2019 will see four drivers enter Formula One and, with their previous credentials, it will see an exciting Rookie of the Year battle unfold. For the first time since 2010 we will see the top three drivers from the direct feeder series into Formula One, Formula Two, enter the championship with a full-time drive; 2010 saw Nico Hülkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and Lucas di Grassi promoted from GP2 (Formula Two’s predecessor). Two drivers entering the championship are also former winners of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, continuing its trend of spotting and honouring young talent.
Lando Norris – McLaren
Nineteen year old Lando Norris is the latest driver from the McLaren Young Driver Programme to be promoted by the team. Norris has had a very successful junior career dating back to 2014 when he competed in series supporting the British Touring Car Championship – Ginetta Juniors and subsequently MSA Formula (British F4) – before moving up to European and World Championships; between 2015 and 2017 Norris secured five titles. In 2018 Norris drove for Carlin in Formula Two and battled with fellow Brit George Russell for the title, as well as making his debut in a free practice session in Belgium in place of Fernando Alonso. McLaren are gradually moving back towards the front of the grid and expect to see Norris learn from his teammate Carlos Sainz to help make McLaren regular points scorers, and maybe even enter the top five before the season ends.
George Russell – Williams
A member of Mercedes’ young driver programme George Russell moves up to Formula One having secured the GP3 and Formula Two championships in the past two seasons. Williams have recently become known for bringing young talent onto the grid, and being partnered with Robert Kubica I’m sure Russell will flourish with the team. Sadly Williams have struggled in 2018 scoring only seven points, and will certainly expect to move higher up the order and back to the levels they were at in 2016. It is almost inevitable that Russell may struggle early on, but with some prior track knowledge from his time in the lower formulas, expect to see him battling for points by the halfway point of the season. I believe that by joining Williams Russell will be able to progress quite quickly and should hopefully remain a part of the team for the next few years.
Alexander Albon – Toro Rosso
Back in September Alex Albon had been signed by Nissan e.dams to compete in Season 5 of Formula E, before being released from his contract to partner the returning Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso; Albon had previously been a member of the Red Bull Junior Team. When Albon lines up on the grid in Australia he will become the first Thai driver since Prince Bira competed in the early 1950s. Although Albon has not secured a title in his junior career, he has finished on the overall championship podium in three series in the last four years. Unlike his fellow rookies Albon has also not driven in an official Formula One session, Red Bull have clearly been keeping an eye on his progress by choosing to promote him rather than retain Brendon Hartley. Toro Rosso has become more consistent in recent years and expect to see Albon finishing in the points quite early on, but Kvyat will be fighting hard to establish himself once more.
Antonio Giovinazzi – Sauber
Despite making his Formula One debut last year with the team – in place of the injured Pascal Wehrlein – Antonio Giovinazzi will be making his full-time debut having spent 2018 with Ferrari as their reserve driver. Giovinazzi will be hoping the forget his two Grand Prix last year as despite a twelfth place finish in Australia, he spectacularly crashed out in China, but knowledge of these two tracks will be key to giving a slight advantage at the start of the year over his fellow rookies. The Italian has effectively spent the year on the bench but finished in fifth in the GTE Pro class at Le Mans; this won’t have hindered him though as he would have gained a valuable insight in to working with Ferrari. With Sauber now becoming one of the top teams in the mid-field, points finishes should be a regular occurrence for Giovinazzi, and with Kimi Räikkönen on the other side of the garage they should be a force to be reckoned with in 2019.
We are now seeing a generational shift in Formula One, particularly following the retirements of some of the championship’s big names, and these four drivers will be hoping that they can be the one to set the next benchmark for others to strive for. It is hard to predict which of these four drivers will come out on top in 2019, but don’t expect it to be anything less than enthralling.