In just 75 days time, those five red lights will evaporate and signal the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season in Melbourne and the 70th in the sport’s history.
While the long winter break in hibernation continues, a new year brings new expectations, many questions to be answered and plenty of changes both on and off the track.
On the driver front, the grid will look vastly different to 2018, with just two of the 10 teams sticking with their line-up from the previous year.
There will be some new faces, with three rookies joining F1, and three world champions in all after the departure of Fernando Alonso.
A small shakeup in the regulations to allow closer racing and improve overtaking is eagerly anticipated, the question will be can it can spice up the action or play out a new order in the standings?
With the clock ticking towards 17 March, here is who and what F1 fans should be looking out for in the 2019 season.
Red Bull and Honda gunning for championship glory
Arguably the biggest talking point going into 2019? Red Bull’s 11-year partnership with Renault – one that resulted in a dominant run of four straight drivers’ and constructors’ titles at the start of the decade – ended in a sad, but inventible, messy divorce. A strong end to last year gave the team belief it had the best car on the grid, the only drawback halting a challenge for a championship was an underperforming engine.
While Red Bull and Renault’s relationship was at an all time low, a resurgence from a once great manufacturer caught the eye of the former world champions. Honda’s progress in performance and reliability – in the back of sister team Toro Rosso – was enough to convince them to sign an engine deal in what it hopes is the turning point in its fortunes in the V6 turbo-hybrid era.
Hopes and aspirations will rest on pre-season testing, if the car is too slow out of the box, Red Bull’s belief of a first title success in six years will quickly fade for another year.
Fresh blood at Ferrari
12 years have passed since a Ferrari driver was last crowned Formula 1 world champion, a record that is well and truly ready to be broken you could say. Two years as runners up only makes the patience wear thin, so it’s out with the old and in with the new. In a bid to overhaul Mercedes’ five-year stranglehold on both crowns in F1, Ferrari bided farewell to Kimi Raikkonen and bonjour to Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque’s impressive debut season didn’t mean Ferrari had to think twice about signing Leclerc, who had been a part of its young driver academy. It’s almost like a homecoming in one sense. Leclerc replaces one world champion and partners another in the form of Sebastian Vettel. The inter-team battle will be a fascinating spectacle from the outside, Vettel will be keen to banish memories of his public battering from Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014.
Having proved he has the natural talent, maturity and mental toughness to overcome whatever is thrown at him, 2019 could be the crowning moment for Charles Leclerc.
Ricciardo's bold move to Renault
Bold, brave, or completely stupid. Time will only tell if Daniel Ricciardo’s gamble to leave Red Bull and join Renault will pay off and give him the path to a world championship. On the face of it, Ricciardo is leaving a team that has won 12 races in the last four years. Renault, through its previous guise as Lotus and return to F1 in 2016, hasn’t won a single race in the same period, as it plans its resurgence to the glory days of 2005 and 2006.
The uncertainty over Honda’s competitiveness was a deciding factor in Ricciardo’s decision to leave, and Renault’s steady climb up the grid, as well as past success, swayed his mind at the last minute. While it finished best of rest in 2018, Renault is still some way off the top three teams. The big budget might be behind them and a strong technical team, but a one-off podium may be the only minor success Ricciardo can pray for next season.
The future 2021 regulation changes are the key to the Australian’s risky switch, but 2019 could begin to paint a picture whether he made the correct choice or chose a path that was always a step too far.
Back in the hot seat
The feel good story of the up and coming season is without doubt the return of Robert Kubica, eight years on from his near-fatal accident while rallying. After years of blood, sweat and years to recover from the extent of his injuries, the Pole’s performances over a vast array of test runs in the last couple of years were enough of an indication to his new team Williams he was ready to come back. While the journey has been a struggle at times, Kubica has shown his commitment is higher than ever and the speed is still apparent.
At 34, he’ll be the second-oldest driver on the grid behind Kimi Raikkonen. Naturally, with age comes a certain and gradual decline in an athlete’s physical condition. The question will be how much, if indeed he has, of his natural ability will have faded and can he cope with the physical demands of a 21-race calendar?
The spotlight will be firmly on Kubica’s shoulders from Melbourne onwards, but it’s important that we remember just how highly-rated and talented he was pre-accident. Regardless of his results, he shouldn’t be simply judged on his performances this year.
F1's new faces
The talent on the Formula 1 grid only seems to grow and grow each year and 2019 is no exception. While the sport can be a tough reality for young drivers who fail to adapt to life in fast world of F1, every now and again a once in a germination star can be found among the crop of drivers all aiming to be world champion one day. This season welcomes three new faces on to the grid: Alexander Albon, George Russell and Lando Norris.
All have built a impressive junior CV and are tipped for successful careers. Russell, driving for Williams alongside Robert Kubica, comes in as the reigning Formula 2 champion and 2017 GP3 champion, as well as Mercedes’ reserve driver for two years. Norris, runner-up to Russell in F2 last year, has won in virtually every category he’s competed in and lines up at McLaren partnering Carlos Sainz. Albon finished third in F2 in 2018 and was set to join the Formula E grid with no opportunities seemingly available in F1. However, former employers Red Bull recognised his impressive results and offered him a place at Toro Rosso this season.
Although the main focus will be on the F1’s main star drivers, keep an eye out on the debutant’s from lights out down under.