Race Weekend Central

2019 Formula 1 Season Review, Pt. 1: The Backmarkers

The Formula 1 season concluded with Lewis Hamilton cruising to a win at Abu Dhabi, further distinguishing himself from the rest of his peers during his sixth championship season.  There were, however, other teams and drivers on the track, and this is where we get to go through the field and examine how they did.

10. Williams Mercedes

To be blunt, Williams were terrible.  Scoring just one point for the season is horrendous showing, and it is hard to see it being anything other than a team that could be collapsed at any moment.  That is not to say it will fold but merely that it often displayed such a thorough backmarker status that it was hard to see if it might be able to hold on to its position on the grid.  

The team tried, it could be said.  Bringing on Robert Kubica, who returned to F1 after being away from the sport after a rally racing accident nearly cost him his left arm in 2011, did little to bring the spirits or performance up to an exciting level.  Kubica once rivaled Hamilton in terms of talent, but no one could drive the Williams car and make it look good this season.  

George Russell, who jumped to the team after winning the FP2 championship in 2018, fared no better.  Though Russell tended to have slightly better results, saying such is academic when the positions being earned all come at the back of the grid and most opportunities to move up are merely the benefits of finishing ahead of cars that have suffered a DNF.  Williams was indeed that bad.  

Kubica and the team split at the end of the 2019 season and Nicholas Latifi will be taking his seat.  Will it make much of a difference? Probably not. But still, it would be wonderful to see Williams, a team that has won nine constructors and seven drivers championships, return to higher positions in the final results.  Right now, such a notion seems overly optimistic. 

9. Haas

If Williams weren’t on the grid then Haas would look like the most incompetent team out there.  Actually, even with Williams on the grid, Haas did look like the most incompetent team out there.  Somehow it seems Haas was lucky to finish ninth in the standings, and that’s probably because it couldn’t figure out a way to look like further fools.

This Haas team is the one that partnered with Rich Energy only to see that relationship become one of the more memorable laughingstocks after the sports/energy/can of horribleness evolved into the poster child for bad business and bizarre management.  It’s hard to tell if that episode worked as window dressing for how bad the team was or a microcosm of the troubles it endured. One might wonder just how Guenther Steiner endured the season – likely with a bottle of Pepto at his side.

Romain Grosjean, who is somehow signed on to drive for the team next year on the basis that Steiner said that they knew what they were getting, suffered seven DNFs over the year.  It seemed like more. Grosjean either has some compromising information about owner Gene Haas or he’s a hypnotist and was able to tell everyone on the team of his immense value. The time to let Grosjean go, and perhaps pick up Nico Hulkenberg, had come, and the team decided that flailing was a more competitive endeavor for 2020 instead.

Teammate Kevin Magnussen outperformed Grosjean mainly by actually finishing, as he endured only two DNFs.  He also did the remarkable thing of earning four points-paying finishes with a high of sixth on a day when Mercury must have been in retrograde or the results were picked from a hat, or it could have been the Australian GP to start the season.

With little change coming for Haas, it’s not surprising the team has begun to question its existence in the sport.  But whatever; Haas has the money to throw around, and rich men stomping their feet clamoring for change is not a new thing.  What’s a shame is that Haas F1 figured out a way to neutralize a fast Ferrari powerplant and make it look like a dud.   

8. Ferrari

Ferrari, eighth?  But it finished second in the standings.  Well, if Williams weren’t there, Ferrari would be ninth.  Its season was one of ineptitude compounded by asininity with a sprinkling of stupidity.  They were the rich kids with the keys to their parents’ cars, ready to rip down the road but with no idea how to work the garage door opener to start their fiasco of a journey.  The only thing standing in the way of Ferrari this year was Ferrari.

That the Maranello team found a way to send its season into the trash can is pathetic considering it had a chance to stomp Mercedes this year, but it blew its opportunity from the start.  Its attempt to build a front wing that both kept the front tires cool while also creating downforce looked like overwrought modern art while Mercedes kept its design simple. Set back from the get-go, it took months for Ferrari to recover.  And it did – by the Belgian GP it had found a way to bring the speed and downforce into harmony, and then it torched the field on its home turf at the Italian GP, the next race. Well, Charles Leclerc did. Sebastian Vettel settled for 13th, and thus began the soap opera.

With Leclerc having won twice already, during his first year with the team and upstaging the lagging four-time champion Vettel, the latter pulled off a win at Singapore that came much because of the fact that the team pitted Vettel first and he pipped his teammate when he stopped.  From there, the season became one of high drama as the drivers did their best not to openly despise each other even though any person with eyes could see the disdain they felt breathing the same air.

The climax arrived when the two drivers made themselves look petty and took each other out at the Brazilian GP, the second to last race of the season.  Then Mattia Binotto, the team principal, had to make it seem like everything at Ferrari was roses even though it smelled like rotten fish.  

Ferrari is the most frustrating team on the grid.  It has all the resources it needs, from money to management to drivers to engineering to speed, to once again dominate, and yet it looks clueless in getting everything to align.  It’s like it knows everything it needs to do to make the most savory beef bourguignonne in the world but has no idea the temperature to cook it at. From one perspective, it is a spectacle to watch, beautiful when it has things figured out, and yet from the other side it is a spectacle, confusion caught at high-speed barreling without direction.  There’s no real reason to think things will be different in 2020. We’ll ignore the fact that the team scored more points in 2018 than in 2019. 

7. Renault

Here’s another team that finished higher in the actual standings but does not deserve it here.  Renault was like the one grandparent you have that has no sense of direction and gets lost when you take them to the mall.  Renault could no sooner find the food court than be able to put together a memorable season.  

Its season rests between ennui and disappointment, and there is no moment that even stands out.  Daniel Ricciardo must have lost his mind at some point in recognizing that he traded his ride at Red Bull to flounder at the French manufacturer.  

Somehow the team thinks highly enough of itself to jettison Nico Hulkenberg, a loyal soldier, to bring Esteban Ocon into the fold believing that it will solve something.  

Maybe if Renault stop getting outclassed by the team it supplies engines to, McLaren, 145-91 in the constructors title, there will be more to say about this team.  

6.Racing Point

Everything about this team is silly.  The pink color  it uses to make its cars stand out is frustratingly dour and seems to have no life.  Its team name is just two words chosen randomly from the dictionary. The team remains in existence after being on life support in 2018 because Lawrence Stroll bought it because he does not want to spend time with his son, or so that his son could drive in F1.  It somehow wasted using Mercedes engines this year to the result of finishing seventh in the constructors title. Lance Stroll faced the same number of DNFs as Sergio Perez and still finished 31 points behind Perez in the drivers standings. The team exists just give rich, wealthy, beautiful people a place to stand in the F1 garage.

To be able to write about any one race where this team did something would be a remarkable accomplishment, and the truth is that it’s too difficult a task.  Stroll finished fourth at the German GP, and the best response a person can make to that is, “oh.” The fact that every driver on the track that day felt the need to wreck out or spin off the surface, during a race that weathered a downpour, might explain the reason that Stroll could find such success — and that’s the freaking high point of the season.

The best that Ocon managed came at the Azerbaijan GP when he took sixth and all anyone remembers about that race is that it is in Baku, which is a name that sounds like a board game that may involve headbutting.  Perez must enjoy the checks he is getting from Papa Stroll, because he has signed on with Racing Point through 2022 and Stroll will be alongside him in 2020. If this team finds any kind of brilliant racing form in the next couple years, it would be a shock, and the truth is that it seems like it can be penciled into seventh for next year as well. 

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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