With five races, of the 21 race championship, behind us, it’s time to take a look back at the first quarter of 2018 F1 season.
No one can deny it; the series has been thoroughly entertaining to date. There have been on-track battles, skirmishes, mind-games, technical innovations and strategic plays that have decided race outcomes.
With the commercial rights now firmly in the hands of American company, Liberty Media, the F1 circus really seems to have picked up. There is even talk of adding another race into the 2019 F1 calendar.
Grid girls have been replaced by karting kids (a move I firmly support), there are noticeably more celebrities around the paddock and, best of all, most of the races this year have gone down to the wire.
Thrilling finishes are part and parcel of the American racing showcase. Watch any Nascar event to see what I am referring to. Is it any coincidence that we’ve seen such frequent use of the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and Safety Car (SC) this year? I’ll bet not. At any rate, it makes for a great spectacle and isn’t that what we really want?
Hearts must have sank in pitlane at the season-opener in Australia when defending champion Lewis Hamilton set a pole position time 0,7 seconds quicker than anyone else.
But it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who claimed the opening two rounds, arguably with a little help from the VSC, but mainly through clever strategy on the part of his team. The German team seemed out of sorts, though in contention it seemed to lack the massive pace of the previous two years. Had Mercedes-AMG finally met its match?
The Chinese GP was a real nail-biter as the SC once again played a role. The spoils, however, went to RedBull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Aussie was impressive in the way he passed his main rivals, albeit on a very new, soft rubber, to claim victory. His team-mate Max Verstappen was less impressive as he collided with Vettel late in the race. Catch all Ricciardo’s overtakes here.
Mercedes-AMG pilot Lewis Hamilton opened his 2018 win account in Azerbaijan. He was lucky to inherit the victory from his team-mate Valtteri Bottas who suffered a late puncture after running over debris. Ironically, the field was bunched up after (another) SC period when Bottas ran over the debris. The SC was deployed for marshals to clear the track but missed this one crucial piece. Hamilton knew he was lucky and praised his team-mate for a brilliant drive up until his retirement.
The most routine race win of the season was claimed by Hamilton again when the series returned to (home soil) Europe. Hamilton seemed to have returned to form as he claimed position and the win, with his team-mate claiming second. Mercedes-AMG seemed to be back on form.
There have been no real surprise packages this year. As usual Fernando Alonso is driving the wheels off his McLaren and finds himself far up the points table, more than some may have expected. The mid-field battle seems to be as active as ever with Renault, Haas, McLaren and Force India all closely matched. A log of current contructor’s points can be found here.
Three different winners in five rounds makes for a good championship.
Of course, it wouldn’t be F1 without some controversy. There have been some egg-on-face moments. Most notable of these took place in the Baku race when Verstappen and Ricciardo crashed into each other, throwing away a double points-scoring opportunity. Video clip here.
On the technical front Ferrari has been under the microscope more than once. First up is their smoking engine. On start-up the red cars can been emitting huge plumes of smoke. This has led some teams to question if Ferrari isn’t flouting the oil-burn regulations.
In essence, this rule allows engines to consume a limited amount of oil, as is normally the case with any engine. F1 teams have been exploiting this to achieve a power boost by introducing some oil into the combustion chamber – very clever.
The sports rule makers have tried to close the loophole, but the smoking Ferrari has led some teams to believe that the Scuderia are still burning oil. It has been noted that especially during qualifying, the team constantly tops up oil, possibly giving them an edge, which some claim is worth 15 kW. The FIA is looking to ban oil top-ups during qualifying.
… and mirrors
Ferrari was again in the spotlight as it came to the Spanish GP with unique mounting points for its wing mirrors, hung from the “halo” protection device. The team claims that it provides better rearward visibility but the FIA has banned the new mounting points. Those in the know claim that moving the mirrors up and away from the body influences the airflow to the rear wing.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: The 2018 season will be determined by reliability. Powertrains are supposed to last seven races. We are only five races in and we’ve already seen reliability plaguing the front-running teams. Hamilton took a replacement gearbox early in the season and Kimi Raikkonen suffered a loss of power at the last round.
The pace of the 2018 season has been frenetic. Teams have had to respond to on-track challenges by letting drivers turn up the engines to achieve more power. It seems silly, but F1 engines run at less than full power for much of a race. In a bid to stay in touch and/or out-race rivals I suspect we’ll start to see more engine/power unit failures soon.
A great spectacle
Whatever the case, we, the fans, are being treated to a great season of F1 racing. I suspect that this season will go down to the wire with the main protagonists being Hamilton and Vettel. Ultimately I think the Brit will be the first of the two to claim his fifth world title.
Roll on the rest of 2018.
Watch video highlights of all the races at this link.
- Lewis Hamilton 95
- Sebastian Vettel 78
- Valtteri Bottas 58
- Kimi Raikkonen 48
- Daniel Ricciardo 47
- Max Verstappen 33
- Fernando Alonso 32
- Nico Hulkenberg 22
- Kevin Magnussen 19
- Carlos Sainz 19