Six things we learned from the 2019 Formula One season

Paris (AFP) –


Lewis Hamilton left no room for doubt that he deserved his sixth drivers' world championship title with a dominant victory in Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his fifth at Yas Marina, his 11th in 21 races this year and the 84th of his career.

Yet it was his future as much as his current and past achievements that attracted most attention during the weekend.

Here, AFP Sport looks at six things we learned from the 2019 Formula One season, with the start of the next campaign on March 15 in Melbourne:

Peerless Hamilton remains the man to beat

Hamilton's 'Grand Slam' triumph was built on claiming a record-extending 88th pole position of his career on Saturday, his first since the German Grand Prix.

His relative slump in the second half of the 2019 season coincided with the rise of Charles Leclerc and Ferrari, whose car was found to have carried an irregular fuel load in post-race investigations.

The 34-year-old remains the man to beat as Max Verstappen and Red Bull seek to close the gap along with Leclerc and an inconsistent Sebastian Vettel.

"It's so important to end the season on a high because you go into the winter break on a high," said 2016 champion Nico Rosberg.

"I think Lewis has learned his lesson because in my time he dropped the ball at the end of the season after he sealed the championship and that let me win the last three races."

Rosberg completed 2015 with a hat-trick of victories before winning the opening four races in 2016 on his way to the title.

Vettel at the cross-roads

Vettel has always been a family man who protects his privacy, but on Saturday he admitted he was missing his own wife and children.

Three days after the birth of his third child and first son, he conceded that he felt torn by a desire to stay at home.

"I want to bring the season to a good end, but at the same time, of course, I would like to be home with my wife so I am torn," he said.

He has endured a season of inconsistency and frustrations.

The German was left furious at having victory in Canada taken from him by a time-penalty for a collision with Hamilton and had to wait until Singapore in September to end a year-long drought without a win.

"Personally, I have to do a lot better next year," he said after finishing fifth on Sunday.

New generation have arrived

The sight of Verstappen and Leclerc on the podium with Hamilton in Abu Dhabi confirmed the arrival in 2019 of the new generation of drivers.

Red Bull's aggressive young Dutchman and the elegant Monegasque appear set to scrap for the drivers' championship many times in the next decade, but they are not the only rising stars who broke through this year.

Briton Lando Norris showed at McLaren, where he out-qualified the more experienced and highly-rated Spaniard, Carlos Sainz, 11-10, that he has speed and intelligence –- and could become a front-running force as the former champions continue their renaissance.

London-born Thai Alexander Albon, another rookie, shone so brightly at Toto Rosso in the first half of the season that he was promoted to Red Bull in a swap with Pierre Gasly.

And down at the back of the grid, another rookie in Briton George Russell impressed with consistent speed –- out-qualifying Robert Kubica 21-0 over the season –- to justify forecasts that as a Mercedes junior he could soon switch from the tail-enders to the champions.

Family stresses overlooked in expansion plans

Valtteri Bottas's announcement in Abu Dhabi that he was splitting from his wife after three years of marriage underlined the challenge to relationships and families presented by the ever-growing scale of Formula One.

Next year will see a 22-race season introduced by the sport's American owners, Liberty Media, a calendar that includes a first trip to Vietnam in April and the return of the Dutch Grand Prix in May, subject to final confirmation.

Hamilton was supported by other drivers and team members when he warned of the affects of the endless pressures and stresses that will see some individuals on the road from the opening tests in February until the final race in Abu Dhabi on November 29.

Verstappen set to shake off 'Mad Max' tag in title bid

Verstappen has set himself a goal for the future after emerging as the man most likely to end Lewis Hamilton's domination and Mercedes' supremacy with his strong finish to the 2019 season.

In 2020, he will have a 'home' race at Zandvoort where even the sand dunes are likely to be painted orange and a determination to shake off his tag as a fast, sometimes wild and inconsistent racer.

"It's important that we keep this momentum going into 2020," said Verstappen. "We want to beat Mercedes and our ultimate goal is to dominate in the same way that Mercedes do."

Canada to celebrate driver duo in Montreal

Canadian Grand Prix race promoter Francois Dumontier flew to Abu Dhabi to witness the announcement of Nicholas Latifi as a Williams driver for 2020 –- knowing that it would mean two of his countrymen on the grid in Montreal next year.

"Two Canadians in F1 on a permanent basis is a very historic and exciting moment," he said, referring to Latifi's prospective rookie season and Lance Stroll's continuation with Racing Point, a team part-owned by his father Lawrence Stroll.

Latifi's father Michael has already bought a substantial share of McLaren and may be helping to bankroll his son's progress with Williams.

The sons of billionaires may point to a future filled with north American investment into F1.