Formula 1 world takes a stop from a frantic season with Lewis Hamilton finishing on high in the Abu Dhabi finale – and capped off a tremendous season with his 11th victory in 21 outings.
Right from the outset, the 2018 F1 campaign was billed in a way in which either of the tight rivals – Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton of Ferrari and Mercedes respectively could join the great Juan Manuel Fangio on a quintet of titles to trail only Schumacher (seven crowns) in the sport’s history. And, yes, rather than an intra-team battle between Mercedes drivers, 2018 delivered the classic Mercedes vs Ferrari narrative we had been waiting for. It threatened to happen in 2016, came close to it last year, but in 2018 it surged up to the zenith and finally came to being.
At the early stages, all the momentum seemed to be with Ferrari. It was Ferrari who looked like they will be winning their first championship since 2008. They were in the ascendency, their SF71H appearing both a quicker and a more adaptable machine than the Mercedes’, and Sebastian Vettel – himself chasing a fifth drivers’ crown – proving a formidable opponent for Hamilton made it a better and worthy competitive campaign.
And just like the year before, 2018 F1 season further evinced the cautionary tales every driver should be mindful of to see their season through. I mean tales like; how to minimise those terrible weekends, and keep their car on the podium even on a bad day and not being distracted by adulation. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was a victim at the young phase of the season after throwing away a 17-point advantage in the championship, sinking his Ferrari into the gravel on home soil – German GP – and well, Hamilton never looked back.
Meanwhile, outside the Mercedes-Ferrari rivalry, Red Bull most times were nowhere near the one-lap pace of the aforementioned two, Max Verstappen, their best driver, spent most of the first few races spinning, hitting rivals or clattering into stationary objects.
However, commendable victories in Austria and other podiums in Spain, Canada and France granted the Dutchman top-four finish – and just behind the two big guns – Mercedes and Ferrari. Like his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, the Dutchman endured his fair share of positives and negatives, but perhaps, more negatives for Red Bull as a team.
Elsewhere, the battle for the best of the ‘other teams’ (you can also say the ‘B’ championship) came down to Hass’ Kevin Magnussen, his old sparring partner Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Force India’s Sergio Perez. The trio enjoyed what could be called a fair season considering they were never taunted to claim a championship after all. However, same doesn’t go for retiring McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was oust in the top ten-finish – itching his high-laid legacy on tracks with subtle ignominy. Eleventh place on the season log doesn’t sound so cheap, but it was a career-sour for great Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton stamped his authority once again – or all hail the dux..!
Hamilton claimed a historic championship at the Mexican GP, joining only Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as Formula 1 drivers to have won five championships. And at 33 years of age and in his 12th season of F1, Hamilton is at the same stage of his career as Schumacher was when the German great clinched his fifth crown in 2002.
The Briton has now claimed four titles in five years, spurring thoughts that he may have finally see off Sebastian Vettel’s heart-to-heart rivalry and tie down a long-dominant F1 years – and perhaps go down in the sport’s history as the ‘GOAT’.
“It’s definitely my best year. And that’s the goal.” the Mercedes driver enthused.
Also, courtesy of Hamilton’s triumph in the Brazilian GP which was his 50th of F1’s current turbo-hybrid era in 99 races, Mercedes were crowned constructors’ champions for a fifth successive year.
“We’ve just won the World Championship for the fifth time so that’s real history in the making for the team and if I was to retire today, for example, Mercedes would always remember this day and that I was a part of it,” said Hamilton.
With an emphatic triumph, 2018 may be a stepping stone to many domineering years for both Hamilton and Mercedes.
Dwindling Red Bull – or a year to forget for the supposed challengers
Red Bull used to be a team that could challenge for race victories week in, week out but now they seem like a team that clear up when Mercedes and Ferrari have a bad day or grab tiny wins on convoluted tracks like Monaco where power doesn’t matter.
One problem of Red Bull is the team’s Renault engines, and that issue was particularly obvious in Hungary. Daniel Ricciardo started from the back of the grid after having to replace elements of his PU, while Max Verstappen didn’t even finish the race – once again due to an engine problem. This is why Red Bull is moving to Honda power units from next year. And this may have chalked up to why Daniel Ricciardo has taken his time in resigning with the team.
The bottom line is, Red Bull disappointed from the supposed championship challengers we thought they could be this year
What to expect in 2019 – or a look into the future
Hamilton turns 34 in January next year and will be the second oldest driver on the 2019 grid after Kimi Raikkonen, although has underlined his status as F1’s preeminent star with his fifth world championship title this year.
But while Mercedes are retaining the experienced and proven pairing of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, 29, for next year, their two key rivals are adding youth to their line-ups. Charles Leclerc, 21 years old is replacing Raikkonen at Ferrari, while the 22-year-old Pierre Gasly steps in to the 29- year-old Daniel Ricciardo’s seat at Red Bull to partner Max Verstappen, who only recently turned 21. In as much as Hamilton is expected to further his authority next year, one of these new crop of drivers will burst into limelight and perhaps replicate a 22-year-old Hamilton back in 2007 who caught people’s eyes with promising outings on the tracks.
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In 2019, cars will to all intents and purposes be brand new in terms of aerodynamics. The big teams have the resource to usually get it right first time, and major changes tend to scatter the tracks until the smaller teams catch up. So, it is only delusional to say the ‘other teams’ will upsurge the big guns’ dominance. However, a rise in the Red Bull’s grades may surface next year, but another dominant year from Hamilton-led Ferrari team may yet overshadow the year!