It is halfway into the 2018 F1 season as Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton leads the respective standings from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.
There were several points discussed pre-season as to how the year will pan out. Here’s a selection of those and how it stands from the pre-season predictions:
Fight for constructors’ supremacy – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull:
The pre-season talk largely favoured Mercedes as it was expected that the German manufacturer will have the advantage over a closely-matched Ferrari and Red Bull Racing in the 2018 F1 season. Even though Mercedes didn’t light the timing sheets in the tests, it was determined that the pace was surely there.
But the first half of 2018 F1 season has painted a different picture where Ferrari looked the stronger team during race weekends, only to be shunned down due to its own nightmares. Mercedes too didn’t have a smooth run, but they maximised truly on their rival’s mistakes.
That is why they sit 10 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings after the 12 races. The margins though are very small between the two teams, it is a game of cat and mouse mostly. James Allison explained the two teams’ strengths and weaknesses which is largely correct on all accounts.
It should remain a close fight as the upcoming tracks are divided with Mercedes’ strengths lies mostly in Belgium, Italy, Russia, Austin and Mexico with Ferrari strong in Singapore, Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. But the gains made by Ferrari in horsepower could help the Italian manufacturer on some power tracks too.
While the Top 2 have raised their game, the results for Red Bull has been rather disappointing. Barring Monaco, there were no other circuits where they looked in a genuine contention for pole and or a win. The reliability issues have largely compromised their fight and limited their chances, which could continue on in the second half as well.
Fight for drivers’ supremacy – Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel:
Like their teams, the drivers as well have had a bit of an up and down season so far. Even with the pace advantage, both Hamilton and Vettel had rough races in the first half when they looked inferior to their teammates Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.
In fact, Bottas would be in contention for the title if he had finished the races in Baku and Austria – he was leading in the former. Even with Raikkonen, his two retirements set him back in otherwise a consistent showing from the Finn.
But, it is Hamilton with the advantage and a 24 points lead over Vettel which is crucial in a season where there is little separating two drivers. The British driver has collected points on a consistent basis with only three races where he has finished outside the Top 3 (including one DNF).
At the same time, Vettel has had five races outside the Top 3 which includes a DNF – that too a mistake of his own in Germany which could end up deciding the championship. It is an opposite scenario, while Mercedes had its off moments, Hamilton has remained consistent whereas Ferrari has been consistent but Vettel had off times.
It is edging more towards a two-horse situation as both eye their fifth individual title. Behind, the fight for third will be on between the two Finns who are pretty much out of title contention even though mathematically they are in along with the Red Bull drivers.
For the Red Bull drivers, its been a common trend between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. The Australian has been consistent to eke out points results even in some hard races, while the Dutchman is either a hit or a miss in the race weekends. They are seemingly in the fight of their own with only the chance to get in the mix for third place.
Best of the rest – Renault, Haas and the midfield:
The midfield battle has certainly played out like it was predicted to be before the season. There were more evidence that Renault will come out on top and that has been the case indeed. Even though the French manufacturer hasn’t got the outright pace still, but consistent results have helped them to fourth as things stands at the moment.
Both drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz have scored in races which is crucial and something which has held Haas back even though the American outfit looked like a fourth-best team all around. They as well have lived up to the pre-season expectations in terms of pace, but were undone by silly mistakes.
Their drivers are having opposite season where Kevin Magnussen is shining while Romain Grosjean even with the pace, nothing is going right for the Frenchman. One of the major disappointment has been McLaren, who were said to be the team to watch out for this year.
Meanwhile, the last two F1 season’s fourth best team Force India’s struggles can now be traced to their financial limitations. They didn’t look pretty good in the pre-season tests and had a rough start to the season as well, but with the team going into administration, it can now be ascertained why it lacked pace to match their rivals.
Among the drivers in this group, Hulkenberg leads the pack in seventh from Magnussen. The German had three retirements and the fewest laps to his name, but then has excelled overall to be the best of the rest being closely matched by Magnussen, who has surprised many with his consistent performances.
Meanwhile, Sainz has scored the points as well but as the Spaniard said his drivers’ position doesn’t reflect the kind of races he has had. But credit must go to Sergio Perez, even though he was helped by the podium in Baku, the Mexican is in the Top 10 despite the troubles around the team.
The lower half – McLaren, Toro Rosso/Honda, Sauber and Williams:
As alluded in the previous part, McLaren remains a hot topic among all the teams. Yes, it has already scored a handful of points more than what it did with Honda, but the car nowhere looks to be competitive as it was predicted and highlighted pre-season.
They did face some reliability issues ahead of the season but it were shrugged off then. They have struggled largely on Saturdays which forces them to do all the work on Sundays – a mighty task indeed. Podiums were targeted for the F1 season but looking at things, only a miracle will help in that happening.
Fernando Alonso has done his part right as he sits ninth in the drivers’ standings as his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne is enduring a woeful luck with reliability and car issues in general. Meanwhile, the team’s previous partners Honda with Toro Rosso has sprung some surprise results courtesy Pierre Gasly.
The fourth place in Bahrain caught many out and made them believe the Japanese manufacturer’s inroads, but it was soon evident that the unit and the car performed well on selected circuits – much like how it was with McLaren as well.
Reliability wise Honda has done much better than what it was but the performance is still not there with Toro Rosso only eighth fighting against the resurgent Sauber. In fact, the Swiss team has one of the biggest turnaround this year among all the other teams.
The team with Alfa Romeo and current spec Ferrari unit has outperformed the other midfield teams on many occasions courtesy Charles Leclerc. They were said to be fighting with Williams after the pre-season tests, but they have dramatically improved as the season progressed to pull itself in the midfield.
They are well ahead of Williams already and close to Toro Rosso. On the other hand, the prediction for Williams to be last turned out to be correct, but no one thought that they will struggled for performance this much.
They have dipped further as the season has progressed with no sign of huge improvements in place for the remainder of the season. Financially as well, it will lose Martini and also perhaps Lawrence Stroll’s money which puts it further behind the midfield pack.
Other ramblings – Halo, F1 logo, theme music and more:
One thing outside the performances discussed widely was the Halo cockpit device. Not only the fans but some of the drivers and teams also voiced concern with regards to the ‘look’ factor. It played along during the pre-season tests and also in the first few races.
There were numerous calls to get them removed, but by the half-way mark the talk around Halo has piped down considerably with only some voices still wanting it to be removed, especially when the topic grabs the headlines. As with many other things, it has become a part of the car with race action taking centerstage.
The F1 logo was also talked pretty much during the pre-season, but the discussions are no more to be seen as most of the fans have gotten used to the change. Liberty Media also introduced the F1 theme by famed Hollywood composer Brian Tyler, which was also said to be a unnecessary gimmick by the new owners.
However, the music along with the intro is greeted with pleasure these days and has become part of the broadcasting like the new graphics. They have cleverly used the Halo to showcase car data of a particular driver. One downside though which continues to pose trouble is the sponsorship logos popping up during the live feeds.