Insight: What's new in Formula 1 in 2019?

What’s new in F1 in 2019?

New driver line-ups, tweaked regulations, and the 1000th World Championship Grand Prix. Motorsport Week takes a look at what’s new in Formula 1 for 2019.

Driver changes

Get used to seeing familiar faces in new colours – while there’s also a handful of new and returning drivers on the 2019 grid.

Gasly joins Verstappen at Red Bull

The highest-profile move has seen Charles Leclerc join Ferrari as Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate, having impressed during his rookie campaign with Sauber last year. Pierre Gasly has moved up to Red Bull, alongside Max Verstappen, with his graduation from Toro Rosso facilitated by Daniel Ricciardo’s shock switch to Renault, linking up with incumbent Nico Hulkenberg at the Anglo-French operation. Carlos Sainz Jr. has sought refuge at McLaren, and is now no longer affiliated with Red Bull, Lance Stroll has joined the family-owned The Artist Formerly Known As Force India, while Kimi Raikkonen has returned to Sauber. The trio all received their initial taste of their 2019 teams in Abu Dhabi last November.

Elsewhere there are four full-time rookies and two returnees.

Last year’s Formula 2 top trio George Russell, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon step up with Williams, McLaren and Toro Rosso respectively, while Antonio Giovinazzi gets a full-time chance at Sauber, having started two Grands Prix for the team in early 2017. Robert Kubica will be back on the grid with Williams after an eight-year absence while two-time podium finisher Daniil Kvyat gets a third Toro Rosso chance, returning to the scene after spending 2018 as Ferrari’s development driver.

It means that from the 2018 grid six of the 20 have departed for pastures new, while another six have changed teams, meaning only eight drivers will sport the same colours.

Gives You Wins?

Will this be the year in which Honda joins its fellow engine manufacturers on the top step on the podium? Honda rebounded from its damaging three-year relationship with McLaren by partnering Toro Rosso last season, and its gains – both in terms of performance and reliability – was enough to sway Red Bull to ditch its long-standing-but-fractured Renault alliance to forge a new chapter with it. The Japanese manufacturer has not won a Grand Prix since 2006, when it ran its own team, but now has a golden opportunity to prove its ability with a team that triumphed four times in 2018 and regularly lauded the strength of its chassis.

Elsewhere the paddock awaits the rebranding of the Force India-cum-Racing Point operation that was purchased by Lawrence Stroll mid-2018 and officially became a new entrant in the championship. It has yet to reveal its new identity and has been tipped to do so during a launch event in Toronto next month. Haas is set for a Lotus-inspired black-and-gold livery on account of its tie-up with the UK-based Rich Energy brand while Williams’ five-year title partnership with Martini has come to a conclusion.

Compounding the matter

No more 'Rainbow Range'...

Since Pirelli returned as Formula 1’s sole tyre supplier in 2011 it has had an array of colours and names for its compound, even going as far as referring to its 2018 options as the ‘Rainbow Range’ on account of the seven compounds, each with their own coloured sidewall. For 2019 this has been simplified… sort of.

The Hypersoft, Ultrasoft, Supersoft and not-ever-used Superhard are no more – in terms of name – for at each 2019 Grand Prix there will be a Soft, a Medium, and a Hard, with the same regulations in terms of set allocation per driver (13 for a weekend) and race usage (two different compounds in a dry Grand Prix) as per 2018.

The Soft will be coloured red, the Medium will be yellow, while the Hard will be white.

Pirelli will choose a Soft, Medium and Hard for each Grand Prix from its reduced range of five dry-weather compounds, officially labelled C1 to C5.

C1 is a softer version of the 2018-spec Hard, C2 a slightly softer version of the 2018-spec Medium, while C3 is in effect last year’s Soft compound. C4, meanwhile, is closely aligned with the old Ultrasoft, with C5 slightly harder than last season’s Hypersoft, with Pirelli hopeful that it has reduced the graining and excessive wear the compound was prone to suffering.  

The tyre compounds selected for the opening four Grands Prix have already been announced by Pirelli.

Aerodynamic tweaks

Liberty Media has been keen to enhance the spectacle and while its primary focus has been on the longer term, namely 2021, it has also moved to increase the quality and quantity of racing for 2019.

Will there be less 'follow the leader'?

Formula 1 drivers have struggled to get – and then remain – close to their opponent due to the dirty air generated by the car ahead. This turbulent air, caused by the wake from the car, means the following car cannot operate in its optimum window, robbing the pursuing driver of pure performance, and worsening other areas such as brakes, engine temperatures and tyre wear. Some of that has been blamed on the increasingly complex front wing designs, which have been used to channel airflow to the diffuser, thus increasing downforce, delivering the dirty air. 

For 2019 the front wing has been simplified, with standardised endplates and revised dimensions (up from 1800mm to 2000mm, moved forwards 25mm), with the ambition of directing the air to the underbody of the car. The removal of upper flaps on the front wing should also mean that there is more ‘inwash’ than ‘outwash’ in terms of aerodynamic philosophy, changing the nature of the air flow. It is hoped that the ‘dirty air’ will therefore be reduced by around 20 per cent, facilitating drivers in remaining closer to each other, though teams have already cast doubt as to whether this will be achieved, with some speculating that aerodynamicists have already recouped the lost downforce.

Bargeboards have also been lowered by 150mm and brought forwards by 100mm, while the DRS opening has been increased from 65mm to 85mm, as part of an overall taller and wider wing, in a bid to make it more effective when activated. That higher wing profile will also mean the rooster tail wake coming off the car in front is higher, giving it greater scope to disperse before it affects the pursuing car. As per 2018, the FIA is likely to assess the length and quantity of DRS zones at each venue, having experimented at several circuits through last season.

Weight

Formula 1 cars have steadily increased in weight in recent years and there has been another minor revision for 2019, with the driver and car now having to weigh at least 743kg, a gain of 3kg.

The major discussion point, however, surrounds driver weight, which has now in effect been separated after years of complaints from the taller – and therefore heavier – racers.

The driver’s seat – ie the driver plus safety equipment such as helmets and gloves – must weigh at least 80kg. This means that any driver, plus equipment, who weighs under 80kg will have the difference made up through ballast, which will be placed adjacent to the seat.

This means that the taller and heavier drivers will, in theory, no longer be penalised for their natural physique.

Check out Motorsport Week on Wednesday for a full explanation of the nuances surrounding the regulation change and the thoughts of several front-runners.

Fuel to be Kind

More flat out racing in 2019?

Some drivers at a handful of Grand Prix have previously complained that they have to place a disproportionate focus on fuel saving, rather than being permitted to race flat out. The issue became more prominent in 2017, and then worse in 2018, due to the higher downforce levels and faster lap times. The most extreme example came at last year’s United States Grand Prix, from which Kevin Magnussen was excluded for having used 0.1kg too much fuel, prompting the Dane to refer to the sport as Formula Fuelsave. For this season the fuel limit has been raised from 105kg to 110kg in the hope that this will promote flat-out racing from start to finish.

Simpler penalties

Formula 1’s engine penalties are here to stay but the manner in which multiple sanctions will be distributed have been simplified once more. For 2018 if a driver sustained more than a 15-place penalty it meant instant relegation to the rear of the grid, which was much more straightforward than the official but ludicrous 30, 40 or 50 place drops. However, the law of unintended consequences struck. Multiple drivers could not all start from the back. Therefore when more than one driver was penalised they were officially placed on the grid in the order in which their car took to the circuit for the opening practice session of the weekend. That led to the bizarre situation whereby drivers queued in the pit lane prior to FP1 to effectively bag a better grid spot. For 2019 that arrangement has been changed, and those drivers with penalties in excess of 15 positions will line up on the grid in the order in which they qualify. This has also prompted hopes that drivers will participate in as much of the session as possible rather than partake only in Q1 and then call it a day.

TV deals

The major TV change comes in the form of United Kingdom broadcaster Sky Sports having near-exclusive live coverage of the 2019 season.

The corporation agreed a revised deal, running from 2019 through 2024, with previous Formula 1 owners CVC Capital Partners, having shared coverage with BBC (2012-15) and Channel 4 (2016-18) under the half/half arrangement. From 2019 only the British Grand Prix will be shown live on free-to-air TV, and will be done so on Channel 4, with the terrestrial broadcaster providing highlights of the other 20 Grands Prix. All sessions from all 21 Grands Prix will be shown on Sky Sports.

Formula 1’s extended deal with Ziggo Sport, signed late in 2018, will result in F1 TV Pro coming to The Netherlands, as part of the championship’s desire to introduce its new-for-2018 product in as many territories and countries as possible, around pre-existing contracts.

Formula 1 also intends to broadcast pre-season testing, though the exact approach has yet to be determined.

Other bits and pieces

The chequered flag rules have been amended

A new helmet standard, a decade in the making, will be mandatory in Formula 1 this season. The new standard, officially entitled FIA 8860-2018, features advanced ballistic protection and increased energy absorption. The front of the visor has been lowered by 10mm, which will increase safety in the event of debris striking the helmet, while advanced composite materials have been used to enhance resistance to potential crushing and penetration. Formula 1’s four helmet suppliers – Schuberth, Arai, Bell and Stilo – all worked in conjunction with the FIA to deliver the upgrade standard, which has been put through a sequence of brutal tests in order to test and certify its strength.

In a tweak to the end-of-race procedure the finish will officially be decreed by the chequered flag signal on the electronic boards. This comes after a couple of errors, most recently in Canada last year, whereby the chequered flag was waved two laps early, officially bringing the race to a close. The flag will still be waved, but the revised regulation means that in the event of human error, the electronic boards will be the signal to abide by. 

Important dates for your diary

Launch season is only just over five weeks away, with pre-season testing getting going shortly after that, ahead of Australia’s season-opener in mid-March. The third round in China will mark the 1000th World Championship Grand Prix to be held since the inception of Formula 1 in 1950. The calendar is composed of the same 21 Grands Prix as in 2018, with the season finale set for December 1st in Abu Dhabi.

February 12 – Renault F1 launch
February 13 – Racing Point launch
February 15 – Ferrari launch
February 18 – 21 – Pre-season test 1, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
February 26 – March 1 – Pre-season test 2, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
March 15-17 – Australian Grand Prix