F1 2019 Preview: Future stars ready to end the Hamilton & Vettel show

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A new Formula 1 season is upon us with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton once again favourites for the championship.

Both men have sat at the top of the sport now for a decade now, but while their recent head-to-head battles for the world title have been hyped up, the rivalry between them has never enthralled as much as expected.

The somewhat anticlimactic nature of each year is probably to blame, with Hamilton capitalising on mistakes by Vettel and Ferrari to pull clear on both occasions before eventually wrapping up each success in Mexico.

And, to be honest, I don't really want Hamilton vs. Vettel III in 2019, and happily, we likely won't as the next generation of drivers finally challenge the superiority granted to them by having lead driver status within their respective teams.

Who is leading this charge? Of course, it's Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, two 21-year-old whippersnappers eager to reinject some passion at the front of the grid.

In Verstappen's case, he now has his own pedestal at Red Bull after the exit of Daniel Ricciardo, but he has earned it after a very impressive run last year which included 11 podiums and two victories.

The Dutchman's dilemma is whether his team is ready to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari on a consistent basis, a question we currently don't know the answer to.

Red Bull ran very reliably in testing with their new engine supplier Honda but never set a representative lap time so predictions on their competitiveness vary from being level with Mercedes to having the midfield biting at their heels as the third-best team.

What is not in doubt, however, is Verstappen now has the same talent and consistency as Vettel and Hamilton, and as Red Bull-Honda make progress through the year, Max will take multiple victories.

Whether the progress will be soon enough to make a strong championship bid, we'll have to wait and see.

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As for Leclerc, he is probably the driver that will decide this year's world champion and that includes if he himself is a candidate.

The Monegasque has taken to Ferrari like a duck to water showing maturity and calmness well beyond his years and already suggested that he will push Vettel hard at every race by finishing just 0.01s behind in pre-season.

Repeating that pace under the bright lights of Q3 in qualifying is the next challenge Leclerc faces, as is how he'll respond when Hamilton, Vettel or Verstappen appears in his mirrors.

But like Max, Charles will only improve as the year progresses and that is a very worrying prospect for Vettel and Hamilton, with the latter having already indicated he will have to raise his game.

Of course, there is the small matter of whether Ferrari will allow Leclerc to beat Seb if they are running close together, with team boss Mattia Binotto stating the German would be prioritised.

But every situation where he is ahead of his teammate is just another warning that sooner rather than later, he will be the top man at Maranello.

And that has been the sentiment across the grid in recent years, with a number of young drivers making their way up and challenge the established names of the past decade.

What's different in 2019, is that flood of fresh blood finally reaches the very top, bringing with it the likelihood of one the most exciting seasons for quite some time.