2018 F1 SEASON DEBRIEF PART TWO: VETTEL'S BLUNDERS AND HAMILTON'S FIGHTBACK
After releasing the first part of my 2018 Formula One Season Debrief last weekend, it is time to look at the second half of the season from Germany onwards. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were leading the championship by eight points in the drivers championship and had a small lead in the constructors championship, however some major problems from championship leader Vettel and some spectacular fightbacks from Hamilton and Mercedes meant that the Brit was able to take his fifth world championship.
ROUND ELEVEN: GERMANY
Arguably the biggest moment of the season in terms of the championship fight. After qualifying Vettel took pole at his home race with Hamilton only managing to take 14th place after engine troubles. This was a perfect situation for Vettel, and for over half of the race he lead easily from Valtteri Bottas and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, and then came the rain. Vettel was cruising with a nine second lead until he binned it on Lap 53, retiring from the lead and gifting Lewis Hamilton 25 points and the win. There is no doubt that if this didn’t happen, then Vettel would have been in the championship title fight right until the wire, regardless of the mistakes he latter made during the season.
ROUND TWELVE: HUNGARY
After a wet qualifying, Hamilton took pole and won this one with ease. Team-mate Valtteri Bottas did an excellent job of holding up the two Ferrari’s until he just couldn’t do it anymore as his tyres were degrading. Later incidents with Vettel and Ricciardo meant Bottas finished in fifth place, however Hamilton extended his lead before the summer break, upto 24 points. Vettel had to strike back in Spa, fast.
ROUND THIRTEEN: SPA
Hamilton took a wonderful pole position from Sebastian Vettel, with Esteban Ocon taking a surprise third place due to the nature of the weather during qualifying, however as we know, starting from pole isn’t always the best thing in Spa, and this was proven this year. Hamilton lead out of Turn One and out of Radillon Vettel got a wonderful drive out of the corner and took the inside line and took the lead of the race before a Safety Car was deployed due to the huge crash with Leclerc and Hulkenberg. After this, Vettel kept his lead from Hamilton and won the race, meaning the championship lead was cut down to seventeen points. Vettel was back in the race, and I’m sure he would have wanted to win in Monza in front of the Tifosi.
ROUND FOURTEEN: MONZA
Monza. Arguably the home of Formula One, and for the first time in over five years Ferrari had a really good chance to take the win, and in qualifying this was proven. In the dying seconds of qualifying, Hamilton went fastest, then Vettel, and then Raikkonen. A Ferrari 1-2, but in the wrong order. The fans went wild, but this was where infamously on Sebastian Vettel’s team radio cheering can be heard, and then he assumes that he is on pole, and then is told the situation, his response being ‘we’ll talk later’. Icy. On race day, the top three got away cleanly into turn one, but heading into the second chicane, Hamilton attempted to go around the outside of Vettel to take second place. Raikkonen broke early, meaning it boxed Vettel into a section of the track, allowing Hamilton to go around the outside, although the two collided. Whether this was Hamilton’s fault was another question and whether the FIA favour Mercedes in situations like these is for another article, but the fact was that Raikkonen was leading from Hamilton, with Vettel all the way down at the back of the grid. Hamilton then overtook Raikkonen on Lap 6 at the first chicane, but credit where credits due Raikkonen came back and retook the lead in the second chicane. The Finn maintained a one second lead until he pitted on Lap 21, rather early but to make sure Hamilton didn’t undercut him, however then the Empire employed devious tactics. As Raikkonen began to set fastest laps, he was behind Valtteri Bottas, where the No.2 Mercedes driver held up Raikkonen, causing the 2007 World Champion to flat-spot his tyres, which ultimately allowed Hamilton to overtake on Lap 43. It was here where Hamilton took that significant leap into the lead of the championship to the point of no return.
ROUND FIFTEEN: SINGAPORE
Singapore. Many were expecting that it would be a repeat of previous years where Red Bull and Ferrari had an advantage over The Silver Arrows, but Hamilton produced one of his best qualifying sessions to take pole position from Verstappen and Vettel. Vettel was able to move up into second place but ultimately after a boring race, Hamilton took the win with Vettel in 3rd place, with his championship hopes diminishing significantly.
ROUND SIXTEEN: RUSSIA
In Russia, Mercedes seemed to have an advantage over The Prancing Horses, after Mercedes took a 1-2. However they had a problem. Valtteri Bottas had taken the pole and lead off the line easily, and the top three stayed within each other by around seven seconds for most of the race. Bottas has always been good at Russia, taking his first win in Sochi in 2017, however Mercedes used team-orders for Hamilton to take the win due to Vettel closing in on the duo. It was understanded that Bottas expected the positions to be handed back after the change, but to his dismay that was not the case. This was one of the most heartbreaking moments of 2018, and this is probably the catalyst of Bottas’s downfall in the final five races of the season.
ROUND SEVENTEEN: JAPAN
With the championship basically over, it was do or die for Sebastian Vettel, but this was a problem considering Ferrari were only the third fastest car around Suzuka. Due to wet qualifying, Sebastian Vettel only qualified ninth, with Ferrari making a terrible mistake in Q3 of putting on slicks at the start of the session. Due to this he decided to go all in, and after making a brilliant getaway, up into P4 after the first lap he lunged down the inside of Verstappen in Spoon corner, colliding with Verstappen, sending him once again to the back of the field. It is without a doubt that it was here where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes won the title.
ROUND EIGHTEEN: AUSTIN
Without a doubt the best race of the year. Sebastian Vettel was awarded a three-place grid penalty in Practice for not slowing down enough in Red Flag conditions. Weirdly, the German accepted this decision. In qualifying, Hamilton took pole from Vettel and Raikkonen. So it would be Raikkonen who would start in second place, but crucially on the softer compound tyres, meaning he would have more traction at the start of the race, and this was case and point at the start, with Raikkonen launching himself into the lead in turn one. The Finn maintained roughly a two second lead for the first section of the race until Daniel Ricciardo retired on Lap 9, causing a VSC. Raikkonen dummied Hamilton into pitting, and ostensibly, this was a mistake for Ferrari not to pit Raikkonen too, but Raikkonen held the lead, defending amazing from Hamilton from Lap 18-21, seriously costing him time until Raikkonen pitted. We all thought that Hamilton was on a one-stop strategy, with Raikkonen certainly on that after stretching his stint, but with Raikkonen in P2 and slowly closing in on race leader Hamilton, Mercedes decided they would not be able to keep the soon-to-be world champion on the same strategy, and pitted him into third place. In the final quarter of the race it was a tense cat and mouse game between Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton, and the trio finished the race separated by just two and a half seconds, but the Finn won his first GP since 2013, dening Hamilton the title in Austin, making him wait until next weekend in Mexico. What a race.
ROUND NINETEEN: MEXICO
During the practice sessions we discovered the rumours were true that the Renault-powered engines were indeed faster around the tracks in high altitude, meaning Red Bull took a 1-2, however contrary to the practice results, Daniel Ricciardo took pole, dening Max Verstappen his final chance to become the youngest pole sitter in Formula One history. At the start, Hamilton got an amazing start, but it was Verstappen who lead Hamilton after the first lap. The Mercedes over the race struggled with tyre degradation and subsequently meant that they finished P4 and P5. However it was Hamilton who took the title, not in the most stylish way though, with Raikkonen being the only driver to manage a one-stop strategy, finishing in P3.
ROUND TWENTY: BRAZIL
We were expecting more of the same in Brazil, with it looking like a six-way fight for the win in Sao Paulo. In qualifying Hamilton took pole from Vettel, but during the race the pace of Verstappen was not match for anyone, and by the half distance had taken the lead from world champion Lewis Hamilton, however roughly around Lap 45 he collided with Esteban Ocon who was trying to unlap himself because he was on fresh, new tyres. This was arguably the most controversial racing incident of 2018, and I will not divulge into whether it was either drivers fault. Nevertheless, this meant that Hamilton was able to take the win from Verstappen, with Raikkonen taking his twelfth podium of the season. Not bad for a 38 year old.
ROUND TWENTY-ONE: ABU DHABI
The final race of the season, and a rather boring one. The only thing that is worthwhile mentioning is the first lap incident between Grosjean and Hulkenberg that left the latter ‘hanging like a cow’. The podium was completed by Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen, the three default team leaders of the three biggest teams in Formula One.
So there you have it, the 2018 Season Debrief is over. Now its time for a Formula One hiatus...until February when testing begins. Let’s hope 2019 is just as good, if not better.
I would love to know your comments in the section, below, so please don’t be afraid to type any constructive criticisms in the box below or if you have any questions about the 2018 season in general, don’t hesitate.