Ahead of the traditional European summer season, we take a look at F1’s® main talking points after the first four fly-away races of 2018.
It’s shaping up to be a close battle at the front
The first four races of 2018 have shown us that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are all capable of taking race wins this year, but that no team is dominant. Track characteristics and weather conditions will clearly play a big role in determining the pecking order this season. Whilst the current constructors’ points totals indicate a two-horse race between Mercedes and Ferrari, don’t discount Red Bull, especially when Max Verstappen stops crashing and starts adding to Red Bull’s tally.
Expect the unexpected
The first four races of 2018 have been anything but predictable. In the season opener, Ferrari caught Mercedes off guard with a perfectly-timed pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car to steal the win for Sebastian Vettel at Albert Park over a bemused Lewis Hamilton. In Bahrain, Vettel survived a late attack from Valtteri Bottas to claim a hard-fought victory on severely worn tyres, whilst Pierre Gasly in the Honda-powered Toro Rosso surprised everyone with a fine fourth. One week later in Shanghai, Daniel Ricciardo benefited from a great strategic pit stop for soft tyres under the Safety Car to slice through the field, making several stunning passes on his way to a memorable victory.
The unpredictability level kicked up a notch at last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. Sebastian Vettel was on track to win until the two Red Bulls collided eleven laps before the finish, bringing out the Safety Car. This allowed Valtteri Bottas to pit and retain the lead on the restart as Vettel made a first-corner lunge that went wrong and pushed him back to fourth. Cruising to a well-deserved victory, Bottas hit debris on the Main Straight and suffered a puncture that put him out of the race, thus handing teammate Lewis Hamilton a lucky win, and the lead in the drivers’ championship.
Renault vs McLaren for best of the rest?
The battle for fourth place in the constructors’ title is shaping up to be a close affair between Renault and McLaren, largely thanks to consistent points finishes in the opening races from Nico Hulkenburg and Fernando Alonso respectively. Force India, Haas and Toro Rosso are also in contention for points on a regular basis and have the ability to surprise. Sergio Perez drove an outstanding race in Azerbaijan to take a second podium on the streets of Baku and Pierre Gasly was impressive in Bahrain. Haas has underperformed so far, especially Romain Grosjean. Finally, Charles Leclerc showed some of the potential that took him to such a dominant championship in Formula 2 last year with a fine sixth in Baku last weekend. One to watch.
Overtaking is possible with the latest generation of cars
Plenty of observers complained about the lack of overtaking Down Under this year, including F1’s® Director of Motorsports Ross Brawn, but the last three races have proved that Albert Park was something of an anomaly. Bahrain, China and Azerbaijan delivered exciting races with plenty of passing moves. Nevertheless, Formula 1® announced this week some aerodynamic changes to car designs for 2019 to encourage more overtaking as discussions continue about the future direction of the sport when the next generation of F1 cars launch in 2021.
Dan’s in Demand, Max is under pressure
After a storming drive to victory in China, Daniel Ricciardo is the most in-demand driver in Formula 1® at the moment, and the question of whether he stays with Red Bull in 2019 or switches to Ferrari or Mercedes remains prominent. On the other side of the Red Bull garage, Max Verstappen is under pressure after a poor start to his 2018 campaign by his own high standards. Accidents have marred his last three races, including Baku when he tangled with his teammate, taking them both out of the race. Is Verstappen driving too aggressively? Will this difficult period make him or break him? Luckily, Max has time on his side and a supportive team behind him.