While Lewis Hamilton celebrates his latest Formula One world championship victory, testing a Yamaha Superbike in the South of Spain, it is time to reflect on the season that has been.
A year that promised plenty, not the least the potential crowning of a five-time world champion, was fulfilled – though perhaps not in the way that many had expected, between rivals Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
The contentious Halo head protection device was immediately an afterthought, following Vettel’s dominant victory at the curtain raising Australian Grand Prix – and was justly praised for its role in Belgium, in saving standout rookie Charles Leclerc from the flying, retiring Fernando Alonso.
In a carbon copy of 2017, Vettel started the season off strongly and more convincingly so this year. However as with the previous season, the German’s title tilt unfolded before him in the second half – since that campaign defining crash from the lead at his home race.
Despite winning at Spa, it was Hamilton who wiped the floor with Ferrari and any hope they had for breaking their decade long title drought. A one-two finish at the Cathedral of Formula One in Monza for Mercedes AMG, was the eventual dagger in the heart of the Prancing Horse.
From thereon, there was no stopping the masterclass from Hamilton, who cemented his most definitive championship challenge – defeating the increased competition from Ferrari, still with two races in hand.
Such has been the Briton’s astonishing form, that following title success in Mexico, he also claimed back-to-back wins in Brazil and Abu Dhabi; which Hamilton has never done before previously when he has won the championship early.
Having become the record holder for poles this season and now within reach of Michael Schumacher’s once untouchable, seven championships and 91-race wins – Hamilton has with this latest triumph, throw himself into the greatest of all time debate.
All these records and successes would ignite the fire within Ferrari for 2019, as they’re forced to lick their wounds once again. Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene summed up the Scuderia’s predicament perfectly in saying, ‘Ferrari must overcome the fear of winning.’
Until that moment comes, the silver juggernaut of Mercedes AMG looks impossible to derail from further domination.
Arguably, Ferrari’s best driver this season was Kimi Räikkönen, who is able to at least step away from the team with which he won the championship for 2007, having broken his drought of wins.
Consistently scoring podiums, however consistently playing second fiddle strategically to Vettel, the 39-year old had a stronger season than his compatriot at Mercedes AMG, who as well consigned to the role of wingman.
So luckless has been Valtteri Bottas in 2018, that he appears to be a shadow of the excellent figure that was seen in 2017, when he was parachuted in at the eleventh hour to replace the retiring Nico Rosberg.
Completing the season without a victory, despite Mercedes AMG having won the constructors championship, will be a blot on Bottas’ career – when he should have easily won multiple races early in the season.
Even more miserable was Daniel Ricciardo’s season, which went from the highs of redeeming Monaco Grand Prix win to the harrowing lows of eight DNFs, including an excruciating mechanical failure in Mexico where he had pole position.
Will he be pleased though with his switch to Renault in 2019? Only time will tell and regardless, Red Bull will be pleased to have at last severed ties with the French manufacturer for a partnership with Honda instead – despite having won four races and put Max Verstappen fourth in the championship.
Toro Rosso’s progress with Honda was ultimately encouraging enough for Red Bull to be convinced to take on board their power for 2019, with standout performances such as Pierre Gasly’s fourth in Bahrain a testament to the Japanese marque’s improvement in reliability and speed.
“Now we can fight!” remarked the cheeky Frenchman, mimicking Alonso’s speech from Melbourne and possibly rubbing in the fact that Honda have made inroads since their rocky relationship with McLaren.
Best of the rest honours did go to the yellow Renault hornets, despite a fairly scrappy season. Perhaps the mistakes made by Haas and in particular their pitstop failures in Melbourne, which cost them fourth and fifth place finishes, in the end derailed the possibility for them to finish fourth in the constructor’s.
Had also, Romain Grosjean had a clean first half of the season – the standings would in hindsight have painted a different picture in the midfield.
Even though at times it may have looked as bad as the Frenchman’s fortunes, 2018 was more dismal for McLaren, who after emerged from their messy divorce with Honda and partnered Renault – only had fundamental chassis issues exposed on their car, causing more heads to roll internally and forcing Alonso into retirement.
Equally as dismal was Williams’ season, who are a team as prestigious McLaren. The criticism of their all pay-driver line up didn’t compare to how awful the FW41 chassis, which only scored 7-points in total and spent all season as backmarkers.
Force India, or as they’re temporarily known as Racing Point, were at last able to move on from their legally embattled founder Vijay Mallya. Even if that meant that the team had to surrender their points scored in the first half of the season – the move to administration secured the squad’s long-term future.
The revelation of 2018 was indeed the renaissance at Sauber and the emergence of Leclerc, who will step up to Ferrari in his only his sophomore season. With McLaren and Williams struggling to find competitiveness, it was pleasing to see the Sauber name amid the midfield battle.
Only improving as the year went on, it will be no surprise to see Sauber immediately hit the ground running in 2019 with the services of Räikkönen and rookie Antonio Giovinazzi. However, 2018 can be remembered for Leclerc’s stunning debut and the best season to date for Marcus Ericsson, who without a Formula One seat will race IndyCar next year.
So, while 2018 didn’t quite yield the championship battle that many would have desired, the outcome is still satisfying in seeing a five-time world champion crowned, as well as plenty of exciting races which left many a jaw sitting agape.
2019 promises to better, with new regulations, the addition of fresh faces to the grid as well as the return of some old ones too. Drivers have new homes and new challenges await. And while it is time to hibernate, the hype for another season of Formula One is already coming to.