Driver vs Driver: The good, the bad, the ugly after five rounds

Five races into the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season an interesting trend has emerged in the Driver vs Driver battles within teams, closer than expected in several contests but also bigger gaps than predicted before the season started.

The stats tend not to lie, and this our first analysis after five rounds, shows the good, the bad and the ugly is the realm of teammate battles.

Hamilton Bottas Melbourne Mercedes qualifying photo

It’s pretty even between the chaps in silver at this point, Lewis Hamilton one better because of the extra win but, in quali, the Finn has the edge as he does in fastest laps set in the first five races.

There is a school of thought that has Hamilton about three tenths faster than Bottas on any given day, up to seven-tenths when the Briton needs to wield the Hammer eg. Singapore last year.

He appeared flexed his muscles in Barcelona on race day, not only beating his teammate off the line and power into the distance to claim victory, but the pair of Mercs also had softs bolted on for the final laps after the safety car. The #44 car coming out tops setting the fastest lap late on in the race. Bottas was three tenths slower.

The five-time F1 World Champion has it in him to raise his game where and when required, gone is the youthful obsession of wanting to dominate every session. He has learned to play the long game well and betting against him nabbing number six would be foolish

An interesting contest is underway between their drivers at Ferrari, potentially explosive as veteran Sebastian Vettel is challenged by Charles Leclerc, a man ten years his junior in the sister car, and representing the future of Ferrari. But for now his place is to condescend to Vettel until he can beat him fair and square in quali and race on a regular basis. It has the look of an uneasy truce between the pair.

The race and qualifying edge shown above flatter Vettel as Leclerc is not that bad, he did himself no favours with mistakes at crucial times in qualifying, while in races he has been the sacrificial lamb more than once.

gasly verstappen

It was never going to be easy for Pierre Gasly to step up and take on mighty Max Verstappen in a team that has unashamedly been built around him. Make that a four-car team if you throw in the Toro Rosso pair. The mighty organisation makes no bones about who their man is.

And rightfully so. After making Daniel Ricciardo feel like a fifth wheel last season, the Dutchman is going a step further and making mincemeat of Gasly who must be the disappointment of the season thus far. Most expected him to be humbled, but not so viciously.

There was an improvement by the Frenchman in Barcelona but F1 racing is about delivering every time a driver lowers himself into the cockpit. On this front Gasly has fallen short, while Verstappen has shone brightly.

Toro Rosso have turned out to be the surprise package of this season, the STR14 a handy chassis with two drivers delivering solid performances. Daniil Kvyat is a changed driver and his return to the top flight is refecting this, but only time will tell if he is simply a powder keg waiting to unleash waywardness.

For now, the banishment of the Red Bull prodigal son to Ferrari has revitalised the likeable and undeniably quick young Russian.

Also impressing, in the sister car, is rookie Alex Albon. A late but wise inclusion into the team’s junior programme. The Thai youngster has impressed with his demeanour and comportment while delivering strong performances, out racing but being out-qualified by his more experienced teammate.

Kevin Magnussen has the upper hand in the duel with Romain Grosjean. At times blisteringly quick, the Frenchman has struggled with consistency and unfortunately if there is a dust-up on-track he invariably happens to be involved.

Last year he was a well documented (Netflix) disappointment in the American team who were kind enough to keep him on this year in the hope he redeems himself. Heading to Round 6, the Frenchman is losing that battle as Magnussen outscores him on all fronts.

The Dane can be counted on to deliver in a wild midfield, which cannot be said for his teammate at this stage of the season.

While a strange start to the season afflicts Alfa Romeo, there is no question that Kimi Raikkonen is well and truly over-delivering relative to his Ferrari backed rookie teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. The veteran Finn is a good benchmark for the Italian, but he has still to deliver because right now many are questioning whether F1 is for him.

Running closer to his teammate would have been the expectations, but 5-0 in races does not look good on Giovinazzi’s early scorecard.

Meanwhile watching Raikkonen go about his business in no man’s land after years in big teams, prompts the question: Will Kimi be around until the end of next season when his time on the F1 grid is scheduled to end.

Renault are arguably the biggest disappointment of the season. Self-propagated predictions of podiums and a big step up in the pecking order have proven to be delusional as their power unit slipped to the worst of the four in the top flight after a dismal start to the season for the French team and their drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg are two highly regarded drivers but even their skills and experience can do nothing to reduce the deficit to the frontrunners while making mistakes in what is probably desperation.

In the race, it has been pretty close between the pair (both have a DNF) but in qualifying, Ricciardo has the edge while Hulkenberg has had his struggles. It is a shame that this pair has been confined to insignificance in terms of race results.

How they individually manage the frustration and disappointment of their plight will determine who is left standing in a season that promises only pain for the guys in yellow and black unless the team can find that elusive magic button.

McLaren have a car capable of running in midfield mayhem, with their two new drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris doing a solid (if not stellar) job, the latter impressing more than his teammate thus far.

The Spaniard and his minders have high expectations of his future with McLaren and while in Spain he is highly rated the truth is that Sainz has yet to prove he is in the Verstappen-Leclerc league. Despite his off-track bundles of enthusiasm and energy, on-track it could be better for him relative to rookie Norris.

Nevertheless, stats show it is pretty even between the pair and although the more experienced driver has the edge it is not by that much. In qualifying, Norris has been better and one imagines that as he settles into F1 life he will only get better, how much better will either make or break Sainz.

After the meagre years of over delivering as Force India, the new plentiful era has seen Racing Point go backwards to the point that in Barcelona they were only better than Williams in the pecking order that emerged after the Spanish Grand Prix weekend.

As a result the lad Lance Stroll who has never wanted for anything material in life is finding it a miserable struggle as the ‘toy’ his billionaire father has bought for him, this time, is not as good as the ‘toys’ of the other boys and the Rich Kid has no clue how to deal with the adversities which money can’t fix.

As a result, Sergio Perez is hammering the boss’s son, trouncing him in qualifying and in races. Every year the Mexican makes a case for a big team ride and this season is no exception. Surely in a Red Bull he would be better than Gasly?

On the opposite side of the coin, Stroll junior needs to at least start matching the veteran because, right now, he does not deserve to be in F1 despite the mountains of money thrown at the dream by his father.

The team are working hard at a development package for the car that will turn it into a “new package” when they unleash it before the summer break, with the German Grand Prix the target for the updated car to debut.

The crisis at Williams has been well reported, they are not really in Formula 1 – put it this way, if they did not pitch up for the remaining races it would hardly matter in terms of results, their contribution to ‘the show’ or whatever. And this is the plight of their drivers.

However, there are no excuses for the absolute drubbing that rookie George Russell is dishing out to comeback veteran Robert Kubica in the sister car. In light of his fairytale return to the top flight this is a macabrely grim episode in the tale with the end apparently looming…

Kubica suggested his car was not the same as Russell’s, thus in Spain the team swapped cars and it was the same story, Russell was quicker in all areas.

Political correctness aside, as remarkable and inspiring as the story is, the disabled Pole is not delivering on expectations, and Nicolas Latifi hovering in the background has prompted obvious speculation.

Russell, on the other hand, has been impeccable in how he has gone about inducting himself into F1 by ticking all the boxes with flying marks, but he has no one to push him so we can see his real worth in what must be the worst F1 car built in the past two decades, if not ever.