The year that was F1 2018

2018-12-05 06:01

THE 2018 Formula 1 season is in the history books and with a number of impressive and standout performances will be revered and talked about for some time to come.

Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton

Comparing different eras of the sport is usually discouraged but it is difficult to remember a more dominant team in the sport’s history than Mercedes-Benz.

Of the 100 Grand Prix races in the turbo-hybrid era, which started in 2014, Merc have won a staggering 74 races. It is a nearly unbelievable statistic until you factor in the Mercedes F1 organisation. From the management structure to the drivers to the irrefutably flawless execution of all processes, they leave no stone unturned and nothing to chance.

They were pushed in the first half of 2018 and responded in emphatic fashion. Even with the aero changes for next season this team is going to be incredibly difficult to beat.

Of the 74 victories, Lewis Hamilton has taken an astounding 51 and with that, four world titles. Somehow, despite the car and team at his disposal, he seems able to continually improve from one season to the next and will undoubtedly be a contender in 2019.

There will be those who point to his car as the reason for his success but they will do well to recognise that a racing car is only as good as its driver. If you’re still not convinced by this argument consider the fact that Valtteri Bottas, in the same car, finished fifth in the drivers’ standings.

Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel

The 2018 season couldn’t have started much better for Ferrari. Evident from the first day of preseason testing it was clear that Maranello had delivered a car that could fight for, and potentially, win the title.

Sebastian Vettel hit the ground running too and for the better part of the first half of the season landed blow after blow on Mercedes and Hamilton. It was the Vettel of years gone by. The unyielding driver who racked up four titles in a row with Red Bull was seemingly on his way to a fifth crown.

But the cardinal rule of Formula 1 is its unpredictability. Before the summer break, Ferrari’s chairperson, Sergio Marchionne, passed away. The effect of this shouldn’t be underestimated. Marchionne almost single-handedly turned around Ferrari and that includes the F1 team. He arrived to a team in near ruin and not only righted the ship but reignited the sense of pride and passion that seemed to be missing in previous years.

He was a colossal presence and his sudden death left a gaping hole in the organisation.

Perhaps this increased the pressure on Vettel; an expectation to win for Marchionne and the Ferrari name he nurtured.

Rookie of the year

Charles Leclerc – exceptionally impressive - especially in the lap with dry tyres on a greasy track to get into Q3 at the Brazilian Grand Prix. There were a few chinks in the armour throughout the season such as silly mistakes and the odd crash. But the Monagasque can hardly be lambasted for them. After all, 2018 was his first year in the sport.

He has one of the biggest challenges next year as a Ferrari driver, expected to immediately take the fight to teammate Vettel, Hamilton and co. It’s clear to all that Leclerc has the speed to hack it in F1. But being a Ferrari driver is a completely different challenge.

Unrelenting pressure and expectation will be a new test for Leclerc whose performances as Sauber stood out because there was little anticipation that the car would be able to perform as it did in 2018. In 2019, the uncompromising, often brutal, Italian press and fans will exert a level of pressure Leclerc wouldn’t have experienced before.

On the face of it, the 2018 Williams may have masked Sergey Sirotkin’s strong rookie season. But dig a little deeper and it will reveal that the Russian’s season has been quite impressive given the car at his disposal.

With a quiet resolve Sirotkin worked away on the car. He kept his head down, remained calm, and continually improved his driving ability.

He may have come into the sport with significant financial backing, but he attracted those backers with his talent that is far different from buying your way into the sport with family money.

Race of the year

The Circuit of the Americas easily produced the best race of the year. Drama at the start, a plethora of overtaking ensured 56 laps of exhilaration. Most of all, the battle between Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and Kimi Raikkonen in the final laps capped a race for which few would’ve been able to predict the victor.

Ultimately, it was Raikkonen who took victory for the first time in 113 races.

There were few, if any, in the paddock disappointed with seeing the Iceman on the top step of the podium in Texas.

The Chinese Grand Prix deserves a mention. The Red Bull team’s strategy was played to a tee, but it was still up to Daniel Ricciardo to make it work on track.

The Aussie’s sublime overtakes will stick in the memory for quite some time and so will the remarkable victory.

Driver performance of the year

While Mercedes and Hamilton are rightly team and driver of the year there were some individual performances by drivers this season that stand out. Not least of all was Ricciardo’s drive to a maiden victory on the streets of Monte Carlo.

The Red Bull driver had dominated the entire weekend including a pole position on the Saturday. However, a mechanical issue nearly robbed Ricciardo of finally winning in Monaco. Somehow, and despite being as much as 25% down on power, Ricciardo was able to hold Vettel off and take the famed chequered flag.

2019 brings with it a major change to aerodynamics and potentially a reset in the running order.

It also brings with a number of questions. Can legendary teams like Williams and McLaren make their way back up the grid? Will Mercedes’s domination continue? How will Leclerc fair as a Ferrari driver?

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