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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

2019 Formula One wish list: Lewis Hamilton to stay top, Honda to deliver for Max Verstappen

With 2018 wrapped up following Sunday's Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, here's what needs to happen next year to make a cracking season

Lewis Hamilton, at front, led the Formula One field in 2018. He was at the peak of the powers to win his fifth title and the hope is he will continue to perform at a high level in 2019. EPA
Lewis Hamilton, at front, led the Formula One field in 2018. He was at the peak of the powers to win his fifth title and the hope is he will continue to perform at a high level in 2019. EPA

The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix concluded the 2018 Formula One season on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-GP celebrated a winning finale at Yas Marina Circuit to cap another year of success for the German marque, but attention now turns to the 2019 season, which begins on March 17 in Australia.

Preparations begin almost immediately, with two days of tyre testing for all the teams in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here is a look at what we can hope for in 2019. .

Hamilton to stay at the peak of his powers

Hamilton appears to be in a class of his own at the top of the championship, having won his fourth title in five years.

The Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes it might not be until he retires that F1 , and the public, realise just how good the Briton is.

This year has cemented his status as one of the all-time greats, and not just because he is only the third driver in history to win five championships.

He was the difference maker at several races, including Germany, Hungary, Italy and Singapore, and the fact he scored 161 more points then teammate Valtteri Bottas tells you just how good a year he has had.

Can he repeat it? It is hard to look beyond him in 2019, but there are factors that could create a more entertaining title race next year.

At the halfway stage of 2018 it was Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel that led both the constructors and drivers' standings, while Red Bull Racing pushed stepped up as contenders.

That brought the best out of Hamilton. Another year of being pushed by Ferrari and Red Bull will, hopefully, bring the best out of Hamilton and push him to greater heights. Good for Hamilton, maybe not so his rivals.

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Max Verstappen finished third in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday. Getty Images
Max Verstappen finished third in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday. Getty Images

Honda need to give Verstappen and Red Bull a competitive engine

2018 was the year Max Verstappen underlined that he is one of the best drivers in F1.

He overcame a rocky start to become a consistent force in the second half of the season, his third place in Abu Dhabi completing a run of five podiums in a row.

He challenged for victories where he could - the 21-year-old Dutchman won two grands prix - and the hope is that Red Bull's move to Honda engines next season will bridge the gap.

Verstappen and Red Bull have been limited by the lack of horsepower of the Renault engines compared to the unites of Mercedes and Ferrari.

While it may be expecting too much for Honda to be level pegging with their main rivals next year, F1 desperately needs them to do a good enough job to give Verstappen the chance to tussle with Hamilton and Vettel.

Verstappen has been great fun, on and off the track, this year and his growing fanbase shows deserve to see him challenging for world titles.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel finished second to Lewis Hamilton in both the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2018 F1 championship. Victor Besa / The National
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel finished second to Lewis Hamilton in both the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2018 F1 championship. Victor Besa / The National

Less mistakes from Ferrari

As great as Hamilton was, this feels like a title race that Ferrari should have taken to the wire.

Bad strategic calls, design developments that did not improve the car, as well as mistakes from Vettel at key moments torpedoed their prospects.

The frustrating thing for the Italian team is they are not that far away. They won six times, their best haul of victories in a decade, but it still was not enough. Vettel and Raikkonen, both world champions, must take their share of the blame for that.

The challenge for Ferrari is to bounce back. It shouldn't be too hard; the car is quick, and should be again in 2019. Errors must be eradicated by strategists to give Vettel, and new arrival Charles Leclerc, a chance to challenge Hamilton.

A motivated Raikkonen

When a world champion moves to a team further down the field and a less competitive package it can often go one of two ways.

They can either see it as a challenge and make the most of it: Damon Hill at Arrows and in his first year at Jordan is the perfect example.

Or they can phone it, make minimal effort and pick up an easy a paycheque. See Jacques Villeneuve at Sauber in 2006.

The hope is that Kimi Raikkonen, who is joining Sauber from Ferrari, will follow the trend of Hill rather then Villeneuve.

Raikkonen was let go by Ferrari because he would often disappear in races and have forgettable afternoons when his car was capable of so much more. The frustrating thing was that, every once in a while, in Italy and the United States for example, he would be on it and remind people of the talent that helped him clinch the 2007 title.

Sauber had an indifferent 2018 but Leclerc, the man who will replace Raikkonen at Ferrari, showed enough promise that, in a more competitive car, he could potentially be a title challenger.

But the prospect of having Raikkonen in a giant-killing role, pushing his Sauber hard and the most likely to challenge the top six, would keep the Finn firmly in the limelight.