Sunday , 26 May 2019
Daimler/Mercedes AMG F1
Daimler/Mercedes AMG F1

F1 2018 Driver Reviews – Part II

Once again, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are those on top of the world. It has been clear that team and driver were the differentiators this year, as reliability favoured championship rivals Ferrari and the cars both had convincing attributes over one another. A mixture of appalling reliability, driver mismanagement and mistakes ruled Red Bull out of the key silverware very early on. Such as the nature of modern Formula 1, the runners from ‘Class B’ very rarely featured at all. This needs to change. But enough of the tangent here is the top half of the 2018 class’s review.  Remember, the average ratings are nothing more than an opinion.

 

Mercedes

44 Lewis Hamilton – Champion
Best grid: 1st (x11)
Best race: 1st (x11)
Average rating: 8.19 – 1st

A five-time world champion’s best season? There’s a strong case for it. Somewhat fortuitous to assert himself as the outright team leader at Mercedes early in the year, but consistently on it while Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari seemed to lose the plot as the season progressed. Records continue to be obliterated by the standout driver of this year in terms of outright statistics and just outright excellent performances. What very few weak points there were seemed to fizzle out by the middle of the year and even then, those low points resulted in solidly bringing the car home in the points. Hamilton seriously upped his game even from his already-high 2017 standard, and it is scary to think what heights he could achieve in 2019. Current records of seven world titles and 91 race wins are well and truly within his grasp.

77 Valtteri Bottas – 5th
Best grid: 1st (x2)
Best race: 2nd (x7)
Average rating: 6.85 – 14th

If only Valtteri Bottas was more assertive on the final lap in Bahrain, or if the safety car hadn’t come out at Shanghai, or if that tyre hadn’t blown at Baku, or if there wasn’t contact at the start in France, or if the safety car hadn’t appeared at Silverstone or if the call to stay out was made in the German rain storm. All those near-misses must have played on Bottas’s mind later on in the year as his role was demoted to “Wingman” to assist Hamilton’s championship charge. Handing victory to his team-mate at Russia was the consequence of appalling luck earlier in the year and awful performances in the run-up to that point. His first part of the campaign was stellar, but the second half was strikingly weak for a top team driver. A perfect example of his second half of the season was at Abu Dhabi – okay in qualifying, hopeless in the race. As a result, his seat for 2020 is already under threat.

 

Ferrari

5 Sebastian Vettel – 2nd
Best grid: 1st (x5)
Best race: 1st (x5)
Average rating: 7.67 – 3rd

For a driver involved in so many collisions, and skirmishes, and moments of absolute madness, it seems bizarre that Sebastian Vettel has still ended up with one of the highest average ratings throughout the season. Part of the reason for that is Vettel’s excellent qualifying record throughout the year. Part of it is because each of his victories (excluding the fortuitous one in Australia) were beautifully executed (with his Bahrain triumph the standout one). And part of it is because some of these incidents he got caught up in were down to misfortune or moves that didn’t quite work out, and as a result was given the benefit of doubt. Vettel was just one major reason why he and Ferrari didn’t win any championship this year, and it is imperative that he properly analyses what went wrong from his side, and why.

7 Kimi Raikkonen – 3rd
Best grid: 1st (Italy)
Best race: 1st (USA)
Average rating: 7.53 – 4th

There’s a strange irony in Kimi Raikkonen being dropped by Ferrari after what certainly has been his finest season since re-joining the team in 2014. It’s a very ‘Kimi’ way of how things have panned out. While his qualifying record wasn’t stellar, he wasn’t chucking it off the road in the races. The same cannot be said of the opposite side of the garage. He had only a few real standout weekends, but he also had anonymous weekends, instead of disastrous weekends. He’s taking some a strong run of form to his new challenge at Sauber and might just become one of the headline features of ‘Class B’ soon.

 

Red Bull-TAG Heuer

3 Daniel Ricciardo – 6th
Best grid: 1st (x2)
Best race: 1st (x2)
Average rating: 7.42 – 5th

The record against his team-mate doesn’t make for good reading, but it’s easy to overlook Daniel Ricciardo’s season as a whole because of the woeful reliability of his machinery. He’s had more retirements due to mechanical problems in the 21 races this year than Hamilton has had in the last 100. Whenever he is looking on form, something has gone awry in the second and final thirds of the year. If it didn’t go wrong in the race, it was in qualifying. That, and a few weekends where he really did not look remotely interested means that Ricciardo ends the year with just two podiums – those two brilliant victories at Shanghai and Monte Carlo. It was clear that throughout the year, he was not the quicker Red Bull driver. But the reason Ricciardo’s rating is so high is due to some sensational performances (that Monaco drive remains drive of the year) more than balancing out the off weekends.

33 Max Verstappen – 4th   
Best grid: 2nd (x2)
Best race: 1st (x2)
Average rating: 7.30 – 6th

Max Verstappen’s form for much of the season has been the best of any driver. That includes Hamilton. Despite a car clearly not capable of doing so, he has frequently been a major factor. What brings his average down a drastic amount is his awful form from the opening third of the season. Victories in Austria and Mexico were absolutely class, while a stellar number of podiums in the third-best car has almost put the nightmare of the start of the year to bed. He admitted that his approach had to change, and he did just that. He was also cruelly denied a third victory of the year at Interlagos, arguably through no fault of his own. In the final part of the year, he’s been consistently fantastic. One wonders just whether Verstappen would have featured in the championship fight with a more reliable machine and without those dreadful early races despite only having the third-best car. But any doubts that the youngster is ready to fight for a championship have completely been quashed.

 

Renault

27 Nico Hulkenberg – 7th
Best grid: 7th (x7)
Best race: 5th (Germany)
Average rating: 7.00 – 10th

‘Class B’ champion Nico Hulkenberg, save for a couple of terrible performances, has consistently been a strong driver throughout 2018. He was equipped with what was probably the fifth-strongest overall package but consistently put in some stellar qualifying performances and some outstanding races as well. His season-best at Germany earned him a rare 10 out of 10. His average, admittedly, is perhaps a bit lower than it should have been. So perhaps his season went somewhat under the radar a bit and his performances through the year were not appreciated enough. However, throwing away what turned out to be a possible podium in Azerbaijan and causing one of the most dramatic accidents of the year in Belgium really bring his grade down. He was the quicker of the two Renault drivers, but some serious points were thrown away at various points.

55 Carlos Sainz Jr – 10th
Best grid: 5th (Hungary)
Best race: 5th (Azerbaijan)
Average rating: 7.29 – 7th

On paper, Carlos Sainz’s season was somewhat erratic – with arguably having highs higher than his team-mate, but without amassing the points total. But his average rating is marginally above that of his team-mate’s. He was beaten in the qualifying battle, but that often was by very little. Sainz was, on average, faster. In the races, there were no seriously daft mistakes, and some of Sainz’s stronger performances came when the performance of the car was awful. His slow start to the year brings his rating down a bit, but his only really poor drive later in the season came in Russia. Ultimately, the McLaren-bound driver’s placement in the drivers’ championship doesn’t quite do him justice.

 

Haas-Ferrari

8 Romain Grosjean – 14th
Best grid: 5th (x3)
Best race: 4th (Austria)
Average rating: 6.90 – 12th

The highs arguably have not outweighed the lows in 2018 for Romain Grosjean. Despite this, he has retained his Haas seat for next season. With the fourth-best car this season, he really should have done much better in the drivers’ championship. However, while some incidents he can be given a bit of benefit of the doubt for because the margins were so fine, the fact is that he was involved in many them. Saying that, many of his drives when the Haas was not performing particularly well went under the radar somewhat. The highs were stellar though, and some of Grosjean’s best-ever drives came in 2018 – P4 in Austria after outqualifying a Red Bull on merit is an obvious standout but ‘Class B’ second in Japan with an ill-handling car after starting fifth was also a special performance.

20 Kevin Magnussen – 9th
Best grid: 5th (x3)
Best race: 5th (x2)
Average rating: 6.90 – 13th

Kevin Magnussen’s ‘maverick’ approach to grand prix racing does not always resonate well with everybody, but this has perhaps been his strongest season to date. Be it for good or bad reason, he has regularly been a feature throughout 2018 despite being in such a congested midfield. Magnussen has been a strong racer through the year but has sometimes lacked a fraction in qualifying compared to his team-mate. Nonetheless, he’s had similarly good grid slots. His highs have not necessarily been as high as his team-mate’s, but he’s had more of them, and with fewer incidents. However, some of those incidents can be attributed more to Magnussen and therefore it hurts his average rating. There was a serious shot at seventh in the championship.

 

And finally, how the average ratings changed from the Monaco Grand Prix onwards:

About Craig Woollard

Motorsport historian and journalist Craig Woollard has had an unusual path to a career in motorsport. After graduating from the University of Essex with a degree in mathematics in 2013, he changed his career path immediately after discovering a talent for writing. After occasional freelance work in 2015 and 2016, he joined the Autosport Academy for 2017. In the same year, he became an archive digitiser at Motorsport Images - which is his full-time job to this date.

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