Jolyon Palmer column: Formula 1's winners and losers so far in 2019

Jolyon Palmer

Former F1 driver Jolyon Palmer, who left Renault during the 2017 season, is part of the BBC team and offers insight and analysis from the point of view of the competitors

Formula 1 is on a summer break after a hectic run of five races in seven weeks, so this seems like a good time to reflect on the first part of the season.

With 12 races down and nine to go, some teams and drivers have had a good first 'half' of 2019... and some much less so.

This is my verdict on the year's winners and losers so far.

WINNERS

Hamilton and Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have been a record-breaking combination in 2019.

Ferrari showed testing promise in Barcelona, but it was Mercedes who flew out of the blocks at the first race in Melbourne, and displayed utter dominance for much of the first part of the season.

Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas were trading blows in the early races - indeed Bottas actually had the edge in qualifying up until Monaco.

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton (r) has won eight races this season while Valtteri Bottas has two victories

But Hamilton has been the man to shift up a gear when the going has got tougher - and it has, because both Ferrari and Red Bull have become more regular threats to the Mercedes dominance as spring turned to summer.

Bottas has wilted away and is now a massive 62 points behind his team-mate, while Hamilton has remained on near-perfect form with his team, aside from the chaos of Germany where both team and driver faltered.

This is a partnership that is heading towards another title, and another record - the first team to win six consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships. They might as well start engraving the trophies now.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen
It has been a good season to be a Max Verstappen fan - he has won twice and also secured pole position in Hungary in the last race

Max Verstappen has been the only driver not to make any significant mistakes this year, and arguably has been the strongest across the season so far.

The Red Bull car was not as quick as Ferrari or Mercedes in the early races, yet Verstappen was constantly in podium contention.

Now that Red Bull has taken a step forward, Verstappen is a constant menace to Mercedes. Two wins in the last four races - and almost a third in Hungary last weekend, but for a superlative performance from the Mercedes/Hamilton combination - show Verstappen is driving at the top of his game.

Two front rows and a pole position since Austria in late June prove the Dutchman now has qualifying sorted as well, and I expect the Verstappen/Hamilton rivalry seen in Hungary to be a regular feature in the second half of the season.

Honda

Red Bull's engine partner is the unsung hero of 2019. In a new partnership with Red Bull, the Japanese company has absolutely come into its own. The engine is still down on ultimate performance compared to Ferrari and Mercedes, but the progress it has made has been frightening.

Winning races and now a first pole position in the hybrid era are well-deserved achievements for an engine manufacturer that was dragged through the mud in recent years during its ill-fated partnership with McLaren.

Toro Rosso's strong performances this season are proof this isn't just a Red Bull special.

Daniil Kvyat took Toro Rosso's first podium for more than 10 years with Honda power in Germany, and while Red Bull started slowly, the progression curve they have shown should be a worry to Mercedes looking forward to next year.

The British rookies

Lando Norris and George Russell
McLaren's Lando Norris (l) and Williams driver George Russell (r) have been competitive this season

It's not just Hamilton who has done a good job this year; the other Brits have been fantastic as well.

Both rookies Lando Norris and George Russell might have been expected to take some time to bed in, but they have both been extremely quick from the outset.

Norris has been faster than team-mate Carlos Sainz fairly convincingly across the first 12 races, although he trails him by a long way in the standings.

That's partly because of some unreliability for Norris in Canada, France and Germany, while Sainz has also been very impressive in his own right, with great drives in Austria and Germany in particular. As a whole, McLaren are on the up.

Russell has had a tougher time, because of the difficult position in which the Williams team find themselves, but he has done everything that could be expected of him

He has utterly demolished Robert Kubica in the team-mate stakes except from in Germany - and that will no doubt hurt as his fellow Williams driver somehow took the team's only point so far.

With Williams showing more potential in Hungary, Russell will be hopeful of more eventful outings for the second half of the season to truly show his potential.

There should also be honourable mentions for Kimi Raikkonen for proving he's still got it as he approaches 40 in the Alfa Romeo, and Anglo-Thai rookie Alexander Albon, who like Russell and Norris has had a very encouraging start to his Formula 1 career at Toro Rosso.

LOSERS

Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel
Several mistakes over the last year have cost Sebastian Vettel dearly

Ferrari have underperformed massively in 2019. From being pre-season favourites, they've faltered relentlessly in every aspect.

The car lacked pure speed early on and Mercedes leapt to an unassailable lead in the standings, but Ferrari also lacked reliability, which cost Charles Leclerc a win in Bahrain. Further reliability issues have hampered both drivers in Germany and Sebastian Vettel in Austria, leaving them to start from well down the order.

But it's not just the car that's been poor. The drivers have made too many errors as well.

Vettel threw away a strong result in Bahrain with a spin, and a good chance of a win in Canada with his grass-tracking moment and subsequent penalty.

Leclerc has emerged as slightly the quicker driver in the last few races, but he is equally guilty of making too many mistakes - although he at least has the slight extenuating circumstances of still being very inexperienced in just his second season.

The 21-year-old threw away a chance of victory in Baku with a qualifying crash, and then another chance in Germany went begging as he slithered into the wall. He was also extremely lucky to get away with an accident at the start of qualifying in Hungary.

Operationally Ferrari have been poor as well.

The strategy can be questioned for Leclerc losing a win in Austria - he started on the wrong tyres and pitted too early.

Monaco qualifying was a mess, with Leclerc sat in the garage as he went out at the end of the first part of qualifying because Ferrari assumed he would be safe - only for him to end up knocked out.

All in all, this has been one of the most dismal halves of a season for Ferrari and it culminated with them finishing more than a minute away from the win in Budapest. Hamilton could have done five pit stops and still beaten both Ferraris.

There are positives, though. The car has had the pace to win at least four races - Bahrain, Baku, Canada and Austria - and is extremely fast in a straight line. The next two tracks of Spa and Monza have historically been a happy hunting ground for the Italian team and they should suit the car down to the ground.

Ferrari will arrive at both races as favourites in spite of their woes thus far. If they can put those issues behind them and pull off a result in Belgium and/or Italy, they could still feature well in the remaining races.

Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly hasn't turned up yet in 2019. Since his switch to Red Bull, he has been nowhere near team-mate Verstappen, and the pressure is mounting.

Two pre-season crashes set the tone for the Frenchman and it was clear he was struggling to adapt to his new surroundings.

Being lapped by his team-mate en route to Verstappen's first win of the season in Austria would have been a particular low point, especially as Gasly actually got ahead of Verstappen on the first lap. He was lapped again in Hungary on Sunday.

But in reality there are low points everywhere for Gasly this season. He has a lot of talent - he showed it last year with Toro Rosso - but the fact he's yet to beat his best result from last year is telling.

I sometimes wonder if there's more than meets the eye here, because of the extent of the deficit to Verstappen, all of the time.

Ultimately, I can't see Gasly turning this around in the second half of the season either and it looks fairly ominous for the young driver right now.

Renault

Renault
Renault appear to have taken a step backwards so far in 2019

Renault - and Daniel Ricciardo in particular - have had something of a horror show in 2019. Having made some steady progress since returning in 2016, this season the French manufacturer looks to have taken a leap backwards, in spite of signing a proven race winner in Ricciardo.

For Ricciardo this must be humbling. He left Red Bull, who now look stronger than they ever were in the years the Aussie was at the helm, and now Renault have taken a step backwards for good measure.

One points finish for Ricciardo in the last five races sums it up, while team-mate Nico Hulkenburg has struggled equally - or perhaps even more - in the other car.

The engine looks to have taken a step forward, but reliability remains an Achilles' heel - four retirements can be attributed to the engine.

The car overall, though, is just too slow, and Renault have slipped to sixth in the constructors' standings.

Unless they can make a big step in the next few races, they could be looking over their shoulder at Alfa Romeo for the rest of the year, rather than aiming for fourth and bridging the gap to the big three, which was their ambition at the start of the season.

What's the negative version of an 'honourable mention'? I'm not sure. Whatever it is, Bottas gets one for fading away dramatically after a very strong start, as do Haas, who are having all manner of troubles with their car, the tyres and also their drivers clashing too often.

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