Old and new faces are the order of the day for Racing Point F1 and Williams Racing as we continue our look at F1’s teammate battles for 2019.
For the drivers in both teams 2019 will be about proving the doubters wrong. For some it will also be about making a case for moving up the F1 grid.
Sergio Perez – Racing Point F1
Perez finds himself in a bit of a catch 22 this season.
To safeguard his reputation as one of the best drivers not in a top drive it is essential he has Lance Stroll covered for the entire season. For his future prospects, it might be worth letting Stroll beat him occassionally to keep Stroll Snr on side.
It is hard to see, however, what Perez can get from this season.
Renault are pushing on aggressively, Alfa Romeo (Sauber) look very quick and Haas (plus their ‘might be a little bit dodgy’ new sponsor) are talking up their chances. The battle for best of the rest might even feature a cameo from McLaren so Racing Point’s usual slot as team 4 on the grid is seriously in question.
Stroll Snr has brought new budget to a team synonymous with doing more with less but will that be enough to fend off the opposition? Spare parts and development has been in short supply for the team during the Barcelona pre-season tests suggesting the cash injection is yet to bare fruit.
Perez may well find himself fighting deep in the midfield and fighting to keep himself in contention at his ‘new’ team.
Lance Stroll – Racing Point F1
In a small way we should feel sorry for Lance Stroll. Given that he is the son of a multi-billionaire and walked a short path to F1 paved with bundles of cash I can understand why you might disagree but stay with me.
If he beats Sergio Perez – once McLaren’s next big thing – instead of it raising his stock in F1, it will likely lead to assumptions that it’s his dad’s team and there is some sort of conspiracy going on. Lose to Perez and he’s back to being the spoiled brat who can’t even beat a teammate in his own family team.
Stroll may have escaped the nightmare that was (is) Williams for the warm embrace of his father’s team. But in exchange for his freedom he lines up against probably the toughest teammate he has ever faced in his short F1 career. Perez is quick and has a habit of finishing in the points regularly, something Stroll has yet to master.
Matching the Mexican’s pace during qualifying will be a challenge but the greater issues is how the 20-year-old performs in race trim. Perez’s race craft and ability to make risky tire strategies work played a big part in Martin Whitmarsh’s decision to sign him for McLaren. Stroll is yet to show the maturity and calmness under pressure to make such strategies – often integral to the midfield pack – work.
Robert Kubica – Williams Racing
Despite the romance that surrounds Kubica’s return, the harsh reality is that the Pole cannot be as quick or consistent as he used to be. If he had been, Williams would have partnered the 34-year-old with Lance Stroll last season and not opted for Sergey Sirotkin.
But given how talented Kubica was in his prime, even at 60-70% of his previous abilities surely he could still be good enough to beat most drivers on the grid? That would probably be the case if the back of the grid still featured journeyman drivers like Marcus Ericsson, but it does not. Whilst the big three teams are streaking away, the difference between finishing ‘best of the rest’ and plum last is getting very small.
The problems Wiliams have experienced during pre-season testing – missing almost all of the first test – mean it would come as no surprise if Kubica and George Russell were propping up the grid in Melbourne. But for Kubica, just getting back on the grid at all is a massive achievement. Even if it means occupying grid slot number 20.
The former Sauber and Renault driver may be a shadow of his former self. His pace may have gone but that all pales into insignificance really. Kubica’s steely determination and bravery remains, perhaps stronger than ever. Simply qualifying and finishing races will be a huge achievement, even if it is behind his rookie teammate.
George Russell – Williams Racing
Russell’s time at Williams is one long audition to see if the Brit or the sidelined Esteban Ocon joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes if/when Bottas gets his marching orders. Lining up against Kubica ‘mark 2’ however is not ideal for the reigning F2 champion as he looks to polish up his CV for big job.
Blow Kubica away and the notoriously cynical F1 paddock is likely to focus on what the Pole has lost since his horrific rallying accident in 2011. Struggle against Kubica and eyebrows will be raised that the young Brit cannot get on terms with a driver who, to all intents and purposes, is driving his F1 car singlehandedly.
However, given the high regard Russell is held in by the management at Mercedes and the extent of Kubica’s limited mobility, expect the 21-year-old to have the better of his famed colleague. Certainly by the time the season returns to the familiar European circuits, if not well before.
Up next: F1 teammate battles and what is riding on them: Alfa Romeo Racing and Haas F1.