Record-breakers, trailblazers and tragedy: Motorsport in 2019 from F1 to MotoGP and the W Series

Jack de Menezes

If you’re looking for upsets, 2019 was not the year for shock wins in the world of motorsport, where Lewis Hamilton and Marc Marquez remained the men to beat. Thankfully, though, there was a new woman on the block, as the arrival of the W Series became one of the most talked-about subjects of the last 12 months. But it's also a year that will be remembered for one of the more tragic moments in the sport’s recent history.

Despite Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc putting up a stiffer fight than ever before, the Formula One championship remains in the iron-clad grasp of Hamilton, who clinched a sixth world championship and took his overall wins tally to 84, just seven behind Michael Schumacher’s all-time record and whose unrivalled feat of seven drivers’ titles he is odds-on to equal next season.

Hamilton was perhaps at his tactical best in 2019, reaping early-season success against a Ferrari that was perceived to be the faster car to take eight wins from the first 12 races and build an insurmountable lead that none of his rivals were able to claw back.

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Mercedes were able to continue their run of dominance into a sixth season by taking the first eight races on the way to securing 15 of the 21 Grands Prix this season, equalling the fourth-highest win records in a single year alongside McLaren’s dominant 1988 campaign and Ferrari in 2002 and 2004.

But while the last 12 months cemented Hamilton’s legacy among the very best of the all-time greats – and laid the platform for what should be a record-breaking 2020 – it will be remembered for the arrival of the next generation. Both Verstappen and Leclerc showed an ability to go toe-to-toe with Hamilton in a way that no one has been able to since Mercedes’ return to the top, and that includes Nico Rosberg.

Verstappen is a genuine danger to Hamilton’s hopes of becoming the sport’s second seven-time world champion next year, particularly with Red Bull confident of an even better car in what will be the final season under the current regulations, but bookmakers believe that Leclerc will be the biggest threat. Who knows, perhaps 2019 was the precursor to the three-driver, three-team title battle the sport has been craving.

When it comes to facts though, there is only one person who can rival Hamilton’s dominance in motorsport right now and that is MotoGP’s undisputed king Marquez. With a sixth MotoGP world championship in the bag and an eight world title in total, the 26-year-old Spaniard remains the fastest man in the world on two wheels with one of his most dominant seasons to date, claiming 12 victories that sits only behind his 2014 tally of 13.

In a category that boasts arguably the most competitive racing available on a worldwide scale, Marquez’s ability to do what he wanted and when he wanted in 2019 was truly remarkable. On six of the seven occasions where Marquez failed to win, he finished second, and the only other time saw him retire after crashing out in Austin. Where was he when he crashed? Leading the race, of course.

A record points’ haul leaves Marquez just two world titles behind Giacomo Agostini’s all-time mark of eight and one off Valentino Rossi’s tally, and the way that he romped to a 10th consecutive German Grand Prix victory across all classes provided the perfect display to show how he has the MotoGP paddock playing to the beat of his drum.

Staying in the two-wheel world, Jonathan Rea miraculously retained his World Superbike Championship with a dominant second-half of the season, though a fifth consecutive title came largely in thanks to Alvaro Bautista’s collapse that saw the debuting Spaniard go from 11 straight wins at the start of the season to two victories in the final 22 rounds.

That said, 2019 was arguably Rea’s greatest triumph, fighting back from the perceived abyss to retain his crown and move clear of Carl Fogarty as the Championship’s only five-time winner.

Charles Leclerc is deemed Hamilton's biggest rival in 2020 (Getty)
Charles Leclerc is deemed Hamilton's biggest rival in 2020 (Getty)

It was not the only history made in 2019, as motorsport crowned its first W Series champion in Britain’s own Jamie Chadwick. The 21-year-old has been earmarked as the nation’s best chance of having a driver reach the echelon of F1 in the not too distant future, with the Bath-born driver living up to that billing with wins in two of the first three rounds of the all-female series. In the end Chadwick did enough to hold off her nearest challenger in the Netherlands’s Beitske Visser and she has already confirmed her title defence next season along with an expanding calendar that features the Asian F3 series and a place in the Williams Racing Driver Academy.

Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso endured mixed results in his life after F1, with a second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours title coming in bizarre and suspicious circumstances after a dramatic final hour, helping the No 8 Toyota to wrap up the World Endurance Championship title in the inaugural Super-Season. But while he signed off his stint in WEC in style, the less said about Alonso’s failure to qualify for a second Indianapolis 500 the better – though Simon Pagenaud became the first Frenchman to win the prestigious race in May.

Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison meanwhile lit up the Isle of Man TT immediately after with an enthralling week-long battle, which saw the former take dominant victories in the Superbike, Superstock and second Supersport TTs but the latter stand on top of the rostrum for the blue riband Senior TT after a bike malfunction for his closest rival.

But as is often the way in motorsport, the year was tinged with sadness – but more so given how events unfolded in the most horrific of ways. F1 lost its race director Charlie Whiting on the eve of the season-opener in Melbourne, leaving the paddock stunned at the death of such a well-liked and familiar face who had been involved in the sport for more than 40 years.

Then followed the moving death of Niki Lauda, the three-time world champion who remained in the sport long after his retirement thanks to his senior role with the dominant Mercedes team. Lauda had been suffering from health complications related to his horrific 1976 crash at the Nurburgring that had required him to undergo a lung transplant in 2018, though out of the sad news came the widespread tributes and collective memories of a man who did more than just leave his mark on F1.

Anthoine Hubert died during the F2 Belgian Grand Prix feature race (Getty)
Anthoine Hubert died during the F2 Belgian Grand Prix feature race (Getty)

The loss of young Formula Two driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix shocked the world in a very different way. Tragically, his collision with Juan Manuel Correa – who continues to recover from the extensive injuries he suffered in the accident – was shown live around the globe during the Formula Two feature race, and the death of the 22-year-old Frenchman cast a dark cloud over the sport as the worst type of reminder of the perils that lurk around every corner.

Talented young rider Daley Mathison lost his life at the TT, while Pikes Peak champion Carlin Dunne suffered a fatal accident at this year’s event.

As is the way with motorsport, their memory will live on in various guises through the renaming of corners or awards or simply the recollection of a unique moment somewhere down the line, but so will the record-breakers, and in the form of Hamilton, Marquez, Rea and Chadwick, 2020 is lined up to be more of the same.

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