The 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix wasn’t a thriller – but it wasn’t the dull procession we’re used to from the Budapest-based circuit, either. Friday’s form predicted a rather safe Ferrari one-two, but a wet qualifying meant that it was the silver arrows, not the Scuderia, that started on pole. After that, the race was pretty uneventful – minus some unusually aggressive driving from Valtteri Bottas.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look back at the first half of the 2018 championship as a whole, rather than the just the Hungarian race. Keep reading to find out what we’ve learnt from this year’s F1 championship.
1) It’s the closest season in ages
One thing’s for sure; 2018 is the season we’ve wanted ever since the hybrid rules began. Rather than an intra-team battle between Mercedes drivers, 2018 is delivering the classic Mercedes vs Ferrari narrative we’ve been waiting for. It threatened to happen in 2016, we came close to it last year, but in 2018 Ferrari really are the favourites for the championship right now.
2) The Mercedes ISN’T the fastest car
Last year, the Mercedes was tough to set up, but clearly the faster car – and later on in the season it had a decent pace advantage against its rivals. This year started off with both the red and silver cars on equal footing, and since Canada the Ferrari has been the faster package. Is it aero trickery, ERS manipulation or software magic? Probably all three, but it’s seriously benefitting Ferrari-engined cars, whatever it is.
Ferrari’s new found straightline speed, combined with its marginally better handling has made it favourite at tracks like Silverstone as well as Hungary. Mercedes has a fight on its hands.
3) Missed opportunities
2018 is only half through, but it’s already a season of what might’ve been, as all three top teams have thrown away race wins and serious points – or had them taken away at the last minute. In the first race of the season, Mercedes couldn’t convert a pole position to a win, while at Hungary this weekend Ferrari couldn’t get the one-two its car was clearly capable of. And then there’s Sebastian Vettel’s huge mistake in Germany, and Hamilton’s possible lost win at Silverstone.
Even without the DNFs and small mistakes, which we’ll get to later, it seems as though both teams can’t really convert a pace advantage when they do have one.
The same can be said of the midfield battle. Despite having the fastest car in the pack for much of the season, Haas has failed to convert its speed to points, with the Renault team is now best of the rest.
4) Small mistakes
Last season started very much like this year’s, but after the mid-point Ferrari’s challenge faltered while Mercedes’ stayed consistent. This year, both teams have already made serious errors; Sebastian Vettel’s off in Germany gave Hamilton the championship lead, and Mercedes’ strategy errors and double DNF in Austria was also critical to the championship.
If last year’s anything to go by, the championship will be decided on who can minimise those terrible weekends, and keep their car on the podium even on a bad day. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari need to avoid the self-destructive second half to a season they had in Singapore and Malaysia in 2017. With the championship so finely balanced, any mistake on either side would be championship-deciding.
5) One more year for Kimi?
Kimi Raikkonen knew very explicitly he was fighting for his Ferrari future or had been told he didn’t have one, when he said — after climbing out the car at the end of the British GP and being congratulated on his third place by Sky Sports F1 pundit Martin Brundle — “Obviously I did the best I could but there seems to be some opposite views on what I’m doing unfortunately, so we’ll see.”
It was an answer to a question he hadn’t even been asked, so it was clearly something he wished to get off his chest.
Informed sources in Italy suggest an agreement has already been reached between Scuderia Ferrari and Charles Leclerc — the young Ferrari Academy driver who is in the midst of an eye-catching rookie season with Sauber — for a place alongside Sebastian Vettel next year.
However, recent history is littered with drivers who thought they had agreements to be replacing Raikkonen at Maranello, only for those agreements not to be signed. Usually after Raikkonen had discovered a second wind and put in some impressive drives. Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta could tell you all about having reached such an agreement. The crucial thing is the final version of those agreements were never signed — and we do not know at the moment if Leclerc’s has been.
The quality of his feedback borne of his vast experience and natural feel have often hastened productive set up directions that Vettel has benefited from, although their driving styles are quite different.
Kimi has accepted his support role with equanimity, taking the money and saving any comments for behind closed doors, with only the occasional flash of anger (Monaco 2016 plus occasional radio comments about race strategies compromised to help Vettel).
He makes the running of the team around securing Sebastian Vettel a drivers’ championship unambiguous and lower stress than it would otherwise be — and it helps keep Vettel in a happy place, which probably contributes to his performance.