It took five years for the hybrid-turbo era of Formula 1 to deliver a spectacular season and 2018 made the cut on all counts. Here are some key moments that defined the season that was:
Ferrari’s back-to-back wins in the opening two rounds
After four seasons of Mercedes’ dominance, watching Ferrari blitz their way on-track thanks to a good car and sound tyre strategy was refreshing. This early season performance sowed the seeds of a season-long fight between the two giants of Formula 1. McLaren-Alonso’s fifth place in Australia and Pierre Gasly’s fourth place in Bahrain made for an interesting story in the McLaren-Renault-Honda rivalry. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson finished ninth in Bahrain, scoring his first points before highly-praised team-mate Charles Leclerc.
China and Monaco
These races will be remembered as much for Daniel Ricciardo’s early season victories as for Max Verstappen’s repeated errors. Ricciardo found himself with an outside chance in the Drivers’ Championship early season, especially after his win in Monaco which came under trying circumstances as his Red Bull car suffered from power issues. In fact, Ricciardo did well to leverage his early-season form to try and attract interest from Ferrari and Mercedes as his future employers. As for Verstappen, his early season crashes made one wonder if Red Bull promoted him ahead of age.
It took Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes four races to claim their first win of the season. In fact, this win didn’t come as convincingly either. The street race in Baku offered its share of drama this season too – the collision between the two Red Bull Racing drivers, Valtteri Bottas’ puncture while leading the race, Sebastian Vettel’s failed attempt to claim the lead at the restart and finally, Sergio Perez’s sneaky podium for Force India.
Haas’ Romain Grosjean who had a points-less start to his season had his lowest moment when he crashed under the Safety Car period only to falsely blame Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson for his crash in the heat of the moment. Last year’s podium finisher Lance Stroll scored the first points of his season too as did Ferrari’s junior driver Charles Leclerc. After a shaky start to his maiden Formula 1 season, Baku was when Leclerc made changes to how he approached the racing weekend – ones that brought out standout performances from the Monegasque native. He scored his season-best finish (6th) at this race.
Nico Hulkenberg, who looked in contention for his first-ever career podium crashed out in the early stages, while his team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr claimed his season-best 5th place in Baku.
After a slow start to the season, Mercedes scored their season’s first 1-2 finish after a controversy erupted due to Pirelli bringing their thin-treaded tyres to this race. Ferrari struggled with excessive tyre wear, one of the several times the advantage swung between the two teams. Fernando Alonso had his 300th Grand Prix start, while Robert Kubica made his first official comeback experience as a Formula 1 driver when he drove for Williams in Friday’s FP1 session.
Formula 1 and Lewis Hamilton’s guest Winnie Harlow ended up waving the chequered flag a full lap early prompting fans and media to ask if Formula 1 should limit celebrity exposure to crucial elements of the sport. Luckily, there were no major implications to the final race result as Vettel scored his third win of the season in six races.
This was Mercedes’ lowest point of the season as they registered a double DNF. Max Verstappen scored a victory at home for Red Bull while the Haas cars made the most of high profile retirements (Ricciardo and Hulkenberg retired too) to score the team’s best ever finish in fourth and fifth.
This race was the turning point of the season for several reasons. First, Hamilton had issues in qualifying that saw him start only 14th; were Mercedes pushing too hard to fend off Ferrari?. Second, Vettel was comfortably leading his home race while the rain Gods decided to intervene. Vettel had a momentary lock-up with his racing slicks on a damp track that saw him crash out of the lead while Hamilton romped to an unexpected victory. Nico Hulkenberg finished fifth, his best finish of the season.
This race was Ferrari and Vettel’s to win, especially after their crash from the lead in Germany. However, Hamilton had other plans and he enabled another unexpected victory for himself by putting together a stunning lap in wet-weather qualifying on Saturday. Despite all of Ferrari’s efforts, they could score a 2-3 finish at best. Gasly’s sixth place would have gone a long way in helping Red Bull decide to promote Gasly and Honda to their A-team in 2019.
After losing ground to Hamilton in the summer, Vettel needed to claw back some of his championship deficit by winning in Spa and he did exactly that by pulling off a stunning move on the opening lap as the two neared the end of the Kemmel Straight. Apart from the on-track action, there was several action in the paddock. Force India, who had gone into administration before the summer break, was bought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance Stroll’s father). Ricciardo had announced his decision to leave Red Bull Racing for Renault in 2019 giving Gasly the much-awaited promotion. Worst of all, former double World Champion Fernando Alonso confirmed that he would leave Formula 1 after 17 years of racing and reaffirmed his ambitions for the ‘Triple Crown’. Also, it was announced that Charles Leclerc would replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Raikkonen, in turn, would go back to racing for Sauber.
Such was Vettel’s dominance in Spa that Hamilton said Ferrari was aided by a few ‘trick things’ on their car, statements he later had to clarify. But for the fans, this was a sort of a confirmation that the Hamilton vs Vettel battle would only get tighter as the season neared its end.
Ferrari hadn’t won their home race in Italy since 2010 and the Tifosi were hoping for that to change given their team’s form in Spa. However, unfavourable tactics by Ferrari (towards Vettel), impatient driving by Vettel and smart tyre strategy by Mercedes saw Hamilton beat the pole-starting Kimi Raikkonen for victory. This was the Briton’s sixth win of the season. However, the loudest cheer was for Williams driver, Sergey Sirotkin who finished 10th to score a solitary point. Sirotkin’s point meant that for the first time in the history of the sport, all participating drivers had scored championship points.
Lewis Hamilton won the street race in Singapore, but more than the race, it was his qualifying lap that stood out, nearly three tenths faster than Verstappen. While Ferrari-Vettel tried all they could to limit championship damage, Hamilton was unstoppable.
Valtteri Bottas started from pole and was on course to win the race. However, Mercedes decided to employ team-orders to help Hamilton’s championship battle. A wise decision that helped Hamilton stretch his lead further, but one that also did irreparable damage to Bottas’ confidence for the remainder of the season. By now, Ferrari-Vettel knew that only a miracle would make them win their first Drivers’ Championship title in 11 years.
Ferrari bolted the wrong tyres on both their drivers in the final part of qualifying. A mistake that saw Vettel qualify in a lowly ninth place. On race day, Vettel tried a Verstappen-styled move on Verstappen only to see himself spinning and rejoining the race at the back of the pack.United States
This race will be remembered as Raikkonen’s last race win as a Ferrari driver. This race also saw the cars of Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Esteban Ocon (Force India) be disqualified for technical reasons.
Max Verstappen won his second race of the season, while Hamilton clinched his fifth Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship. Force India’s Sergio Perez suffered from brake issues and retired from sixth place in his home race. These lost points cost Force India as they chased down McLaren for sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship; while Haas and Renault were locked in a tight battle for the ‘best of the rest’ 4th place.
Hamilton won his 10th race of the season after race leader Verstappen and Ocon (who was a lap down) tangled with each other mid-race. Verstappen spun out while leading the race while Ocon was offered a penalty. Post-race, the old Formula 3 rivals almost had an altercation during their driver weigh-ins. Mercedes also clinched their fifth consecutive Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship.
Hamilton won his 11th race of the season; only 18 shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins. Raikkonen retired from his last race as Ferrari driver, while still retaining third place in the Drivers’ Championship from Verstappen. Hulkenberg finished his career-best seventh in the Championship, while Alonso only just slipped out of the top-10 thanks to a superlative performance to sixth place in the race by Carlos Sainz Jr.
As one can see, there was almost no race on the calendar that didn’t have a highlight moment. Clearly, 2019 already has a lot to live up to.
This post was first published on Firstpost