Somewhere out there could be a parallel universe where the 2019 F1 season happened exactly as it did, but without Mercedes. We've imagined how exactly such a season might have played out
Although the second half of the season has been fairly even between the top three teams, you’d have to say that Mercedes still held a slight edge. And at the start of the year, the team was in unbelievable form, becoming the first team in F1 history to finish one-two in the first five races of the year. It even prompted some speculation that Mercedes might win every race.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but it did mean that the championship battles were realistically over for Ferrari and Red Bull very quickly. A title fight is pretty much the only thing 2019 (which has had loads of mega races) has been lacking - so what if we removed Mercedes from the equation completely?
We thought it would be fun to see how the season might have panned out without the Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas on the grid, so we’ve written a brief ‘readjusted’ season report to show how a Mercedes-less championship might have panned out.
[Disclaimer: yes, we know that this isn’t exactly how things would have happened without Mercedes and is a complete fantasy. Yes, we know that ‘what ifs’ are ultimately pointless. And no, we won’t apologise for trying to have a bit of fun. We hope you enjoy it!]
Sebastian Vettel proves Ferrari’s testing speed was true with pole position, but Max Verstappen surprises everyone by beating Charles Leclerc to make the front row.
There’s no change at the start and Vettel leads until becoming the first to pit on lap 13. Verstappen stays out and runs 11 laps longer and although he emerges behind Vettel, he uses his fresher tyres to catch and pass the Ferrari on the outside of Turn 3, in the process proving that there’s not much wrong with Honda power. After a scruffy race, Leclerc reels in his teammate and is controversially told not to pass Vettel - although with Verstappen over half a minute ahead, he would never have been able to catch and challenge for the lead.
Remarkably, Verstappen delivers Red Bull-Honda a win in its very first race and takes the fastest lap in the process. In an incident which is probably completely unrelated, Fernando Alonso deletes all of his social media account.
— VES: 26
— VET: 18
— LEC: 15
Ferrari is seemingly back on form as Leclerc and Vettel lock out the front row, with Verstappen only just beating Kevin Magnussen’s Haas to third.
Vettel takes the lead on the opening lap but only holds it for five tours, at which point Leclerc re-passes him and disappears down the road. The race stays incredibly static for much of the rest of the duration as, with no Mercedes in this universe, Vettel doesn’t have a clumsy spin on lap 38. Leclerc’s chance of a first win evaporates when his car develops an issue with 10 laps to go and Vettel passes him. Luckily, a late safety car spares him from dropping behind Verstappen, too, and he holds on to complete the Ferrari one-two.
▲ VET: 43 (+25)
▼ VES: 41 (+15)
— LEC: 34 (+19)
Vettel takes pole from Leclerc, but drops behind him at the start and spends the opening laps right behind his young teammate, claiming that he can go quicker. With Verstappen not too far behind, Ferrari makes the controversial call to swap them around, only for Vettel to discover that he wasn’t actually that much quicker.
This allows Verstappen to jump ahead of Leclerc during the pit stops, preventing the team from swapping the positions back around again. Vettel edges ahead to his second win of the year and extends his championship lead - although tensions within Ferrari are beginning to rise.
— VET: 68 (+25)
— VES: 59 (+18)
— LEC: 49 (+15)
On a weekend where Ferrari was dominant, a crash for Leclerc in qualifying effectively gifts Vettel the opportunity to win. Despite Verstappen’s best efforts, Vettel wins easily, while Leclerc can only recover to a distant third with only the fastest lap bonus point for consolation.
— VET: 93 (+25)
— VES: 77 (+18)
— LEC: 65 (+16)
Vettel makes it four poles from five races as Verstappen once again splits the Ferraris. At the start, Verstappen takes the lead as Vettel has a really bad time with his tyres in the opening laps. After letting Leclerc past, Vettel had to plead with his team for a new set and then dropped down the order after a slow stop.
Now on a different strategy to his teammate, the two swap positions before Vettel makes his second stop. Leclerc takes the lead after Verstappen makes his stop, at which point the safety car comes out. Ferrari pit Leclerc, sure that the one-stop strategy won’t hold under the end, and he drops to third. Unable to make any inroads on his teammate, the order stays the same until the end as Verstappen claws back some of the gap to Vettel in the standings.
— VET: 111 (+18)
— VES: 103 (+26)
— LEC: 80 (+15)
Heading into his home race under pressure of already being more than a race win behind Vettel in points, Leclerc only just makes it out of Q1 (there are no Mercedes’ to knock him out in this timeline, remember) after a scruffy lap and poor strategy from Ferrari, who already look to be favouring Vettel for the championship. He eventually qualifies second, just ahead of Vettel, as Verstappen takes the first pole of his career.
In the race, Verstappen wins easily due to the fact there was no Mercedes for him to bump into in the pit lane. Leclerc and Vettel keep their positions, too, marking the first time all season that Leclerc has finished ahead of his teammate. After some worries that Ferrari might issue team orders to swap their drivers around, the team receives praise for allowing them to race.
▲ VES: 128 (+25)
▼ VET: 126 (+15)
— LEC: 98 (+18)
Vettel is in untouchable form as he beats Leclerc to pole by almost seven-tenths on a weekend where Ferrari comfortably has the edge. Leclerc doesn’t quite have the pace in the race to threaten his teammate and, without a Mercedes up his chuff, Vettel doesn’t make the error at the chicane. Thus, the world’s most contentious penalty never happens and we’re denied the incredible post-race drama.
Verstappen finishes almost a minute behind in third and, for the seventh race in a row, its the exact same drivers on the podium. Complaints from fans and the media are well and truly creeping in as people wish there was another team to take it to Ferrari and Red Bull.
▲ VET: 151 (+25)
▼ VES: 143 (+15)
— LEC: 117 (+19)
Vettel has a problem during Q3 then messes up his sole chance at setting a decent time, leaving him behind the two McLarens on the grid.
Leclerc capitalises, takes pole position and storms to an emotional first win - it’s not quite his home race, but it’s not exactly a million miles away. Verstappen comes home second while Vettel caps an off weekend with third. For the first time since Azerbaijan, the top three in the championship are separated by less than the maximum score of 26 points.
— VET: 167 (+16)
— VES: 161 (+18)
— LEC: 142 (+25)
Riding high on the confidence of his first win, Leclerc takes pole position again and after Verstappen makes a bad start, looks set to make it two in a row. However, Verstappen charges back through and snatches the win with a controversial move.
Vettel is third once again after a lonely race and the same people that praised Ferrari’s lack of team orders in Monaco now criticise Ferrari for not favouring Vettel as Verstappen’s title challenge begins to look more and more credible.
▲ VES: 187 (+26)
▼ VET: 182 (+15)
— LEC: 160 (+18)
Though this universe means we lose the epic fight for the lead between the two Mercedes, that’s no bad thing - because it means that the even spicier scrap between pole-sitter Leclerc and Verstappen is effectively for the lead.
Vettel benefits from a well-timed safety car to move to the front, where he stays for a while. Verstappen makes his move for the lead, at which point the first major flashpoint of the season occurs when Vettel shovels the Red Bull off of the track.
Verstappen incredibly recovers and keeps going (albeit with a damaged car and a couple of places further down) while Vettel has to pit for repairs and subsequently gets a penalty, ending the race down in 14th. That means that for the first time all season, there’s a new face on the podium in the form of Pierre Gasly. He would have been on course to finish second but, with Vettel not scoring, Leclerc taking victory and Gasly nowhere in the championship, Red Bull orders him to drop behind Verstappen to maximise his points haul.
The British GP turned the season on its head. Instead of being a tight battle between the three drivers, suddenly Verstappen and his de facto number one status make him look the favourite, while the balance of power shift at Ferrari means that the team has little choice but to let them both fight on equal terms.
— VES: 205 (+18)
▲ LEC: 185 (+25)
▼ VET: 182 (+0)
The madness that is Germany sees another swing in the favour of Verstappen. Both Ferraris hit problems in qualifying while Verstappen takes pole position.
In difficult conditions, Verstappen leads comfortably and, with nothing to gain, this time doesn’t make the risky call to switch to dry tyres on a still-damp track. Leclerc makes his way up to second and pits for slicks, only to end up in the barriers a lap later.
Verstappen manages the race perfectly to win while Vettel made his way through from the back of the grid. However, without Bottas not existing to crash and trigger the final safety car, Seb has a slightly harder time closing the gaps to the midfielders who took gambles - he gets Lance Stroll for third, but Daniil Kvyat holds on for a remarkable second.
— VES: 231 (+26)
▲ VET: 197 (+15)
▼ LEC: 185 (+0)
With Verstappen starting to eke out a significant championship lead, he lays down a major marker heading into the summer break. The Red Bull works beautifully around the twists and turns of the Hungaroring while the Ferrari… doesn’t.
Max takes a grand chelem, with pole, fastest lap, the win, and leading every lap. Meanwhile the Ferraris scrap for second on different strategies - by running a two-stopper, Vettel has better tyres than Leclerc at the end of the race and easily sweeps by to take second.
— VES: 257 (+26)
— VET: 215 (+18)
— LEC: 200 (+15)
Verstappen receives the bulk of the praise over the break for taking a car which is considered to be inferior to the Ferrari into a healthy points advantage. By now, it’s clear that the SF90 has a few circuits and track conditions where it doesn’t work too well, but in the races where it is the fastest, both drivers have had moments where they haven’t capitalised. Conversations about whether Ferrari should throw its weight behind Vettel - who has been marginally the stronger of the two - are louder than ever.
Ferrari looks to have stepped up its form since the last race - as does Leclerc. He beats Vettel to pole by seven-tenths (repaying the favour from Canada), with Verstappen almost 1.2 seconds away from pole.
Despite being two places higher up due to the lack of Mercedes, Verstappen still makes a bad start, still makes contact with Raikkonen and still retires. Leclerc wins easily from Vettel, but there’s heartbreak behind when Lando Norris retires from third on the final lap. Alex Albon takes a podium in his first race for Red Bull after replacing Gasly.
— VES: 257 (+0)
— VET: 234 (+19)
— LEC: 225 (+25)
With Verstappen taking a grid penalty and Mercedes not being in the mix, Ferrari is a shoo-in to lock out the front row. As a result, the drivers don’t have a plan to give each other a slipstream and they don’t fully engage in the qualifying shenanigans - although Leclerc still takes pole.
Not carrying the frustration of qualifying or of being separated from his teammate by a couple of silver cars, Vettel doesn’t have his early spin at Ascari. Instead, he follows Leclerc closely until the first round of stops. Vettel runs longer and rejoins in second, but quickly catches back up with his fresher tyres. The two have a brief battle, which Ferrari then attempts to put a stop to by issuing an order to hold station. Vettel ignores it and lunges up the inside at the first corner, only to miss the chicane and have to give the position back. Tyres flat-spotted, he comes home second - though nobody has overlooked the fact that he ignored a team order.
Daniel Ricciardo takes a fine third, while the recovering Verstappen can only finish seventh; because Vettel didn’t spin in this version, Lance Stroll didn’t either. As a result he comes home just behind his teammate, denying the Red Bull driver an extra couple of points.
— VES: 263 (+6)
— VET: 253 (+19)
— LEC: 250 (+25)
Leclerc beats Vettel to pole for the third race in a row and the order stays the same until the first round of pit stops. With no Mercedes to worry about, Ferrari pits the cars in the expected order and, once again, Vettel runs slightly longer. This costs him a position to Verstappen but, fired up, the four-time champion is having none of it. He passes the Red Bull a few laps later and starts to chip away at his teammate. Keen to get the move done before Ferrari tries to intervene again, Vettel decisively makes a move at the end of the back straight and immediately builds a gap to win the race - his first since Canada.
— VES: 278 (+15)
— VET: 278 (+25)
— LEC: 268 (+18)
Its a familiar story in qualifying as Leclerc takes pole from Vettel. With no Mercedes and with Verstappen starting eighth after a penalty, the Ferrari drivers don’t come up with their first lap slipstream arrangement - Vettel takes the lead anyway having made a much better start. With no arrangement and therefore no argument, Ferrari doesn’t leave Vettel out on old tyres as a way of swapping the positions around and he keeps the lead after the stops.
Then, his PU fails and Leclerc inherits the win. Verstappen recovers to second as Albon makes it two Red Bulls on the podium.
— VES: 296 (+18)
▲ LEC: 294 (+26)
▼ VET: 278 (+0)
Vettel stops the rot in qualifying by taking pole position from Leclerc, only to throw it away with ‘the jump start that wasn’t’. Verstappen, third on the grid, takes the same role that Bottas did in the actual race and sweeps past both Ferraris to take the lead. Sainz does what Verstappen did in real life and goes around the outside of Leclerc, only to be punted off the circuit.
Verstappen comes under big pressure from the faster Ferrari of Vettel but holds on to win, with Albon third. After losing time with damage and a penalty, Leclerc ends up a distant fourth.
— VES: 321 (+25)
— LEC: 307 (+13)
— VET: 296 (+18)
Verstappen does a silly in qualifying and has pole taken from him, leaving him fourth and Leclerc on pole ahead of Vettel.
With Albon now third instead of Hamilton, Verstappen is left plenty of room by his teammate at the first corner and slots in behind the two Ferraris. Red Bull’s pace is such that within five laps, he’s taken the lead and disappears off to another easy win. Vettel ends up second after Leclerc’s two-stopper fails to work out.
— VES: 346 (+25)
— LEC: 323 (+16)
— VET: 314 (+18)
Vettel takes pole position, but Verstappen manages to split the Ferraris and sneak onto the front row. He takes the lead at the start and takes another easy win as both Ferraris struggle badly in the early stages. Leclerc finishes a distant second, but Vettel’s title hopes are ended when his suspension fails after hitting one of COTA’s enormous bumps.
— VES: 371 (+25)
— LEC: 342 (+19)
— VET: 314 (+0)
Its pole again for Verstappen, who doesn’t seem to be suffering from the pressures of the prospect of becoming Formula 1’s youngest world champion.
He dominates what ends up being a rather dull race as, with no Bottas to retire, the safety cars which caused all the real-life madness don’t get triggered. That means that the Ferraris don’t crash into other and instead finish on the podium, with Vettel second. A frustrated Leclerc begs to be given the position over team radio but, with Verstappen winning, the championship is over anyway and so the team sees no point in swapping them.
Verstappen crosses the line and wins the 2019 World Championship.
— VES: 396 (+26) 🏆
— LEC: 357 (+15)
— VET: 332 (+18)
Verstappen’s superb qualifying form continues with another pole position as Ferrari looks an uncompetitive second and third.
In the race, Leclerc takes the lead from Verstappen on the opening lap and stays there, at which point both Ferraris make an unusually early pit stop. Verstappen runs significantly longer and emerges behind the Leclerc once more, but it doesn’t take long for him to catch and pass Charles following a nice little scrap. Despite some engine concerns, Verstappen takes his fifth win in a row as Leclerc consolidates second ahead of a surprisingly out of touch Vettel.
— VES: 421 (+25) 🏆
— LEC: 375 (+18)
— VET: 348 (+16)