Lewis Hamilton may be nearing a sixth world championship, but one of the major themes from F1 2019 has been the emergence of youth and a new generation of young drivers, with Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc establishing themselves as stars.
Between them, Verstappen and Leclerc have won four of the last six races – both enjoying intense battles with Hamilton – and look set to be contenders for the Englishman’s throne at the top of F1 in the coming years.
They aren’t the sport’s only rising stars, either. Three rookies in Alex Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell have also made their mark.
The future looks bright…
2019 form:Wins: 2; Podiums 5; Poles: 1; Qualifying vs team-mate 12-2; Race vs team-mate 11-3; Championship placing: 3rd
Although Verstappen doesn’t turn 22 until the end of this month, he could already qualify as a seasoned campaigner with the Dutchman in his fifth season of F1 and just five starts away from his 100th grand prix.
F1’s youngest-ever driver and race winner certainly made his mark early, first at Toro Rosso in 2015 and then, on the front-running scene, when he joined Red Bull after the opening four races of the next season and promptly won on his debut in Spain.
Six further victories have followed, including two in Austria and Germany this year, with Verstappen rivalling Hamilton as the best-performing driver in the first half of the season. While his season hasn’t quite re-ignited in the same way quite yet since the break, after a first-corner collision in Spa and engine penalties in Monza, Verstappen will be among the favourites in Singapore with Red Bull back on more favoured ground in higher-downforce conditions.
2019 form:Wins 2; Podiums: 7; Poles: 4; Qualifying vs team-mate 8-6; Races vs team-mate 6-8; Championship placing: 4th
F1’s man of the moment after back-to-back victories, the first two successes of the Monegasque’s career at the top level. Leclerc has been a Ferrari protégé since 2016, when he was signed to their driver academy. He has since won both of F1’s feeder series – what was GP3 and then F2 – before enjoying an eye-catching rookie year at Ferrari-engined Sauber in 2018.
Becoming the first member of Ferrari’s academy to graduate to one of the two most historic seats in F1, Leclerc has been quick from the off against four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, although it’s not been until recent months that he’s truly started to emerge as the Scuderia’s more consistent performer.
So much so that he heads to Singapore aiming to extend his qualifying streak over Sebastian Vettel to eight races and what’s now a 13-point lead over the German in the Drivers’ Championship.
The emerging rookies
2019 form:Best Qualifying Result: 8th; Best Race Result: 5th; Qualifying vs team-mate: 1-1 vs Verstappen, 5-7 vs Kvyat; Races vs team-mate: 2-0 vs Verstappen, 4-8 vs Kvyat; Championship placing: 9th
Just making the F1 grid alone represented a dramatic turnaround for Albon, who was axed from the Red Bull academy as a teenager and, after finishing an impressive third in F2 last year, was set for Formula E in 2019. But Toro Rosso came calling and, five months after making his F1 debut with the junior team, Albon was confirmed as Pierre Gasly’s replacement at Red Bull. Talk about a whirlwind year!
Albon earned his Red Bull shot after a strong first half of the season, when he was only marginally out-qualified and out-scored by Daniil Kvyat in his 12 races. Albon, who first drove an F1 far at 2019’s pre-season testing, also showed glimpses of dazzling potential, particularly in the wet in Germany when he was unlucky not to have secured a podium.
Red Bull saw that talent and considered him a safer supporting act to Verstappen than the struggling Gasly and, although just two races into his new role, Albon already seems the clear favourite to land the drive for 2020 after strong top-six finishes in both Belgium and Italy. Red Bull’s suspected improved form over the next seven races should give Albon a chance to go head-to-head with Verstappen towards the front. If 2019 is anything to go by, he’ll be up for that challenge.
2019 form:Best Qualifying Result: 5th; Best Race Result: 6th; Qualifying vs team-mate: 9-5; Races vs team-mate: 5-9; Championship placing: 14th
Although McLaren are rebuilding rather than battling for championships, the pressure of a front-running team remains for their drivers – particularly for their first homegrown rookie since Lewis Hamilton more than a decade ago. But Norris, just like Hamilton, was brought through the junior categories by McLaren and has flourished in his debut season on the big stage.
What has been most impressive about Norris, 19 and the youngest-ever British F1 driver, is his maturity and consistency. Norris is beating team-mate-turned-best friend Carlos Sainz in qualifying and while the more experienced Spaniard has delivered more often on race day, Norris has been plagued by misfortune. Take Belgium, for example, when he ran fifth for the whole race before breaking down on the final lap.
Norris has helped McLaren turn a leaf this season and, on this form, represents the prestigious team’s future. First of all, he’ll look to finish an impressive rookie season by solidifying McLaren’s fourth place in the championship while bolstering his own points tally.
2019 form:Best Qualifying Result: 16th; Best Race Result: 11th; Qualifying vs team-mate: 14-0; Races vs team-mate: 12-2; Championship placing: 20th
After beating both Norris and Albon to claim the F2 championship, Mercedes junior Russell entered F1 as a polished youngster with a glowing reputation. But while his fellow rookies have had the tools at their disposal to shine immediately at midfield teams, Russell joined a struggling Williams outfit who have been distant backrunners all season.