My review of the 2018 F1 season

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Nov 27, 2018
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It's been a long season in Formula 1. 21 races, a record tied with 2016. But a very different season to the one two years ago. Mercedes are no longer without a challenger. Ever since the start of the new high-downforce era last year, Ferrari have become a serious threat to the Silver Arrows. They tried their best in 2017, it wasn't quite enough. But what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

And so this year, Vettel started off with back to back victories in Australia and Bahrain, and it looked like a third one was possible in China. But a better strategy by Red Bull, coupled with an overzealous Max Verstappen, denied him of a triple. Instead, it was Daniel Ricciardo who took Red Bull's first win of the season.

And then came Azerbaijan. Well done Baku. Just like last year, it was quite an eventful race again. Not as incredibly chaotic as the 2017 edition, but definitely worth watching. After the Red Bulls had come together and crashed out, an overzealous Vettel restart and a late puncture for Bottas allowed Hamilton to get his and Mercedes' first win of 2018. He didn't hesitate and followed up with another one in Spain.

Daniel Ricciardo will forever be grateful that in Monaco, overtaking is nearly impossible (although Verstappen might have a different opinion on that). Two years after his team denied him of a lights-to-flag victory in the streets of the principality, this year he finally did it – even though his MGU-K already gave up early in the race.

Most people probably expected Canada to be a home run for Hamilton, but an old engine doesn't feel at home on a power circuit. Instead, it was Vettel who took the top step of the podium in Montreal. Mercedes instead waited until France to give Lewis a fresh power unit – which he immediately took to victory. Vettel's antics at the start further played into Hamilton's hands.

Austria looked likely to see another Mercedes win. But to finish first, you have to finish first. Instead, it was a double DNF for Mercedes, while Verstappen took his Red Bull to a home victory on the Red Bull Ring.

For a lot of drivers, 2018 was the year of the home race curse. Leclerc's brakes failed at Monaco. Stroll crashed out halfway through the first lap in Canada. Gasly and Ocon both out on the first lap in France. And while Lewis did finish the British Grand Prix, on the podium even, a bad start and Kimi imitating Seb's approach from France meant that Vettel took the top step, while Hamilton had to recover from last place after the first lap. However, in Hockenheim it was Vettel who fell victim to the home race curse. Probably his most costly mistake of the season, he crashed out from the lead, and Hamilton, having started 14th, took another victory. Made it back-to-back victories in Hungary.

But despite those wins, the Mercedes no longer looked like the strongest car. In fact, they no longer even had the power advantage of the last few years. And this was evident on the first lap in Belgium, when Vettel shot into the lead on the Kemmel Straight, and kept it. And with Monza being the most obvious power circuit of all, everyone was predicting a solid home victory for Ferrari.

But even on a power circuit, power isn't everything. You can still screw up. Which is what Vettel did on the first lap. Kimi proved unable to keep Hamilton behind, so once again, Mercedes came out on top in Italy.

When talking to a Ferrari fan, don't ever mention Singapore 2017. And try to avoid the following year's floor upgrade as well. More of a downgrade really. Hamilton converted an incredible pole position into yet another victory, while Ferrari was nowhere. If only they had noticed immediately. But it took another two Hamilton wins in Russia and Japan. And while going back to an earlier spec floor brought them back to the top step in Austin, even the happiness over a Kimi win couldn't hide the disappointment. It was too late. Ferrari, just like their lead driver, had messed up. A 4th place in Mexico was enough for Lewis to wrap up his 5th World Championship, on a weekend dominated by Red Bull, with Verstappen taking his second victory of the season.

It even could have been a third one in Brazil, if it hadn't been for Esteban Ocon. Trying to unlap himself, he crashed with Verstappen, and cost the Dutchman the lead, allowing Hamilton to take his 10th win of the season. In combination with P5 for Bottas, this was enough for Mercedes to also win the WCC for the fifth consecutive year. And they still didn't stop, Hamilton crowned his year with win number 11 in the season finale at Abu Dhabi.

Lewis in 2018 was nothing short of amazing. Always delivering when it mattered most. However, I think that it's important to mention that he had a very solid and supportive team behind him. Mercedes may not have had the best car all season, but they had the best team. They had stability.

Which is what Ferrari would have needed, but they lost it halfway through the season. Sergio Marchionne's death hit them hard, and cracks started to appear. Internal power struggles. Decisions about the 2019 line-up. Räikkönen or Leclerc?

They eventually went with their junior driver. Charles Leclerc will be the first member of the Ferrari Driver Academy to actually drive for the Scuderia. And in my opinion, a well-deserved seat. Out of all four rookies in 2018, he was the one who impressed me most. It did take him a few races to find his rhythm, but afterwards he demolished Ericsson. Several solid top 10 finishes, even best of the rest a few times.

But Sauber made great progress as a team as well. They no longer were the backmarker they were last year. It was Williams who took that role instead. The FW41 clearly was a horrible car. It was known to be very unpredictable and unstable. And as a result, Williams joined McLaren in the club of the fallen legends.

After three abysmal years with Honda, a 5th place in the Woking-based team's first race with a Renault PU looked promising. "Now we can fight." Well, they couldn't. While more reliable, the MCL33 wasn't much faster than its predecessor, and Alonso's last season in F1 could once again be described with "I tried my best."

Meanwhile, another Renault customer team did much better. Red Bull once again were an unchallenged 3rd in the WCC. Enough for occasional race wins, but too slow to be a championship contender, and too fast for the midfield. Their weakest point wasn't pace though, but reliability. No other team had as many mechanical DNF's as Red Bull this season. Not even Toro Rosso, with a Honda power unit, which in previous seasons had been known for abysmal reliablity. With Red Bull switching to Honda as well next year, no one really knows what to expect. Will they improve, stay were they are, or join an already tight midfield battle?

The midfield was incredibly exciting to watch this season.Force India, Haas and Renault all regular contenders for best of the rest (or Formula 1.5, as Reddit likes to call it). Haas proved to be fast, but their driver line-up wasn't the most consistent. Especially Romain Grosjean, who was very error-prone in the first half of the season, but did much better after the summer break.
Force India once again punched well above their weight. It's no secret that they've been struggling financially for years. And just before the summer break it happened. They went into administration just before the Hungarian Grand Prix, and after the summer break had to compete as a last-minute new entry in Spa. So the WCC only tells half of the story. If they had been able to compete as one entry for the whole season, they'd have been 5th in the WCC, but they finished 7th instead.

And that just leaves Renault. It was the Enstone-based team, who with consistent results eventually finished best of the rest in the WCC, with Nico Hülkenberg also winning the Formula 1.5 Drivers' title.

It is also worth mentioning that the 2018 season was the first ever F1 season in which the same drivers competed in every race. Not a single driver change during the season. Instead, a lot of driver changes for next year. An unprecedented silly season in 2018. Only 8 drivers are staying with their current teams for next year, with Mercedes and Haas being the only teams to keep the same driver line-up for 2019.

I'm very excited for 2019. How will the new aero rules affect things? How will Gasly and Leclerc do as drivers for top teams? Lots of questions. We'll start finding out the answers next March.
 
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