F1 2019 end of season awards: The Golden Grahams

We know how the latest F1 season went down, but who are the real winners? Here are The Golden Grahams: awards as prestigious as their name…

Driver of the year

Let’s start with an easy one. Lewis Hamilton has always had extraordinary pace and flair, but his previous flaws – the odd error; the occasional weekend no-show – now appear firmly in the past. A great driver, now operating at something like his peak.

A few will note, with justification, that in 2019 Max Verstappen did about as much with the equipment he had. But in Formula 1 there’s always premium value in Getting The Job Done. Hamilton in ’19 very much did, and now even Michael Schumacher’s totemic records are in range.

Team of the year

Tricky one this. Mercedes as usual swept the board. It did so by making the best of what it had, though what it had wasn’t quite as much more than the rest than has been the case. Red Bull did well with a new and hardly-proven engine partner, though as it often seems to these days it left itself too much to do championship-wise with a slow-ish start. Ferrari had a fast car but… well, you know the rest.

So how about we give this to an old-fashioned story of redemption (it’s the time of year for it after all)? McLaren spent years stagnating, and ended 2018 slower even than Williams. Yet in 2019, the team – streamlined, restructured and rearmed – was firmly best of the rest outside the ‘big three’, absolutely as it good as it could have been, and what’s more improved as the year went on. McLaren also at the same time became just about the most open, perma-smiling and likeable team out there. Which from a certain perspective was about as unlikely.

Race of the year

The season didn’t have much title tension but made up for it with very good races. Canada had the controversy; Monaco the tension (we won’t mention France. Or Abu Dhabi for that matter). Hungary had its fine strategic chasedown by Lewis Hamilton on Max Verstappen, while the Austrian race was excellent, Max this time doing the chasing. But the madcap wet-to-dry-to-who-knows-what German race gets the nod. It even had its own private skating rink.

Drive of the year

This is another competitive field. Carlos Sainz can point at coming from the back to eighth in Austria – and with front-wing damage – as well as somehow bagging third from the back on very spent tyres in Brazil. Hamilton and Charles Leclerc impressed us plenty of times. Yet it’s hard to topple Max Verstappen’s drive to win in Austria, coming through the pack like a heat-seeking missile having dropped to eighth early on, and topping it off with a robust last-lap pass to win.

Newcomer of the year

A story of two-and-a-half Englishmen. Alex Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell all have compelling claims, and I’ve plumped for the last of these three. The lack of context from his situation off the back with Williams made Russell’s season hard to judge, but equally it’s hard to conclude that more could have been asked of him. Plus after a year of putting a brave face on having to haul around his recalcitrant machine he needs all the plaudits he can get.

Overtake of the year

Sainz’s fingerprints are on this one too, with his high-stakes last-gasp divebomb to pass Nico Hulkenberg in Abu Dhabi and therefore nab sixth place in the drivers’ table. Max Verstappen was racy as always, quintessentially with his around-the-outside pass to beat Lewis Hamilton in Brazil. But I’ll give this one to the wily Kimi Raikkonen, who in Hockenheim’s treacherous conditions managed to go in a blink from looking like Sebastian Vettel was going to pass him to not only hold him off but pass Kevin Magnussen too. Also us 40-somethings need to stick together.

Innovation of the year

Liberty, after its rather accident-prone previous year, sharpened up its act in 2019 and it even ended the year with something like a coherent plan for F1’s brave new world from 2021.

Liberty retained its desire to innovate this year too, and once again not all of its wheezes hit the mark (I mean, a perfume range?) Yet Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’ documentary, which dropped just before the season’s start, was a revelation in more ways than one.

Ferrari goof-up of the year

Ferrari meanwhile in 2019 could have filled a Game of Thrones-style epic all on its own. It totalled an extraordinary number of operational mistakes and driver errors (more on that one anon), as well as some unreliability, all of which turned nine poles into just three wins, and – possibly – a title challenge into a distant runner-up. Dealing with its warring drivers would have strained any team but even so one rarely had the impression of the Scuderia playing its hand all that well. And its drivers accounting for each other in Brazil topped the lot.

Sebastian Vettel goof-up of the year

Another rich one. The spin in Bahrain battling with Lewis Hamilton, his off in Canada (even allowing that its consequences were disproportionate), barrelling into Max Verstappen at Silverstone, Brazil we’ve mentioned. But his Monza antics get this one. Partly because of its lousy timing but also that it was the sort of thing that would fail you a driving test let alone anything else.

Revelation of the year

McLaren would likely be in this mix but it’s won a gong already – and my awards, my rules. Honda gets an honourable mention. As does Pierre Gasly who had a magnificent second part of the year at Toro Rosso after the sort of unceremonious Red Bull dumping which many before him have not really recovered from. And while Leclerc stretches the definition of ‘revelation’, given it was clear before this year that he was going places, still going into a top-level high-pressure team and flat beating the incumbent multiple world champion on points and pace is not to be underestimated.

But still they all are trumped by Carlos Sainz. Twelve months ago he showed preliminary signs of being a busted flush; he even likely wouldn’t have got the McLaren drive for this year had Esteban Ocon not procrastinated. But in 2019 he was firmly among the best five driving performers: consistent, polished and fast. How Red Bull must regret not keeping him on some kind of leash.

Radio transmission of the year

McLaren is all over this one too, such as F1’s new meme king Lando Norris having his emotional farewell with his engineer in Abu Dhabi, wondering if he needed to keep Daniel Ricciardo behind “like forever” in Austria, as well as his Austin karaoke. The ubiquitous Sainz had a few contenders too, such as his own serenading after finishing fifth in Hungary.

Yet the Woking squad with its quantity just misses out on quality, as this one goes to Valtteri Bottas with his wonderfully restrained-then-not ‘To whom it may concern…’, after his against-the-odds obliterating of Melbourne’s season-opener. It somehow strikes more readily when it comes from the guy you’d least expect.

Men in white suits award

Football fans of a certain vintage will recall the FA Cup final that Liverpool’s players turned up for dressed in garish white suits. Had they won, little more would have been said of the crime against fashion. Trouble is, they lost. And in those circumstances observers can’t help themselves drawing inferences.

Mercedes this year became the latest to learn this lesson. To celebrate the marque’s 125th anniversary the team rocked up at Hockenheim with a special livery and team members decked in retro 1950s gear. But there it had its most chaotic race of the season. “It shows that you shouldn’t fool around with stuff,” Toto Wolff mused afterwards.

Brass (neck) award

Formula 1 past has no shortage of, um, interesting sponsors and equally, um, interesting individuals associated with them. My personal favourite involved church organs and doing a flit to an otherwise-uninhabited Scottish island with £1,000 in a briefcase.

But I digress. As 2019 contained one for the annals in sometime backer of Haas, the energy-drink company Rich Energy and its former CEO William Storey.

The various curiouser-and-curiouser stages of that tale are by now well-documented, though claiming that you were ending the sponsor arrangement on grounds that included you were expecting Haas to beat Red Bull has to be the hottest of takes. Before the year was out its decals were removed.

The Max Verstappen award for learning when to take the Fifth

Q: Did you back off?

Max Verstappen: It didn’t really look like it, did it? No.

Q: Why didn’t you back off then, if you saw the yellow?

Max: Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Q: Well it might, if the FIA look into it.

Max: Well, then delete my lap. The second. The other lap was fine as well.

Q: Not from a safety perspective? Any concerns?

Max: Do we have to go there? To safety? I think we know what we are doing – otherwise we would not be driving an F1 car. It’s qualifying and, yeah, you go for it. But like I said before, if they want to delete the lap, then delete the lap.

The trouble for Max is the actual penalty for not backing off under a yellow – as he didn’t on his final lap of Mexico qualifying with pole already in the bag – is three places…

Daniel Ricciardo moment of the year