Ross Brawn summary of 2019 F1 season
Lewis does it his way
With the images of the donuts performed on the Yas Marina Circuit by Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso still fresh in my mind, my first thoughts are that it was a fittingly spectacular and emotional end to what has been an intense and action-packed season.
Lewis Hamilton dominated the season, although this was probably the most difficult of his five title wins, and certainly the most complicated of those he has taken with Mercedes.
For the first time in the hybrid era the Silver Arrows were up against an opponent, in the shape of Ferrari, that was usually stronger, especially in the first half of the season. However, over the course of the year, Hamilton hardly put a foot wrong, winning not only the races he should have, but also somewhere the opposition was stronger, and that is the true mark of a champion.
After retiring in Austria, Hamilton’s record was impressive: eight wins, two second-places and a third. Strangely, Mexico, the only race after Austria in which he didn’t finish on the podium, was where he took the title.
As always, Lewis did things his way, proving that he is able to win titles and accumulate record after record without altering his lifestyle one jot. In the words of the Paul Anka song immortalized by Frank Sinatra: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve travelled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”
Superlative Silver Arrows
When you win so much and for so long, it is very easy to fall into the trap of complacency. It’s almost inevitable, but can be avoided by consistently raising the bar. Only Ferrari in the Schumacher era has won more than five titles in a row and I had the honor of being technical director of the team when they managed six.
I recall that every year we were aware that for the following season, we would be starting again from zero, aware that just because we had been strong before, it didn’t automatically translate into an advantage of fractions of a second, because in Formula 1, you can never stop.
That’s what the team run by Toto Wolff was able to do – avoid panic when it realized that it was not enough to be perfect to beat Ferrari, but that more effort would be required than had initially been envisaged.
The only slight flaw, if there can be one in a season like this, was the performance of Valtteri Bottas, who had a difficult season, plagued by bad luck. Valtteri had some opportunities to win, but either through misfortune, as in Baku, or due to the occasional, understandable, decision by the team to maximize the result for the benefit of both championships, he didn’t manage it, with the result that he seemed rather out of sorts by the end of the campaign.
Ferrari just fall short
When one doesn’t win a world championship that had seemed very winnable, it’s inevitable that questions are asked in order to understand what went wrong. When the team in question is Ferrari, then the question is not just asked at the top but it becomes almost a national question in Italy, as I was able to see for myself during my decade in Maranello.
Ferrari is condemned for finishing second in both championships, as it’s simply not good enough at home. And yet, there can be cause for satisfaction in Maranello, because over two years the team has managed to close a performance gap to Mercedes that in 2016 amounted to a second a lap.
The shakeup of the technical management instigated by Sergio Marchionne bore fruit this year, with many new faces on the front line, but I think most importantly it resulted in a new approach to the way the team operated and that gave the team a new spirit.
It’s been a decade since Ferrari has been capable of winning six Grands Prix and of starting from pole six times.
Sebastian Vettel was a worthy opponent for Lewis Hamilton, but unlike the Englishman, the German failed to win all of the races he should have, nor could he win when he wasn’t favorite to do so.
Kimi Raikkonen had a good season with some amazing performances, producing more or less what was expected of him. This year, his second stint at Ferrari has come to an end as he prepares to swap places with the rookie of the year, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The young Monegasque has been truly impressive in terms of speed and talent but now he has to make a significant step up. I’m sure his arrival at Ferrari will be a boost for the team and an added incentive for Vettel next year.
Red Bull’s stop-start charge
This was the first time since the current type of power unit was introduced that Red Bull has managed to win four races, but the results were not good enough to convince the team to continue with Renault as its engine supplier, or to convince Daniel Ricciardo to stay on with the team.
All in all, 2018 fluctuated between reasonable and good, although there were too many reliability problems, which particularly affected Ricciardo.
The Australian produced two dazzling wins in Shanghai and Monaco, but during the summer break he announced that he would be leaving Red Bull at the end of the season. In the meantime, Red Bull made an even bolder move, ending its 12-year relationship with Renault, a partnership that had produced so much in the past, but that had deteriorated in the hybrid era, and announcing a switch to Honda for 2019.
Next season will therefore mark the start of a new cycle, with Max Verstappen playing a key role in that development. The Dutchman had a great season, particularly in the second half, when only Hamilton scored more points.
At just over 21 years of age, Max already seems like a veteran, displaying an incredible talent that is bound to see him be a major player over the coming decade. He still has some growing to do, in order to avoid pointless mistakes and to control his emotions, as we saw recently in Interlagos, because so far, he hasn’t found himself fighting for the title – and in that situation the head counts just as much as the right foot.
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