Author: Matt Clayton

6 storylines to watch in F1 for 2019

New rules, almost unprecedented driver movement and plenty of change means there’s no shortage of talking points for this F1 season.


Like your sport to have a significant shake-up between seasons? Then Formula One 2019-style is for you. The Australian Grand Prix grid in March will look very different to the one that formed for the final race of 2018 in Abu Dhabi last November, with just two of the 10 teams retaining the same drivers as last year, and the cars set to look strikingly different when they launch in Barcelona for pre-season testing in February.

Will it make any difference to the competitive order? That we don’t know, but what we can say with some assurance is that the picture will look very different in 2019. Other than world champions Mercedes and improving midfielders Haas, there’s at least one new face at every other team, while four squads have jettisoned both drivers from last year’s line-up for myriad reasons.

That, combined with regulation changes relating to the appearance (and effectiveness) of front and rear wings this season, means we have no shortage of storylines to immerse ourselves in for 2019. Who and what can’t we wait to see on track? What has us excited, optimistic, even a little wary? Here’s our top six storylines to watch for the 21-race season ahead.

6. Kubica’s comeback

There’s not a person in F1 who won’t want to see Robert Kubica’s return with Williams enjoy some degree of success in 2019, after the Pole defied the odds to make it back to the grid for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. His devastating right arm injury sustained in a rally in Andorra in early February 2011 looked to have cut short a fledgling career that had him mentioned in the same breath as Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, but Kubica persisted and persisted, eventually finding his way back into the paddock as Williams’ test driver in 2018, and earning a race seat alongside F2 champion George Russell in an all-new line-up for one of the sport’s most famous teams this year. It’ll be tough sledding for Kubica (and Russell) if 2018 is any indication after Williams fell to dead-last in the constructors’ championship and managed just seven points all season, but just making it back to a race seat and bucking the odds is a triumph in itself for the 34-year-old. Is this comeback something more than a feel-good story? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, Kubica’s progress will be well worth watching.

5. Bottas under the microscope

A seat at Mercedes is the one every driver would openly (or secretively) covet, and 2019 was barely a week old before team principal Toto Wolff verbalised what everyone else already knew; that it’s time for Valtteri Bottas to step up his performances if he’s to stay alongside world champion Hamilton at the sport’s dominant team of the V6 turbo hybrid era. The 2018 stats don’t deliver complete context, but the gap between the two drivers in the same car (Hamilton had 11 wins to Bottas’ zero and outscored the Finn by 161 points) might have been a bigger story if Mercedes had lost the constructors’ championship to Ferrari, which fumbled late in the year as Hamilton surged.

With Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon cast aside by Racing Point Force India at the end of last season for Lance Stroll (after Stroll’s father Lawrence headed a consortium that purchased the team), Mercedes has a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings if Bottas doesn’t raise his game.

“Valtteri knows exactly where he needs to be,” Wolff told Autosport in early January. “He needs to have all the bad luck gone and perform on a level with Lewis. That is what is needed. He knows very well that, and he has that in him.”

Should Bottas get off to a tardy start, expect Wolff’s phone to be running hot with drivers putting their hand up for his seat.

4. The hunt for F1’s next race winner

New F1 race winners don’t come around all that often – Bottas was the 107th and most recent victor in the 69-year history of the sport when he won in Russia two seasons ago, and just six drivers have won their maiden race in the past 10 seasons. Who’s next? With respect to Pierre Gasly and his move from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing this season, Charles Leclerc would have to be odds-on to be number 108; the 21-year-old Monegasque was mightily impressive in his rookie year for Sauber in 2018, and expectations are high after he was named to replace Ferrari stalwart Kimi Raikkonen at the sport’s most famous team. You’d back him to win a race or two; how will incumbent Ferrari driver and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel cope with a fast young upstart in the sister car if Leclerc can string a series of strong results together in the season’s first half?

This is a pairing that has the feel of Hamilton joining Alonso for his rookie season at McLaren in 2007, or Vettel himself playing second-fiddle to Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014. The established champion versus the rising star; can Ferrari manage that while challenging Mercedes for the big trophies once more?

3. Ricciardo + Renault = ?

Australian fans will be more interested in this one than most, but the F1 world will be watching to see whether the affable Aussie’s trademark grin dims a little as he moves away from the only F1 family he’s known to Renault, which finished just one place behind Red Bull in the 2018 constructors’ championship, but nearly 300 points adrift.

Ricciardo knows he has to play the long game, and, as he approaches his 30th birthday this July, realises that any world championship aspirations won’t be the work of a moment. What would constitute a good year for the seven-time Grand Prix winner? Defeating teammate Nico Hulkenberg over the course of the season and helping a rebuilding Renault maintain that fourth place in the teams’ chase, while narrowing the gap to F1’s ‘big three’ teams? Neither of them easy tasks, but neither out of reach either. There’ll be a lot of eyes on Ricciardo this season, and not just at his home season-opener at Albert Park.

2. Red Bull’s marriage with Honda

Max Verstappen is fast enough, experienced enough, combative enough and blessed with that ‘it’ factor that leaves few in any doubt that he could win a world championship before too long. He’s won races in each of the past three seasons, and from the mid-point of last year onwards, only Hamilton had his measure as the Dutchman finished six of the final seven races on the podium. Can that translate to a title push in his third full season with Red Bull Racing?

The team’s new partnership with Honda will largely answer that question; there’s huge optimism on both sides after Honda worked with Toro Rosso last year after switching from McLaren, and Red Bull has been making plenty of positive noises about the Japanese manufacturer’s engines in the lead-up to testing.

Lap times in the pre-season won’t tell us everything, but an early display of speed and reliability will have the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari looking over their shoulders, and the rest of us wondering what a championship battle that features Verstappen from the jump will look like.

1. New look, new rules, same results?

More simplified front and rear wings for 2019 will, at a very basic level, make it easier for cars to follow one another and cars behind not being so susceptible to the turbulent air being generated from the one in front, therefore aiding overtaking. The wider, deeper front wings represent, to Williams’ technical boss Paddy Lowe at least, the biggest aerodynamic change to the sport since 2009.

We have three rookies (Lando Norris at McLaren, Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso and Russell at Williams, plus a near-rookie in Sauber’s two-race ‘veteran’ Antonio Giovinazzi), two returnees (Kubica and Daniil Kvyat at STR) and race-winners like Ricciardo (Renault) and Raikkonen (Sauber) switching squads between seasons. There’s a lot of flux, but will any of it matter?

Hamilton and Mercedes will hope not, and the 34-year-old comes into 2019 within sight of two of the sport’s records that were thought to be untouchable – the seven world championships and 91 race wins achieved by Michael Schumacher in his glittering career. Hamilton has five of the former and 73 of the latter; he’s just 18 victories behind the German great, and has won 20 races across the past two seasons. Seeing who, if anyone, steps up to stifle his steamrolling of F1’s record books promises to be THE storyline to follow in 2019.


6 storylines to watch in MotoGP for 2019

The new MotoGP season promises to be compelling, but what are the stories we can’t wait to see play out in 2019?


We’re around a month away from MotoGP testing beginning in earnest for the upcoming season in Malaysia, but the turn of the calendar to 2019 only heightened the anticipation for what’s ahead. It’s a 19-race campaign where the schedule mirrors the one that preceded it, but elsewhere, it’s all-change as the world’s premier two-wheel category gets set for what’s sure to be a compelling season.

Everywhere you look, there’s storylines we can’t wait to watch play out. With just two teams retaining the same rider line-ups year on year, it’ll take some time get accustomed to familiar names in unfamiliar colours, while several riders face career-defining (or perhaps career-breaking) seasons, and there’s a host of exciting new talents set to strut their stuff in the big-time for the first time.

But what are the most compelling storylines for 2019? What really moves the needle on the excitement meter, and what has us intrigued? There’s plenty to choose from, but we’ve picked out a top six. Let’s count them down.

6. Who’ll be the rookie to turn heads?

Last year’s battle for the best of the new boys was close (for the record, Honda’s Franco Morbidelli edged Yamaha’s Hafizh Syahrin by four points for the rookie of the year title after 19 races), but not enormously compelling, given Morbidelli won it with 50 points for the season and a best race result of eighth place. This year? There’s four gun graduates from Moto2 set to step up, and there’s legitimate reasons to think each will have their time to shine.

Spaniard Joan Mir makes the move to the top flight after just one intermediate-class season and looks set to be on the best bike after replacing Andrea Iannone at the factory Suzuki squad, while Pecco Bagnaia’s progress at the Alma Pramac Ducati team will be watched closely on Australian shores, as last year’s Moto2 champion rides a Ducati alongside Townsville tearaway Jack Miller.

Elsewhere, a pair of new riders for ‘new’ teams will surely make their mark; Fabio Quartararo had a pre-world championship career so glittering that he was spoken of as the next Marc Marquez, and after breaking through for his maiden Moto2 win last year, joins Morbidelli in an all-new line-up for the start-up Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Also in a ‘new’ team, of sorts; perennial Moto2 front-runner Miguel Oliveira, who’ll ride for Tech3 as the French team switches from Yamaha to KTM machinery alongside Syahrin.

You’d back Mir to be the best debutant if you were down to your last dollar, but not with any great conviction – which points to an intriguing battle within a battle on the 2019 grid.

5. 2019 has to be Miller time

No MotoGP season is a small one for any rider, but 2019 shapes as a very big one for Miller, who goes into his fifth MotoGP campaign with a lengthy to-do list to check off. Item one is to see off Bagnaia, who’ll be riding a GP18 machine while Miller gets his first taste of current-spec Ducati machinery, riding the 2019 bike that will be campaigned by factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. Two is to stay injury-free and on the bike more often, as Miller’s four years to date have seen momentum regularly interrupted by crashes that have led to squandered points or broken bones. Item three? Impress Ducati’s top brass to the extent that he’s considered for a promotion for 2020. Miller, who turns 24 later this month, isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, and while his speed isn’t in question, a top-10 championship finish has remained elusive so far. Can things change this season? Speaking of which …

4. Ducati’s big decision

What we know about Ducati’s factory team – Dovizioso is, quite appropriately, the Italian manufacturer’s main weapon in the fight against Honda and Yamaha, and the 32-year-old comes into 2019 off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the championship and 10 wins across the past two years. But with Jorge Lorenzo’s jump to Honda (more of which later), who is the best-placed rider to ride shotgun with ‘Dovi’ long-term? Is it Petrucci, who has a one-year deal with the team and is, as he said himself, betting on himself to earn a more lucrative payday by declining an option for 2020? Is it Miller, who has a race win (Assen 2016) and a pole position (Argentina last year) to his credit while not showing Petrucci’s consistency in their season together in 2018? Is it Bagnaia, who, at 21, won a world title in the lead-up to his premier-class career, something neither Petrucci nor Miller could manage? Or is it someone else entirely?

3. Which horse does Yamaha back?

Yamaha had, by its usual lofty standards, a tough 2018, where Maverick Vinales’ win in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island was the only victory for the team all season. Yes, Valentino Rossi (third) and Vinales (fourth) featured prominently in the standings by season’s end, but their finishing positions were earned more through consistency and stealth in a campaign where Honda took 10 wins and Ducati seven to Yamaha’s sole success. Which means Yamaha needs to catch up – but how?

The past exploits of Rossi, who turns 40 in February, means he’s a legend of the sport. Vinales, 24 this month, is a junior-class champion who represents the future. On the basis of their post-season testing comments, both riders agree the bike needs improving to match it with the likes of Honda and Ducati, but have differing opinions on how; Vinales was happy with the consistency of the new 2019 engine, while Rossi felt the bike struggled to maintain pace as tyre wear became a factor, among other things.

Which rider will the team listen to most? Can Yamaha appease both while skewing its development direction more from one rider’s feedback than the other? Can whatever direction taken vault the team back into the fight for race wins and titles, rather than sporadic visits to the podium? There’ll be a lot of eyes on the blue-hued team in 2019.

2. Is Marquez beatable?

With five titles in six MotoGP seasons to date, Marquez casts an imposing shadow over the rest of the MotoGP grid. Qualifying speed, race craft, ability in flag-to-flag races, an appetite for the fight, gravity-defying saves … the Spaniard has the lot, and a consistency that means that, even on his off-days, he’s likely to finish on the podium. Yes, he crashes (Marquez fell 23 times last year, more than any other rider), but he rarely bites the dust in races; his first DNF last season came in round 17 in Australia, the race after he’d won the title in Japan a week earlier. Can anyone topple the 25-year-old from the summit?

1. Can Lorenzo beat Marquez?

If anyone can, could Lorenzo? After all, he’s on the same bike as MotoGP’s unstoppable force, ditching Ducati after a stuttering season last year where he barely scored points in the opening batch of races, rattled off three race wins and beating Marquez in a breathtaking head-to-head fight in Austria, and then spent most of the season half of the year absent or compromised with injury after huge offs in Aragon and Thailand. Lorenzo concedes he isn’t sure if can win a fourth MotoGP title in his first year on a Honda alongside Marquez, but you know he won’t be intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand, given he’s the only other rider to lift the championship trophy in the Marquez era after he won in 2015.

Season 2019 is Lorenzo’s biggest challenge yet, and his partnership with Marquez is, by some distance, THE storyline to watch.

Who won the F1 teammate battles in 2018?

Some were close, some weren’t in the same stratosphere … F1 teammate fights were many and varied this season.


It’s the battle within the battle in Formula One. Sure, every driver wants to win the world championship, but only one does that each year, and often the season starts with three-quarters of the grid knowing that being number one overall is out of the question. But what about being top dog within your own team? Now that’s something worth battling for …

We’ve had all kinds of F1 teammates this season; drivers at front-running teams who played little more than support roles (whether they wanted to or not); teammate fights that started one way before wildly swinging in the other direction; tandems where the drivers played nice and worked together to move their squad forwards; and teammates in name only, as the dustbin full of broken carbon fibre bits from on-track skirmishes mounted by the race …

Here, in constructors’ championship order, is how all 10 sets of F1 teammates fared against the driver in equal equipment in 2018.


In 2017, the first year of the Lewis Hamilton-Valtteri Bottas axis at the sport’s benchmark team, Hamilton took nine wins to Bottas’ three, and both had 13 podiums as Hamilton snared the title, Bottas finishing third and just 58 points adrift. This year, as Hamilton upped his game, Bottas couldn’t keep pace, despite being denied a pair of wins through horrid luck (a late puncture while leading in Azerbaijan) and, in hindsight, heavy-handed management (being told to gift a win to Hamilton in Russia for a title the Briton eventually won by 88 points). Hamilton’s fifth championship might have been his best yet; the gulf in almost every metric to his teammate will cause Bottas to do some soul-searching over the northern hemisphere winter.

Qualifying H2H: Hamilton 15, Bottas 6
Race H2H (both finished): Hamilton 16, Bottas 3
Best result: Hamilton 1st (11 times), Bottas 2nd (seven times)
Points: Hamilton 408 (1st), Bottas 247 (5th)
Podiums: Hamilton 17, Bottas 8
Avg. grid position: Hamilton 2nd, Bottas 4th
Avg. race finish: Hamilton 2nd, Bottas 4th


Sebastian Vettel’s season was one of high highs (five wins in the first 13 races) and deep lows (numerous on-track mistakes and zero wins in the final eight races), while Kimi Raikkonen’s year was more steadily consistent without ever threatening to challenge his teammate on raw pace, as their qualifying chasm suggests. Both had 12 podiums, but when you consider that eight of the Finn’s were for third place, it’s plain to see Vettel was Ferrari’s undisputed number one for the fourth and final year of this pairing.

Qualifying H2H: Vettel 17, Raikkonen 4
Race H2H (both finished): Vettel 9, Raikkonen 8
Best result: Vettel 1st (five times), Raikkonen 1st (once)
Points: Vettel 320 (2nd), Raikkonen 251 (3rd)
Podiums: Vettel 12, Raikkonen 12
Avg grid position: Vettel 3rd, Raikkonen 4th
Avg. race finish: Vettel 3rd, Raikkonen 3rd

Red Bull Racing

Judging this early in 2018, Daniel Ricciardo held sway, and it wasn’t close – the Australian won two of the year’s first six Grands Prix, while teammate Max Verstappen was spinning, hitting rivals or barriers, and generally finding new ways to squander points. From then on, the Dutchman delivered; 37 points behind Ricciardo’s tally after Monaco, he out-scored him 214 points to 98 the rest of the way, aided to some degree to Ricciardo’s six retirements (to two) for the remainder of the campaign. One-lap pace was all Verstappen too, finishing the year well ahead of Ricciardo despite qualifying behind him in two of the final three races.

Qualifying H2H: Verstappen 15, Ricciardo 6
Races H2H (both finished): Verstappen 8, Ricciardo 3
Best result: Verstappen 1st (twice), Ricciardo 1st (twice)
Points: Verstappen 249 (4th), Ricciardo 170 (6th)
Podiums: Verstappen 11, Ricciardo 2
Avg. grid position: Verstappen 7th, Ricciardo 7th
Avg. race finish: Verstappen 3rd, Ricciardo 4th


Carlos Sainz doesn’t lack for raw pace, so it says much for how good Nico Hulkenberg was this year that the German out-scored, out-raced and out-qualified the Spaniard in their one full season as teammates before Sainz heads to McLaren for 2019. The points gap between them, on pace, should have been far greater, but seven retirements for Hulkenberg to his teammates two made the difference 16 points and three places in the standings. After making mincemeat of Jolyon Palmer and seeing off Sainz in his first two Renault seasons, the arrival of Ricciardo will up the stakes for Hulkenberg in 2019.

Qualifying H2H: Hulkenberg 13, Sainz
Race H2H (both finished): Hulkenberg 7, Sainz 4
Best result: Hulkenberg 5th, Sainz 5th
Points: Hulkenberg 69 (7th), Sainz 53 (10th)
Avg. grid position: Hulkenberg 11th, Sainz 10th
Avg. race finish: Hulkenberg 8th, Sainz 9th


Kevin Magnussen scored 60 per cent of Haas’ 93 points that saw the American team achieve its best constructors’ championship finish (fifth), but the contest between the Dane and teammate Romain Grosjean was closer than that. This was the closest qualifying head-to-head on the grid (11-10 to Magnussen, with an average gap of just 0.009secs), and while Magnussen scored more often, Grosjean finished better when both drivers saw the flag. This is a well-matched mixture of styles and personalities, which probably explains why Haas is one of just two teams (along with Mercedes) to retain the same drivers next season.

Qualifying H2H: Magnussen 11, Grosjean 10
Race H2H (both finished): Grosjean 6, Magnussen 5
Best result: Grosjean 4th, Magnussen 5th (twice)
Points: Magnussen 56 (9th), Grosjean 37 (14th)
Avg. grid position: Magnussen 11th, Grosjean 10th
Avg. race finish: Magnussen 10th, Grosjean 11th


For much of 2018, McLaren was only faster on raw pace than Williams, which finished dead last in the constructors’ championship and had its drivers occupy two of the final three places in the standings. So how did McLaren finish sixth overall? Stoffel Vandoorne’s pace was underwhelming but largely representative of what he was driving; teammate Fernando Alonso bent the machinery he was given to his will by out-qualifying Vandoorne in every race (and 37-3 in two years in the same car) and scoring 81 per cent of his team’s points despite six retirements to the Belgian’s two.

Qualifying H2H: Alonso 21, Vandoorne 0
Race H2H (both finished): Alonso 6, Vandoorne 2
Best result: Alonso 5th, Vandoorne 8th (twice)
Points: Alonso 50 (11th), Vandoorne 12 (16th)
Avg. grid position: Alonso 13th, Vandoorne 17th
Avg. race finish: Alonso 10th, Vandoorne 13th

Racing Point Force India

Sergio Perez scored more points than Esteban Ocon for the second year running, and snaffled the only podium for a driver outside of the ‘big three’ teams (Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull) when he came third in Baku, the chaotic type of race he always seems to shine in. So why did Ocon have the Mexican’s measure? The Frenchman’s head-to-head advantage in qualifying was significant, and while both drivers only finished in the same race 13 times, Ocon was usually seeing the chequered flag first. Five non-finishes for Ocon compared to his teammate’s two does much to explain their narrow points gap after 21 Grands Prix.

Qualifying H2H: Ocon 16, Perez 5
Race H2H (both finished): Ocon 9, Perez 4
Best result: Perez 3rd, Ocon 6th (four times)
Points: Perez 62 (8th), Ocon 49 (12th)
Podiums: Perez 1, Ocon 0
Avg. grid position: Perez 11th, Ocon 10th
Avg. race finish: Perez 10th, Ocon 9th


Marcus Ericsson was rarely described as slow in his five-year F1 tenure; inconsistent, perhaps, but there’s no denying the Swede can be rapid. Which is why so many, including Ferrari, were so excited about what Charles Leclerc did in his rookie season alongside Ericsson. After a so-so start, Leclerc finished sixth in Azerbaijan in round four, and didn’t see Ericsson for dust much thereafter. The final qualifying tally and margin between the two (Leclerc was 0.327secs on average faster, the second-biggest gap between teammates behind Alonso-Vandoorne at McLaren) was impressive; spearheading Sauber’s climb from the foot of the constructors’ table as a debutant might have been a greater achievement.

Qualifying H2H: Leclerc 17, Ericsson 4
Race H2H (both finished): Leclerc 6, Ericsson 3
Best result: Leclerc 6th, Ericsson 9th (three times)
Points: Leclerc 39 (13th), Ericsson 9 (17th)
Avg. grid position: Leclerc 12th, Ericsson 16th
Avg. race finish: Leclerc 10th, Ericsson 12th

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Remember what we said about teammates playing nice? That definitely wasn’t the case at Toro Rosso with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley (just Google their radio exchange in Brazil), while the standings paint an equally nasty picture for Hartley, the New Zealander losing his F1 drive at the end of the season while Gasly was promoted into Ricciardo’s vacated Red Bull cockpit. Gasly scored 88 per cent of Toro Rosso’s points (the largest contribution by one driver to their team’s tally), and his fourth place in just the second race of the year in Bahrain meant this inter-team fight was over early.

Qualifying H2H: Gasly 15, Hartley 6
Race H2H (both finished): Gasly 6, Hartley 4
Best result: Gasly 4th, Hartley 9th
Points: Gasly 29 (15th), Hartley 4 (19th)
Avg. grid position: Gasly 13th, Hartley 15th
Avg. race finish: Gasly 11th, Hartley 13th


How far and how fast did Williams fall in 2018? The year prior, the team finished fifth in the constructors’ championship with 83 points; this season, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin scored seven points total between them as Williams finished last, with one point fewer than the team managed in the first race of 2017 in Australia … It’s tempting to say there were no winners here, but Stroll just gets the nod by virtue of scoring more points (largely through his annual strong showing in Azerbaijan) and retaining a spot on the grid for next year with Racing Point Force India thanks wholly to his father’s acquisition of the team.

Qualifying H2H: Sirotkin 13, Stroll 8
Race H2H (both finished): Stroll 9, Sirotkin 8
Best result: Stroll 8th, Sirotkin 10th
Points: Stroll 6 (18th), Sirotkin 1 (20th)
Avg. grid position: Stroll 17th, Sirotkin 17th
Avg. race finish: Stroll 13th, Sirotkin 15th

Who won the MotoGP teammate battles in 2018?

Who ended up as the alpha dog in all 12 MotoGP garages this year? We’ve crunched the numbers.


Some pairings of MotoGP teammates just work; each rider knows their place, they share information to make the bike better and their teams more competitive, and they operate for the greater good rather than individual glory. And some ‘teammates’ are that in name only, vying for the attention of their manufacturer, angling for a technical direction they prefer with their machinery, and doing anything they can to finish ahead of their stablemate with the same equipment.

There was evidence of both extremes in the MotoGP paddock this year (and you can come to your own conclusions as to who fits where), but while the approaches taken to tackle the season can vary, the stats (usually) show one clear outcome.

We’ve run the numbers for all 12 teams and 24 regular riders (not considering wildcards, one-offs or injury replacements) to work out who was top dog in each MotoGP garage over 18 races, and who will need to rebuild their reputations as we enter the 2019 campaign, where (remarkably) just two of the squads below will retain the same riders year-on-year.

In teams’ championship order, let’s go.

Repsol Honda Team

Dani Pedrosa spent six years as teammate to Marc Marquez at Honda’s factory squad before retiring at the end of the season, and while there were some high points (he won nine races in that time), 2018 wasn’t one of them. Marquez won his fifth world title in six seasons this year, but the size of the gap to his compatriot was bigger than ever; in the five previous years, Marquez out-scored Pedrosa by an average of 83 points a season, while this year, the gap was 204 points and 10 spots in the riders’ standings. Few pairings were more one-sided than this high-profile duo.

Qualifying H2H: Marquez 17, Pedrosa 2
Race H2H (both finished): Marquez 12, Pedrosa 0
Best result: Marquez 1st (nine times), Pedrosa 5th (four times)
Points: Marquez 321 (1st), Pedrosa 117 (11th)
Podiums: Marquez 14, Pedrosa 0
Avg. grid position: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 10th
Avg. race finish: Marquez 3rd, Pedrosa 7th

Ducati Team

Remember we said the numbers don’t always tell the story? Context is everything when trying to separate Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati, the Spaniard’s final season in red before heading to Honda as Pedrosa’s replacement. Lorenzo’s two years alongside Dovizioso were tricky to manage, and the stats are just as hard to analyse. Lorenzo’s high points were arguably higher, but from the mid-point of the season, where he was either injured, compromised or absent altogether, meaningful comparisons between the two are impossible. It’s only fitting that a complicated fit between these two comes with a set of numbers that could be read both ways. Neither of them would be wrong.

Qualifying H2H: Lorenzo 8, Dovizioso 7
Race H2H (both finished): Dovizioso 6, Lorenzo 3
Best result: Dovizioso 1st (four times), Lorenzo 1st (three times)
Points: Dovizioso 245 (2nd), Lorenzo 134 (9th)
Podiums: Dovizioso 9, Lorenzo 4
Avg grid position: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th
Avg. race finish: Dovizioso 4th, Lorenzo 6th

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP

Speaking of complicated … how do you split Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales? Rossi finished higher in the standings, but Vinales took Yamaha’s only win for the year in a disappointing season. Vinales had the one-lap advantage, but Rossi had unerring consistency. Both had the same number of podiums. Rossi seemingly always moved forwards in races, Vinales had to fight back after routinely dropping back in the early laps. At gunpoint, you’d say Rossi … just.

Qualifying H2H: Vinales 12, Rossi 7
Races H2H (both finished): Rossi 9, Vinales 7
Best result: Vinales 1st, Rossi 2nd
Points: Rossi 198 (3rd), Vinales 193 (4th)
Podiums: Rossi 5, Vinales 5
Avg. grid position: Vinales 7th, Rossi 8th
Avg. race finish: Vinales 6th, Rossi 7th

Team Suzuki Ecstar

If races were held over one lap, this head-to-head belongs to Andrea Iannone, and it wouldn’t be close. At the mid-point of the season, the Italian held sway at Suzuki, even against the backdrop of his departure to Aprilia for 2019. But Alex Rins finished the season with a rush, ending it with three podiums in the final four Grands Prix. Rins still falls off too much – five non-finishes were as many as Rossi, Marquez and Dovizioso combined – but the Spaniard’s Sunday scorecard against Iannone says plenty.

Qualifying H2H: Iannone 13, Rins 6
Race H2H (both finished): Rins 5, Iannone 4
Best result: Rins 2nd (three times), Iannone 2nd
Points: Rins 169 (5th), Iannone 133 (10th)
Podiums: Rins 5, Iannone 4
Avg. grid position: Iannone 7th, Rins 9th
Avg. race finish: Rins 5th, Iannone 8th

Alma Pramac Racing

Jack Miller himself will tell you he should have scored more points this season, with several strong qualifying showings in the back-half of the year going to waste with early-race crashes on Sundays. Danilo Petrucci scored more points, had a better best race result and started closer to the front on average than his Australian teammate, but how much of that was down to the rider and not what the riders rode, given Miller was on a 2017-spec Ducati while Petrucci rode a full factory ’18 bike for 18 races? Miller’s stronger second half narrowed the gap, but not by enough.

Qualifying H2H: Petrucci 14, Miller 5
Race H2H (both finished): Petrucci 9, Miller 4
Best result: Petrucci 2nd, Miller 4th (twice)
Points: Petrucci 144 (8th), Miller 91 (13th)
Podiums: Petrucci 1, Miller 0
Avg. grid position: Petrucci 7th, Miller 10th
Avg. race finish: Petrucci 8th, Miller 10th

Monster Yamaha Tech 3

This wasn’t supposed to be close, and wasn’t – Johann Zarco came into 2018 as one of the sport’s rising stars and delivered on that promise in the early part of the season, while Hafizh Syahrin was a rookie who came in late after 2017 Tech 3 rider Jonas Folger had to withdraw with illness. Zarco’s reputation as a demon qualifier produced an enormous gap between two riders at very different stages of their careers; the Malaysian was one of three riders never to beat their teammate on a Saturday, and one of four not to finish ahead of the rider on the other side of their garage on race day.

Qualifying H2H: Zarco 19, Syahrin 0
Race H2H (both finished): Zarco 14, Syahrin 0
Best result: Zarco 2nd (twice), Syahrin 9th
Points: Zarco 158 (6th), Syahrin 46 (16th)
Podiums: Zarco 3, Syahrin 0
Avg. grid position: Zarco 6th, Syahrin 18th
Avg. race finish: Zarco 7th, Syahrin 13th

LCR Honda

This pairing will go around again in 2019 (as will Rossi and Vinales at the factory Yamaha squad), and while the numbers predictably have Cal Crutchlow well ahead of Takaaki Nakagami, there’s reasons to be optimistic for both. Crutchlow would have been on for a second top-five championship finish were it not for injury on his factory 2018 RC213V, while satellite bike-riding rookie Nakagami saved his best to last with a sixth-place finish in the Valencia finale, and then led the timesheets on the final day of testing for the season at Jerez. With good respect between the two, this is as close to an ideal pairing at a satellite squad as you can get.

Qualifying H2H: Crutchlow 16, Nakagami 0
Race H2H (both finished): Crutchlow 10, Nakagami 1
Best result: Crutchlow 1st, Nakagami 6th
Points: Crutchlow 148 (7th), Nakagami 33 (20th)
Podiums: Crutchlow 1, Nakagami 0
Avg. grid position: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 16th
Avg. race finish: Crutchlow 6th, Nakagami 15th

Angel Nieto Team

Karel Abraham never beat teammate Alvaro Bautista in a race where both riders finished. Abraham never managed a top-10 result all season; Bautista had 11 of them, including a season-best fourth filling in for the absent Lorenzo at Ducati’s factory outfit in Australia. Abraham will still be on the grid, albeit at the lowly Reale Avintia Ducati team, in 2019, while Bautista found all avenues closed for him and jumped to World Superbikes after his best season for five years. Funding, as ever from the middle of the grid backwards, can prolong a career, or curtail one in an instant.

Qualifying H2H: Bautista 13, Abraham 5
Race H2H (both finished): Bautista 9, Abraham 0
Best result: Bautista 5th* (twice), Abraham 11th
Points: Bautista 92 (12th), Abraham 12 (23rd)
Avg. grid position: Bautista 15th, Abraham 20th
Avg. race finish: Bautista 9th, Abraham 17th
(* Note: Bautista finished fourth riding Lorenzo’s bike in Australia)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro spent more than 2018 as teammates; the former Moto2 rivals were together at Tech 3 Yamaha from Espargaro’s rookie premier-class season in 2014, where Smith was already entrenched, and moved together to KTM for the Austrian manufacturer’s debut MotoGP season in 2017. It took until the last race of their five years together for either (Espargaro) to make the podium (third in Valencia), and while both struggled with injury this year, the Spaniard’s top-three finish specifically and his Sunday ascendancy generally gives him the nod.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 8, Smith 8
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 6, Smith 2
Best result: Espargaro 3rd, Smith 8th
Points: Espargaro 51 (14th), Smith 38 (18th)
Podiums: Espargaro 1, Smith 0
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 17th, Smith 17th
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 10th, Smith 14th

Aprilia Racing Team Gresini

Don’t let the finishing positions of Aleix Espargaro (17th in the standings) and Scott Redding (21st) fool you into thinking the battle at Aprilia was tight this year. The Spaniard had double the DNF’s of his British teammate (six to three) but still scored more than twice the number of points, one-quarter of Redding’s tally coming in the final rain-affected race in Valencia. Summing up Redding’s final MotoGP season; the only GP where he out-qualified Espargaro was his home race at Silverstone … the race that never happened after rain caused its cancellation.

Qualifying H2H: Espargaro 18, Redding 1
Race H2H (both finished): Espargaro 9, Redding 0
Best result: Espargaro 6th, Redding 11th
Points: Espargaro 44 (17th), Redding 20 (21st)
Avg. grid position: Espargaro 15th, Redding 21st
Avg. race finish: Espargaro 12th, Redding 16th

EG 0,0 Marc VDS

Both Franco Morbidelli and Thomas Luthi came into 2018 as MotoGP rookies, but that’s where the comparisons end. Morbidelli, the 2017 Moto2 champion, adapted well to the bigger bikes and scored 50 points to be named rookie of the year. Luthi, beaten by his 2018 MotoGP teammate to the 2017 intermediate-class crown, was the only full-time rider not to score a point this year, although he couldn’t have come much closer given his best results (note: plural).

Qualifying H2H: Morbidelli 15, Luthi 2
Race H2H (both finished): Morbidelli 12, Luthi 1
Best result: Morbidelli 8th, Luthi 16th (five times)
Points: Morbidelli 50 (15th), Luthi 0 (29th)
Avg. grid position: Morbidelli 16th, Luthi 20th
Avg. race finish: Morbidelli 13th, Luthi 18th

Reale Avintia Racing

The Ducati satellite squad fell from 10th in the teams’ standings at the halfway stage of 2018 to last at year’s end, which has everything to do with Tito Rabat’s season ending after 11 races when the Spaniard was hit by Morbidelli’s crashed Honda in British GP qualifying and suffered a horrendous triple fracture to his right leg. Teammate Xavier Simeon was nowhere near Rabat’s pace when they lined up together (although, in reality, far apart) on the grid, but at least the Belgian didn’t suffer Luthi’s fate, scoring his sole point for the season by coming 15th in Australia.

Qualifying head-to-head: Rabat 11, Simeon 0
Races head-to-head: Rabat 6, Simeon 0
Best result: Rabat 7th, Simeon 15th
Points: Rabat 35 (19th), Simeon 1 (27th)
Average grid position: Rabat 12th, Simeon 21st
Average race finish: Rabat 12th, Simeon 18th

F1 2018: Who was best in class?

Who stood up and shone? Who stumbled backwards or stuttered? It’s time for our top 10 drivers of the F1 season.


We’re making a list, checking it twice … no, not that one, even if it is December. The final month of the year finally hears Formula One engines fall silent after the equal-longest season in the sport’s 69-year history, and for some drivers (Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, for example), more Grands Prix (to extend his run of five straight podiums to end the year) would probably be welcomed. But the off-season does give us cause for pause and a chance to reflect on who and what was good in 2018 – and who underwhelmed or went missing when it mattered. Which is where we came in.

In this space this time last year, we ran the rule over the grid to come up with our top five drivers of 2017. Halfway through this one; a report card that handed out the mid-season grades (and who needed to do their homework or stay back after school for extra detention). This time, we’re changing tack.

From the 20 drivers who lined up for the start of season school photo in Australia in March, we had a statistical anomaly this year – those same 20 drivers also posed for the end-of-year shot in Abu Dhabi last month, the first time in F1 history the same grid that started the season also finished it. But forget 20 – it’s a top 10 list for the season that’s of interest, and begs questions of how to arrive at one.

What were the expectations for each driver (and their teams) heading into 2018, and did they exceed those relative to their teammates, and the opposition? Who had outsize results in cars not worthy of them, or who squandered points and podiums in machinery that was superior? And do the final standings for 2018 tell the complete truth, or is context more important than counting points?

Before we reveal the top 10, two honourable mentions to those who just missed. Kevin Magnussen was comfortably the best Haas driver of the season for a fledgling team that finished a heady fifth in the constructors’ championship, and the Dane had his best season yet, scoring 56 points to finish ninth overall. A better year than teammate Romain Grosjean, but not one that slid him into our top 10. And Carlos Sainz, who finished right behind Magnussen in 10th after a strong sixth-place showing to wrap up his Renault tenure in Abu Dhabi, missed out by a whisker as he prepares to head to McLaren for 2019. Both tough, tough omissions … but if 10 make it, 10 have to miss.

So who made the cut? From 10 to 1, let’s count them down – the best F1 drivers of the class of 2018, and why.

10. Fernando Alonso

2018 summary
11th in world championship (50 points), best result 5th (Australia), 15 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
Was Abu Dhabi, where Alonso performed a series of celebratory donuts on the start-finish straight after the race with fellow multiple world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, really the last time we’ll see the Spaniard in F1? We don’t know that for certain, but what 2018 taught us was that Alonso got everything he could out of a McLaren that, by season’s end, was the second-slowest car. He scored 50 of the team’s 62 points, and outqualified teammate Stoffel Vandoorne 21-0, the first driver to whitewash his teammate since … Alonso himself (Nelson Piquet Jr in 2008). Of those 50 points, 32 came in the first five races as he preyed on the customary early-season unreliability of rivals, taking a yard when an inch was on offer. Fifth in race one of 2018 in Australia was the best he could do all season. Let’s hope we see him again; how much better would F1 be if Alonso was sharing the same piece of track with Hamilton and Vettel on merit, not for nostalgic purposes?

9. Sergio Perez

2018 summary
8th in world championship (62 points), best result 3rd (Azerbaijan), 1 podium, 19 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
Perez is the answer to what will eventually become a trivia question from 2018; by taking third in Baku, the Mexican was the only driver not from Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull to stand on the podium all season (Azerbaijan 2017, where Lance Stroll finished third for Williams, is the only other race in the past two seasons to end likewise, a stat fact F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn calls “unacceptable”). Nearly one-quarter of Perez’s points came on that one crazy afternoon in Azerbaijan, and while he’s a safe pair of hands who can be relied upon to pick up the crumbs thanks to his tyre-conserving style, his qualifying deficit to Racing Point Force India teammate Esteban Ocon (16-5) costs him a spot in our rankings from where he finished.

8. Charles Leclerc

2018 summary
13th in world championship (39 points), best result 6th (Azerbaijan), 15 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
How good was Leclerc’s rookie season? Not since Verstappen (49 points for Toro Rosso in 2015) have we seen a newcomer this polished, and what made his maiden campaign all the more impressive was that he was driving for Sauber, which finished dead last in the constructors’ championship the year prior. The Swiss squad’s jump to eighth can be primarily pinned on the composed 21-year-old, who ended the year with a trio of seventh-place finishes on the bounce in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, the best realistic results on offer behind the sport’s ‘big three’ teams. A brighter spotlight awaits as Vettel’s teammate at Ferrari, but nothing we’ve seen so far suggests it should bother him. Put your hard-earned on him becoming F1’s 108th race winner sometime next season.

7. Nico Hulkenberg

2018 summary
7th in world championship (69 points), best result 5th (Germany), 14 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
Seventh overall, seventh on our list, seven races started from seventh place on the grid … there’s a consistent theme here for Hulkenberg, who was largely in control of F1’s ‘class B’ in 2018 despite not finishing seven of the 21 races, the second-worst in that category on the grid (we’ll get to number one on that list later, Australian fans). It took until round 12 in Hungary, where he finished 12th, for the Renault driver not to finish in the points in a race where he saw the chequered flag. Finished eight races in (you guessed it) seventh place or better in his best F1 season yet.

6. Valtteri Bottas

2018 summary
5th in world championship (247 points), best result 2nd (Bahrain, China, Spain, Canada, Germany, Russia, Japan), 2 poles, 7 fastest laps, 8 podiums, 19 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
The Finn finished fifth overall, but we’re docking him a spot here based on what he did the year prior in the sport’s best team, and what his teammate did in equal equipment in 2018. Rewind 12 months, and Bottas took three wins and scored 305 points to finish third overall; this season, he went winless while teammate Hamilton won 11 times, the first time a world champion’s running mate failed to win a race since Mark Webber in 2013. Azerbaijan, where he suffered an untimely puncture within sight of the flag, was one that got away, but Russia, where he was ordered by Mercedes to gift the win to Hamilton to aid a championship quest the Briton eventually won by a mile, might have hurt his head as much as Baku hurt his heart.

5. Daniel Ricciardo

2018 summary
6th in world championship (170 points), 2 wins (China, Monaco), 2 poles, 4 fastest laps, 2 podiums, 13 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
Two wins in the first six races had Ricciardo considering a championship charge, but as the year unfolded, it seemed the affable Aussie had spent the off-season that preceded 2018 walking under ladders while crossing paths with a black cat and breaking a mirror on Friday the 13th. In 21 races, he had eight non-finishes, all but one of them from reliability gremlins that could have broken someone of lesser character (for context, the Mercedes and Ferrari pairings, plus teammate Verstappen, had 12 DNF’s combined). When the car was fast, Ricciardo was often too far back with penalties to do anything with it, and when he started where he should have, the car regularly broke. In the final nine races of 2018, there were just two – Singapore and his Red Bull swansong in Abu Dhabi – where Ricciardo didn’t come into the race weekend carrying a penalty, or the car cried ‘enough’. His swashbuckling win in Shanghai and his defensive masterclass while nursing a crippled car in Monaco were top-shelf memories from a season he’ll be glad is over.

4. Kimi Raikkonen

2018 summary
3rd in world championship (251 points), 1 win (USA), 1 pole, 1 fastest lap, 12 podiums, 17 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
The Raikkonen of 2018 is more Steady Eddie than one who drives with the searing speed that characterised the early part of his career, but in his final season with Ferrari before heading back to where it all began with Sauber, the 39-year-old was the perfect beta to Vettel’s alpha at Ferrari. He finished races (17 of them), didn’t get in the way (most of the time; many of the sport’s insiders were surprised he qualified on pole ahead of title-contending teammate Vettel at Monza, particularly after Vettel spun on the first lap fighting with Hamilton), and bagged a long-overdue win in Austin on merit, snapping a 113-race skid that stretched all the way back to Australia 2013 for Lotus.

3. Max Verstappen

2018 summary
4th in world championship (249 points), 2 wins (Austria, Mexico), 2 fastest laps, 11 podiums, 17 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
If this list was being compiled from the second half of the year only, Verstappen would be a clear second; after scoring 105 points in the first 12 races, he gobbled up 144 from the last nine. Winning on Red Bull’s home patch in Austria made him more popular than ever, while for the second straight year, he made the rest look ridiculous in Mexico, winning that race by over 17 seconds while driving in cruise control for the final stint. The error-prone ways of the first half of Verstappen’s season seem like a lifetime ago already. Can Honda power lift the Dutchman higher in the standings (and this list) 12 months from now?

2. Sebastian Vettel

2018 summary
2nd in world championship (320 points), 5 wins (Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Great Britain, Belgium), 5 poles, 3 fastest laps, 12 podiums, 20 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
Freeze season 2018 on lap 51 of the German Grand Prix, and this list – and Vettel’s standing in Ferrari’s history books – looks a lot different. A lap later, Vettel crashed out of his home Grand Prix while leading in the rain, allowing Hamilton to take an unlikely victory after starting 14th, and stealing the championship lead from his rival to boot. From there, things went south for the German – spins while fighting for position in Italy, Japan and Austin were costly, and by Mexico, Vettel was runner-up in the championship for a third time, Ferrari’s wait for its first drivers’ title since 2007 extending another year. Hockenheim was Vettel’s only non-finish of the season, but it was the beginning of the end.

1. Lewis Hamilton

2018 summary
World champion (408 points), 11 wins (Azerbaijan, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Singapore, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Abu Dhabi), 11 poles, 3 fastest laps, 17 podiums, 20 finishes in 21 races.

The verdict
It’s amazing to think, given how Hamilton’s season ended, that he didn’t win a race until round four in Azerbaijan, and he lucked into that one to such a degree after Bottas’ late puncture that he delayed the podium proceedings to console his Mercedes teammate before accepting the winners’ trophy with a sheepish face. The afore-mentioned win in Germany, and another the following weekend in Hungary where he produced a mesmerising qualifying lap in atrocious conditions, gave Hamilton the advantage, and he pressed that home to such an extent that he wound up winning 10 of the final 16 races, becoming the first driver ever to score more than 400 points in a single season. For lap of the year, look no further than his pole position in Singapore, where he dazzled as bright as the night lights that illuminate the sport’s most unforgiving track, and showed the gap he has over the rest when he’s at the top of his game.

MotoGP 2018: Who was best in class?

Who shone and who stumbled? Who exceeded expectations or underwhelmed? It’s time for our top 10 riders of the MotoGP season.


Change, the saying goes, is as good as a holiday – but why should you have to choose one or the other? While the MotoGP riders and teams take a well-earned off-season holiday after a packed 19-round schedule for 2018, we’re going to change how we rank their seasons here at Last year in this space, we ran the rule over the grid to come up with our top five riders of 2017. This year, at the halfway mark (or as close to as we could), we donned our school headmaster’s hat and handed out the mid-term grades. This time? Something different again.

A cast of 24 riders (in their ‘school’ photo above; nice hat, Jack …) began the 2018 season under lights at Losail in Qatar, and by season’s end in Valencia (counting wildcards and injury replacements), 33 riders appeared on the entry list and 32 of them raced (Loris Baz, drafted in as an injury replacement for Pol Espargaro at the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing outfit for Silverstone, never got the chance to race after that GP was washed out). But, with respect to 23 others, we’re whittling things down to a top 10 for the season that wrapped up earlier this month.

In conquering the tough task to come up with a top 10, we considered the expectations for each rider before and during the season, the competitiveness of the equipment they were riding, how they performed relative to their teammates or riders on the same machinery at other teams, and (of course) the points standings.

Three who didn’t make the cut: Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who, in his final year of a glittering top-flight career, couldn’t finish on the podium once where teammate Marc Marquez was the world champion, and ended 18 races 204 points behind his compatriot on the same bike.

Aussie Jack Miller, who had searing qualifying speed at times (five top-six starts and a brilliant pole in Argentina), but finished 13th overall after several costly crashes he admitted cost him “probably 40 points” in races, also misses. As does his Alma Pramac Ducati teammate Danilo Petrucci, who was the toughest omission; eighth in the championship for a second year running, Petrucci’s podium tally dwindled (four in 2017, just one this season), and riders who finished behind the Italian had higher high points.

From 10 to 1, let’s count them down – the best riders in MotoGP in 2018, and why.

10. Alvaro Bautista

2018 summary
12th in world championship (105 points), best result 4th (Australia), 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Bautista’s qualifying efforts were fairly blah – he made Q2 just seven times all season – but the Spanish veteran knew that points were paid on Sundays, and he mostly delivered on race days relative to riders on the same-spec GP17 Ducati; he finished 14 points and one place ahead of Miller, for example. A ride deputising for the injured Jorge Lorenzo at the factory Ducati team in Australia was a reward for effort, and Bautista took his best result for the season at Phillip Island on a bike he barely knew, a strong way to sign off on a nine-year MotoGP stint before heading to World Superbikes.

9. Andrea Iannone

2018 summary
10th in world championship (133 points), best result 2nd (Australia), 4 podiums, 14 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Like your riders to be more mercurial than metronomic? Iannone’s your man; the combative Italian is just as likely to qualify nowhere as he is to pull off a spectacular result like Australia, where he finished second. Ahead of Suzuki teammate Alex Rins at the mid-point of the season, Iannone finished 36 points behind the Spaniard by year’s end, and Rins finished one fewer race. Next year is likely to be tougher for Iannone as he heads to Aprilia, his third manufacturer in seven MotoGP seasons.

8. Johann Zarco

2018 summary
6th in world championship (158 points), best result 2nd (Argentina, Spain), 2 poles, 3 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
If this list was being compiled on the Saturday of the French GP weekend, where he sent Le Mans into delirium after qualifying on pole, we might have had Zarco in the top three; in the opening five races, the Yamaha rider had two poles, a pair of podiums and 58 points to be the standout satellite rider in the championship. After that? Crashing from his home race seemed to knock the wind out of the Frenchman, and he managed just 100 more points and a single podium (Malaysia) the rest of the way, only winning the independent team rider title because Honda’s Cal Crutchlow missed the final three races with injury.

7. Cal Crutchlow

2018 summary
7th in world championship (148 points), 1 win (Argentina), 1 pole, 3 podiums, 12 finishes in 15 races.

The verdict
We agree with the final standings here for Crutchlow, the combative Briton who likely would have enjoyed a top-five championship finish for the second time in his career had he not crashed and smashed his right tibia and ankle in a high-speed off in practice at Phillip Island in October. The Honda rider missed the final three races of the year, but was ever-present when he was onboard, making Q2 in every race bar France, finishing in the top 10 in all but one of the races when he saw the chequered flag (USA), and winning the chaotic GP in Argentina, keeping his head when plenty who should have known better lost theirs. Just five riders won races in 2018, and he was one of them.

6. Alex Rins

2018 summary
5th in world championship (169 points), best result 2nd (Netherlands, Malaysia, Valencia), 5 podiums, 1 fastest lap, 13 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
In our mid-season review, we hinted that there was nothing wrong with Rins’ speed; he just rarely stayed on his Suzuki long enough to show it, crashing out five times in the first nine races. From there on, the Spaniard was close to faultless, given what he was riding and who (Iannone) was on the other side the garage. Nine races, eight top-10 finishes and a pair of second places to round out the year in Malaysia and Valencia could arguably have him higher on this list, but those non-finishes and his qualifying speed (he beat Iannone on Saturday only six times in 19 attempts) have to be taken into account. It would surprise nobody if Rins wins a race, and soon, in 2019.

5. Valentino Rossi

2018 summary
3rd in world championship (198 points), best result 2nd (Germany), 1 pole, 5 podiums, 18 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Leaving a living legend in fifth place when he finished third overall? Hard to do, but easier to explain. It was Rossi’s first winless season since the dark Ducati days of 2011-12, and – remarkably – his first winless season ever on a Yamaha in 13 campaigns across two stints. That – and crashing out of the lead when a win looked in the bag in Malaysia – was the bad, but ‘The Doctor’ was the only rider to finish all 18 races, and his pole position at Mugello prompted the kind of spontaneous spectator joy only one rider at one Grand Prix could muster.

4. Maverick Vinales

2018 summary
4th in world championship (193 points), 1 win (Australia), 1 pole, 2 fastest laps, 5 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Vinales fourth and Rossi fifth? Shouldn’t these places be swapped? Yes and perhaps; the Spaniard gets extra marks for snapping Yamaha’s historically barren run with an emotional victory in Australia, and having Rossi’s measure in qualifying more often than not. Too often, Vinales would squander those strong Saturdays with poor starts on Sundays as he struggled for grip with a full fuel load, and the vast majority of his top-10 results came from fighting rearguard missions where he came on strong the longer the races went. Watching what direction Yamaha takes with its bike for 2019 for two riders who typically want different things from their machinery will be, again, an intriguing subplot given the age and stage of their respective careers; Rossi turns 40 next February, a month after Vinales celebrates his 24th birthday.

3. Jorge Lorenzo

2018 summary
9th in world championship (134 points), 3 wins (Italy, Catalunya, Austria), 4 poles, 2 fastest laps, 4 podiums, 11 finishes in 14 races.

The verdict
Reading a graph of Lorenzo’s results in 2018 should come with a health warning; you could put your neck out coping with the peaks and troughs of the Spaniard’s results over 14 races. It was a year of extremes for the three-time world champion; he managed just 16 points in five miserable races to start the season to sit 14th in the championship after Le Mans, and then won three of the next six races, running rings around the rest of the field in Italy before staring down and beating Marquez in a straight fight at the Red Bull Ring. Forty points behind Ducati teammate Dovizioso in the standings after France, he was ahead following Austria … and then scored just four points across the final eight races of the season, missing four of them altogether after a brutal practice crash in Thailand left him with right ankle and left wrist injuries. Joining Honda as Marquez’s new teammate couldn’t be more difficult than 2018 was … could it?

2. Andrea Dovizioso

2018 summary
2nd in world championship (245 points), 4 wins (Qatar, Czech Republic, San Marino, Valencia), 2 poles, 5 fastest laps, 9 podiums, 15 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
Dovizioso was the runner-up last year too, but this time, the gap between the Ducati man and world champion Marquez was seismic, peaking at 102 points when Marquez won the title in Japan with three races remaining. Dovizioso crashing out of contention at Motegi on the second-last lap when locked in a one-to-one fight with Marquez sums up the past two years in MotoGP; the Italian is the only rider who has been able to consistently go with the Spaniard, but even that has its limits. Four victories and 245 points were two and 16 fewer than 2017 in those respective categories, while three DNFs and that crash in Japan (where he remounted and finished a crestfallen 18th) were most unlike a rider whom, until the past two years, was known more for his consistency and late braking than his speed.

1. Marc Marquez

2018 summary
World champion (321 points), 9 wins (USA, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Aragon, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia), 7 poles, 7 fastest laps, 14 podiums, 16 finishes in 18 races.

The verdict
It could hardly be anyone else, could it? (Virtual) forests have been felled in the reporting of Marquez’s fifth title in his six premier-class seasons to date, so we’ll hit you with three numbers of note. One, he didn’t fail to finish a race until Australia, after he’d secured the title. Two, he had as many podiums as second (Dovizioso) and third (Rossi) in the standings combined. And lastly, no MotoGP rider crashed more than Marquez (23 falls in 2018, not to mention the seemingly weekly saves that defied logic and gravity, Catalunya the best of them). It’s a proven formula; spend Friday and Saturday finding the limit, occasionally step over it, and then dance as close as you dare to that line on Sundays without crossing it. The numbers – and the optics of how Marquez achieves them – suggests that it’s working.

What happened at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

Lewis Hamilton sets a new F1 benchmark as Daniel Ricciardo signs off with Red Bull Racing at the final race of the year at Yas Marina.


The build-up
With both titles won before the F1 paddock set up in Abu Dhabi for the final Grand Prix of the year, much of the driver focus was spent on the chase for third this year – and the changes set to take place next year with eight of the 10 teams swapping one or both of their pilots.

Kimi Raikkonen (251 points) sat third in the drivers’ standings ahead of his final race for Ferrari, while compatriot Valtteri Bottas, still searching for his first win this season for Mercedes, was 14 points adrift of his Finnish compatriot in fourth, just three points ahead of the rapidly-closing Red Bull of Max Verstappen. In the fight for ‘best of the rest’ status behind the three big teams, which means seventh in the drivers’ table, Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) came into the Yas Marina weekend with 69 points, 11 ahead of his closest challenger, former Force India teammate Sergio Perez.

Raikkonen’s final foray for Ferrari before going back to where it all began at Sauber was just one of a number of goodbyes to either teams or the sport altogether in Abu Dhabi, with Daniel Ricciardo suiting up for his 100th – and final – Grand Prix at Red Bull Racing before heading to Renault, and his 2019 replacement, Pierre Gasly, wrapping up his rookie season at Toro Rosso.

Esteban Ocon’s 50th start looked set to be his last for a while, Williams driver Lance Stroll odds-on to take his Force India seat for 2019, while Sauber and McLaren got ready to farewell both drivers after Sunday’s 55-lap race, Charles Leclerc (to Ferrari) and Marcus Ericsson (Indycar) making way at the Swiss team, and Fernando Alonso (the Indy 500, and possibly more besides) leaving McLaren for a second time along with Formula E-bound Stoffel Vandoorne. Abu Dhabi was Carlos Sainz’s final race at Renault before swapping yellow for orange as, essentially, he got set to replace his childhood idol Alonso at McLaren.

When the action on-track got down to business in qualifying, it was one of the two teams not changing drivers for next year – Mercedes – who held sway once more. For the fifth year in succession at the Yas Marina Circuit, the Silver Arrows locked out the front row, Lewis Hamilton taking his 11th pole of 2018 by edging teammate Bottas by 0.162secs, Hamilton’s pole time of 1min 34.794secs smashing Bottas’ best Q3 time of 12 months ago by nearly 1.5secs. It was the first time in F1 history that the same team had locked out the front row at the same Grand Prix five times in succession.

The animals lined up in pairs behind Mercedes, Ferrari locking out row two with Sebastian Vettel ahead of Raikkonen by 0.240secs, and Red Bull owning row three, Ricciardo the fastest of all in the final sector of the lap to beat teammate Verstappen by 0.188secs for fifth. Verstappen had the more intriguing strategy for race day though, the Dutchman starting the race on the faster but higher-wearing hypersoft Pirelli tyres, which would provide an advantage when the lights went out before degrading quickly and necessitating an early pit stop.

Best of the rest was Romain Grosjean, who was seventh for Haas with what he felt was one of the best laps of his career, while further back, Alonso was 15th but ahead yet again of McLaren teammate Vandoorne to ensure their personal head-to-head in qualifying finished 21-0 in the Spaniard’s favour; the last driver to out-perform his teammate on every Saturday for an entire season was … Alonso, who did the same to Nelson Piquet Jr at Renault in 2008.

The stats suggested good omens for Hamilton specifically and Mercedes generally; at a track where the race that has never been won by a driver starting further back than fourth and where weather isn’t likely to upset the natural pecking order, there were just seven overtakes in total in Abu Dhabi a year ago, not one achieved without the benefit of using DRS …

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton took his 11th win of the year from pole after an early safety car period neutralised the race following Nico Hulkenberg spectacularly barrel-rolling his Renault at Turn 9 on the first lap. Hamilton won by 2.581secs from Vettel, with Verstappen taking his fifth straight podium to round out the season, just ahead of teammate Ricciardo. In his final F1 start, Alonso just missed the points in 11th place.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
The Australian promised action in his final race for Red Bull, but his run to fourth place was more a slow burn than the fireworks that have typified his 100 races in Red Bull blue.

From fourth on the grid, Ricciardo briefly dropped behind a fast-starting Leclerc on the opening lap before his race strategy became evident by lap 17, by which time both Mercedes drivers, Vettel and Verstappen had all pitted to take on supersoft tyres until the end of the race.

Ricciardo led for 17 laps as he looked to run the opposite strategy to his rivals, the decision of whether or not to pit clouded somewhat by the bizarre appearance of light drizzle for a five-minute period from lap 24, which caused teams to at least consider intermediate tyres in case the drops turned into a downpour. It was at this phase of the race that Ricciardo came back to the field, and after he eventually pitted on lap 34, he was back in fifth, armed with new supersoft tyres, but with a mountain to climb to make it to the podium for just the third time all season.

Bottas was hunted down and dispatched on lap 39, which raised eyebrows as the next car up the road was teammate Verstappen, the Dutchman nursing tyres that had been fitted 17 laps earlier than Ricciardo’s. The gap between the pair hovered at just over a second for several laps, Ricciardo never close enough to get into DRS range, and his podium challenge finally faded seven laps from home when the pair caught and passed Gasly’s ailing Toro Rosso, which was spraying oil around the circuit until it eventually crawled to a halt.

The gap between the Red Bulls widened, and Ricciardo eventually finished 2.673secs off the podium, coming fourth for the seventh time this year – a stat that succinctly summarised a season that was a case of occasionally nearly, but more often not quite.

“It wasn’t the most exciting race, just a little bit of it was fun,” he said.

“It put me out of reach with the leaders; I don’t know if we had much of a choice, we could’ve pitted early and kept track position but it’s always hard to know. Our pace advantage was strong at first, but we probably just weren’t quick enough.”

What the result means
The fastest driver in the fastest car with the fastest reaction time to opportunity; Mercedes showed why it was the benchmark of 2018 in Abu Dhabi by the timing and execution of Hamilton’s unplanned first pit stop, which came about at a moment’s notice when Raikkonen’s Ferrari expired on the start-finish straight after just seven laps.

While the majority of the rest of the field pondered what to do, Hamilton pitted from the lead in the virtual safety car period as Raikkonen’s car was removed, fitting durable supersoft tyres until the end of the race on a track where passing, at best, is problematic. Hamilton questioned the call initially when he came back onto the track in fifth place, but barely had to break a sweat after his rivals pitted to set a new statistical high-water mark for a season, more of which below.

“The engineers always talk about stopping too early,” he said afterwards. “They were way too chilled and the car didn’t feel right. But it turned out they were right.”

Elsewhere, Raikkonen kept third in the championship – just – despite finishing his second Ferrari stint as a spectator, third place for Verstappen seeing him end the year two points short of eclipsing the Finn’s tally (251 points to 249), with Bottas (247) falling to fifth overall.

Bottas struggled with tyre wear and came off second-best in a scrap with Verstappen, and finished fifth and 47secs behind his teammate after making a late pit stop for new rubber.

For historical purposes …
Bottas fans, turn away now. The Finn’s failure to win a race in the same year where his teammate Hamilton took the world champion is a curiosity that has happened just three times in the past 25 seasons. Rubens Barrichello didn’t win a race for Ferrari in 2001, while teammate Michael Schumacher won nine Grands Prix and the title, while Mark Webber failed to win a race in his final season, 2013, as Red Bull teammate Vettel took 13 victories and the crown.

The number to know
With 11 wins and 17 podium finishes in 21 races, Hamilton set a record for the most points scored in a single season – and remarkably won the title by 88 points despite spotting Vettel an eight-point lead at the halfway stage of the year. From round 11 in Germany onwards, he won eight of 11 races and took seven pole positions.

Under-the-radar winner
Sainz signed off on his year and a bit with Renault in the best possible style, a stellar sixth place coming from superb pace from 11th on the grid, a lengthy 38-lap opening stint before his sole pit stop, and enough speed late in the race to set the fourth-fastest lap overall. The Spaniard was 18secs clear of Leclerc for ‘best of the rest’ behind the big three teams, and jumped from 12th in the drivers’ standings into the top 10, leapfrogging Alonso and Ocon, whose Force India shut down with nine laps left and crawled to a halt in the pit lane entry after leaking oil.

Those who lost out
Sainz’s teammate Hulkenberg was very lucky indeed after his spectacular start to the race, where he clashed with Grosjean’s Haas and rolled twice before coming to a halt upside-down against the barriers.

The German was taken to the medical centre for observation immediately afterwards, but watched the remainder of the race from the pit wall soon after, fortunately more annoyed that his season came to a premature end than carrying any injury.

“I’m fine, it’s just the normal disappointment in a race,” Hulkenberg said. “I think we just out it down into a racing incident. (Grosjean) locked up, I went wide and he went even wider.

“Obviously he was there, our wheels made contact and we’ve seen the rest which made some spectacular images. I don’t know if the halo blocked me or not, and when you’re upside down it’s not so easy to find all the buttons because everything feels different and it was the first time I’d been in that position.”

Hulkenberg kept seventh in the drivers’ standings after Perez could only manage eighth and four points for Force India.

The fifth retirement on Sunday was Ericsson in what will be his final F1 race, the Swede crawling to a halt with no power on lap 25 as he hovered on the fringes of a top-10 result in his Sauber sign-off.

What’s next?
In the short-term, not much – although 2019 officially starts this week as the now-customary two-day test at the Yas Marina Circuit following the season finale takes place from November 27-28, giving us our first look at some familiar faces in new places. Season 2019 testing proper starts in Barcelona from February 18-21.