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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 March 2019

F1 2019 predictions: Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari to be champions, Max Verstappen wins with Honda and no points for Williams

Ahead of the new Formula One season a look ahead at what to expect, with more struggles for Valtteri Bottas and podium finishes for Daniel Ricciardo at Renault also forecast

Sebastian Vettel, left, with teammate Charles Leclerc, has had plenty to smile about in pre-season and that can continue into the new season. Getty
Sebastian Vettel, left, with teammate Charles Leclerc, has had plenty to smile about in pre-season and that can continue into the new season. Getty

The new Formula One season, which is made up of 21 races, begins on March 17 with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Ahead of the action, here are some predictions on what to expect over the coming months before the season climaxes with the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on December 1 at Yas Marina Circuit.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari to be champions

It could have happened in 2017. It arguably should have been achieved in 2018. But in 2019 it will finally happen.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari will get it together and win the respective drivers' and constructors' championships.

Ferrari were arguably the faster package for much of 2018. Yet a mixture of errors from both team and lead driver, bad luck and an inspired opponent in Lewis Hamilton all conspired to see them denied.

Ferrari have looked quick throughout winter testing and so Vettel should have the machinery to be at least challenging consistently at the front.

Add in that the Italian team have upgraded their driver line-up with Charles Leclerc replacing Kimi Raikkonen.

Leclerc was mightily impressive in his rookie season at Sauber and then so far in testing, and he should push Vettel hard.

But, importantly, Leclerc will also take points away from world champion Hamilton, something Raikkonen rarely did.

Ferrari have the pace advantage to win their first constructors' crown since 2008 and it will be a deserved reward for continuing to improve, having being well behind Mercedes in 2014 when the current engine regulations came into play.

The greater experience of Vettel should see him just edge out Leclerc to give his employers their first world champion since 2007 and allow him to join Hamilton on five drivers' titles.

Valtteri Bottas is under pressure after an underwhelming 2018 at Mercedes. Getty
Valtteri Bottas is under pressure after an underwhelming 2018 at Mercedes. Getty

Valtteri Bottas to be dropped by Mercedes for 2020

In fairness to the Finn his 2018 season does not do him justice when simply looked at as results on a sheet of paper.

No wins in the championship winning car is not a good look.

But with better luck the Mercedes driver would have won China and Azerbaijan, and he was on to be the victor in Russia before team orders forced him to move aside for Hamilton.

However, there were lots of weekends when he was way off Hamilton's pace and he was a non-factor and Mercedes will need more from him this year given Ferrari's apparent improvements.

If this year ends up being a repeat of 2017/18, occasional flashes of brilliance surrounded by regular doses of mediocrity, then Mercedes are going to think about a change.

With Esteban Ocon, who drove for Force India the past two seasons, on the sidelines, the Frenchman is the obvious man to be given the chance to replace Bottas and partner Hamilton in 2020.

Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen is well placed to give Honda first triumph in F1 since 2006. AFP
Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen is well placed to give Honda first triumph in F1 since 2006. AFP

Max Verstappen to give Honda their first race success since 2006

Honda engines will be in the back of the Red Bull Racing car this season. The Japanese firm's return to F1 has been less then stellar so far.

The three years with McLaren was an awful experience for both sides, and 2018 with Toro Rosso had moments of encouragement but also concern.

It is a risk for Red Bull, given the reliability issues of the Honda in the past. But given they had a multitude of issues with Renault, who had been their previous supplier, with the relationship becoming increasingly toxic, it is not hard to see why the Austrian team have made the move.

It is unlikely the Red Bull-Honda combo will be an instant championship winning one.

But they still should be a factor on the slow-speed tracks and Verstappen should be a strong contender to prevail at the likes of Monaco, Hungary and Singapore.

Verstappen established himself as the main man at Red Bull in 2018 with an excellent second half of the season and he can be the man to spearhead the team's challenge and claim at least one win.

That would be a success for Honda, whose last victory of any kind came when they were their own team in 2006 and Jenson Button won in Hungary.

Daniel Ricciardo can give Renault their first podium in F1 since 2011 this season. Getty
Daniel Ricciardo can give Renault their first podium in F1 since 2011 this season. Getty

Daniel Ricciardo to score Renault's first podium as a manufacturer since 2011

This is a big season for Daniel Ricciardo. He has taken an enormous risk by leaving an established top team in Red Bull for Renault.

The French marque have been back in the sport as a team since 2016 but have yet to finish on the podium.

They were best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull and Ricciardo, a proven race winner, can help push them on.

Ricciardo faces a tough task being the leading force in the team with Nico Hulkenberg as his teammate.

But the Australian has always had an innate ability for making the most of opportunities that comes his way.

He is one of the best overtakers in F1 and he will be the man to get a top-three finish for his new employers if and when the chance comes his way.

George Russell faces a difficult rookie season with Williams. Getty
George Russell faces a difficult rookie season with Williams. Getty

Williams to score no points

This could well prove to be the nadir for Williams.

They have been regressing in previous years with last year being pretty dire as they only had three points finishes and mustered a meagre seven points.

But the worst could still be to come. The FW42 chassis arrived late to testing and ominously was very slow compared to the rest of the grid.

Then there are the drivers who both face tough tasks heading into the season.

You have a rookie in George Russell who will have the challenge of adapting to the series and being back at the rear of the field after winning GP2 in 2018.

Then there is Robert Kubica who returns to the series as a racer for the first time since the horrific rallying crash in February 2011 that almost saw him lose an arm.

It is hard to see on pure performance where Williams will score points this season, and the only way they will do is with a very attritional race with most of their rivals crashing.

Given you cannot really legislate for that this is looking like Williams ending the year pointless.

Updated: March 10, 2019 01:34 PM

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