Driver reviews: McLaren, Renault, STR, Racing Point

In round two of three, PlanetF1 delves into the performances of every driver, now it’s the turn of McLaren, Renault, Toro Rosso and Racing Point.

All qualifying averages are calculated based on when both drivers competed free of issues or factors outside of their control.

McLaren

Carlos Sainz

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 10-11
Average gap in qualifying: -0.06s
Race battle v team-mate: 13-8
Best finish: P3 (Brazil)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 66% (96 of 145 points)

Carlos Sainz says his last-lap battle to secure P6 in the Drivers' standings felt like a "World Championship" battle.

2019 has been a real feel-good story when it comes to McLaren, finally after years of under-performance we saw the eight-time Constructors’ champions take a big step towards recovery.

And the driving force, pun intended, behind their rise to P4 in the Constructors’ was Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard was happy to escape the Red Bull shackles and settle down into a long-term deal with McLaren, and that has shown on the track.

His first podium in F1 at the Brazilian GP was a reward for what has been a very solid season for Sainz, and he crowned it with a last-lap lunge on Nico Hulkenberg which secured him P6 in the Drivers’ Championship – the first person outside of Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari to break into the top six since 2015.

66% of McLaren’s 145 points came courtesy of Sainz this year, and he will look to score even more in 2020 as they aim to take a step closer to the top three.

Lando Norris

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 11-10
Average gap in qualifying: +0.06s
Race battle v team-mate: 8-13
Best finish: P6 (Bahrain, Austria)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 34% (49 of 145 points)

Norris came into F1 this season as the cheeky 19-year-old who finished runner up to George Russell in the 2018 F2 Championship, and we’ve already grown to love him.

The plucky Brit and Sainz have struck up one of the most entertaining partnerships that we have seen in a long time, and it has been refreshing to see his personality allowed to shine through despite all that’s at stake.

Who will forget Lando Norris’ “I’m moving up and down, side to side, like a rollercoaster” response to a radio check, or when he was moved to tears on the radio as he spoke to his departing engineer Andrew Jarvis in Abu Dhabi.

But on top of all the funny business, Norris has delivered a solid first campaign. He snatched the qualifying battle 11-10 against Sainz in Abu Dhabi, and if it wasn’t for some terrible luck, like his retirement from P5 in Belgium on the last lap, then the race and Championship statistics would have probably looked much closer.

Norris admitted in Abu Dhabi that over time his relationship with Sainz probably will change, but what he’s doing right now is certainly working, and it’s clear that the future is bright for Norris.

Renault

Daniel Ricciardo

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 14-7
Average gap in qualifying: -0.11s
Race battle v team-mate: 11-8 (Double retirement at German GP, double DQ at Japanese GP)
Best finish: P4 (Italy)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 59% (54 of 91 points)

The Aussie may be keeping a brave face saying 2019 wasn’t a year to forget, but let’s be real, it absolutely was.

Ricciardo made the move from Red Bull to Renault for 2019 – the French manufacturer had finished ‘best of the rest’ P4 in 2018 and were keen to build on that, but this year they’ve gone backwards.

For large parts of 2019 they could match McLaren for pace, but a lack of consistency when it came to putting it together in the race cost them.

Still, Ricciardo enjoys bragging rights after winning the qualifying and race battles against team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, while also scoring more points than the German.

P4 at Monza was a solid achievement for Ricciardo – Renault found a surge in performance and their star man took full advantage.

As for next year Ricciardo will have a new team-mate in the form of Esteban Ocon. But, Ricciardo has been blunt in saying that he will “cross that bridge” if Renault don’t show signs in 2020 that they can compete with the big boys in 2021.

The team themselves have stated their desire to have a junior driver in a race seat for 2021, so is the clock ticking on Ricciardo’s time with Renault already?

Nico Hulkenberg

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-14
Average gap in qualifying: +0.11s
Race battle v team-mate: 8-11 (Double retirement at German GP, double DQ at Japanese GP)
Best finish: P5 (Italy)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 41% (37 of 91 points)

Williams haven't held talks with Nico Hulkenberg over a 2020 drive.

As we bid farewell to the 2019 season, we do so as well to Hulkenberg. For a while it seemed he was heading to Haas, but eventually every door was slammed shut and he was left without a drive for 2020.

Hulkenberg did say he was “relieved” to get the Abu Dhabi GP over with and move on from F1, but he likely won’t be satisfied with what could be his last season in the series.

Once Ricciardo was bedded into the Renault team, he became the dominant driver, though Hulkenberg did throw a golden opportunity away to claim his first F1 podium at the German GP.

A bit like that race, Hulkenberg’s career has always promised so much but delivered little – it may be would have been nice to see him in a title-contending car, there were of course calls for Red Bull to sign him, but the chances of that were always slim and…did he ever really deserve one?

Toro Rosso

Pierre Gasly

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-2
Average gap in qualifying: -0.33s
Race battle v team-mate: 5-4
Best finish: P2 (Brazil)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 38% (32 of 85 points)

Pierre Gasly describes Brazil P2 as "best day of my life".

A broken and dejected Gasly was demoted over the summer break from Red Bull back to Toro Rosso, but it did him the world of good.

Quickly the Frenchman got back into is stride and saw off Daniil Kvyat in both the qualifying and race head-to-heads. The fact his average qualifying lap was 0.33s faster than the Russian also makes for impressive reading.

Of course his greatest achievement of the season, and his career, came in Brazil where he secured a P2 finish. It was his first podium in F1 and that drag race to the line against Lewis Hamilton will go down as a truly iconic moment.

Gasly would have gotten away with P6 in the Drivers’ Championship too, if it wasn’t for that “f*cking Stroll”.

Daniil Kvyat

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 2-7
Average gap in qualifying: +0.33s
Race battle v team-mate: 4-5
Best finish: P3 (Germany)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 44% (37 of 85 points)

Daniil Kvyat ready for another shot at a big team

While Kvyat has his own comeback story to tell for 2019, he can’t be happy with how it has played out overall.

First of all though let’s give the credit that’s due – his P3 in Germany was Toro Rosso’s first since 2008 and he richly deserved it after surviving the barmy weather to bring his STR14 home.

But, the Russian has also missed out on two big opportunities this season. When that seat at Red Bull was going he couldn’t convince the team to recall him over a rookie in Alex Albon, while he then had the chance to pile further misery on Gasly, which he failed to do.

Across the board Gasly had the upper hand in the second half of the season, and Kvyat must find a way to up his game in 2020 as the duo kick off the team’s new era as Alpha Tauri.

Racing Point

Sergio Perez

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 18-3
Average gap in qualifying: -0.22s
Race battle v team-mate: 16-5
Best finish: P6 (Azerbaijan, Belgium)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 71% (52 of 73 points)

Sergio Perez scores points in Japan despite crashing out.

Perez hoped that Racing Point would finish 2019 with the fourth-fastest car, sadly it didn’t work out that way. But it was the team’s first full season after the financial meltdown of Force India in August last year, so progress was always going to be steady.

What the Mexican has done though is comprehensively beat the owner’s son Lance Stroll in every area. That form earned him a new three-year deal, putting an end to the year-by-year contracts which previously dictated his career with the team.

Racing Point will now, for the first time, have a full uninterrupted winter to prepare their challenger for 2020, and if they come up with the goods then we know Perez can deliver the results.

Lance Stroll

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 3-18
Average gap in qualifying: +0.22s
Race battle v team-mate: 5-16
Best finish: P4 (Germany)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 29% (21 of 73 points)

Stroll has just finished his third season in Formula 1, so it’s easy to forget he’s still only 21. His dad is now in charge at Racing Point so he probably will have a seat there for as long as he wants it, but there comes a time when the youngster needs to deliver.

He was brought into Williams thanks to his father’s money, the same has now happened at Racing Point and he is yet to fully prove that he deserves an F1 seat based on raw talent.

2019 has undoubtedly been Stroll’s strongest season so far and he showed his wet-weather racing skills in Germany, but Perez has had him in his back pocket all year.

His 14-race streak of Q1 eliminations from the 2018 US GP to Germany this year became something of a running joke, but his racecraft offers much more promise.

In fact, he finishes 2019 with the most positions gained (40) on opening laps out of all the drivers. So, if he wasn’t starting so far down the order, surely his results would improve.

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