Tiff's 2018 F1 driver ratings – and his pick for driver of the year
After a season full of drama and controversy another title goes into the history books and Lewis Hamilton can look back on what promised to be a close battle half way through the year but turned out to be a dominant performance from a driver that just seems to get better and better.
There were only five Grand Prix winners, and all were from the big three teams. An amazing eleven wins going to Lewis, five to his main rival Sebastian Vettel, two apiece for the Red Bull boys and one massive crowd-pleasing win for Kimi Raikkonen.
But, as regular readers of my race reports will know, while there may only be one outright winner of each Grand Prix, there are always tense in-team battles raging all down the field and points I awarded to each driver reflected a great deal on how they compared to their biggest opponent – their teammate.
Before the season even started I made my predictions as to how I reckoned the inter-team qualifying rivalry was going to shape up, so now it’s time to see how right or wrong I was!
While there may have only been five Grand Prix winners, I nominated eleven different drivers as my ‘Driver of the Day’ with Daniel Ricciardo getting top marks on no fewer than five occasions, often battling back from penalised grid positions. Hamilton and Raikkonen both got my award three times, Verstappen and Leclerc twice while Vettel, Gasly, Alonso, Bottas, Magnussen and Sirotkin all had their day when they shone the brightest.
For my final scores, I’ve added together all the points awarded to give an average score for each driver and, not surprisingly, one name stands out a full half a point above anyone else with the next six drivers covered by the next half point!
MY DRIVER OF THE YEAR: LEWIS HAMILTON 8.2/10
QUALY PREDICTION: HAMILTON 17 - BOTTAS 4
QUALY ACTUAL: HAMILTON 15 - BOTTAS 6
It took him four races to get to the top step of the podium and, until Sebastian Vettel slithered into the Hockenheim tyre barrier, it looked like the battle for the title was going to go till the end of the season. But, from that moment on there was nothing stopping him. Amazing qualifying laps and eight wins from the last eleven races stamped his name firmly on the crown.
When you consider his lack of any wins, I was quite surprised to find Bottas had outqualified Hamilton on six occasions although most of them were in the first half of the season when Lewis seemed to be struggling to get his act together.
Unfortunately when it came to the races the Finn couldn’t manage the race pace of Lewis and fell further and further back as the season progressed, and any dreams he might have had of fighting for the title disappeared. Had he not had his contract renewed mid-season – with one driver top of the table and the other fifth – I think he’d have found Esteban Ocon replacing him for 2019.
QUALY PREDICTION: VERSTAPPEN 18 – RICCIARDO 3
QUALY ACTUAL: VERSTAPPEN 15 – RICCIARDO 5
One score missing here as Max didn’t make it into qualifying in Monaco and perhaps I was a bit too ambitious with the young Dutchman’s raw speed against the more experienced Ricciardo, but I wasn’t far out.
Verstappen was obviously the star turn – so much so that it drove Ricciardo into the welcoming arms of Renault – but the Australian was always right there breathing down his neck.
Unfortunately it was Daniel’s Red Bull that seemed to break down the most and eight retirements to Max’s three were a crushing blow to his championship chances leaving him bottom of the big six in the points.
Max’s brush with the barriers in Monaco practice finally seemed to wake him up to the fact that he didn’t have to battle for every tenth of a second and every position at every opportunity and a new maturity produced drives that confirmed he’ll be a champion of the future. Sadly that’s something now unlikely to ever come Ricciardo’s way but his outstanding race craft and ever beaming smile look sure to entertain us for some time to come.
QUALY PREDICTION: VETTEL 16 – RAIKKONEN 5
QUALY ACTUAL: VETTEL 17 – RAIKKONEN 4
It gives me little satisfaction to find my Ferrari qualifying prediction was only one place out because I’ve a funny feeling that if Raikkonen had been able to find that little bit of extra one lap pace, over the season, he would have provided a better challenge to Lewis than Vettel did.
Instead the unofficial ‘Number Two’ soon became the official ‘Number Two’ with retirements in two of the first five races and he simply became a pawn in the team’s tactics. His win in America brought huge joy to his millions of fans but sadly it’s most likely going to be his last.
QUALY PREDICTION: LECLERC 15 – ERICCSON 6
QUALY ACTUAL: LECLERC 17 – ERICCSON 4
While Monaco’s mercurial rising star might have bounced from GP3 title to F2 and straight into F1 in successive seasons, I had thought it would take him a little more than three races to outqualify his more experienced teammate! Charles Leclerc is a young man going places.
His fourth race saw him finish sixth and take my Driver of the Day award and make everyone stand up and take notice as he confirmed he was in F1 to stay. He never quite matched that result for the rest of the year but he was forever turning heads by making a Sauber do things it hadn’t done for a long time and the fact that he was sixth overall in my average points table proves he was always catching the eye. His promotion to Ferrari was on and off for a while but I can’t wait to see the battles between him and Max Verstappen that should be entertaining us for the next ten years and more.
For Marcus Ericsson it was his fifth season of F1 thanks to his substantial financial backing and although there were some good drives here and there he never showed any of the sort of form that would keep him in the series on talent alone and I’m sure he’ll enjoy himself far more over in the less pressurised world of Indycar.
QUALY PREDICTION: ALONSO 13 – VANDOORNE 8
QUALY ACTUAL: ALONSO 21 – VANDOORNE 0
If there was anyone to ever prove the saying that you can’t keep a good man down then that man is Fernando Alonso. I was convinced that after all the trials and tribulations of Honda, if he had another poor season he would take to his deckchair, ease off on the effort and allow his highly rated young teammate to work his way in front… how wrong was I?!
A string of top ten finishes in the early races, battling for every inch of road, allowed him to accumulate enough points to finish eleventh in the driver’s standings and place McLaren in a thoroughly unrepresentative sixth in the manufacturer’s table. Taking in the World Endurance Championship and the Indy 500 at the same time reminded us of the great all-rounders of the ‘60s and ‘70s – and he’s not finished yet. With no front running drives available he’s understandably bowing out of F1, but he’ll be much missed.
Stoffel Vandoorne also picked up points for McLaren taking three top ten finishes in the first four races but, while Fernando picked up points on a total of ten occasions, the Belgian would get no more. Quite why he never showed the pace that made him stand out in the junior formulae will remain one of those great mysteries but hopefully a long professional career awaits outside of F1 starting next year with Formula E.
QUALY PREDICTION: GROSJEAN 13 – MAGNUSSEN 8
QUALY ACTUAL: GROSJEAN 11 – MAGNUSSEN 8
With Grosjean missing out on qualifying on two occasions, I could have got this one spot on. Qualifying was Magnussen’s weakness, but he tended to make up for it in the races.
I’ve remained a fan of Romain Grosjean through all his ups and downs and am convinced he’s one of the faster drivers on the grid. His qualifying results back this up but it’s his consistency that lets him down. Easily deflated when things start to go wrong he’s almost the opposite of Alonso. I doubt he’ll ever get a top drive now, but I’m convinced that if he had he would have been a championship challenger.
Teammate Kevin Magnussen is a proper, old school Grand Prix driver who cares little for what people think of him and just gets on with the job. He’ll fight for every place as if his life depends on it and you get the feeling that if he could just find that little bit extra in qualifying he’d be a more regular points scorer. As it was he accumulated enough to end the year tenth in the championship and entertain enough to be eighth in my points.
QUALY PREDICTION: OCON 14 – PEREZ 7
QUALY ACTUAL: OCON 16 – PEREZ 5
It’s amazing to think that this was Sergio Perez’s eighth year in F1 and although I’ve always thought he was very good he’d never get on my ‘brilliant’ list which is why I had a feeling that rising French star Esteban Ocon, his partner from last year, would rise above him this season.
There was never that much between them – and on the odd occasion nothing at all as they fought for places – but Esteban always seemed to have that edge. Unfortunately Force India are still a team that relies on drivers bringing money and Sergio’s Mexican backers seemed to have the effect of deterring team orders being used when needed – and also keep him in a seat for next year!
Unfortunately Ocon has missed out on the musical chairs for 2019 but expect him in the Mercedes for 2020 and joining in a fantastic ‘young guns’ battle with Verstappen and Leclerc.
QUALY PREDICTION: HULKENBERG 12 – SAINZ 9
QUALY ACTUAL: HULKENBERG 13 – SAINZ 8
Class B Championship winner Nico Hulkenberg is probably top of my list of drivers that should have got a big team seat but now never will. Obviously Renault will argue that he already has one, but I can’t see the team bridging the gap to the big three until at least the new regulations come into force in 2021 and who knows who will be driving then.
Seventh in the World Championship, Nico didn’t fair so well in my points table having ram raided Alonso in Belgium and gone all acrobatic in Abu Dhabi but, when he finished, he only finished outside the top ten on two occasions. When Daniel Ricciardo joins next year we’ll finally be able to tell just how good this German is.
Teammate Carlos Sainz is one of those highly touted stars that I fear is slowly fading away. Another who is very good but not brilliant. The 2014 Renault 3.5 champion now has four F1 seasons on his CV but, moving from Toro Rosso to Renault to McLaren, I fear his career is heading the wrong way…
QUALY PREDICTION: GASLY 15 – HARTLEY 6
QUALY ACTUAL: GASLY 13 – HARTLEY 6
Another young star looking to brighten the future is Frenchman Pierre Gasly and, if Hartley hadn’t missed two qualifying sessions, I reckon I’d have nailed this one as well. Quick though Brendon Hartley is I always felt his stay would be temporary.
Fourth place for Honda in their second race gave Gasly my Driver of the Day award but he slightly flattered to deceive. It was hard to tell sometimes whether it was the engine or the chassis that was bouncing them up and down the grid, but we’ll finally find out how good both Gasly and the Honda engine are when they come together at Red Bull next year – and Gasly gets to be compared to most highly touted talent on the grid!
Hartley didn’t really do that much wrong but little lock ups here and there dropped him back in qualifying and he had to deal with recovering from a Toro Rosso that charged the Silverstone barriers at a frightening speed. A man full of pride and dignity it must have been a difficult last few races for him with all the talk of his imminent departure. His F1 dream may be over but I’m sure he’ll be a driver in demand elsewhere.
QUALY PREDICTION: SIROTKIN 13 – STROLL 8
QUALY ACTUAL: SIROTKIN 12 – STROLL 8
With Stroll being the one to miss qualifying once, I’m claiming a hat-trick of wins with this one! The most closely matched pair of the whole grid seemed glued together from beginning to end with Sirotkin coming out the winner on pace if not on points.
Neither of these two drivers are anywhere as near as bad as the critics like to claim. Both brought vast amounts of sponsorship to secure their drives, but Lance Stroll is a former F3 champion and Sirotkin finished third in both the 2015 and ’16 GP2 series. Both can be very quick on their day and some of Lance’s opening laps were very impressive while Sergey’s defensive drive in Singapore in a car that was horrible to drive was skilful and controlled and made him my Driver of the Day.
With his Russian sponsors understandably disappointed with the car provided for them, Sirotkin hasn’t the backing to claim the second year which he deserves while Stroll has simply got his Dad to buy a better team – but don’t expect Perez to have an easy time!
So, the FINAL TABLE OF AVERAGE SORES looks like this:
8.2 – Hamilton
7.7 – Verstappen
7.6 – Vettel
7.5 – Raikkonen
7.4 – Ricciardo
7.3 – Leclerc
7.2 – Alonso
7.0 – Magnussen
6.8 – Ocon
6.7 – Bottas and Sainz
6.6 – Hulkenberg
6.5 – Perez
6.4 – Gasly
5.9 – Grosjean, Ericsson and Sirotkin
5.7 – Stroll
5.5 – Vandoorne and Hartley