Driver reviews: McLaren, Toro Rosso, Renault, Alfa

Jamie Woodhouse

In round two of three, PlanetF1 delves into the performances of every driver, now it’s the turn of McLaren, Toro Rosso, Renault and Alfa Romeo.


Lando Norris:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 8-4
Average gap in qualifying: +0.07s
Race battle v team-mate: 3-9
Best finish: P6 (Bahrain, Austria)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 29%
(24 points)

Lando Norris believes comfortable isn't always the quickest way of driving.

Norris came up to Formula 1 with plenty of intrigue – he finished P2 in the 2018 F2 Championship but scored just one win as he wilted under the challenge of eventual champion George Russell.

But, the 19-year-old has come to life in Formula 1, forming one of our favourite partnerships of the season with Carlos Sainz at McLaren, and he is more than just a Twitter highlight reel.

Five points finishes for the young Brit have helped fire McLaren to current ‘best of the rest status’, while in Austria specificly he had a fun opening-lap battle where he briefly got the better of Lewis Hamilton.

Strategy hasn’t always helped Norris, questionable calls from McLaren at his home race and in Hungary cost him potential major points hauls, so the fact he has outqualified Sainz on eight occasions is a stronger indicator of the pace he possesses.

After the break we should see Norris come back better than ever – if he isn’t racing in Formula 1 he is on his simulator, just like he was after the Hungary race when he was still up at 3am racing alongside Max Verstappen.

So we’ll certainly know how he will use his free time and he definitely won’t return rusty.

Carlos Sainz:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 4-8
Average gap in qualifying: -0.07s
Race battle v team-mate: 9-3
Best finish: P5 (Germany, Hungary)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 71% (58 points)

Carlos Sainz has security and stability for the first time in his Formula 1 career with McLaren.

Sainz has reveled in his move to McLaren –  free of the Red Bull chains he now has a clear and stable career path with the Woking outfit already confirming that he will partner Norris for 2020.

With the significant experience edge which he has, expectations were always set for Sainz to lead in the way in points scoring and the summer break has almost come at the wrong time following back-to-back P5 finishes for the Spaniard.

58 of McLaren’s 82 points so far this season are courtesy of Sainz, and he heads into the break just five points behind the Red Bull of Gasly in the Drivers’ Championship.

In a season that has finally given us the first real clear signs of a McLaren resurgence, what an achievement it would be for Sainz to see off a Red Bull over 21 races, and we reckon he can do it.

Toro Rosso

Alex Albon:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 6-6
Average gap in qualifying: +0.032s
Race battle v team-mate: 5-7
Best finish: P6 (Germany)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 37% (16 points)                                                                                                                                     

Alex Albon

The Thai-British driver finished P3 in the 2018 F2 Championship, and while Lando Norris and George Russell ahead of him made their expected steps up with McLaren and Mercedes backing respectively, Albon’s promotion was a surprise.

The first Thai driver to compete in Formula One since Prince Bira in 1954, Albon was brought back into the Red Bull fold to link up with Toro Rosso, and considering he hadn’t turned a wheel in modern Formula 1 machinery before this season, he has done remarkably well.

Several standout moments like his drive from the pit lane to P10 in China, or his P6 in Germany despite no experience of Formula 1 wet-weather running, have made him the surprise package of 2019 and he is even in contention to step up to Red Bull after the summer break if Pierre Gasly was demoted back to Toro Rosso or dismissed altogether.

Against team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who has far more Formula 1 and Red Bull experience, Albon has more than held his own with an average qualifying gap of just 0.032s in Kvyat’s favour, while the points contributions of both drivers has been heavily influenced by Kvyat’s podium in Germany – indeed Kvyat has just one more points finish than Albon so far with six.

More of the same from Albon in the second part of 2019 and the future could be very bright for him.

Daniil Kvyat:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 6-6
Average gap in qualifying: -0.032s
Race battle v team-mate: 7-5
Best finish: P3 (Germany)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 63%
(27 points)


Hired, promoted, demoted, fired and re-hired – that was the path that brings Kvyat to present day.

For a duo which Toro Rosso were accused of scraping the barrel to assemble, Kvyat and Albon have developed a stable, reliable and effective partnership.

Marko maintains that only Sebastian Vettel could win in a Toro Rosso, but respect to Kvyat after he scored Toro Rosso’s second podium in Formula 1 with P3 at the Hockenheimring.

Shortly after that result the Russian revealed he was a father for the first time after the birth of his daughter – the stars have aligned for the 25-year-old and we look forward to seeing what he produces for the remainder of 2019 – perhaps ultimate salvation is coming with a Red Bull recall?


Nico Hulkenberg:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 4-8
Average gap in qualifying: +0.134s
Race battle v team-mate: 5-6 (double retirement in German GP)
Best finish: P7 (Australia, Canada)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 44% (17 points)

Nico Hulkenberg still 'stinging' over German DNF

Renault finished P4 in the Constructors’ last season, but so far in 2019 the team have taken a clear step back. The frustration is starting to tell with Hulkenberg.

The German is in his third season with the team now and has admitted that although he is likely to stay for 2020, they are “behind expectations“, not just for this year, but for their entire return to the sport which came about in 2016.

As probably best summed up by Hulkenberg himself, Renault’s 2019 has seen “far more lows than highs” as they head into the summer break with a 43-point gap to make up on customer-team McLaren in P4.

However, Hulkenberg has to take some blame too, evidenced by his crash in Germany that threw away a golden opportunity to claim his first Formula 1 podium.

Although not by much, Hulkenberg is down on team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who has scored 56% of Renault’s points in 2019, so ‘The Hulk’ has nine races left to turn that around.

Daniel Ricciardo:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 8-4
Average gap in qualifying: -0.134s
Race battle v team-mate: 6-5 (double retirement in German GP)
Best finish: P6 (Canada
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 56% (22 points)

Renault Spec C means penalties are coming

When Ricciardo made his big-money move from Red Bull to Renault it caused controversy but also excitement.

Fans were keen to see what a formidable duo like these two could be capable of – if Renault really had closed the gap to the top three, as they claimed, then their drivers could have that x-factor to take them another step closer.

But, it hasn’t worked out that way and Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko couldn’t help but chip in with his belief that Renault “fooled” Ricciardo into joining.

To be fair that is ringing true – one season best finish of P6 in Canada is not what the Aussie would have had in mind.

The second-half of 2019 will for Ricciardo be about addressing Renault’s “yo-yo form” as he put it, and he had better hope that happens because there could well be more frustration and misery to come in 2020.

Alfa Romeo

Antonio Giovinazzi:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 4-8
Average gap in qualifying: +0.1s
Race battle v team-mate: 1-11
Best finish: P10 (Austria)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 3%
(1 point)

Antonio Giovinazzi gets a three-place grid drop for the Hungarian GP after impeding Lance Stroll in Q1.

It was a tough start to life for Giovinazzi with Alfa Romeo in what is his first full Formula 1 season, but the closer we got to the summer break, the stronger he became.

Until Azerbaijan, Kimi Raikkonen had consistently out-qualified his far less experienced team-mate but, around the streets of Baku, Giovinazzi put his C38 ahead of the Finn in P8 on the grid, an important moment for Giovinazzi.

He since went on to better Raikkonen’s qualifying efforts in Canada, France and Britain, though his issue still comes with points scoring – he has bagged Alfa just the one point in Austria, should the revised German GP result remain, while Raikkonen has chipped in with 31 – a staggering 97% of the team’s Constructors’ total.

So, for the second half of this season, heavier and more consistent points scoring is a must for Giovinazzi if he wants to be around for 2020.

Kimi Raikkonen:
Qualifying battle v team-mate: 8-4
Average gap in qualifying: -0.1s
Race battle v team-mate: 11-1
Best finish: P7 (Bahrain, France, Hungary)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 97% (31 points)

Kimi Raikkonen believes Alfa Romeo had more pace than McLaren at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

2019 has given us the real “Iceman”. No politics, no restrictions – he made it clear that he will quit Alfa if they start whinging about how he lives his life.

Kimi hasn’t even read his contract, but right now he and Alfa need not care because the former World Champion is doing the business.

31 Championship points, a best finish of P7, and as we saw in Austria he will prove a nuisance to the top five if given half a chance.

How much he cares about mentoring Giovinazzi for Alfa’s future we’re not sure, but Raikkonen is still on form and we hope it continues for the rest of 2019 and beyond.

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