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F1 2018: Dark moments and disappointments of the season

2018-08-21 19:00

Egmont Sippel

Image: AFP / Jewel Samad

The first half of the 2018 Formula 1 season has given us plenty to rave about, from scintillating performances, both in qualifying and in 12 races thus far, to unbelievable technical advances, both on the aero and engine fronts.

However, we had the inevitable disappointments as well – plus a couple of really dark moments. The latter first.

1. Death of a chairman

By 2014, Fiat big honcho Sergio Marchionne had it up to here with Ferrari's latest F1 drought and ousted longstanding Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo, taking over the reigns himself.

READ: Why Sergio Marchionne's successor has such big boots to fill at Fiat Chrysler

The short-term goal was to restructure the team. Turning to the long game, Marchionne acted on a warning from ex-chief engineer Luca Baldisserri – that Maranello suffered from a "climate of fear", with staff reluctant to take risks in case they failed and got fired – and gave the technical team carte blanche for the 2018 season.

                                                                      Image: Jewel Samad / AFP

They came up with the brilliant SF71H. And then, on 25 July, the Great Revivalist tragically succumbed to the Great Reaper, following complications after shoulder surgery, including two bouts of cardiac arrest. Fiat Chrysler stock dropped 12%.

By that time though, Sergio’s new-look Scuderia had been building up a head of steam, second to none. What a pity that Signore Marchionne won’t be there to reap the fruits of his F1 endeavours.

2. "Death" of a driver

Fernando Alonso’s decision to quit F1 at the end of 2018 is a death of sorts, as well. Alonso is one of the true greats of the sport; arguably the pre-eminent driver of his generation and, with Montoya and Raikkonen, instrumental in hastening Schumacher’s (first) retirement at the end of 2006.

                                                                   Image: Loic Venance / AFP

Two world titles do not do justice to the Spaniard’s immense talent, grit, skill, speed, passion, commitment, fitness, intelligence and sheer bullish determination. The ring will be empty without El Matador. A little bit of F1 has died.
 
3. Vettel’s mistakes

It takes two to tango. For 2018, Sebastian Vettel got what he wanted: a race winning car. With two races gone, Ferrari were two up, both victories going to their No. 1 driver.

Then in China, both Vettel and the team – hurrying to protect Seb’s lead from Bottas – made small little errors on the Ferrari’s pit stop lap. Vettel’s came when he out-braked himself by a bit into the hairpin and ran slightly wide; the team's came via fumbling fingers. Bottas took the lead.

                                                                   Image: Boris HORVAT / AFP

But the real damage followed later when Vettel was first of the two front-runners to be caught by Verstappen.

The youngster lunged up Vettel’s inside at the hairpin, spinning both cars through 180 degrees, where after Vettel finished 8th, instead of 2nd (Ricciardo would have won, in any case).

That was 14 points down the drain as Bottas should have been the man in Verstappen’s crosshairs.

In Baku, where Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying for the third race in a row, Vettel badly out-braked himself into Turn 1, trying to snatch back the lead from Bottas after a safety car. Finishing 4th instead of 1st cost the German another 13 points.

                                                                              Image: AFP

In France, Seb did the out-braking thing again, clobbering Bottas and losing the right half of his front wing, only to lose the left half as well when he clashed with Grosjean, moments later. The fifth-place cost him five points, as Seb would, at worst, have finished third – if not for Turn 1.

In Austria, the German negligently blocked Sainz in qualifying, the resulting penalty dropping him from 3rd on the grid to 6th, which meant that Verstappen was the one to pick up the pieces when the Mercs suffered a meltdown. Vettel, instead, was third; another 10 points wasted by a moment of inattention.

And do we need any reminders as to what happened in Germany when Ferrari’s frontman splattered a full house of points onto a very wet barrier after slip-sliding away in the Sachskurve? Mind you, Seb started to feel the pressure of the fast-catching Mercs.

                                                               Image: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

Hungary also sprang a surprise when the Ferraris were out-qualified by the Mercs, again on a wet track. Raikkonen nevertheless maintained afterwards that a Ferrari should have been on pole. That accounts for another 7 points lost by Vettel.

Things happen. Nobody is perfect. If Seb was, it would have been 74 points up on his current 189 – before factoring in the bonus points that went Hamilton’s way, because of Vettel errors. That’s a massive swing, right there.

4. Mercedes strategy

"It was the computer’s fault." Toto Wolff was not about to blame his team when Mercedes failed to give Hamilton a hurry up in Oz, to cover a potential pit stop by Vettel under a Virtual Safety Car.

The VSC came, Vettel pitted and Hamilton lost the lead – and the race – whilst he should have won easily, the VSC notwithstanding. It was an amateur fault, rather than a computer fault.

                                                                           Image: AFP

More was to follow in China when the team had the option to pit Hamilton for fresh rubber behind the safety car like the Red Bulls did. Merc wasted the opportunity; Red Bull won.

Austria delivered another Merc faux pas when the team again declined an opportunity to pit Hamilton under VSC conditions, which dropped him out of a comfortable lead, into an uncomfortable fourth, before retiring.

                                                                     Image: AP / Moises Castillo

And so on to Silverstone, where both Merc drivers were left out behind the safety car to secure track position, even though Bottas’s tyres were shot. From a contender for the win, he slipped to fourth.

James Vowles eventually got it right though, when he ordered Hamilton to stay out during the Hockenheim shower, even though Lewis had already committed to the pit lane entry. Vowles’s decision – or maybe the computer’s – sealed victory.

5. Hamilton’s mood swings

At the Canadian GP earlier this year, Nico Rosberg – who should know better than anybody else on this planet – said that there were weekends when Lewis Hamilton just wouldn’t turn up. Canada 2018 was one such an example.

                                                                   Image:  AFP / Andrej Isakovic

But there were others as well: Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan . . . strangely enough, all of them early in the season. Which sounds familiar; Lewis mostly has these out-of-whack moods in the opening halves of F1 seasons, rather than the latter halves.

Hamilton’s redemption came in the form of stupendous results in the last trio of races before the summer break, with the Brit unleashing not only his talent but his pre-occupation with divinity as well.

                                                                           Image: AFP

Kneeling in praying mantis positions next to his car on a couple of occasions led Jacques Villeneuve to accuse Lewis of ‘thinking that he was Jesus Christ’.
A bit harsh from Jacques. But it makes the point. Lewis either walks on water or struggles to swim as well as he could.

When James Vowles made his terrible strategic error in Austria, Hamilton just couldn’t get over it. He moaned and sulked until his car retired. Room for improvement then, from the Hammer’s perspective.

6. The Renault V6

Viry-Châtillon failed – yet again – to come up with the necessary engine goods to give Red Bull a fighting chance in 2018. That’s massively disappointing.

Worse was Cyril Abiteboul’s response after Hungary, when Red Bull complained: “We (Renault) have stopped reading what Christian Horner says about us since 2015.

                                                          Image: MARK THOMPSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

It’s very clear that we don’t want to have any dealings with them (Red Bull) any more.” That’s heinous and contemptible. Red Bull pays millions for their engines. They’ve got a right to be listened to.

7. Force India, Williams and McLaren

Force India regressed from F1’s best-performing under-funded team in 2017, to being put into administration, before a consortium led by Lance Stroll’s dad bought them out. Lawrence Stroll will thus take more than just his money to the Silverstone-based team.

                                                        Image: CHARLES COATES / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Not that Lance would mind. Williams has hit rock bottom. Claire Williams, to her credit, is thinking about stepping down as acting team principle.
At McLaren, racing director Eric Boullier has already performed the disappearing trick. With Alonso set to leave as well, Woking is well and truly staring into the abyss. 
 
8. Romain Grosjean

On his best days, Grosjean has the pace. He out qualified Alonso in his very first F1 outing in Valencia, with Renault, in 2009. On his worst days, Grosjean can hit a wall in a straight line behind a safety car, like he did this year in Baku. His future is on a knife-edge.

                                                                    Image: MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

9. Liberty’s decision to ban grid girls

Huh? Girls, cars and racing fit like testosterone, speed and libido. Motor racing ain’t croquet. Nor a corpse.

                                                                              Image: AFP

10. Ricciardo to Renault

So, Danni Ricciardo's off to La Regie next year. In a game of no secrets, this was certainly the best-kept one since Nico Rosberg retired out of the blue. Here’s the question, though: Is it good or bad news? In other words: Is it a great move? Or suicide?

                                                                       Image: GERARD JULIEN / AFP

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