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How did Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull fare in the second half of 2019?

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Roar Guru
8th December, 2019
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The second part of my season review rates how the teams and drivers performed in the second half of the year.

I’m going to start by reviewing the top three teams’ performances before looking at how the midfield did in a later article.

This article covers the season from after the summer break so from the Belgian Grand Prix to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. You can read my ratings for the first half of the season here.

Mercedes: A
Constructors’: 1st, 739pts
Drivers’: Lewis Hamilton 1st, 413pts; Valtteri Bottas 2nd, 326pts

Mercedes did not have it easy at all after the summer break as first Charles Leclerc and then Max Verstappen challenged them for race victories. That’s not to say they were completely out of it though as they actively fought every race to try and get the win.

Serendipity was also the name of the game for the Silver Arrows at times. In Russia, they took advantage of a virtual safety car brought out after Sebastian Vettel’s MGU-K failed by pitting, taking about half the time it took for the Ferraris to pit under green flag conditions. They finished 1-2.

In Japan, Valtteri Bottas made a much better start than Vettel, who started on pole, to jump straight from third to first by the first corner. That is where he stayed for the rest of the race while his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, unsuccessfully tried to get past Vettel for second place.

Hamilton began to be beaten in wheel-to-wheel combat, a sign that he is vulnerable to the young chargers Leclerc and Verstappen. He was also passed quite convincingly by Bottas in Austin. Also, let’s not forget the mistake he made in Brazil as he spun Alexander Albon round while trying an overtake in the infield section.

While these are things that I’ll certainly keep in mind going in 2020, Mercedes have continued to churn out class performances with a strong driver pairing who can be trusted not to crash into each other.

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A sixth consecutive drivers-constructors championship double is well-deserved by everyone. The straight-A students will be hoping for more of the same next season.

Ferrari: B
Constructors’: 2nd, 504pts
Drivers’: Charles Leclerc 4th, 264pts; Sebastian Vettel 5th, 240pts

It was a much better second half of the season for Ferrari.

The highlight of it was, of course, Charles Leclerc’s victory in Monza in front of the tifosi. He masterfully held off Hamilton at the Roggia Chicane by forcing the Brit to take the escape route before managing to keep Bottas at bay in the closing laps.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc is followed on-track by Mercedes's Valtteri Bottas.

(Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Monegasque driver had waited all season for a win, knowing all that time that he should have had at least one on the board after the cylinder failure in Bahrain. Two came in the space of a week at Spa and then Monza. \

This came at a very emotional time for Leclerc as his friend, Anthoine Hubert, had been killed on the Saturday of the Belgian Grand Prix in the Formula 2 Feature Race. His determination to power through is a characteristic that makes him the mature driver that he has become.

His teammate, Vettel, may be mature in terms of his age but is still making mistakes that are not befitting of a driver with so much experience. He has now spun around more times than Kylie Minogue.

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While Leclerc took Ferrari’s first win at Monza for nine years, Vettel finished out of the points having spun at the Ascari Chicane on just lap 7. He also suffered the MGU-K failure in Sochi and a suspension failure in Austin.

However, no matter what results these two are putting in, to finish first they must first finish. This is something they didn’t do in Interlagos where they crashed into each other, taking both of them out of the race. There was always a rivalry between these two, but this was the first time it had properly exploded and ended up in a double retirement.

Nobody likes coming second to their teammate but Sebastian Vettel especially doesn’t like coming second to his teammate, as Mark Webber will testify to you.

The Vettel-Leclerc rivalry will have to be monitored closely by Ferrari in 2020, particularly if they are going to be involved in a championship battle as we hope they will be.

Red Bull: A
Constructors’: 3rd, 417pts
Drivers’: Max Verstappen 3rd, 278pts; Alexander Albon 8th, 92pts

Over the summer break, Pierre Gasly was dumped by Red Bull and demoted to the junior team alongside fellow Red Bull reject Daniil Kvyat. Step unto the breach, Alexander Albon.

Albon scored points in every grand prix he raced at Red Bull apart from when he was spun around by Hamilton in Brazil, where he was on course to finish second and perhaps challenge for the lead on the final lap. He finishes the championship just three points behind Gasly but after having a much better spell at Red Bull than the Frenchman did.

Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon prepares for preseason testing.

(Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

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Albon proved that he could make his way back up through the field to secure a decent points finish after being relegated to the back of the grid thanks to engine penalties. There are still some things that he needs to master but, hey, he was a rookie promoted to the senior team after just twelve races of his F1 career.

It will be interesting to see if he can take the fight to his teammate Verstappen in 2020.

As for Verstappen, the Dutchman has continued to have a superb 2019 with some bumps along the way.

Let’s start with the positives. He took a magnificent victory in Brazil with awesome pitstops from his mechanics and some equally awesome overtakes on Lewis Hamilton. In the final grand prix of the season, he managed his tyres well to combat Leclerc’s two-stop strategy and take second place.

Ferrari found themselves at the mercy of Verstappen at times this year and both drivers have finished behind him in the world championship.

There is still room for improvement though. For starters, don’t tell the press that you could have slowed down for the yellow flags but set a quicker lap time instead to secure pole position.

Overall though it has been another impressive season from Verstappen and Albon has found his feet quickly at Red Bull as well. I look forward to another successful season for the Milton Keynes-based team in 2020.

So, that concludes my verdict on how Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull faired in the second half of 2019. I hope that we can continue to see these battles in 2020 and I’m sure that we will.

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Next time, I look at how the battle for ‘best of the rest’ went as I continue to review the 2019 Formula One season.