Martin Brundle reviews F1's drivers in 2018 and looks ahead to 2019
Sky F1's Martin Brundle analyses the performances of the grid's 20 drivers this year and assesses what 2019 might hold
Last Updated: 25/12/18 7:09am
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
Points: 408-247; Qualifying: 15-6
Lewis has been outstanding this year and it does, in fact, appear that he keeps getting even better.
He's aced the crossover between experience, speed, fitness, bravery, technical knowledge, patience and politics.
The right man won the championship. People say he's got the best car, but then so has Valtteri Bottas and so did Nico Rosberg. Lewis remains the man to beat.
Valtteri doesn't make many mistakes and is a very trustworthy driver, but psychologically he has been bruised. Partly because of Lewis' raw and consistent speed but also because of having to concede the victory in Russia and being cruelly denied with a puncture in Azerbaijan. And from thereon having to play a supporting role.
He's lucky to have another chance. I've got to assume that if Toto Wolff knew then what he knows now he'd have strongly considered putting Ocon in the seat. He's been positioned at Mercedes as reserve driver, so we'll now see what Valtteri has got.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen
Points: 320-251; Qualifying: 17-4
If you look at his start and restart in Spa for example along with demonstrating great speed, and his general performances up to Hockenheim where his championship crusade fell apart, Vettel has driven very strongly at times but he has made a lot of fundamental errors too.
Ferrari faded in 2017 and then lost their way a little with 2018 updates, but Sebastian faded this year. If you'd just landed from outer space and looked at the numbers, you'd say that Mercedes and Hamilton dominated the season from the way it turned out. Of course, it's been a lot closer than that.
If Kimi Raikkonen is Peter Pan and looking so young and fresh at 39, Seb is the opposite in a way, although I believe he's still got the speed. But it's in wheel-to-wheel combat that he's missing judgement and he needs to sort that out. He's now got a Ricciardo-style situation brewing next year with Leclerc coming along. If he has another gear left, like Lewis, then he'll need to select it.
Some of Raikkonen's best performances have come since it was clear he was out at Ferrari for 2019. If you look at Ericsson, Hartley and some of the other drivers, the pressure comes off with nothing to lose and the natural juices flow a bit better.
Kimi's pole position in Monza was impressive - obviously there was a bit of a slipstream from his team-mate which was a source of controversy at the time - and won well in Austin, but I think you have to look back over the last few years where he's scored around 65-80 per cent of his team-mate's points. Ferrari had to take the decision to move on.
I've got a feeling that Kimi will cause all sorts of surprises in the Sauber. It'll be a strong car next year and he'll be simply driving for pleasure again. He could be one of the surprises of the season. Not in terms of taking the championship because the team doesn't have that kind of resource, but I wouldn't count him out of some surprise results in 2019.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen
Points: 170-249; Qualifying: 5-15
I said in my 2019 preview feature on Sky F1 in Abu Dhabi that Max Verstappen is threatening to become the fastest all-round driver in Formula 1. That's where we are getting to - and I think that's hit Ricciardo hard. To an extent, Daniel has had done to him what he did to Seb Vettel at Red Bull.
Daniel has been so unlucky with reliability. But his two victories in China and Monaco this year, and other races he could have won, have just been brilliant, yet the car has been so unreliable. Psychologically he's been knocked, but when push came to shove in Mexico who got the pole for Red Bull when they were going to dominate the front-row? He's the burglar. He's always there. Time will tell on the Renault move.
For 2019, I know Red Bull are really excited about the new relationship with Honda. Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and others in the team are not really guys who go running around saying 'you'll never guess what!' They are very calm. The Red Bull has been strong recently and I'm sure the Honda engine is easy to package nicely.
There is one proviso over all of this and that's the new regulations, because the new wider and simplified front wing is like starting all over again. There are no blown front axles, smaller side bargeboards and bigger rear wings with wider opening DRS flaps - it's almost like a new aero formula designed to create closer racing and, funnily enough, I don't think Red Bull always get that right first time. But they are brilliant at developing into it.
So I can see Max being a race-contender every weekend which means he should be a championship contender. The big question mark is the reliability of the Honda and you have to say, up to now, you wouldn't want to be betting the house on that. But in terms of speed I think it'll be fine.
Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz
Points: 69-53; Qualifying: 13-8
I'm a big fan of Hulkenberg and Sainz but they are both yet to truly deliver their potential in F1.
Hulkenberg is solid and quick but starting to run out of time. He had his chances at Force India for a podium, and was best of the rest for Renault, but something goes amiss with Nico. His speed needs channelling better.
I feel somewhat of a lone voice on Sainz, a bit like I was on Nico Rosberg many years ago. Not that I think he's quite at Hamilton or Verstappen level, but he's close. For 2019 it depends on whether McLaren get their act together aerodynamically. I think Carlos has got a truly competitive mentality from his dad so watch this space with him.
Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen
Points: 37-56; Qualifying: 11-8
Only two of the 10 teams on the grid have got the same driver line-up next year and Haas are one of those. That continuity is paying off for them and they've quietly had a strong year - both team and drivers.
Kevin Magnussen drives well and is his own man, which I admire. He finds more trouble than he ideally needs to because that's just distracting. Although maybe he wants distraction. Sometimes there is just no point in having fights for the sake of it, Formula 1 is hard enough, but it works for him.
Romain Grosjean often swings between brilliant and missing in action. He goes through phases of both but when on form he is a great asset.
Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne
Points: 50-12; Qualifying: 21-0
Fernando outperformed the car to score 50 points this year. But Brazil was probably the first race I've ever seen where actually it looked like he'd had enough. He's run out of steam for Formula 1 which is a great shame all round.
I'm frustrated for Fernando. Most people would say he's still a top-three driver on the grid and yet he's politically engineered his way out of any kind of competitive drive, and Formula 1 has not provided enough decent cars to go round.
As for Stoffel, it's difficult to understand how things have turned out so badly for him. But I don't think he's the Teflon personality you need to be to put up with F1 in general, Alonso's pace in particular, or an underperforming McLaren.
Right team, wrong time, and I don't know if there's more in Stoffel or not. We'll have to take a look at him in Formula E and he's still involved in F1 as a driver on the Mercedes simulator. But if you ask me to put a finger on why he looked so good in F2 and has looked very ordinary in F1, I have no idea.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon
Points: 62-49; Qualifying: 5-16
You have to take your hat off to Sergio Perez. He's not a driver you think of very much but he's as solid as a rock. He's a very nice guy, very professional in the way he goes about his business and makes it all work. Obviously he's had a tormented year with the team changing hands and things he had to do in the middle of all of that, but he kept scoring the points.
It's crazy how he and Esteban Ocon kept running into each other - that's just nuts. I don't see how that worked for anybody, the drivers or the team.
Ocon is undoubtedly a star of the future and it's going to be painful watching him temporarily on the sidelines.
Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc
Points: 9-39; Qualifying: 4-17
Hiring Charles Leclerc out of Sauber is going to be the energising factor Ferrari need in 2019, providing they can protect him from the spotlight and politically manage any fall-out between him and Vettel. I think it's just perfect.
Leclerc's lap in Q2 of Brazil to get into the top 10 in worsening conditions tells you everything you need to know. For me, it's one of those moments you'll always talk about, like when Montoya overtook into Casino Square at Monaco in F3000 or Alonso around the outside of Schumacher in Suzuka's 130R among many others. Charles is the real deal and Sauber will miss him, but Kimi should still be a great asset.
Ericsson is another driver who is solid and deserved a chance in Formula 1 but he's run out of time. He's a super guy, but no one is going to look back next year and go 'why isn't Marcus Ericsson on this grid?' which is a shame.
Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly
Points: 4-29; Qualifying: 6-13
I feel sorry for Brendon. He started with technical grid penalties and that's all he seems to know really. He's driven really well lately, I think he was a little lacklustre early on while he was finding his way towards the end of last season, but then found good speed and racecraft.
Gasly is quick and finished fourth in Bahrain. But was there ever any point before Ricciardo shocked us all by going to Renault where you'd have gone: 'What would you do? Would you keep Ricciardo or put Gasly in?' You wouldn't organically swap Ricciardo for Gasly but Red Bull were forced to do so.
But I think he'll do a very solid job. I have no doubt he has good speed and now it's a question of whether that can translate into the sort of consistency the top-three teams demand. You can't have weekends where you go on the missing list. You have got to deliver all day, every day and every weekend. We'll see whether Pierre can do that.
Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin
Points: 6-1; Qualifying: 8-12
It's difficult and painful to comment on Williams' season because the car simply didn't work. Stroll and Sirotkin have deserved a chance to show themselves in F1 and they've both had their moments here and there this year.
I don't think Sergey has embarrassed himself at all. With Lance heading to Force India we'll find out with a better car much more about him, in what will be his third season of F1.
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