With the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi grand prix this past weekend, the 2018 season left us with several iconic moments, and also marks the departure of several drivers from their teams, along with Fernando Alonso’s retirement from F1 altogether. Next season will introduce us to several rookie drivers: George Russell for Williams, Lando Norris for McLaren, Alex Albon for Toro Rosso, and Antonio Giovinazzi for Sauber. With F2 and F3 championships under the belt of a few of these new drivers, it is clear that there will be competition in the mid-pack of the grid.
As for the top three teams of the past season (Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull), some key changes will be introduced to us at the Australian GP on March 17. While the defending constructors champs will have the same lineup, both Ferrari and Red Bull will have one new driver. For Ferrari, it is the departure of Kimi Raikkonen to Sauber, in exchange for Monegasque sensation Charles Leclerc. In his debut season for Alfa Romeo Sauber, Leclerc finished with 39 points, and his highest finish was 6th in Azerbaijan. Albeit, the Sauber car as a whole has not been known to go fast the past several seasons, so the fact that Leclerc was able to beat teams like Renault and Force India on a few occasions throughout the season can tell us why Ferrari are so high on him. Now teammates with 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, Leclerc will be sure to pick up valuable experience at the front of the grid, while also pushing Seb in a way that might not have been possible with Raikkonen.
As for Raikkonen, his career is winding down, but we should expect the Finn to be right in the midst of the “F1.5” championship for 2019. Teaming up with rookie Giovinazzi will give Kimi a tenacious driver to race against, but just like with Vettel and Leclerc, this will be detrimental learning experience for Giovinazzi, who already has been Ferrari’s reserve driver for several seasons, he will be looking for a promotion to the “Prancing Horse” in the next few seasons.
Red Bull went through its own modifications, starting off with the engine they will be using. Moving from Renault to Honda may pay dividends, but if McLaren’s performance a few seasons ago is any indication, it may become a long season for the team from Milton Keynes. Honda has had a full season to perfect its performance, and Red Bull will certainly be counting on its durability above all else. As for its roster, Daniel Ricciardo departed for Renault after 100 races for Christian Horner, leaving an open spot next to Max Verstappen. In comes Pierre Gasly, who was previously at Toro Rosso for two seasons. Now a part of the father team, Gasly is sure to prove himself a valuable and skilled driver capable of finishing on podium on any given race day.
With the rest of the grid, Haas is the only other team to not make any changes to its driver lineup. Renault will now have the aforementioned Ricciado join Nico Hulkenburg, both of whom are primed to compete near the top with an improved and dedicated engine. McLaren brings in Carlos Sainz to partner with rookie Lando Norris, and they will also be looking to take the Renault engine to its peak. Toro Rosso is bringing back Russian Daniil Kvyat, who was demoted in favor of Gasly in 2017. With him will be Alex Albon, a frontrunner in the F2 championship this past season. Williams will feature the reigning F2 World Champion George Russell, alongside a returning Robert Kubica, who has been away from F1 since 2010 when he suffered a severe rallying crash that nearly ended his career.
It is sure to be an exciting season coming up. Tons of debuts and lineup changes are sure to bring a spark to the sport, which will surely be needed with the departure of the legendary Fernando Alonso after 17 seasons. Major headlines and storylines are sure to be coming around before the season even starts in 115 days. Will Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes retain their reign on top? Will the likes of Leclerc and Gasly bring a challenge to the veterans? Is Daniel Ricciardo going to bring “Shoey” with him to Renault? Stay tuned.