2019 Australian Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The first round of the 2019 Formula 1 season is complete – here we look at Australian GP driver ratings:

Valtteri Bottas – 9

Sunday was near perfect, with a lightning start allowing him to jump his team mate and from then he just went off into the distance, getting an extra point for fastest lap as well. He wasn’t necessarily the winner we expected from pre-season testing but he was without a doubt the driver of the day.

2019 Australian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Lewis Hamilton – 7

Hamilton is well known for having the Saturday pace which generally puts him in good stead for Sunday, but he was beaten fair and square during the race. Still, he’ll take the podium along with the equal record for the most poles at one circuit.

Max Verstappen – 8

Verstappen put in the best performance for Honda in the whole of the hybrid era with his podium finish. He managed his tyres well and made an easy move on Vettel. A mistake at turn one hindered a late attack on Hamilton, but he will leave Melbourne with a smile on his face.

Sebastian Vettel – 7

Vettel had a solid start and was quick in the first stint, attempting to attack with an undercut which ultimately didn’t work. You can guarantee an investigation will be underway at Ferrari to figure out how they ended up 57 seconds behind the winner.

Charles Leclerc – 6

A great start by Leclerc but he was rather ambitious to attempt a move on his team-mate which could have ended in tears. Unlike his team-mate, he was slow in the first half of the race but fast in the second, and caught up to Vettel before being told to hold position. He showed he had speed in Q2 but the Ferrari doesn’t seem to be the package everyone thought.

Ferrari Media

Kevin Magnussen – 8

Magnussen was best of the rest in Australia, with solid pace and what seems to be the fourth quickest car. It was a better result than last year with no faulty pitstops, even if he was outqualified by his team-mate.

Nico Hulkenburg – 7

It was another result in a familiar place for the German. He started 11th so had free choice of tyres, which benefitted him in the race as he got the move on a few other drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen – 8

Raikkonen did exceptionally well considering where the team was last year, with a very aggressive package seeming to suit him well. He got the car into Q3 and kept that momentum going into Sunday.

Lance Stroll – 7

Stroll always raises eyebrows due to how he got into the sport, but in the race he showed he was fully deserving of the seat at Racing Point as he was in the thick of it all weekend. He scored the team’s only point, having some great battles whilst keeping the car clean.

Danil Kvyat – 6

A good return to the sport, ignoring a mistake at turn three. He was ambitious to run the hard tyre and defended well from faster cars behind, taking his car deeper into the race and allowing him to overcut the majority of them for the last point.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly – 4

Australia will be a race to forget for Gasly. A mistake on Saturday by the team cost him dearly and he spent most of the race staring at Kvyat’s rear wing, unable to get past even on the softest tyre.

Lando Norris – 7

It was a great Saturday from Norris, but an early stop in the race in reaction to others put him in traffic. He was unable to pass Giovinazzi for several laps and just missed out on the points. Expect big things from Norris this season.

Sergio Perez – 5

It was an off-day for the Mexican on Sunday as he was classified down in 13th. He got caught up in the midfield battle which let others overcut him. The car looks great though, so there will be plenty more opportunities for him.

Alex Albon – 6

Despite being the first to spin this season in similar circumstances to his incident in testing, Albon did a good job. He matched Kvyat for outright pace on Saturday but was just caught up in the ever-so-tight midfield squabble. A good Sunday debut.

Antonio Giovinazzi – 5

The returning Italian was a pain for most at Melbourne, stuck on a confusing strategy with his tyres were ruined, and becoming a replacement for the infamous ‘Trulli train’. He showed true grit in terms of defence but not a lot of outright speed, though this is only his third ever race in F1.

George Russell – 6

Russell blitzed his much more experienced team-mate, but that’s not saying much considering Kubica is really the only competition he has due to Williams being so far behind the others. He finished his debut race and hopefully get in the mix, sooner rather than later.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW42.
Australian Grand Prix, Sunday 17th March 2019. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Robert Kubica – 3

A race to forget and move on from for Kubica. He hit the wall twice on Saturday and then hit Gasly at turn one on the first lap of the race. Williams will have collected some data though, and Kubica will get quicker and quicker throughout the season.

Romain Grosjean – 7

Another pit stop failure resulted in early retirement for the Frenchman, after being on course for a good points haul. A long delay in the pits pushed him down the order, and he then had to stop the car on track due to a ill-fitted left-front tyre.

Daniel Ricciardo – 5

For the first time in Melbourne in the turbo era, Ricciardo failed to get through to Q3 on Saturday, and his race – his first for Renault – was pretty much over in a few seconds when he pushed wide onto the grass and broke his front wing. He decided to retire the car.

Carlos Sainz – 4

Sainz was beaten by his rookie team mate on Saturday comprehensively, and was the first to retire on Sunday. Because of the nature of the track he had been unable to make up much ground prior to the retirement. He is a fighter though, and will be back for Bahrain.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Will it be the end for Williams Racing?

When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.

The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.

It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.

CIRCUIT DE BARCELONA-CATALUNYA, SPAIN – FEBRUARY 26: George Russell, Williams FW42 during the Barcelona February testing II at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 26, 2019 in Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. (Photo by Zak Mauger / LAT Images)

For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.

Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.

Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.

Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.

Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.

Featured image courtesy of  Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

Problem-free start to second test “a huge relief” for Williams

Williams’ George Russell has described the first day of the second pre-season test as “a huge relief” for himself and for the team, completing all the planned running with no issues.

“It was a good day,” Russell said. “Our plan was to get as many laps on the board, make sure we had no issues and that’s exactly what we did. We have learnt so much about the car on lower fuel and higher fuel which gives us a good indication moving forward into the next few days.

“All in all, it was a huge relief to have a day like today and we completed our test plan as intended.”

Russell posted the ninth fastest time of the day using the C5 tyre – the softest compound available – and also completed 119 laps, the third most of the day.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 26th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

It comes after a less-than ideal first test for Williams, which saw delays with the production of parts for the car force the Grove-based team to miss the first two days of running.

Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe added, “It was a good day of testing with George driving the car. We completed 119 laps without any significant reliability issues, so we achieved the entire programme that we had planned from the start of the day.

“Well done to the team, a great job by everybody to get a car that can do the laps without incident to make a solid start to the second test.”

 

[Featured image – Williams F1]

F1 testing: Can Williams recover?

After an extraordinary start to 2019 that was described as “embarrassing” by team principal Claire Williams, the Williams team now faces uncertainty as F1 heads closer to the 2019 season and out of the crucial first test in Barcelona.

Williams missed the first two of the four days of testing due to a problem which they were extremely reluctant to specify, which put them a long way behind in terms of mileage and understanding the car’s reliability and handling. This, ultimately, will put them behind on pace come the first race in Australia in March.

This latest embarrassment comes after the backlash faced at the unveiling of the new blue and white livery with their new title sponsor Rokit, after which the team, who were once at the pinnacle of F1, were ridiculed. Of course, an opinion-splitting livery isn’t so bad; people won’t really pay much attention to the looks as long as the car is able to perform well, but it tends to become a fairly substantial issue when the team doesn’t only have problems making the car perform, but can barely get the car on track in the first place.

Robert Kubica (POL) Williams Racing FW42 leaves the pits.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Thursday 21st February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

However, Williams is a 31-year-old team founded by two men in Frank Williams and Patrick Head who are simply too tenacious and ambitious to begin to understand the value of the term ‘giving up’, let alone merely disregard it. The team is based on overcoming hardship and fighting tooth and nail for any and every opportunity, and with the steadfast gene no doubt inherited by Frank’s daughter Claire, this fighting spirit is never far away.

Let’s not forget the last Williams lull. Having been one of the backmarker teams for several years prior to 2014, Williams would bounce back with the arrival of the V6 turbo era, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa securing podiums, two consecutive third-placed finishes in the constructors’ standings, and even a front row lock-out in qualifying in Austria back in 2014. No matter what comes at this team, they just never seem to go away.

Bottas finds himself in Mercedes and Massa is in Formula E these days, and Williams have turned to an old favourite of the sport, Robert Kubica, returning after a horrific injury in 2011 that kept him out of the sport for eight years, and young British star George Russell who won the F2 championship last year. Kubica, if not for his injury, would have found himself in Ferrari colours in 2012, after winning a race and performing with consistent proficiency and excellence for BMW Sauber (now Alfa Romeo Racing).

Robert Kubica (POL) Williams Racing.
Formula One Testing, Day 4, Thursday 21st February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

Of course, there is also some similar history to suggest that Williams may still be okay. Ferrari endured a torrid testing period of testing in 2012, but would come back to mount a title challenge with Fernando Alonso. The Brawn team of 2009 also deserve a mention. Heading into the season ten years ago, the redundant Honda team were miraculously transformed by Ross Brawn, and having struggled to even get the car to the track, Brawn would go on to win the drivers’ championship with Jenson Button as well as the constructors’ championship. Brawn would then transform in the Mercedes team we are all very familiar with today. These were different circumstances, but they were testing and extremely difficult times nonetheless. It takes a special kind of heart and courage to recover from situations like these, and that heart and courage is certainly embedded in Williams.

With two excellent stars – one old and one new – and the sheer tenacity that runs in the blood and the proud name of Williams, history has shown us that this remarkable spirit to keep going against the odds has seen Williams come back from many a setback. So, despite a seemingly disastrous start to 2019, why should this time be any different? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t keep Williams down.

 

 

[Featured image: Robert Kubica (POL) Williams Racing FW42. Formula One Testing, Day 4, Thursday 21st February 2019. Barcelona, Spain]

Top ten F1 test liveries

It’s that time of the year – no, we’re not talking about the climate: no, this is about that special time when the garages are open, the engines are growling and racing tracks are once again put to good use.

But even earlier than this week, we had a few shakedown tests. The prequel to the pre-season, if you will. And two teams decided to treat us to some special liveries to mark the occasion – Red Bull and Alfa Romeo both ran unique testing liveries, masking their cars’ intricacies while offering the fans a welcome shot of variety.

But with them both joining the long line of testing liveries, can they be considered to be up there with the best of them? We’ll be ranking our top ten favourite test liveries, from eras far gone to the present day.

10 – Renault, 2002 pre-season testing

When we think back to Renault’s F1 beginnings, the original turbo era comes to mind. Alain Prost, unreliability, and yellow, white and black liveries were the main elements of Renault’s roots.

To celebrate their finally outright owning an F1 team for the first time since then the French manufacturer paid homage to their old-style liveries (no black though). Basic yet sleek, it would eventually be spruced up with dashes of blue.

9 – BAR, 2006 Friday running

Alright, so this one isn’t actually pre-season testing. But this unique 555 livery (part of British American Tobacco, team owners) replacing the usual Lucky Strike branding was a splendid sight to see.

It was used for Friday practice running, when third cars were permitted to be used by certain teams – Anthony Davidson was running the car in these colours at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.

8 – Red Bull, 2015 pre-season testing

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Red Bull are no strangers to this ‘unique livery’ thing – they’ve done it four times now, and that’s excluding the one-off liveries they’ve tried out for size in races (the stunning Wings For Life designs in particular).

This black-and-white camo livery for 2015 was never going to be used full-time, as it was intended to hide important aspects of the car away from prying eyes. Not that it was all that useful, at least in this case; Red Bull came fourth in the 2015 standings.

7 – Spyker, 2007 pre-season testing

Spyker’s one-season stint in F1 may not have been bright, but their originally intended test livery certainly was. The strongest of orange tones, the Spyker in anything nearing sunny weather ended up looking red – not the result Spyker wanted.

The faux-Ferrari paint job was thrown to the scrapheap, in favour of a lighter shade of orange that would perfectly showcase the team’s Dutch flair. Fun Fact: they once led a race, Markus Winkelhock in the 2007 European Grand Prix.

6 – Williams, 2014 pre-season testing

Williams, for the last five years, have adorned a striking white Martini livery. It’s easy to forget that the Grove outfit’s adopted colour is actually blue – last seen on 2014’s barnstorming FW36.

The Martini deal was still to be negotiated when 2014 testing commenced, and so Williams ran this simple yet fetching dark blue design, signalling a back to basics approach that propelled the team back to the top of the grid. If they’ll ever get there again, we’ll have to see…

5 – Alfa Romeo, 2019 shakedown

One of the two unique new designs we saw break this week, Alfa Romeo Racing’s hearts and clovers paint scheme was a reference to both Valentine’s Day and the team’s historic emblem.

The Hinwil-based team, finally ditching the iconic Sauber name for 2019, are hoping to make progress on their promising 2018 campaign. With a radical new design, maybe those hearts adorning it in the shakedown with foreshadow a lovely season ahead.

4 – McLaren, 2005 pre-season testing

McLaren brought back the iconic papaya colour schemes back full-time in 2017, but for many years the paint job was only used for test outings, like their 2005 title contender, MP4-20.

The striking presence the bright papaya gave was a stark contrast to the usual chrome and black McLaren were so synonymous for running in the Mercedes era, and it was always a refreshing sight.

3 – Red Bull, 2019 shakedown

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull, as stated earlier, are no newbies to trying out a unique testing livery. This year’s such example centered around a striking red and dark blue combo, with everything made up of camo-esque lines designed to throw off prying eyes.

It marked the dawn of the Honda era, with Red Bull breaking away from previous suppliers Renault after a 12-year partnership. Can the Japanese manufacturer bounce back from their pain with McLaren, and create a winning combo with Red Bull?

2 – Renault, 2016 pre-season testing

The 2016 pre-season marked the third time Renaut would outright own its own F1 team (funnily enough, they re-purchased the team they sold to Genii Capital in 2010). And as such, they went back to basics with their livery.

2002’s homage missed out the black; 2016’s test livery was almost nothing but. There were yellow accents, but otherwise it was a smooth black paint job. When it came to actually racing the thing, Renault simply inverted the black and yellow colours.

1 – Red Bull, 2018 shakedown

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Finding a top pick for this list was a hard one – the simplicity of the 2016 Renault, and the novelty of this year’s Red Bull were tempting, but it’s their design from last year that wins out.

The digital camo, designed in blue and grey, looks both menacing and stylish. It also compliments the car, helping to hide the halo while accentuating the main features of the body. It’s just a shame it was only used for one day…

Featured image courtesy of Getty images / RedBull Content Pool

Williams unveil new ROKiT-sponsored livery for 2019

Williams have revealed their all-new livery for their upcoming season and announced telecommunications company ROKiT as their new title sponsor, replacing previous sponsor Martini after their five-year partnership came to an end.

The livery, displayed on a 2018-spec car, features a white, blue and black colour scheme and sports the RoKit logo on the engine cover.

The announcement was made at an event at the team’s factory in Grove, Oxfordshire, ahead of the expected launch of the 2019 car before the start of pre-season testing on Monday.

Speaking at the event, deputy team principal Claire Williams said, “We are delighted to welcome ROKiT to our team as our title partner for the 2019 season and beyond. We share many similar values and aspirations with ROKiT; primarily putting engineering and innovation at the core of everything we do in our pursuit to be the best – the perfect platform from which to start a partnership.

ROKiT is on an exciting journey in their world of telecommunications, as we are at Williams as we build the team for a successful future. Taking that path together will make us both stronger in our endeavours and so I can’t wait to get started.”

Alongside the new livery, for 2019 Williams will also have an all-new driver line-up comprised of Robert Kubica and George Russell. The Australian Grand Prix will be something of a momentous occasion for both drivers – for Russell it will be his first ever start in F1, while for Kubica it will be his first race back in F1 since he suffered severe injuries in a rally crash back in 2011.

 

[Featured image – ROKiT Williams Racing]

Chris’ thoughts ahead of F1 2019

Following on from my colleague Dimitris’ thoughts last week, I thought would share my own.

 

Pierre Gasly will win a race this season

I feel that the Frenchman will take his first victory this season – he is an under-rated driver, and he had some outstanding performances last year, especially in Bahrain. Winning isn’t something that is new to him, as he won the final GP2 championship before it became F2. In 2019, Pierre will have the machinery to win like he did then.

 

Williams will be much closer to the midfield

Williams have been in F1 since 1977, and suffered one of their worst showings last year considering they scored the least points out of the ten teams in the sport. I have a feeling that with the lovely return story of Robert Kubica, and with George Russell being dubbed the next big British thing in F1, they will be in the mix a lot more. The cars are heading to a more simpler format which will also help designers at the squad in Oxfordshire. 

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

 

Bottas will finish sixth in the championship

Valtteri Bottas has been taking up a spot of rallying in the off-season, trying his hand at a new driving challenge. The Finn will once more be second best not only at the Silver Arrows squad in Brackley but across the top three teams. This could be his last season not only in the team but in the sport, especially with Russell and Ocon both around. That would lead to the question that would be on everyone’s lips in the off-season – who will Mercedes replace Bottas with?

 

Leclerc will be on the podium in Monaco 

The Monegasque driver has a woeful record in his home country, the principality of Monaco. In the three races across F2 and F1 he hasn’t seen the chequered flag, being involved in incidents both his and not his fault. It will change for Charles this year. Not only he will finish the race, but we will see him on the rostrum. On the back of this this we will see him find an extra few tenths in future races. Will he be a champion in the sport one day?

Ferrari Media

 

Ferrari will win Constructors Championship

I am unsure at this stage who will win the drivers’ championship of 2019 but feel Ferrari will be top of the pile when it comes to the constructors’. Mercedes are saying that they are building a whole new engine from scratch, and they might feel some teething problems. Their reliability in the hybrid era has been brilliant but things do change. Mercedes are very much behind Hamilton but Ferrari now have Vettel and Leclerc on board. I just think their partnership is stronger.

 

There are my thoughts on the 2019 season – only time will tell if I’m correct. 

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Esteban Ocon aiming to finish season “on a high”

Heading into this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Esteban Ocon has said he is hoping to finish the season “on a high”, with his future beyond the floodlights of Yas Marina currently uncertain.

“It’s always a bittersweet feeling when you get to the end of the season,” he said, “but the main motivation is to finish on a high, especially when there is so much at stake in the championship. The last couple of races have been very disappointing, but there’s still one last chance to score a good result before the end of the year.”

Force India currently lie seventh in the constructors’ championship on 48 points, sandwiched between McLaren and Sauber. They, of course, had to start from scratch at the Belgian Grand Prix following their buy-out and rebranding over the summer break. Their fight-back has been rather remarkable, ignoring the coming together between Ocon and team-mate Sergio Perez on the first lap in Singapore.

Heading into Abu Dhabi, tens of millions of dollars worth of prize money is at stake for the team, and Ocon is keen to deliver.

“Abu Dhabi is always good fun. We travel there when it’s getting cold in Europe so it feels a bit like you’re going on holiday. It’s a wonderful paddock too – one of the best – and I always feel very relaxed there.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Friday 9th November 2018. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“I have a lot of good memories from Abu Dhabi: it’s the place where I first drove during a Formula One weekend and I was crowned GP3 champion there. The start of that race in 2015 was incredible – I knew I had to take the title right there on lap one and I did it.”

Ocon knew that his future at Force India was in doubt even before the summer break when, as mentioned, a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll bought out the team, making it more than likely that son Lance would make the jump from Williams for 2019. Ocon’s fate at Force India was then sealed when Sergio Perez renewed his contract with his team, leaving the Frenchman out in the cold. For a long while Ocon had been linked to the second seat at Williams alongside fellow Mercedes junior George Russell, however it was announced this morning that Robert Kubica had been signed instead.

Ocon has since been linked to a role with Mercedes as simulator and reserve driver, with some suggesting that he is being primed to be brought in as a Mercedes race driver in 2020.

For now and for one last race, though, Ocon’s allegiances lie with Force India, and he is hoping the partnership ends on a high under the lights of Abu Dhabi.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Racing Point Force India F1 VJM11.
Brazilian Grand Prix, Friday 9th November 2018. Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 

Featured image – Racing Point Force India

Robert Kubica joins Williams for 2019 F1 season

Williams have announced that Robert Kubica will race for the team in the 2019 Formula One season.

The signing comes eight years after Kubica last appeared on the grid, with the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix being the Pole’s last outing in a stint in F1 that yielded one win, before a rally crash in February 2011 left him with severe injuries to his arm.

As his recovery progressed he made a return to rallying and competed in the World Rally-2 Championship, ultimately claiming the title with five wins to his name and dovetailing his campaign with sessions in Mercedes’ F1 simulator.

Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _31I9371

After stints in the ERC and various GT series, he then signed with the ByKolles LMP1 team to race in the World Endurance Championship in 2017, having tested alongside the team’s regular drivers at the end of 2016. However, after pre-season testing, Kubica announced that he would not be participating in the upcoming season.

Instead, he took part in tests with the works Renault F1 team and with Williams over the course of 2017, his first taste of F1 since his accident. He had long been in the frame for a full-time race seat at Williams for 2018, having participated in the 2017 post-season test for the team alongside Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll, and Sergey Sirotkin. He finished third in the group in terms of lap-times when fuel and tyres were accounted for and, with Massa retiring and Stroll already signed, Williams ultimately went for Sirotkin, who also brought with him a larger budget. The deal with Kubica, that many believed to be near completion, fell through, although he was still signed as test and reserve driver.

Over the course of 2018, Kubica participated in five test sessions as part of his role and a further two Friday practice sessions, alongside regular work in the team’s simulator.

Speaking of his signing for 2019, Kubica said, “Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during what was a difficult period of my life over these last few years. It has been a challenging journey to make it back to the Formula One grid, but what seemed almost impossible is now beginning to feel possible, as I am excited to be able to say that I will be on the Formula One grid in 2019.

“Being back on the F1 grid next season will be one of the greatest achievements of my life, and I’m sure with hard work and commitment we will be able to help motivate the team to achieve good things together. Thank you again to everyone who has supported me and believed in me. I will finally be back on the grid behind the wheel of an F1 car, and I cannot wait to get back racing.”

Kubica will race alongside British rookie George Russell, with current Williams driver Lance Stroll expected to make the move to Force India and Sergey Sirotkin’s future uncertain.

Rich Energy Drink UK enters the Fray

Rich Energy, a UK Limited company which produces energy drinks much like Red Bull and Monster Energy, has been confirmed for the 2019 season. Haas have signed them as their title sponsor, so the team becomes Rich Energy Haas F1 Team. They had a deal pretty much sealed with Williams but decided to go elsewhere, showing a sign of the times in current F1 racing.

Williams are in need of a title sponsor as Martini are leaving them at the end of the season and this deal was the answer to their woes. They had it confirmed with meetings but nothing written and signed. With a poor 2018 season not helping them, albeit being such a legendary name in F1. Rich Energy have gone elsewhere as Haas can provide more TV time as they are more likely to be at the front of the field. Williams may struggle to get any sponsors, much like Mclaren, which could put financial strain on the team.

Haas, on the other hand, have many stories circulating in the rumour mill for the American team. Is this a true sign of future commitment to the sport? Owner Gene Haas has put forward alot of his own money and with this he could relax as they enter their third season. With Rich Energy’s colour scheme being black and gold, this is going to be a total refresh for the Haas. 

One question that does arise is about finance – with new rules and regulations coming in for 2019 and 2020, do they need the investment to compete? It will be interesting to see what will come of it. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen have kept their seats for 2019, so familiarity with the team and car could make high finishes and podiums a possibility in 2019. Time will tell.