Could a Ferrari driver have won the 2019 world championship?

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    Ferrari ended 2019 with three wins, nine pole positions and many missed opportunities.

    They were second in the constructors’ championship but both of their drivers finished the season behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull as well as the two Mercedes drivers.

    It’s a result which screams ‘unfulfilled potential’. So the question is: Had Sebastian Vettel or Charles Leclerc got the best out of their car in every race, could they have beaten Lewis Hamilton to the drivers’ title?


    Simply put: no. Mercedes’s advantage was too significant.

    One thing that needs to be acknowledged in any debate about 2019 is that after the British Grand Prix, the championship fight was de facto finished or, if you do not want to go as far so as to not completely dismiss Bottas (as I personally am wont to do), a Mercedes-exclusive affair. This means that Hamilton’s and Mercedes’s performance in the second half of the year needs to be taken with a grain of salt and it is safe to assume that if it had been needed, Mercedes could’ve developed the 2019 car further.

    As for the question in the opening, let’s look at how the advantage Hamilton would’ve had points-wise until the point where in RL the season was over, even if everything had worked out in Ferrari’s favour that realistically could’ve worked out in their favour – I’ll ignore the FLAP point, because I should be working and thus need to keep it brief.

    Australia: Leclerc passes Vettel, but that would only account for two points plus and minus respectively, so I will ignore that.

    Bahrain: Leclerc’s engine goes all the way, Vettel passes Hamilton without incident, Ferrari 1-2. Hamilton -10, Leclerc +10, Vettel +8.

    China: unless I am forgetting something, Ferrari or its drivers lacked the pace to threaten Mercedes, so nothing changes.

    Baku: if Leclerc does not crash, in qualifying, he could’ve been on Vettel’s level and therefore have a shot at a podium. Let’s assume that having better strategy options would have helped Ferrari to a 1-2, since Vettel then was the “official No. 1” he’d lead it, so Vettel +10, Leclerc +7, Hamilton -6

    Spain: maybe Vettel can hold on to third if he doesn’t play the start too aggressively, but that’s just an assumption. Anyway, let’s roll with it, Vettel +3

    Monaco: Ferrari clearly was not on par with Mercedes that weekend, so if Ferrari do not mess up Q1, Leclerc still only joins the Hamilton party train, i.e. finishes fourth or third, depending on where he is in relation to Bottas. Let’s say third. Leclerc +15

    Canada: Vettel doesn’t go off, wins. Vettel +7, Hamilton -7

    France: no changes, Mercedes too powerful

    Austria: Ferrari do not mess up Vettel’s stop, thus he beats Bottas, Verstappen fails to beat Leclerc. Vettel +3, Leclerc +7

    UK: Vettel does not crash with Verstappen, holds on to third, Leclerc beats Verstappen, Vettel +15, Leclerc -3

    Hamilton and Ferrari points after UK, RL:
    Hamilton 223
    Vettel 123
    Leclerc 120

    Hamilton and Ferrari points after UK, ideal scenario:
    Hamilton 200
    Vettel 169
    Leclerc 156

    That’s a difference of 31 points, read: one win and one seventh place. Relatively speaking, those types of lead are rarely lost in F1 history. I don’t have the time to actually analyse the stats right now (might do so this evening), but if you look at all drivers who had more than one win advantage after half a season, the number of drivers who failed to secure the title would be relatively small.

    So even with everything going *perfectly* for Ferrari, they are still more than one win away from Hamilton after half a season. Even if we take the results of the second half of the year at face value and don’t assume that Hamilton and Mercedes would’ve gotten better results had they needed to like I assumed in the beginning, at the very least getting thoroughly beaten in Austin would’ve ended any realistic chances of Ferrari winning the 2019 WDC. This season had a 2001-esque feeling in that three teams could situationally challenge for wins, but one driver/car combo is actually the superior one and therefore not rationally beatable.

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