Column: How the rookie campaigns could play out in 2019

Published on 10 Jan 2019 15:04

In years gone by, there have been calls for an injection of young drivers into Formula 1, with the hope and belief that they possess talent and flair. We have seen a sprinkle of these youths come through the high, steely F1 gates over the last handful of seasons, but 2019 brings along the flood.

Amidst the whirlwind of the unpredictable and ever moving driver market last year, a fine branch of talented rookies managed to attract the attention of different teams and pen their names to contracts. And in what is set up to be a titanic year for the sport, the new boys are worth keeping an eye on.

But how will each be expected to fare? Although they possess talented junior careers, the ruthlessness of F1 was demonstrated once again in 2018 when Stoffel Vandoorne, who was hailed as a future world champion lost his seat - to a rookie.

Lando Norris

Granted, entering F1 as a rookie is never easy, but the pressure will be on Norris from day 'go'. The Briton boasts himself as the youngest driver on the grid, and will line up in Melbourne at just 19 years of age.

The McLaren junior received the promotion to a full-time seat following a somewhat disappointing season in Formula 2. After demonstrating his impressive racing skills and raw speed on his way to the Woking seat through the junior categories, Norris was one of the favourites for the F2 title.

He didn't do a terrible job by any stretch of the imagination, but coming away with just a single victory (at the opening race of the season), expectations were a little higher for Norris, who ended the championship in second place, 68 points down on eventual champion George Russell.

McLaren has indicated that it will give Norris time to adjust to Formula 1, and he will benefit greatly from having an experienced teammate in Carlos Sainz - but will be hoping not to repeat the failure of Vandoorne, who was dominated by Fernando Alonso.

Much depends on what kind of car McLaren produces. It switched its focus to developing its 2019 challenger in October, following the failure to successfully develop the MCL33. Only with a somewhat competitive car will Norris be able to show his abilities.

It would be surprising if Norris manages to get the better of Sainz initially, however a battle for supremacy could brew between the two as they battle to settle themselves into a position that would make them a sweeter long-term option for McLaren when/if it returns to the front of the grid.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Giovinazzi has had to wait a long time for his breakthrough. Following an impressive rookie season in Formula 2 in 2016, Sauber drafted in the Italian for the first two races of the 2017 season in place of Pascal Wehlein, who had injured himself at a spectacular World of Champions crash.

His first weekend was impressive. He missed out on making Q2 by two-tenths, and advancing into the session would have put him ahead of teammate Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson's time in Q2 was slower than Giovinazzi's Q1 lap, which must have disgruntled the Italian. He held his own in the race, and impressed many around the paddock, only to tarnish his reputation at the next race in China with two self-inflicted crashes in qualifying and the race.

Another crash during FP1 in Hungary with Haas certainly didn't do Giovinazzi any favours. It was a less than desirable year, but he has previously said that he doesn't expect these outings to benefit him as he heads into his maiden full season. The 2016 GP2 runner-up spent 2018 deeply integrated at Ferrari, spending time with and learning from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and veteran Kimi Raikkonen.

The latter mentioned driver will be a tough teammate for Giovinazzi in 2019, as he will not be constricted by Ferrari or feel the pressure from the Scuderia. Raikkonen has the freedom to race and push as he pleases. While Giovinazzi could struggle against the Iceman, it is expected that he will learn plenty from the man who is set to become the most experienced driver in F1 history.

Giovinazzi will be keen to prove his worth to Ferrari, after seeing how quickly it promoted its other junior Charles Leclerc. Although Ferrari is unlikely to promote Giovinazzi anytime soon while its targeting championships with Sebastian Vettel and embedding Leclerc for the long-term, a strong season against Raikkonen could go along way.

Considering the rate of development that Sauber went through in 2018, it will be expecting to consistently fight in the points throughout the 2019 season, A top ten finishing position in the drivers' championship could prove to be difficult due to the close nature of the midfield fight, however getting close should be considered successful.

Alexander Albon

Albon was the last addition to the F1 2019 grid, with Toro Rosso confirming post-season that the Thai-British driver would take over Brendon Hartley's seat for the upcoming season. Albon arrives in the sport with a respectable record and high praise from his fellow competitors, with former rival Leclerc stating that he is "really strong".

After just losing out on the 2016 GP3 title to Leclerc, Albon spent two years in Formula 2, picking up four wins, three pole positions and ten podiums. Albon was Russell's closest rival for much of the 2018 season, but had to settle for third place in the 2019 standings after being pipped by Norris.

Albon was axed by the Red Bull junior programme in 2012, but has been brought back in (as has teammate Daniil Kvyat) to fulfil Toro Rosso's needs. While Albon has gained a respectable amount of experience in the junior categories, F1 will be a completely new ballpark.

With Dan Ticktum on the sidelines and pushing for his super licence points, the pressure will be on Albon to show his worth by bringing home the results for the team. In theory, the STR14 should be stronger than its predecessor as it brings in a collection of parts from Red Bull and will run with a developing Honda engine.

The Albon/Kvyat pairing could prove to be one of the more intriguing on the grid. Albon possesses the talent but doesn't exactly bring the same hype as Leclerc, Norris or Russell. Battling against Kvyat, who through previous stints has been left well integrated at Toro Rosso, he will be keen to get on top of the Russian and stamp himself down as a future option for other teams.

Scoring points will be the goal for Albon, but faces the same tall task that Norris does - the tightness of the midfield could value experience more than anything else. The 22-year-old needs to be careful and stay out of trouble while maintaining speed and consistency - or face analysation from the cold hands of Dr Helmut Marko.

George Russell

Russell enters the year as the driver that holds the strongest record out of the rookies. Ahead of an impressive championship-winning season in GP3 and coming off the back of two respectable years in European Formula 3, the Briton was signed up to the Mercedes junior programme alongside Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon - and will be the only one of those three that will race in F1 next year (Wehlein lost his Mercedes backing at the end of 2018).

Russell graduated to Formula 2 for the 2018 campaign and it was soon clear that he was the favourite for the title. Picking up seven wins, 11 podiums and five pole positions, Russell eased to the title, ending up 68 points ahead of second-placed Norris.

The focus of the Briton was made clear when he rejected an FP1 outing at Monza with Force India in favour of concentrating on his F2 duties. The 20-year-old kept on top of his priorities in 2018, knowing that another successful year could land him a seat in the pinnacle of motorsport. 

Williams was praised for taking on the Mercedes junior driver, and it is understood that he is held down by a long-term contract. Russell will be aiming to impress his management, but faces the tall order of doing so in a Williams. It is unclear how the Grove squad will perform after a disastrous 2018 season, where it failed to compete with even the midfield pack.

However, a major jump is unlikely, and it could be a year of catch-up for the team provided things go right. Driving alongside Robert Kubica, Russell has a respected and determined teammate to confide in. Both drivers have made it clear is not to compete against each other, but rather to focus on getting the team back to the top.

But it's easy to call balderdash on that. Sure, they share the common goal of getting Williams further to the front of the grid, so they can properly showcase their abilities. But both will benefit massively from beating the other. The matchup of a potential future star and the return of a resolute, formerly hailed competitor has the makings of a Hollywood drama.

With Esteban Ocon in line to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2020, Russell must set his eyes on Lewis Hamilton's seat when the five-time world champion decides to move team or quit F1. It will be no easy task to fill Hamilton's shoes, but Mercedes has placed Russell in F1 to see if he has what it takes to be worthy of the seat. Matching and/or beating Kubica will be an important task for Russell in 2019 as he aims to get himself up and fighting with F1's other young stars.

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Driver profile
Name IT Antonio Giovinazzi
Active As Sauber Driver in Formula 1
Date of birth Dec 14 1993 (25)
Weight 63 kg
Length 1.83m
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Track Yas Marina Circuit
Track Yas Marina Circuit
Location AE Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Website Website
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Previous Grand Prix: 25 November 2018
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