As the European season closes and F1 travels to the Far East and then the west for the remaining 7 races, it’s time to take a quick look on how the season has developed and the key patterns that have emerged.
Traditionally, after a massive rule change the balance of power tends to shift in F1 and indeed, many predicted Red Bull to be the ones to take the Mercedes crown – due to their notoriety for aerodynamics superiority. However, at the start of the year, Red Bull got it wrong and Ferrari are the ones who have been the biggest threat to Mercedes with Sebastian Vettel racking up 4 wins, 2 poles and 10 podiums in 13 outings this season. Mercedes have got on top of things and bridged as the development race kicked on but the feeling is that a lot closer management is needed to tame the Silver Arrows than it is to tame the Prancing Horses.
Lewis Hamilton, F1’s greatest ever qualifier?
Even with 6 wins to his name, it’s been a topsy-turvy season for Lewis as the highs have been really high whilst the lows have been really low when compared to his main title rival. The one strong consistent point has been his qualifying performances. He has racked up eight pole positions, which is greater than the rest of the drivers have combined. With Vettel and Bottas on two poles, while Raikkonen has one. The margins of some of the pole positions has been quite stupendous. Out-qualifying his teammate by half a second on a few occasions (Canada & Silverstone notably) and by 2.2 seconds at a rainy Monza. In the process of being so dominant he has broken Michael Schumacher’s pole position record by claiming his 69th at Monza. It also took him 68 races less to claim that feat as well. His conversion rate stands at 34% compared to Schumacher’s 27.2%. Only Ayrton Senna with 40.1% has a better conversion rate of the top 5 who have made over 100 starts. He is now the most successful Pole sitter of all time but has also earned the right to be in the debate of the fastest man over 1 lap in the history of the sport. He certainly has proved to be the fastest man of his era, out-qualifying his teammate in 10 out of 11 seasons.
Ricciardo the driver of the year so far?
Title protagonists have driven well this season as you would suspect. Other names worth mentioning include Fernando Alonso who has driven the wheels of his stricken McLaren & Esteban Ocon, who has been seriously impressive in his full debut campaign. However, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo gets my vote as the driver of the season so far. On Sundays, he has simply been impressive with some of the overtaking manoeuvres he pulls off. Notably his pass on Raikkonen into turn 1 at Monza, his move on Vettel in China and that crucial move when he passed not 1, not 2 but 3 cars in one sweeping move at Baku. His race craft is second to none on the grid at the moment and he displays this awareness and decisiveness that no one else shows on track. He also has this knack of being in the right place at the right time and that has helped him pick up 5 podiums this season and that famous win in Baku as Hamilton and Vettel came to blows. At 28, he is rather unfortunate that Red-bull are not able to provide him with the machinery he needs to fight for a world title yet. However, with Red-bull rapidly improving as the season progresses I won’t rule him out snatching another victory from under Mercedes and Ferraris noses; possibly Singapore and Malaysia being his best bet.
So-called second drivers deciding the drivers’ championship?
One of the main talking points has been the varying philosophies between Ferrari and Mercedes. Although they won’t openly admit it, Ferrari have a clear number one driver in Sebastian Vettel. Scenarios such as Monaco when the team gave him a better strategy despite being behind his teammate and Hungary when his teammate was used to protect Vettel in front are the best examples of this philosophy in action. On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz ethos is all about the team first and being equal to both drivers. Scenarios such as Bahrain and Hungary are the prime examples where Hamilton was allowed to pass his slower teammate to fight the Ferraris and then giving the position back to his teammate in the latter race as his fight did not materialise.
Majority of F1 fans don’t like the Ferrari approach because it prevents them from racing and Raikkonen is a fan favourite in the sport. However, since Ferrari are playing that game, fans also think Mercedes are stupid to not play the same game as Hamilton & Bottas take points of each other while Raikkonen supports Vettel. It’s easy to see both sides of the argument and Mercedes have always argued that when it gets to the point when it is unrealistic for one of their drivers to win the title, they will throw all resources behind the title challenger. With 7 races to go and Hamilton now leading the championship by a slender margin, it is getting close to the point for Mercedes to make a call. Hamilton will back himself to go out and beat his teammate most days, however as Hamilton & Vettel have experienced, their teammate will be ahead on the odd race day. Hence, the call by Mercedes on their philosophy will arguably be the difference between Hamilton or Vettel winning this championship.