2018 F1 SEASON DEBRIEF PART 1: A STRONG START FOR FERRARI
Its time to look back at 2018 before we look forward to 2019. It was an interesting season, with a two-horse race for the title but at the first third of the season, it looked like Ferrari were pretty much even with Mercedes, with Red Bull throwing themselves into the mix aswell.
ROUND ONE: MELBOURNE
At the opener of the season Lewis Hamilton took pole by a slim margin, with Kimi Raikkonen taking second and Vettel in third place. On race day Hamilton made a joke saying he would ‘wipe that smile of your (Vettel) face, with the German not quite understanding the response, although his quip ‘hopefully Kimi and I will be celebrating this afternoon’ foreshadowed the events that would succeed. Hamilton got off to a good start, although Raikkonen pressured him into turn three, but up until a Virtual Safety car the top five were separated by six seconds. Vettel decided to stay out and when the VSC became active he pitted, re-emerging ahead of not only his team-mate, but the race leader Hamilton himself. This cunning move by Ferrari stunned Mercedes and they were able to take a double podium in the opening race. Also worth mentioning Fernando Alonso took a promising P5, beating Max Verstappen.
ROUND TWO: BAHRAIN
The F1 crew could not wait to see whether Melbourne was a fluke for Ferrari. It wasn’t. Ferrari locked-out the front row with Vettel taking pole, and they were leading 1-2 until on Lap 35, Raikkonen pitted for new tyres and in the process ran over a mechanic. He was forced to retire, promoting Bottas to second, and he was forced to extent his tyre stint by 30%. This allowed the Finn to close up to Vettel, but the four-time world champion was able to hold his nerve to win the opening two races. This showing of calmness proved to the world that Ferrari were able to win a title after ten years.
ROUND THREE: CHINA
China was an interesting one. It was another Ferrari 1-2 in qualifying, with Vettel leading the first half the race until he was undercut by Bottas at the first pit stop, however on lap thirty the two Toro Rosso’s of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly collided, bringing out a safety car. This was a crucial point in the race as both Red Bull’s pitted for fresh tyres whilst the Mercedes and Ferrari’s stayed out. The Red Bull’s began making progress, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen moving up after overtaking Raikkonen and Ricciardo overtaking his own teammate and Hamilton to move into third place. On Lap 43, Max Verstappen shunted Sebastian Vettel off the track at the hairpin, resulting in both drivers spinning off the track and Vettel losing positions, due to a damaged floor. Verstappen was awarded a 10 second penalty for the incident. As a result of this Raikkonen leapfrogged Hamilton to move into third place. On Lap 45 Ricciardo overtake Bottas for the lead of the race, which he would retain until the chequered flag. This was a what could have been for Ferrari, as even if it finished remotely similarly they could have finished P3 and P4, with Vettel maintaining that momentum over chief title rival Hamilton after two wins, and it would continue to unravel in Azerbaijan.
ROUND FOUR: AZERBAIJAN
Heading into Azerbaijan, Vettel had a nine point lead over Hamilton. However Vettel took his third consecutive pole position from Hamilton and Bottas. Everyone got away cleanly until there were multiple incidents involving the two Renaults, Alonso, Ocon, Perez and Raikkonen. Then Vettel pit from the the race lead, handing the lead to Bottas who was attempting to build a big enough lead to then pit and come out in front of the Ferrari. However everything changed on Lap 40 when Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo collided with each other on the main straight whilst running in 4th and 5th place. This brought out the safety car. Several drivers in the top 10 took advantage of the situation; before the safety car bunched the drivers together, race leader Bottas made his long-awaited single pit stop for new ultrasoft tyres on which to finish the race, and second place Vettel, third place Hamilton, and fourth place Raikkonen also all pitted for new ultrasofts. The safety car could not pull in until lap 48, and Bottas kept the race lead as the lap began. 2nd placed Vettel attempted an aggressive move to pass Bottas, locked his wheels up and overshot the turn, ultimately leaving him in 4th place with flat-spotted tyres behind Bottas, Hamilton, and Raikkonen. Just as lap 49 began, Bottas, leading the race by more than one second over Hamilton, suffered a tyre puncture and was forced to retire. At the same time, Force India's Pérez passed Vettel to gain a 3rd place podium position as Bottas dropped out. Again, if Vettel had just been less aggressive then he would have won the race due to Bottas puncture, but instead he had to finish in fourth place.
ROUND FIVE: SPAIN
At Spain there was a change in momentum, with the speculation that Mercedes now had the quicker car. Hamilton and Bottas took the front row with Ferrari taking the second, and Hamilton had a rather easy race, winning it by over twenty seconds for his second consecutive race win of 2018, also taking P2 was his team-mate Bottas. Verstappen beat Vettel for P3.
ROUND SIX: MONACO
Monaco was another missed chance for Vettel. Ricciardo took pole from Vettel, but during the race Ricciardo only had 75% of his power from his Renault engine, however the Australian magnificently fought the Ferrari driver to eventually win his second race of the season. Vettel could have made a move on multiple occasions but decided to remain in second place in what was one of the most boring races of 2018.
ROUND SEVEN: CANADA
In Canada, Vettel and Ferrari stroke back, taking the pole position and a rather dominant win from Bottas, finishing the race over seven seconds ahead, with Hamilton only managing to finish P5.
At this point Sebastian Vettel lead Lewis Hamilton by one point heading into the European season, but hypothetically if everything went perfectly like winning in Azerbaijan and Monaco then he would have been the clear championship favourite.
ROUND EIGHT: FRANCE
Mercedes took a 1-2 in France but at the start Vettel got the best getaway from P3 but was boxed in by the two Mercedes, ultimately making contact with Bottas which threw them down to the bottom of the field, with Vettel receiving a five-second time penalty for the incident. This was all perfect for Lewis Hamilton who just drove away for his third win of the season with Max Verstappen in P2 and Kimi Raikkonen in P3. With Vettel finishing P5, Hamilton took the championship lead by 14 points.
ROUND NINE: AUSTRIA
It was another Mercedes 1-2 but it was Bottas who took the pole but it was Raikkonen who got a wonderful getaway from third place, overtaking Bottas but it was Hamilton who took the lead. Then Bottas completed a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre over Verstappen and Raikkonen to move back up into second place. On lap 14, Bottas retired with a gearbox failure, causing a Virtual Safety Car. During the VSC period, Ferrari and Red Bull pitted both their cars. Mercedes, however, chose not to pit Hamilton. This was where the infamous incident where James Vowles apologised to Hamilton over the radio for not pitting him.Hamilton pitted on lap 25, handing the lead to Verstappen, and rejoined in P4, ahead of Vettel, who overtook him on lap 39. Now it was Verstappen, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton, however on lap 64 Hamilton retired due to fuel pressure problems, meaning both Mercedes retired in Austria. Verstappen won the race, but Ferrari took a double podium to take the lead in the drivers championship by one point and the constructors title.
ROUND TEN: SILVERSTONE
It was a very close qualifying session, with the top three separated by less than a tenth, but Hamilton took pole from Vettel and Raikkonen. At the getaway Hamilton had an awful start, ceding the lead to Vettel, with Bottas also overtaking him. Raikkonen attempted to overtake at turn two but the two collided, with Raikkonen getting a 10 second time penalty. On lap 32, Marcus Ericsson crashed at Abbey, after failing to deactivate his DRS quick enough. This brought out a safety car, and both Ferraris and both Red Bulls pitted for a 2nd time, for the soft tyres. Mercedes chose to leave their drivers out to gain track position. On lap 38, Grosjean and Carlos Sainz crashed at Copse, causing another safety car. On lap 46, Verstappen spun and subsequently retired with a brake by wire issue. The next lap, Vettel overtook Bottas for the lead of the race, which he kept until the chequered flag. Meanwhile Hamilton and Raikkonen completed the podium, with Vettel now having a eight point lead heading into Germany.
So, to sum up the first ten rounds of the 2018 season: it could not have been closer. Sebastian Vettel took the advantage early on, but from Spain onwards the lead of both the drivers championship and constructors championship was see-sawing between The Prancing Horses and The Silver Arrows. There were some chances for more wins for Ferrari, but I'm sure anyone who was in the Tifosi would have been pleased with Ferrari's stronger pace than previous seasons.
And look out for part two next weekend.
Please leave your thoughts in the comments below about whether Vettel and Ferrari should have capitalised on more or whether Mercedes resurgence was down to Hamilton alone or an improvement in the car.