Driver reviews: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull

Date published: December 6 2019

F1 2019: Mercedes Ferrari Red Bull

In the final part of our F1 2019 driver reviews, PlanetF1 analyses the big boys over at Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

All qualifying averages are calculated based on when both drivers competed free of issues or factors outside of their control.

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 14-7
Average gap in qualifying: -0.12s
Race battle v team-mate: 15-6
Best finish: P1 (Bahrain, China, Spain, Monaco, Canada, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Russia, Mexico, Abu Dhabi)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 56% (413 of 739 points)

Conclusions from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Well we may as well start with the best. When Valtteri Bottas 2.0 showed up in Australia we all thought this could be the year where he finally pushes Hamilton all the way, but the Briton would palm him away and steamroll to a sixth World Championship. He’s also the only driver to score points at every round of the season.

The likes of Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen also took their shot at the king, but he stood firm. Now Hamilton is just one title away from matching Michael Schumacher’s record seven World Championships – we are truly on the cusp of history.

When it comes to the inter-team war, Hamilton has made a very good driver in Bottas look distinctly average. A comfortable victor in both the qualifying and race head-to-heads, Hamilton won a staggering 11 of the 21 races in 2019.

The error-prone showing in Germany at least confirmed he is human, but is there another human on the grid good enough to stop Hamilton from re-writing the history books in 2020? We can’t wait to find out.

Valtteri Bottas

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-14
Average gap in qualifying: +0.12s
Race battle v team-mate: 6-15
Best finish: P1 (Australia, Azerbaijan, Japan, United States)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 44% (326 of 739 points)

Nico Rosberg says Valtteri 2.0 must show up at every race in 2020 to beat Lewis Hamilton.

Without doubt 2019 has been Bottas’ best showing in Mercedes’ colours with P2 representing his best finish in the Drivers’ Championship since joining the team in 2017.

The Finn played a major role in the Silver Arrows securing their sixth consecutive Constructors’ Championship, though something is still missing.

Bottas’ four wins this season is the highest tally of his career so far, and as we saw in races like Australia in particular, Bottas at his best is near unstoppable, but by his own admission, he isn’t hitting that high consistently like his team-mate.

He claims to have a plan to stop Hamilton next year, and with the driver market for 2021 wide open, Bottas best hope it’s a genius one.

Ferrari

Charles Leclerc

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 12-9
Average gap in qualifying: -0.08s
Race battle v team-mate: 9-12
Best finish: P1 (Belgium, Italy)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 52% (264 of 504 points)

Nico Hulkenberg jokes Charles Leclerc is a "lucky bastard".

2019 has been Leclerc’s first season with Ferrari, and it’s safe to say it has been eventful. After being promoted from Sauber to be Vettel’s No.2, Leclerc demonstrated his pace at the opening round in Australia and even more so in Bahrain where he should have claimed victory if it wasn’t for engine issues.

From there he was always likely to give Ferrari a headache, and it has turned out that way as the Monegasque driver clashed with Vettel throughout the season – Singapore and Russia were serious flashpoints, but the collision which wiped both drivers out of the Brazilian GP really set the alarm bells off.

Leclerc does still have a lot to learn, as incidents like his crash in Germany and kamikaze attitude to the Monaco GP proved, but the 22-year-old did score two wins this season in Belgium and then the following week at Monza in front of the Tifosi.

For all the ups and downs, Leclerc and Vettel were fairly evenly matched across the board, but can the veteran stop the rise of his speedy team-mate?

Sebastian Vettel

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 9-12
Average gap in qualifying: +0.08s
Race battle v team-mate: 12-9
Best finish: P1 (Singapore)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 48% (240 of 504 points)

Sebastian Vettel mocks himself and Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari rumours.

The four-time World Champion has received a lot of criticism this year, but before we get into that, we must first point out that he did win the race head-to-head with Leclerc this year 12-9.

But, for Vettel, the issue starts with all the mistakes he has made. Cutting out the dramas involving Leclerc, Ferrari’s leading driver is still left with plenty of solo flaws.

His spin while battling with Hamilton in Bahrain, his error which led to him losing the Canadian GP win, shunting Max Verstappen at Silverstone, spinning off then driving straight into Lance Stroll at Monza – all these incidents are unacceptable for someone of Vettel’s experience and ability.

That does though raise the question of whether or not Vettel’s ability is on the decline? Or maybe his motivation? He has just welcomed his third child into the world, and putting family time before F1 would be perfectly understandable.

So far there is no sign though that he’s set to leave, constant rumours of retirement have been laughed off and for Vettel 2020 is a crucial year for him to prove to everyone that he’s still an A-star talent.

Red Bull

Max Verstappen

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-1 (Verstappen and Alex Albon set identical Q3 times in Japan)
Average gap in qualifying: -0.43s
Race battle v team-mate: 5-4
Best finish: P1 (Austria, Germany, Brazil)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 67% (278 of 417 points)

Max Verstappen

With the departure of Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen became Red Bull’s clear No.1 driver; but, the Dutchman said he was missing having a team-mate of Ricciardo’s quality to bring out the best in him, though it’s safe to say he’s done a pretty fine job.

Wins in Austria, Germany and Brazil mean he has won the most races of any non-Mercedes driver this season, and it’s clear that all he needs is the car to match his abilities – then we are looking at a multi-time World Champion.

He has also helped to bring Honda on leaps and bounds. After an unsuccessful return with McLaren, they linked up with Toro Rosso last year and then the main Red Bull outfit for 2019. Three wins and a further six podiums courtesy of Verstappen certainly therefore makes for happy reading.

Hamilton welcomes the challenge from the likes of Verstappen and Leclerc, so let’s hope that from the start of next season all three are in near equal machinery.

Alex Albon

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 1-7 (Verstappen and Albon set identical Q3 times in Japan)
Average gap in qualifying: +0.43s
Race battle v team-mate: 4-5
Best finish: P1 (Japan)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 18% (76 of 417 points)

What a year it has been for Albon. Before the campaign Formula E looked his most likely destination, then he got the call to join Toro Rosso for 2019.

Just half a season later he was then drafted up to Red Bull in place of the underperforming Pierre Gasly. And all things considered, Albon has put in a solid second half a season.

Unlike Gasly he has been able to stay in the conversation with the other top five come race day, though he needs to work on actually becoming part of the fight and improving his one-lap pace.

If it wasn’t for Hamilton hitting him then Albon would have likely claimed his first F1 podium in Brazil, but now he must focus on using the winter break to develop and understand his Red Bull so that he’s ready to challenge Verstappen in 2020.

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