Rookies, comebacks and musical chairs. It’s all change on the driver front in 2019. Here’s our look at the 20 drivers who will take to the grid in Melbourne for the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season.
What’s changed for 2019?
In short, a lot. Just two teams – Mercedes and Haas – retain the same driver line-up as last year. Daniel Ricciardo’s surprise move from Red Bull to Renault was the catalyst for a series of driver changes, mostly in the midfield. Charles Leclerc’s promotion to Ferrari after just one season, albeit a very promising one, was a surprise to many in the Paddock. He swaps places with Kimi Räikkönen, who returns to Sauber, the team whom he debuted with back in 2001.
Three rookies will debut on the grid for 2019, all of whom graduated via Formula 2. In fact, George Russell (Williams), Lando Norris (McLaren) and Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) actually finished 1-2-3 in last year’s Formula 2 Championship! After two F1 starts for Sauber in early 2017, Antonio Giovinazzi also moves to a full-time race seat with the same team in 2019.
Finally, 2019 sees two drivers make unlikely comebacks. Eight years after he was seriously injured in a rally crash, Polish driver Robert Kubica will complete a fairytale return to the grid for Williams in 2019, while Russian driver Daniil Kvyat joins Toro Rosso (for the third time) after a year on the sidelines.
To make way for the new and returning drivers, six drivers have left Formula 1 in 2019. Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso has retired, while Esteban Ocon takes up a reserve driver role with Mercedes as he awaits a possible return to the grid in 2020. Swede Marcus Ericsson departs for IndyCar after six years in the sport, Stoffel Vandoorne has decamped to Formula E after two difficult seasons with McLaren and both Brendan Hartley (Toro Rosso) and Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) leave after just one full season of top-flight racing.
Here’s the full line-up of 20 drivers on the 2019 Formula 1 grid
#44 Lewis Hamilton #77 Valtteri Bottas
It’s all about consistency for the reigning World Champions. Lewis Hamilton won his fifth driver’s title in 2018, ably supported by Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas and the same line-up has been retained for 2019. Bottas failed to win a race last year however (notwithstanding bad luck in Baku and team orders in Russia) and reserve driver Esteban Ocon will be waiting in the wings should the Finn’s performances disappoint.
#5 Sebastian Vettel #16 Charles Leclerc
Sebastian Vettel won four titles in successive years with Red Bull, but moves into his fifth year with Ferrari in 2019 still chasing title number five. The German has finished runner-up in the last two years; can he go one better in 2019? He’ll certainly be kept on his toes by his 21-year old teammate, Charles Leclerc, who won the GP3 and Formula 2 titles at his first attempt on his way to Formula 1 and is considered one of the brightest prospects Formula 1 has seen in a long time.
#10 Pierre Gasly #33 Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen is still only 21 years old but is already a veteran of 81 race starts. After two wins and fourth place in last year’s Championship, the Dutchman will be looking to improve this year, provided the switch from Renault to Honda power pays off for Red Bull. After an impressive campaign that netted 29 points last year, including an excellent fourth place in Bahrain, Pierre Gasly graduates from Toro Rosso to Red Bull in 2019, but will he fare better than Daniel Ricciardo in a team that is increasingly being molded around Verstappen?
#3 Daniel Ricciardo #27 Nico Hulkenberg
After five years with Red Bull, including seven wins, Daniel Ricciardo has made the brave step over to Renault for 2019. Ricciardo will be hoping for a change of fortune and a fresh start after a very difficult campaign in 2018, which started positively with two early-season wins but went downhill with a total of eight retirements. Meanwhile, teammate Nico Hülkenberg enters his ninth F1 season still searching for that elusive podium. The German is undoubtedly quick, but may be running out of chances with a top-flight team to prove he’s got what it takes to succeed.
#8 Romain Grosjean #20 Kevin Magnussen
Haas retains Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for a third consecutive year following an excellent fifth place finish in the 2018 constructors’ standings. Grosjean had a poor start to the season last year, including several crashes, before racking up his first points finish with a fine fourth in Austria. Further point hauls in the second half of the season saw the French-Swiss driver retained for 2019, but he has some catching up to do against his young Danish teammate, Kevin Magnussen, who finished a more than credible 9th in the 2018 driver’s standings (to Grosjean’s 15th). Find out where you can meet the Haas drivers with F1 Experiences in 2019!
#4 Lando Norris #55 Carlos Sainz
McLaren will field an all-new driver line-up for 2019 after another disappointing campaign last year. Fresh from finishing runner-up in last year’s Formula 2 Championship, 19-year-old English driver Lando Norris will make his race debut alongside Carlos Sainz, a consistent racer who moves to his third F1 team in five years and is now at a critical point in his career. Whether McLaren will be able to deliver a car capable of regular points finishes remains to be seen.
#11 Sergio Pérez #18 Lance Stroll
After taking over the team in August 2018, the consortium of investors led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll surprised no-one by naming Lance Stroll as a driver for 2019. After a promising debut season behind the wheel of the Williams F40 in 2017, Stroll endured a very difficult sophomore year with its follow up, the FW41, and will be looking to move up the grid in 2019. He’ll be partnered alongside Sergio Pérez, the consistent Mexican who is going into his sixth season with the team.
#7 Kimi Räikkönen #99 Antonio Giovinazzi
Sauber were the surprise packet of 2018, scoring 48 points and moving off the bottom of the constructors table – mainly thanks to the efforts of young Monégasque driver Charles Leclerc. He may be gone for 2019, but the Iceman has returned! At 39, Kimi Räikkönen is the oldest driver on the grid for 2019, but is still driving with the same speed that netted him the World Championship in 2007. Partnering the Finn is young Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who gets a proper chance at F1 after testing for Ferrari in recent years.
#23 Alexander Albon #26 Daniil Kvyat
Red Bull’s second team will field a new driver line-up for 2019 as Daniil Kvyat returns from the wilderness for his third stint with the Faenza-based squad. The Russian driver is still just 24 years old and undoubtedly has the talent, having scored two podiums for Red Bull in 2015-2016. He will be partnered by Thai-British young gun Alexander Albon, who debuts in Formula 1 after finishing third in last year’s Formula 2 title, including four wins.
#63 George Russell #88 Robert Kubica
Williams will be hoping that a mixture of youth and experience, together with a better car, will propel them up the grid this year after a year to forget in 2018. Reigning Formula 2 Champion George Russell debuts alongside Polish race winner Robert Kubica, who returns to the sport eight years after a rally crash that almost saw him lose his arm.