F1 2019 conclusions: Lewis Hamilton shines, but new contenders emerge

3 December 2019, 11:29 | Updated: 3 December 2019, 12:49

Hamilton continues march to F1 history

Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Lewis Hamilton in 2019 is that in what ultimately developed into the most competitive season of F1's hybrid era, his coronation as a six-time world champion never looked anything but an inevitability.

But inevitable shouldn't imply easy and Hamilton, despite starting from pole position only five times all season - two fewer than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc - somehow found a way to win 11 times on race day, the joint-best tally of his illustrious career. At nearly 35 and with 250 grands prix to his name, Hamilton has become F1's man for all seasons and all conditions, able to win when his Mercedes is the outright fastest, and still able to find a way when it isn't.

With no apparent sign of Formula 1 fatigue, Hamilton now appears on an inexorable march to become the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time. His latest title may not have been the most spectacular of the six, but it was truly masterful.

Verstappen and Leclerc are the real deal

Hamilton has two young contenders for his F1 thrown in Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen still just 22, already had five career victories coming into the year but the Dutchman has solidified his standing as a top driver by adding three more wins in Austria, Germany and Brazil - all sublime for different reasons - and delivering the most complete season of a dazzling career in a car which only really came alive in the summer.

Verstappen, third in the championship, was arguably as consistent as Hamilton throughout the year, in which he took on the role as Red Bull's team leader with flying colours. Then there's Leclerc who, in his first year at Ferrari and second in F1, out-scored and out-qualified Sebastian Vettel, his four-time champion team-mate, and impressively secured more poles than any other driver.

Leclerc immediately looked the part in 2019 and without some Ferrari mishaps and a few errors himself - understandable given his experience - he may well have even been in championship contention. The battles between Verstappen and Leclerc, most notably in Austria and Silverstone, will leave many an F1 fan salivating ahead of future duels - while Hamilton knows he has a fight on his hands to keep these two at bay in the coming years.

Ferrari fall flat, but Red Bull make progress

Leclerc's five poles, and Vettel's two, would usually suggest Ferrari had a competitive package in 2019. But while the Scuderia - powered by the best engine on the grid - were mighty in qualifying, too often they fell flat on Sundays. After encouraging seasons in 2017 and 2018, Ferrari took a step back this season with only three race victories.

Ferrari essentially lost out on the title when designing their car as, despite an encouraging winter test, the famous Italian team didn't have the downforce required to compete on all tracks and only started to make progress on that front after the summer break, by which point Mercedes had sped off into the distance. Although they can take solace from Leclerc's form, Vettel's high-profile errors - most notably in Canada, Silverstone and Monza - were also alarming.

Red Bull, on the other hand, go into 2020 with momentum. It was another slow start to the season from the Bulls but Honda, their new-for-2019 engine suppliers, made considerable progress throughout the year, so much so that Hamilton believes they are now a match for Mercedes power. With a good car, good engine, and a great driver in Verstappen, there can be no excuses for Red Bull now as they go chasing a first title since 2013.

New-look McLaren enjoy resurgent year

This has often been the time of the year in the recent past when bold predictions issued by McLaren have come back to haunt the former world champions. But not this year. After an optimistic yet understated launch to their season back in February, McLaren have certainly done their talking on the track this season with their first top-four Constructors' Championship finish since 2012 the reward for that approach.

Energised on the track by the fast, young and fun pairing of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, and strengthened off it by the astute arrivals of Andreas Seidl and James Key, McLaren's renaissance has proved one of F1 2019's feel-good stories with the team's clearly back on the rise.

While the jump to making F1's Big Three a Big Four remains large, and will require incremental and consistent steps over the next few seasons, McLaren are certainly positioned nicely as they prepare for a final season with Renault before returning to Mercedes power in time for what they hope will be a game-changing 2021 reset for F1's pecking

Rookies give us a glimpse into F1's future

"The young drivers have generally energised this season for me," admitted Sky F1's Martin Brundle at the end of a 2019 campaign where there were several standout rookies.

Alex Albon had a remarkable year, starting it without ever even completing an F1 test and finishing it in one of the top seats on the grid. After showing instant promise at Toro Rosso, Albon was promoted by Red Bull to replace Pierre Gasly in August and, while he has work to do to match Verstappen in qualifying, he has placed in the top six in every race he has finished. Lando Norris, Britain's youngest-ever driver, may be disappointed not to have consistently been a match for team-mate Carlos Sainz in races, but finishes the season with an 11-10 qualifying advantage and has excelled at McLaren.

Antonio Giovinazzi should also be noted for improving over the year compared to Kimi Raikkonen and earning another Alfa Romeo deal, while George Russell, given the most difficult task of all the rookies in an under-performing Williams, did all he could to shine in the circumstances. Russell finished the year with a 100 per cent qualifying record over experienced team-mate Robert Kubica, and continues to impress Mercedes, who consider him a future Silver Arrow star.

2019: F1's most exciting hybrid-era season

After an uneventful French GP, the eighth Mercedes' victory to start the season, there were concerns about the F1 show - but the sport has since responded with some spectacular races. 2019 has certainly been the most exciting hybrid era campaign.

Straight after Paul Ricard there was overtaking aplenty in an epic Austria-Silverstone double header, helped by the FIA's new leniency when it came to penalties, before a bonkers wet German GP and a gripping Hamilton-Verstappen fight in Hungary. Since the summer break, the sport has seen Leclerc take two incredible wins in Spa and Monza, before more bedlam in Brazil as both Ferraris, and Hamilton, crashed in the closing stages.

The F1 2021 rules, announced in October, look promising, with more wheel-to-wheel battles and passes on the horizon, but 2019 has delivered in terms of entertainment on the track - proving that racing can be close without a major rules overhaul.