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Ferrari vs Mercedes - which team will win? 10 awesome highlights of the 2018 season so far

2018-08-21 06:00

Egmont Sippel

Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / POOL / AFP

Who would be the first driver to bag five world titles since Schumacher and Fangio: Hamilton or Vettel? This was the principal question going into the 2018 Formula 1 season, to which the sub-text was: Who would build the better car, Mercedes or Ferrari?

Chances for a Red Bull surprise were slim, given the state of the Renault V6. It was unlikely that Viry-Châtillon would suddenly find the Holy Grail to do justice to Adrian Newey’s excellent RB14 chassis, just as it was unlikely that Honda would suddenly re-emerge as F1’s standard-bearer on the engine front.

New talents emerging

Which was not to say that we’d be bereft of outstanding drives up and down the field.

READ: A tale of two races: Is it luck or is Ferrari hitting all the right notes?

Exciting new talent emerged in the form of Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, whilst on the other end of the age spectrum the evergreen 37-year old Spanish matador, Fernando Alonso, did his usual thing by outperforming a recalcitrant McLaren. Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen also deserve a mention.

Highlights of F1 2018, thus far:

1. Ricciardo in Monaco and China

Ricciardo referenced the 2016 race, which the Red Bull team lost for him in the pits, when he talked about ‘redemption’ after his 2018 victory in the Principality.

The Aussie got his weekend off to a good start, setting fastest times in all three practice sessions and beating Vettel to the pole. Yet, there was nothing straight-forward to Danni Ricc conquering Monaco as he lost two gears plus his MGU-K – and with it 25% power – on lap 18 of a 78 lap race.

                                                                    Image: Boris Horvat / AFP

That he could nurse his car back home was impressive enough. That he could hold onto the lead was a miracle, even on a track notorious for few passing opportunities.

In China, an inspired tyre change under safety car conditions delivered another mesmerizing Ricciardo masterclass in how to tame chaos and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, mostly through a series of breathtaking overtakes on all of F1’s top dogs. Nobody does it better in the dry than Ricciardo.

2. Raikkonen and Verstappen passes at Silverstone

Senna swept past Alesi on the outside of the hairpin in Canada, in 1993. Raikkonen took Fisichella on the outside of Turn 1 in Japan, at the start of the last lap in 2005, to win from 17th on the grid.

Alonso slammed past Schumacher in the same race, flat-out, on the outside of the ultra-fast 130R. Alonso again made a pass around the outside stick, last year in Budapest, taking Sainz in Turn 2.

                                                               Image: ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP

This year in Britain, Raikkonen passed the master passer called Ricciardo himself, in a close-your-eyes-moment on the outside of Copse. Passes around the outside are rare – and invariably breathtaking. Verstappen added one more to the list by swarming past Raikkonen on the outside of Luffield, also at Silverstone this year, in a move that defied logic. 

3. Hamilton’s lack of mistakes

The crucial difference between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s seasons thus far have been mistakes by the latter, and virtually none of them by the former.

Lewis has not been at his sharpest in the early part of the season, going through a lean spell in Bahrain, China and Baku, and then again in Canada. But even on his off days, he scored, much like Dean Martin.

4. Hamilton’s poles in Oz, Britain and Hungary

In Oz, the leading four cars – two Mercs and two Ferraris – were tightly bunched together in Free Practice. Then Hamilton delivered a stonker in Q3 to blitz the field by almost seven-tenths. It was one of Lewis’s Sennaesque moments.

                                                                       Image: FERENC ISZA / AFP

At Silverstone, he needed a Herculean effort to beat the superior Ferraris. In Q3, Lewis dug deep, and then deeper still, to deliver last gasp gold. 
Hamilton’s most crucial qualifying lap, however, came right on the stroke of summer, albeit in the wet, when he mastered a Hungarian shower to secure an all-important pole on a track where Ferrari clearly reigned supreme.

5. Hamilton at Silverstone, Hockenheim and Hungary

Earlier in the season, Hamilton was imperious in Oz, Spain, France and Austria, yet he was victorious only twice (in Spain and France), both races having been run on Pirelli’s thin-gauged tyre.

France and Austria saw big Merc upgrades, with the prospect of a decisive shift in the balance of power, especially with traditional Merc territory looming.  Hamilton duly controlled the Austrian race with ease, prior to clumsy team tactics and a subsequent retirement, before getting knocked into an early spin at Silverstone and picking up more car trouble which relegated him to 14th on the Hockenheim grid.

                                                               Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

These setbacks would have overwhelmed a lesser driver. Yet Hamilton unleashed at Silverstone, scything his way through the field from dead last to finish second (albeit with the help of a safety car), before he again managed to slice through the field in Germany, balancing speed with care once the heavens started to unload, to capitalize big time when Vettel hit the barriers.

A Merc victory in Hungary seemed equally unlikely after Free Practice, but by Jove, it started to rain again during qualifying. Hamilton surfed the conditions perfectly, stuck it on pole and then controlled a dry race from the front.

                                                                      Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

In the last three Grands Prix prior to the summer break, the Brit thus snatched 67 points, effectively from last place on home soil, from 14th on the Hockenheim grid, and from pole position on a track where Merc was expected to start 5th and 6th.

That’s mega, especially as Lewis could not really have expected much more than two fourth places and a third from those positions. Tallying up to only 39 points, Hamilton has scored 28 points for free, just in three races. Except that it wasn’t for free. He had to work damn hard for it. 

6. Vettel in Bahrain, Canada and Silverstone

On his good days, Seb Vettel looks unassailable, firstly because of his outright pace, but secondly also because of an uncanny ability to read a race. Vettel knows when to hold back and when to pounce.

Thus far in 2018, Seb’s had three great races. In Bahrain, he had to manage his tyres and his pace to perfection, to stave off Bottas in the final stages. In Canada, Ferrari’s spec-2 engine was too much for Merc’s spec-1 mill and Vettel won going away.

                                                                     Image: BORIS HORVAT / AFP

And at Silverstone, Seb had to find a way past an obstinate Bottas in the final stages, after a pit stop under the safety car dropped the German to second. 

He eventually did it with a perfectly timed last-second rocket dive up the inside of Brooklands. The Ferrari must have shuddered under braking as Vettel brought down the shutters on Hamilton’s quest for a fifth British GP victory in a row, and a record-breaking sixth in total.

7. Bottas in Bahrain, Shanghai, Baku and Hungary

Bottas started the year strongly when he outpaced Hamilton in races two to four. In Bahrain, he was a bit timid when he had an outside chance, probably from too far back, to challenge Vettel for the lead in the dying stages.

                                                                   Image: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP

In Shanghai, Valtteri put in a stonking lap to snatch the lead when Vettel pitted, only to lose the race because of a badly timed safety car. In Baku, Bottas was superb until his right rear exploded. And in Hungary, he heroically held off the Ferraris to help Hamilton to an unlikely win.

8. Verstappen’s win in Austria

Max started the season like a bull in a China shop, knocking himself silly against competitor’s cars. And then it all started to click in Austria, Vettel having been relegated on the grid and Mercedes falling by the wayside.

                                                                  Image: SRDJAN SUKI / POOL / AFP

Yet, it was not all down to the misfortunes of others. Red Bull’s young superstar took the bull by the horns on Lap 1 by audaciously muscling past Raikkonen in the Red Bull Ring’s fast Turn 6/7 complex, never to look back once the Mercedes meltdown was completed. 

9. Rookies Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly

It’s quite possible that Leclerc is already on his way to Ferrari, for 2019, having put the Sauber into Q3 on a couple of occasions this year, and scoring five points finishes in 12 races.

Even a couple of spins at a wet Hockenheim couldn’t put a damper on the young Monégasque’s burgeoning career. Gasly announced himself by placing his Toro Rosso 5th on the Bahraini grid and 4th in the race, also scoring points in Monaco and Hungary.

                                                       Image: CHARLES COATES / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

In Budapest, Gasly split two other young guns (Sainz, in a sensational 5th, and Verstappen in 7th) on a soakingly wet track before racing to 6th, his car is being the first of those not bearing a Merc, Ferrari or Red Bull logo. At 22, the future clearly beckons, if not quite as brightly, yet, as it does for the 21-year young Leclerc.

10. Ferrari’s starts and Haas performance

The Ferraris have been dynamite off the line, this year. Sometimes it worked a charm, like in Britain, where Vettel jumped Hamilton before you could say ‘Seb’.

Yet, in France, Vettel actually closed up on lead man Hamilton so quickly that his front wing lost downforce in the braking zone, with calamitous results.
Also benefitting from Ferrari technology is Haas and Sauber, with Kevin Magnussen having made the most of it, on most occasions.

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