring
2 - Aug 4
Hungary Hungaroring
30 - Sep 1
6 - Sep 8
Italy Monza
20 - Sep 22
27 - Sep 29
Russian Sochi Autodrom
11 - Oct 13
25 - Oct 27
1 - Nov 3
United States of America Circuit of the Americas
15 - Nov 17
Brazil Interlagos
29 - Dec 1
United Arab Emirates Yas Marina Circuit
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