2018 was the equal-longest season in the history of F1. It was also the year when HALO was introduced ( a safety feature added for open cockpit racing ) not just for F1 but also for the feeder series. 2018 also saw a new alliance between McLaren F1 and Renault ( as engine suppliers for the team ). Sergei Sirotkin, Charles LeClerc were the new kids on the block.
How did the season pan out? Was a New driver and team crowned Champions at the end of 2018 or was status quo maintained?
Lets have a quick look.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
Mercedes AMG F1 are the best in the business since the Turbo Era. However the competitors are quickly catching up and creating a more level playing field. 2018 was a classic example of the same. Ferrari were the fastest in the Pre-season testing and had the upper hand in the first half of 2018. However uncharacteristic mistakes coupled with strategic errors allowed Mercedes to close in on them and eventually take the lead in both the Drivers' and the Constructors' Titles. The Team in Brackley worked round the clock to reduce the performance deficit over the season and their efforts did pay off.
Lewis Hamilton's flawless drives got them the wins, his pole lap in Singapore ( the team's bogey track ) was one of the highlights of the season. Valtteri Bottas was presented with a couple of good opportunities for a victory but luck and team orders didn't go his way as he played 2nd fiddle for the majority of the season. Lewis Hamilton was playing catch up up until Germany, post which he simply moved into another gear. Hamilton won 11 races and 6 podiums on his way to the title. Bottas failed to win a race but finished on the podium in 8 races. Hamilton ended the season on a mammoth 408 points while Bottas finished in 5th with 247. Mercedes took home the Constructors' crown yet again! Lewis Hamilton was now a 5 Time World Champion!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari was the team to beat in 2018. The year that promised a lot became yet another season of "what could have been". I have begun to think that the team has forgotten the way of winning championships, a drought that continues from 2007 ( Drivers' ) and 2008 ( Constructors' ). Incidents on track, Driver errors, Strategic howlers by the pit wall marred the performances and eventually cost the team top honours. Some updates introduced later in the year were a disaster, points were lost and this turned the tide in the Drivers' Title fight. 2018 revealed that Sebastian Vettel can also buckle under pressure and make mistakes.
Vettel won 5 Races and bagged 7 podiums to finish P2 in the standings with 320 points. Kimi Raikkonen had a very strong 2018, as successful as his championship winning year in 2007. He finally won a race since Australia 2013 at the US GP in Austin in fine fashion. His 11 podiums helped him reach 251 points and P3 in the Championship. Scuderia Ferrari finished P2 in the Constructors' with 571 points.
If Ferrari wants to pose a serious challenge to Mercedes in 2019 then they must ensure that everyone operates within their designated fields / professions and the decision making process must not be interfered with. The Power struggle within the team didn't help matters either. The passing away of the FCA CEO Mr. Sergio Marchionne was a big loss for the team as well.
It was a much better year in terms of performances, however "yet so near..yet so far". Charles LeClerc steps in to partner Vettel in 2019. It will be interesting to see how they get along as team-mates and whether they can bring back the glory days or not.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull Racing finished P3 in the Standings with 419 Points. It was like a lonely season for them with no competitor to challenge for P3 and the Top 2 teams in a league of their own. Red Bull attributed a lot of blame to Renault power for their performance deficit in 2018. Will it change after their switch to Honda in 2019? Lets see.
Max Verstappen missed P3 in the Championship by 2 points. The Dutchman was the recipient of a lot of bad luck in the first half of the season but he won in Austria, benefiting from the retirements suffered by the Mercedes duo. He drove flawlessly to win in Mexico the cooler temperatures and higher altitude allowed the Renault to perform better. He also finished on the podium 9 times, a fantastic feat nonetheless. Daniel Ricciardo struggled on the other hand, specially after the announcement of his decision to leave Red Bull for Renault in 2019. The Australian bagged 170 points with wins in China and Monaco, the latter redemption for the Pit Stop fiasco that robbed him victory in 2016. He didn't finish on the podium in the other races, something he will be looking to improve in 2019. P6 in the Standings does not justify the talent of the man.
Red Bull will be backing Verstappen in 2019 as Gasly ( Ricciardo's replacement ) finds his feet. Hopefully we will have a great contest!
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault Sport F1 was P4 in the Standings at the mid season break and they maintained their momentum till the end of the year. It wasn't smooth sailing with Haas F1 breathing down their necks but the Enstone based team prevailed.The disparity with the Top 3 Runners was huge but their ability to beat customer teams with faster engines will serve as good encouragement in 2019.
Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished P7 and P10 respectively. Hulkenberg finished in the points in 11 races, P5 in Germany being his best result. Sainz finished in the points on 13 occasions with P5 in Baku being his best result. Hulkenberg was the best of the rest or as the media terms it the B Championship. A Podium still eludes him. Sainz switches to McLaren with Renault roping in the services of Ricciardo. Renault has the funding as a works team and are expanding their R&D on war footing. 2019 will be fun. Go Renault!!
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 once again proved to be the strongest Ferrari customer team. Achieving P5 in the Constructors' standings is a big achievement; a potent chassis coupled with a fantastic powertrain the main reasons. Gene Haas will be hoping to go one better next year. The Team finished on 93 points. The Team also have the FIA to thank who stripped Racing Point of their points up until the Hungarian GP, else they would have been leapfrogged. ( Elaborated later )
Kevin Magnussen scored the majority of the points for the team, finishing in the points in 11 races with P5 in Bahrain and Austria being his best results. He was P9 in the Championship with 56 points. Romain Grosjean's travails with the braking system didn't seem to end as he suffered from many non - finishes and struggled to find the right setups at most of the races. He only had 7 finishes in the points with P4 being his best effort at the Austrian Grand Prix. The Frenchmen scored a total of 37 points in P14, an underachiever in all honesty. A lot will be expected of him in 2019 considering the amount of experience he has racing in F1.
The battle in the midfield is always a case of fine margins, the team has to iron out the issues and ensure both drivers finish well to bridge the gap above.
McLaren Renault F1 Team :
McLaren began 2018 with a lot of hope..a hope that their switch to Renault power would address their performance issues and put them on the road to recovery. Sadly it was anything but that. Renault power was the saving grace wherever it could be but the design flaws in the car were magnified on most tracks. McLaren were left red faced on most occasions as the car suffered from reliability and performance issues and failed to bring home the expected results. It became quite evident to the world that it wasn't Honda to blame entirely for McLaren's miseries but their chassis design.
Fernando Alonso did what Fernando Alonso does best, extracting every ounce of performance out of the car. His best finish was P5 in the opening round in Australia. He finished in the points at 8 other races and P11 in the Championship with 50 points. The Spaniard made no secret of the criticism of the car over the course of the year. It also led him to the decision of taking a sabbatical from the sport. The Double World Champion had not seen a race victory since 2013 and a podium since 2014. We wish him the best in his future endeavours and hope to see him on the grid again! Stoffel Vandoorne had a mediocre 2018. He was unable to beat his team-mate in Qualifying and finished in the points in only 4 races. P16 with 12 points, a horrendous year for the Belgian.
The team ended the season in P6 on 62 Points, better than where they were in 2017 but not where they hoped to be.
They have a lot of work to do in 2019.
Racing Point Force India F1 Team :
Racing Point Force India, ( now Racing Point F1 ) saw a change in ownership over the mid-season break. The Team name changed from Sahara Force India to Racing Point with Vijay Mallya and the Sahara group selling their team assets to a consortium of businessmen lead by Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll's father. Perez even sued Force India, sending the team into administration before they were acquired by the investors. The consequence of the acquisition was that the team lost all the points scored up until the mid-season break i.e. up until Hungarian GP and had to enter the season as a new entrant. The team scored a total of 52 points from the Belgian Grand Prix and had their points been retained, they would have finished P5 in the Championship with 111 points ahead of Haas F1. The Drivers were allowed to retain their points.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon weren't the best of mates and there was a fair bit of rivalry between the two. Incidents between the duo on track also cost the team some valuable points, specially vs McLaren F1. There was even news about Ocon being replaced in season by Lance Stroll from Williams but better sense prevailed and the Frenchman was allowed to continue racing. Sergio Perez was P8 in the Championship with 62 points grabbing a P3 once again at Baku, Racing Point's favourite track. Esteban Ocon had 10 finishes in the Points with P6 being his best finish in Monaco, Austria, Belgium and Italy. He finished P12 in the Championship with 49 points.
2019 promises a lot, will the investors be repaid for their efforts? We shall see.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team :
Sauber F1 Team was on the rise since the start of 2018. Their results improved with each passing race and they finished on 48 points and P8 in the Constructors' at the end of the year. The Team has also benefited from a faster Ferrari engine in 2018. Charles LeClerc spearheaded their challenge with points finishes in 14 races and P6 was his best finish ( Baku ). He had 39 points to his name at the end of the year. Marcus Ericsson in comparison massively under-performed and finished in the points in only 6 races, P9 being his best finish. Sauber F1 will be thankful for LeClerc and for what he achieved since a better finish means more money to use for next year.
Sauber is now Alfa Romeo F1, so hopefully they wont be as cash strapped as they were at the end of 2017.
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso had a very mediocre 2018. Honda power and its reliability issues are to blame ( to some extent ). The team scored only 33 points in 2018 and finished P9 in the Championship, losing P8 to Sauber post the mid season break. The Red Bull B Team will have to pull up their socks if they want to bring any respectability to their tally in 2019. Pierre Gasly performed well enough to warrant a seat in the A Team for 2019. Brendon Hartley not so. The Frechman scored in 5 races and P4 was his best finish ( Bahrain ). Brendon Hartley struggled all year round with mechanical failures, incidents and setup issues. He only managed 4 points in 2018, 9th in the US GP and 10th in Baku and Germany.
Toro Rosso will be hoping for a better outing in 2019.
Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :
Williams, a name that is well known in the annals of F1. The team is now a mere shadow of its former glory days. Its truly a sad situation within the team, be it the lack of finances, sponsors or direction in terms of development. The progress curve stagnated for the team in 2018. The results were poor, even though a top man like Paddy Lowe was added to the management. The team also said goodbye to Rob Smedley who decided to call it a day on his career and spend time with his young family ( for now at least ). Sergei Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were the drivers hired for 2018 ( pay drivers purely ) and the funding they carried helped the team last the year. 7 points was all they could conjure, best being 8th for Lance Stroll in Baku.
Williams need a revamp for 2019. They need to become appealing again and ensure their driver portfolio boasts of that too. We wish them well.
A lot has happened over the course of 2018.
I had the opportunity of attending 3 races - Germany, Belgium and Abu Dhabi and I must say that Liberty Media should be commended for revitalizing F1 as a sport and modernizing it. They also improved Fan interaction and involvement.
We said goodbye to Fernando Alonso, a legend of the sport, his absence will definitely leave a void. Esteban Ocon, Stoffel Vandoorne, Brendon Hartley, Sergei Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson will not be on the grid in 2019. Charles LeClerc was a revelation and the Tifosi will hope to see a new champion in Scarlet Red in 2019.
Kimi Raikkonen finally won a race again and can bow out of Ferrari with his head held high!
McLaren started strong hoping the trend would continue into the season..sadly it didn't, Sahara Force India were already in the red ( financially ) and hoped to weather the storm..the management couldn't; Ferrari was the fastest car on the grid and they hoped this would be the year of top honours..sadly it wasn't.
This season served as a good reminder for us, be it in life or Motorsport..it doesn't matter how you begin, what matters is how you finish! Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton ran the race well and deserved to be on the top step.