Having enjoyed an outstandingly close dispute involving all of the likes of Renault, Force India, Haas and Sauber in the 2018 season, we can expect even more as a large part of the F1 grid undergoes a historical rejuvenation in the upcoming year. Other than that, two primary characters involved in podium fights in recent times will descend into the midfield, bearing such bulky names as Kimi Räikkönen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo, a 29-year-old talent still on the rise with seven GP wins in his CV, was substantially forced by a more than uneasy relationship with Red Bull authority Helmut Marko to join a Renault team that vows to catch up with the very best sooner or later. However, with the French équipe having to swallow the pill of being outperformed by even the Honda Power Unit in the closing stages of the recent campaign, there is no guarantee that they will wave off the midfield fight next year. Singling out Renault’s next target to pull clear of F1’s midfield teams, when questioned by Autosport about the rise to the top, technical chief Marcin Budkowski admitted candidly: "Our objective is to continue progressing strongly, and to be honest, reducing that gap is a real achievement.
"I certainly hope we can fight much closer to them in 2020. But I am not going to make any predictions because it would be unreasonable.”
"We really need to establish ourselves, get out of the midfield, and be a team that is starting to get closer to the top guys.”
However, Budkowski could not indicate a proper term for this objective to be fulfilled, which suggests Renault are in no way sure to gain a significant gap over this year’s midfield rivals.
Räikkönen, instead, reunites after 17 years with the Sauber team that kicked off his F1 career, entering the midfield as a pillar expected to school his rivals thanks to his nearly vicennial experience – and with a recent race win to his name. He joins a team that has seen its form rise dramatically in the latest season, drawing advantage from both the bright talent of Charles Leclerc and the Alfa Romeo partnership, resulting in excellent contribution of engineering staff coming chiefly from Ferrari (e.g. Technical Director Simone Resta).
While the Finn is supposed to have the upper hand over debutant Giovinazzi at least in the initial term, the Aussie is expected to face a trying challenge right from the off, having to contend with the latest midfield ‘champion’ in the shape of Nico Hülkenberg: one that has long been regarded as a potential top-team candidate, but has only been continuously honing his blades in the middle of the order so far. "Probably it will be very challenging and I might have to find another gear” the German told Autosport about the incoming duel with Ricciardo. Such a challenge might galvanize or dispirit the German racer, and will probably define once and for all his role in the pecking order.
Looking on to another much-awaited season, however, there springs little doubt that Räikkönen and Ricciardo are poised to inherit the role of leaders in a midfield battle which, with the Iceman’s solid experience, tyre feeling and tactical skills, versus the Honey-Badger’s grit and overtaking masterclass, could come out as a real cracker to enjoy from the edge of the seat.