Daniel Ricciardo

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.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

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.

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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.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

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
408:
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.

The Dan Diaries: Over and out

In his final F1 driver column for redbull.com, Daniel Ricciardo is in a reflective mood as five years with Red Bull Racing comes to a close in Abu Dhabi.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

So, this is it, the last race for the team (and my last Diary). It’s not like the news I’m moving on is new news, it’s been out there for months, but we’re in Abu Dhabi, and Sunday night is the end of a chapter for me and the team. Funny how the timing works too; one of my mechanics told me after Brazil that Abu Dhabi would be my 100th race with the team, so good to bring up the century on a big milestone for me.

I spent the week between Brazil and Abu Dhabi on the road, so it wasn’t until I headed to the last race that I started to look back and began reminiscing about the journey with the team. There’ll be some emotion with the team and all of that, that’s natural, but the way I’m looking at it, I’m hardly retiring, I’m still racing. But there’ll be time to be nostalgic and reason to as well. It’ll be good, in a way.

Doing 100 races, it’s gone quick. Australia 2014 doesn’t even seem that long ago. The ones I’ll remember most … you always gravitate towards the seven wins, but there’s been others as well. Of the wins, Hungary in 2014 is certainly one that was significant for me, as it marked my confidence and my hunger to win. Having to hunt people down, passing Lewis (Hamilton) and Fernando (Alonso) in the last few laps … that race marked the point where I felt like, yes, I belonged up the front and I had supreme confidence and zero intimidation from anyone. It kind of set up the label of who I’ve become now, what my reputation is in F1.

Melbourne 2014 – number one of the 100 – is one of the races I’ll always remember, there were lots of little things about that which are very vivid in my memory. Qualifying there, where it was raining and I was second … maybe it was because it was the first race for the new cars and they were quieter, but when I crossed the line in qualifying, it was the first time I’d ever heard a crowd from inside the car. I heard this roar and I thought ‘holy shit, maybe I’m on pole!’ … it was crazy. I was on inters in the rain, first race with the new team, home race … I was the brave kid who made the ballsy call, and I look back at that now and think that it was a really important race in my time at Red Bull. I went two feet in that day, was decisive, and that set the tone for the driver I was to become, especially in that first year up against Seb (Sebastian Vettel). That year, it just clicked. I always knew I had that in me, but I was able to put it all together that year, and that confidence from that year has carried on since. That style of racing was always there. It was the same in karting when I was younger, I didn’t start off being that aggressive or being that good at overtaking, it just took time.

I won three of my seven races with Red Bull in that ’14 season, so that’s the year I look back at being the most fun for me and the most important for my career since. The wins were big, and I had a massive battle with Fernando in Germany where we raced really hard but fair, and he had some praise for me afterwards which was big at the time.

I feel ’14 didn’t just shape me and my approach from then on, it changed the level of overtaking from other guys in the sport as well. I really believe that. Not many people were doing that, coming from a long way back and trying big passing moves. Maybe they learned from me and the way I was racing, so perhaps I set a new level and showed people what was possible, and the drivers that were willing to try it were trying it. I realise that sounds a bit cocky, but I really do believe that. Not saying all of them can do it … but at least more of them are trying!

It was something that I always wanted because I was always perceived by others as the nice guy, a soft touch and that sort of thing. For me to develop the reputation that was the polar opposite to what people maybe thought I was, that was even better. It takes a while to shake off something like Bahrain 2012 when I was at Toro Rosso when I got pushed around on the first lap, that was a setback to my reputation for sure. I didn’t want that feeling, and it took time to shake off.

When you do five years and 100 races with a team, there’s so many people you come across and you work with, and it’s almost unfair to bring up individual names. I feel like I’ve had good relationships with every mechanic that’s ever worked on my car, for example. But Simon (Rennie), my race engineer, is someone I need to single out. Simon and I couldn’t be more different out of the car, our personalities are really as contrasting as you could get, but we’ve had this fantastic relationship where he understands me and we never second-guess one another. I always felt he knew what I wanted or what I meant, and I always trusted him to make the right calls. I never questioned him. He feeds off the battles with me, if I say something on the radio that’s hungry, he’s right with me. He’s someone I’m going to miss going into battle with on Sundays.

The mechanics … the amount of times they’ve rallied between an FP3 and a qualifying session and got me out there … I wouldn’t have won China this year without them, and that was probably the most satisfying ‘team’ moment of the times I’ve had here.

Come Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, that’s when it will all hit me. I’m not driving the test after the race, so I’ll head back to Europe and close everything off, say my goodbyes, go to the team’s Christmas party and that sort of thing. I’m sure some drivers would be like ‘Christmas party? I’ve left the team now, who cares?’, but I feel being there is right, for the people who work in the factory and the whole team, to show the gratitude I have for the last five years of work everyone has done. And then it’s off to see my new team, and then on one final flight to get some downtime back in Oz. I’m keen to be in one time zone for a sustained period, get my body to reset and switch off the brain. It’s been a long year.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride with me for the past five years, and the three years we’ve been doing these diaries. It’s been fun and I always notice the support, so thanks. Guess I’ll see you on the other side …

What happened at the Brazilian Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen seethes after an incident with a backmarker sees Lewis Hamilton sail through for his 10th win of the year at Interlagos.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
One title won, another left to secure – that was Mercedes’ mindset as the teams set up in Brazil for the penultimate round of 2018, Lewis Hamilton having sealed the drivers’ crown at the last race in Mexico. The equation for the Silver Arrows was a simple one – outscore Ferrari by 13 points at Interlagos, and a fifth straight double (every year of the V6 turbo hybrid era from 2014 onwards) would be theirs, a run of success matched only by the all-conquering Ferrari/Michael Schumacher axis that dominated the sport in a similar fashion from 2000-04.

The main protagonists for each team, Hamilton for Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari, locked out the front row in a tense qualifying session where a forecast deluge never quite happened, but both drivers could be considered fortunate to escape penalties after incidents on Saturday. Hamilton got in the way, inadvertently, of Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the session but escaped sanction, while Vettel received a reprimand and a 25,000 Euro fine for a bizarre incident in Q2, where he was called to the weighbridge during the 15-minute session.

The German ran over a cone denoting the weighbridge area, ignored instructions from the stewards, didn’t switch off his engine as required and then drove off the weighbridge under his own power when the process was complete, eager to get back on track before conditions potentially worsened. The weighbridge scales were left damaged after he took off.

Hamilton’s Q3 lap of 1min 07.281secs was his 10th pole of the season and more than a second faster than teammate Valtteri Bottas’ pole at the same track a year ago, and the Briton was the only driver in the top three teams to improve on his best lap as the chequered flag fell. At a short circuit where the margins are tiny, it was crucial – he was 0.093secs ahead of Vettel.

Bottas and Raikkonen rode shotgun to their faster teammates on the second row, and while the Red Bull Racing duo of Max Verstappen (fifth) and Daniel Ricciardo (sixth) were separated by just 0.002secs, Ricciardo would start back on row six, coming into the weekend with a five-place grid penalty for a new turbo after his was damaged by fire-retardant foam when his engine expired at the previous race in Mexico. “I got a phone call last week notifying me of what happened,” he said. “I’d kind of got over it (the retirement) that week and then I got that call …”.

Behind Ricciardo in qualifying but ahead of him on the grid was Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who qualified a career-best seventh in his penultimate race with the team, while arguably the lap of qualifying was driven by the Swede’s teammate Charles Leclerc, who brilliantly leapt inside the top 10 as the rain increased at the end of Q2.

Ricciardo wasn’t the only driven to be slapped with a penalty – Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who qualified 13th, was down in 18th on the grid after a five-place gearbox replacement sanction – while McLaren was the only team to have both cars ousted in Q1, Fernando Alonso (18th) out-qualifying Stoffel Vandoorne (20th and last) for the 20th time in 20 races this season. On the six-year anniversary of McLaren’s most recent win (Jenson Button in Brazil in 2012), it was a stark reminder of how far the former front-runners have fallen.

For the race, the primary intrigue was with Ferrari, with its engine devastatingly fast on the straights (five of the six Ferrari-powered cars made the top 10 in qualifying), and with Vettel and Raikkonen set to start the race on the soft tyre, which would offer greater durability than the supersofts used by Mercedes and Red Bull. If Vettel could get ahead of Hamilton on the short run to the first corner, the race could turn into a strategic arm-wrestle over 71 laps.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton won his 10th GP of 2018 after race-leader Verstappen, who had passed him on lap 40, was involved in an incident with Ocon at Turn 2 four laps later as the Force India driver looked to unlap himself from 15th place. Verstappen spun and lost the lead, and Hamilton won by 1.469secs. Raikkonen just held off Ricciardo for the final podium place, while Mercedes sealed the constructors’ championship.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Ricciardo made it to the finish, a success in itself given he hadn’t seen the chequered flag since Japan last month when he started from 15th after his car broke down in qualifying, and Sunday was just his fourth finish in the past eight races. So while he was disappointed to be just four-tenths of a second behind Raikkonen for the final podium place, it was a good result at a circuit that has comfortably been his least successful of those tracks on the calendar for his entire career; before Sunday, he’d managed just 13 points in seven starts, a sixth place last year his previous best return.

Starting 11th, the Australian’s aim was to be up with the front five on the grid as soon as possible, and he stormed through to sixth after just five laps. From there, Ricciardo bided his time on the supersoft tyres he set his qualifying lap on, looking to run as long as possible in his first stint to he could make just one pit stop, and exchange those supersofts for soft Pirellis for the final run to the flag. He led for four laps as others pitted (leading for the first time since Singapore in September) before stopping on lap 40, and quickly overtook Vettel before setting off after Bottas for fourth. He finally cleared the Finn with a robust pass of the Mercedes at Turn 1 with 11 laps to go, but despite hounding Raikkonen to the flag, couldn’t add to his only two podiums this year, long-ago wins in China and Monaco.

“I caught Kimi and could see the podium, but unfortunately it just wasn’t quite enough,” he said.

“It’s frustrating because every time we have a penalty we seem to have a fast car, if we started closer to the front I’m confident we could have had a really good result. If we had started where I qualified we could have done better, you can’t ask for much starting from 11th.

“I had fun and some great battles, especially my pass on Bottas. I told the team on the radio I was going for it and I made it stick. The battle with Seb was cool, I think we maybe touched once or twice, but I’ve always respected him and the way he races. We’ve had some on-track battles before, at times it gets slightly heated, but I believe we know where each other’s limits are.”

What the result means
Hamilton winning for the 10th time this year was a huge achievement, while Mercedes taking its fifth straight constructors’ crown is (almost) historically unprecedented. But all everyone wanted to talk about after the race was the Ocon-Verstappen clash, which continued from the track to the post-race weigh in …

For sake of context: how did we get to the point where they collided on track on lap 44? Verstappen made a brilliant start from fifth on the grid, and after he ambushed Bottas at Turn 1 on lap 10, starting hacking into Hamilton’s lead. Hamilton pitted for medium-compound tyres on lap 19, and Verstappen was relentless after he inherited P1, emerging right in Hamilton’s wheeltracks after he pitted on lap 36, and breezing by four laps later.

It looked almost certain that the Dutchman would take back-to-back wins after victory in Mexico a fortnight ago, but Ocon, who had pitted on lap 40 and was lapped in 15th place after being shuffled down to 19th on lap one, was in no mood to hang around as he strived to make the best of his new tyres to climb back into the top 10.

After the race, the Red Bull driver didn’t hold back with his words after making his displeasure with Ocon obvious with his actions. For the record, Ocon was given a 10-second stop-go penalty from the stewards for causing the collision.

“We had a great car. Then, by such an idiot, to get taken out while he is being lapped. I have no words,” Verstappen said, adding that Ocon “was being a pussy” after their post-race shoving match.

“I think a penalty says enough. If the stewards give him a penalty, you know who was wrong in that situation.

“You can easily say afterwards that I have much more to lose than him, but I’m just trying to do my race.

“Suddenly a backmarker is trying to race you and taking a stupid risk to dive inside. What can I do about it?

“The penalty for me is that I lost the victory, but hopefully in 15 years’ time we can laugh about it.”

Ocon’s view? “What I am really surprised about is the behaviour of Max coming into the scales,” he said.

“The FIA having to stop him from being violent, pushing me and wanted me to punch me – and that is not professional.”

Asked by a TV crew if he planned to speak to his former F3 rival, Ocon said: “I am used to the fights with Max, it has been the same, it goes back a few years. So, no.

“I had fresh tyres basically and the rules say you are allowed to unlap yourself if you are faster, and that is what I did on the second lap because I had massive pace.”

Hamilton, who nursed a car battling significant tyre wear and engine issues home after being gifted the lead, took a longer lens to describe what had unfolded in front of him.

“I saw it happen, it wasn’t something that … I wasn’t surprised by it,” he said.

“I saw them racing but they were not racing for the same position. I would have been in a different frame of mind.

“Fortunately he was able to keep going, no-one got hurt and it was a racing incident, I guess.

“Max is that go-getter guy, and every now and again it bites you.”

For historical purposes …
Sunday’s win for Hamilton was the first time the five-time world champion had taken victory in a Grand Prix in the same year after securing the title.

The number to know
7:
Bottas set the fastest lap of the race (for the record, a 1:10.540 on lap 65 of 71) for the seventh time this year … and is still searching for his first race win of 2018 while teammate Hamilton has won half of this year’s 20 Grands Prix.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Raikkonen took his 12th podium of the season to edge away from Bottas in third place in the drivers’ standings with one race left; he has a 14-point lead over his compatriot heading to Abu Dhabi and the season finale. As Hamilton celebrated on the podium and Verstappen didn’t stick around after receiving his second-place penalty, Kimi was being, well, Kimi …

Who else won at Interlagos? Ricciardo, for finishing (it’s all about small steps), Leclerc with an outstanding seventh that saw him seven seconds clear of the other midfield runners to be a clear best of the rest, and Haas, which had Romain Grosjean (eighth) and teammate Kevin Magnussen (ninth) in the points on a day when Renault (Nico Hulkenberg DNF with a radiator issue, Carlos Sainz 12th) couldn’t score any.

Those who lost out
Second when you looked set to win lands Verstappen in this category, while Ocon landed in the naughty corner for his penalty. Bottas (fifth) and Vettel (sixth) end up here too after both started inside the top three, with the German completely overshadowed by teammate Raikkonen after Ferrari entered the race seemingly in the box seat. Pierre Gasly, who started inside the top 10 but finished 13th after a fraught late-race battle with Toro Rosso teammate Brendon Hartley. And Ericsson, whose day went from bad to worse after his Sauber started shedding bits of bodywork on the way to the grid; from sixth, he fell progressively backwards, spun on lap 21 and dropped to the back, and retired soon after.

What’s next?
Twenty down, one to go – the last GP of the season comes in Abu Dhabi in a fortnight’s time, which will double as the final race for Ricciardo, Leclerc, Sainz, Gasly and Raikkonen at their current teams, and the F1 finale for Alonso, Ericsson and Vandoorne before they move to pastures new.

What happened at the Mexican Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen takes his fifth career win in dominant style, while fourth place for Lewis Hamilton wrapped up the Briton’s fifth world title.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
Season 2018 has been one, from its mid-point at least, of metronomic predictability; Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton on top, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel falling away from the front, and Red Bull Racing in a league of one, unable to mix it with the top two teams on raw pace, but comfortably faster than everyone else. Which made practice at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico all the more baffling, with Max Verstappen just ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, eye-catching performances coming from the likes of Renault and Toro Rosso, and Mercedes and Ferrari looking all at sea.

Why? The altitude of Mexico City (2225 metres above sea level, three times higher than Interlagos in Brazil, the next-highest track) played a part, as the reduced air density decreased the amount of oxygen in the air, which meant less engine power was available than normal. For Mercedes and Ferrari, their renowned ‘qualy modes’, where both teams are able to turn up the power delivery from their engines for one mega qualifying lap, didn’t have the same effect, while for Red Bull, the benefits of its sweet-handling chassis wouldn’t be negated by its usual lack of punch in a straight line. The tyres also played a part on a hot and slippery track surface, Mercedes in particular struggling to keep any life in the Pirelli hypersoft rubber, the ideal tyre for one stopwatch-chasing lap on Saturday.

If practice painted a surprising picture, qualifying was even more of a shock when the Red Bull on pole was Ricciardo rather than Verstappen; the Dutchman has comfortably had the Australian’s measure on Saturdays this year, and looked in the box seat for pole when he led the timesheets after the opening laps in Q3 from Vettel and Hamilton, Ricciardo a quarter of a second behind. But on his final lap, Ricciardo found nearly three-tenths of a second, and when Verstappen and the rest couldn’t improve, a third career pole – and his first not at Monaco – was his.

Months of frustration – and some unexpected jubilation – poured out in Ricciardo’s reaction afterwards.

“Max led the way through the practices, I knew there was a bit more in it and I just squeezed it out at the very end,” he said.

“I’m holding a lot in. I let a bit out once I heard I got pole, but I’ve got to save some energy for tomorrow. We’ve got to finish the job tomorrow, but to confirm our pace in qualifying is really good.”

Verstappen was second, 0.026secs adrift, and less than impressed after his practice pace didn’t translate into becoming the youngest pole-sitter in the history of the sport. “The whole qualifying was crap,” he said after Red Bull took its first front-row lockout since the US GP of 2013, therefore its first in the V6 turbo hybrid era.

Hamilton was third and, crucially, ahead of Vettel in fourth as he looked to cement the world championship in Mexico; with a 70-point lead with two races remaining, the Mercedes man only needed to be ahead by 50 points after the Mexican GP to head to the next race in Brazil as a five-time world champion. The Brit didn’t expect to be able to match Ricciardo and Verstappen in the race, but wasn’t about to play it safe at the start and the lengthy 890-metre run into the first corner, either. “Everyone’s going to be barrelling into Turn 1 to gain places,” he said. “It’s a very, very fine line. If you go easy, you can get hit. If you go too aggressive, you can get hit. You’ve got to race it like normal.”

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and Vettel’s fellow Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen were fifth and sixth on the grid and never featured in the fight for pole, while Renault and Sauber each placed two cars in Q3, Nico Hulkenberg (seventh) two-tenths ahead of Renault partner Carlos Sainz, and Charles Leclerc a similar margin ahead of Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson in ninth and 10th.

Elsewhere, Brendon Hartley’s promising practice pace didn’t translate to qualifying when he was just 14th for Toro Rosso, while teammate Pierre Gasly was at the back after yet another engine penalty for the Honda-powered squad.

Renault’s threat to fourth in the constructors’ championship, Haas, had a miserable run in qualifying, Romain Grosjean starting way back in 18th, and Kevin Magnussen only marginally better in 16th. For Grosjean, staring at a race ban for penalty points on his licence after clattering into Leclerc a week earlier in Austin, Mexico was a “shit situation”. “When you are on a fast lap you do your best, and when you are on a slow lap you always watch twice more in the mirrors and make sure you don’t block anyone,” he said, admitting he would be cautious in the race.

Caution would be the last thing Ricciardo and Verstappen would be considering when the lights went out for 71 laps on Sunday, with both drivers spying a chance at a rare race win. Hamilton had his title to think about, Vettel had nothing to lose … it promised to be an explosive start.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Verstappen nailed the start and got to turn one first, and was largely untroubled from there as he won by 17 seconds from Vettel, who was comfortably ahead of teammate Raikkonen in third. It was Verstappen’s second consecutive win in Mexico. Fourth for Hamilton was enough for the Mercedes driver to win the world title, while pole-sitter Ricciardo’s wretched luck continued, retiring from second place with 10 laps left.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
The Australian didn’t even get a chance to defend his hard-earned pole into the first corner, getting a tardy getaway off the line and being immediately swamped by Verstappen, while Hamilton sailed between the Red Bulls to demote Ricciardo to third before the cars even hit the brakes. Ricciardo was always on his back foot from there, and with Verstappen careering away and Hamilton, at least initially, looking to have his measure, Ricciardo’s focus was more on Vettel behind him as the Ferrari driver desperately attempted to claw onto the back of his title rival.

Encountering lapped traffic in the slow stadium section of the track on lap 33 didn’t help Ricciardo’s cause, Ferrari’s 10-15km/h speed advantage on the straight seeing Vettel sail by for third, but second place still looked achievable for Ricciardo when Vettel pitted five laps later, and even more so when he forced Hamilton into a mistake at the first corner on lap 47 to slot in behind Verstappen, albeit a long way behind.

Ricciardo tried to make his second set of tyres last to the end of the 71-lap race, employing a one-stop strategy where most of the other front-runners pitted twice, and seemingly had Vettel covered before a tell-tale puff of smoke came from the back of his car on lap 61, which ground to a halt with hydraulics failure at the first corner on the next lap. He’s now retired from eight races this season, more than any other driver.

“I don’t think ‘frustration’ is the word anymore,” Ricciardo said. “Everything feels hopeless. I haven’t had a clean race or weekend in so long. I’m not superstitious or any of this bullshit, but … the car’s cursed. I don’t have any more words.”

What the result means
It was high-fives all round for the two biggest winners in what became a bizarre Mexican GP, with the altitude, tyre wear and performance spread throughout the field seeing most of the drivers tip-toe home, not looking to endanger their fragile cars in one of the more taxing races of the year.

Winner number one was, of course, Hamilton; while he only needed to finish seventh or better to confirm his fifth world title, the Briton battled tyre blistering and intermittent pace throughout, but was under little pressure of falling out of the top six with the performance gap between the top three teams and the rest of the field.

With five world titles, he now equals the great Juan Manuel Fangio as the second-most successful driver in the sport’s history; only Michael Schumacher (seven) sits ahead of him. After Will Smith came onto the team radio to congratulate him on his slow-down lap, Hamilton was more interested in talking about his title than one of his least convincing races this year.

“It’s a very strange feeling right now,” he admitted. “It was a horrible race. To complete this, when Fangio had done it with Mercedes, is an incredible feeling and very surreal at the moment.”

Hamilton’s achievement was momentous and overshadowed Verstappen’s drive to a degree, as it did last year when the Dutchman won the race and Hamilton took the title at the same Grand Prix. But for one lap on Saturday afternoon, Verstappen was in a class of one in Mexico, and a man on mission to record his second win this year, and fifth of his career.

While Ricciardo’s retirement in the sister Red Bull raised alarm bells, Verstappen asking his team repeatedly what he needed to do to preserve his car to ensure it saw the flag first, he needn’t have been concerned.

“I didn’t sleep very well last night,” Verstappen admitted after the race, kicking himself after losing out on a pole position that looked nailed-on after practice.

“I was very determined to win, and we’ve done that. We had the right tyres and the car was working very well.”

For historical purposes …
Verstappen’s second win this season made it four victories for Red Bull in 2018; you have to go back to 2010 for the last time three different teams won at least four races in the same season. For the record, the 2018 scorecard stands at Mercedes nine (all Hamilton), Ferrari six (five to Vettel and one to Raikkonen), and two each for Red Bull pilots Ricciardo and Verstappen.

The number to know
5 to 4:
Verstappen now leads Ricciardo in race wins since they became teammates at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Vettel’s dream of ending Ferrari’s 11-year drivers’ title drought is over, but the German was gracious in defeat, and forthright about what Ferrari – and any other team – need to do to unseat the team that has won every drivers’ title since F1 entered the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014.

“They did a superb job all year,” he said of Hamilton and Mercedes. “We need to stand there, accept that and send congratulations.

“It is an absolutely horrible moment (to lose the title), you put a lot of work in. I did pay attention in maths so I knew the numbers.

“Three times in my life I have had that disappointment when you realise you can’t win the world championship, and those are not happy days. We had some chances, we used some and did not use some. In the end, we were not good enough.”

Largely overlooked in the statistical post-race avalanche was that Ferrari’s double podium with Vettel and Raikkonen, allied to the 22 points scored by Hamilton and a lapped Bottas in fifth, means the constructors’ championship is still alive with two races left, Mercedes leading it by 55 points with a maximum of 86 available in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

On that very subject, sixth place for Hulkenberg meant Renault added eight points to its tally, stretching its lead over Haas to 30 points for fourth in the teams’ race. Hulkenberg’s teammate Sainz was a mid-race retirement, but Haas were nowhere to capitalise, Magnussen and Grosjean finishing at the very back in 15th and 16th, the final two cars classified.

Two other drivers left Mexico happy; McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who ended a 14-race run without points by finishing eighth, and Gasly, who guided his Toro Rosso from last on the grid to 10th, seeing off French rival Esteban Ocon in a fight that got feisty more than once as they scrapped over the final point on offer.

Those who lost out
The massive crowd at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez groaned when Sergio Perez’s Force India retired on lap 40 with brake failure; starting 13th, the Mexican had used his renowned tyre-preserving style claw his way into the points, only for his car to let him down. It was a bad day all round for the Spanish-speaking drivers, Sainz and Perez joined on the sidelines by Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren inadvertently ran over a piece of Ocon’s front wing in the hectic opening corners after the Force India driver was hit by Sainz’s Renault.

And Ricciardo. No further explanation needed.

What’s next?
With the title fight over, Hamilton will have plenty of time for a celebration or three before the penultimate race of the season at Interlagos in Brazil in a fortnight’s time.

What happened at the United States Grand Prix?

Kimi Raikkonen takes his first win in five years, Lewis Hamilton is denied the F1 title and Max Verstappen charges from 18th to second in an amazing finish to Austin.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
For Lewis Hamilton, the equation was simple heading into the US GP; outscore Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by eight points in Austin, and world championship number five was his. Given he came into the Circuit of the Americas weekend with six wins in the past seven Grands Prix and on a run of four wins on the trot in the US, the Mercedes man had every reason to be confident. But if he ever needed a reminder to not get too far ahead of himself for the 56-lap race, qualifying provided it.

Hamilton duly took his ninth pole of 2018 and his fourth in America to equal Michael Schumacher’s record, but the margins were almost non-existent in one of the most intense sessions of the year. The circuit record was lowered time and time again until Hamilton banged in a 1min 32.237secs lap on his last effort to take top spot. How tight was it? Vettel was just 0.061secs behind in second, and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen a further 0.009secs behind in third. “I knew it was going to take perfection and neat laps to take them,” Hamilton said of the Ferrari pair.

Vettel would normally have been content with being second and so close to his title rival, but a three-place grid penalty for not slowing down sufficiently when a red flag was thrown in Friday practice dropped him to fifth on the grid, his frustration obvious.

Ferrari attempted to mitigate Vettel’s pain by running some race interference with Raikkonen, the Finn doing his Q2 timed lap on the softer ultrasoft tyres which put him out of sequence with the rest of the frontrunners on supersofts, but ensuring he’d start the race on a tyre that would provide a grip advantage off the line when the lights went out.

Given Ferrari’s prodigious pace on the straights, the chance of Raikkonen getting in Hamilton’s way off the start to help Vettel was a tactic worth pursuing, but one that needed recent history to be re-written; Raikkonen hadn’t gained a place on the first lap of a race since Abu Dhabi 2016, 37 Grands Prix ago.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was fourth after not improving on his final run, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo qualified fifth, both drivers promoted a spot by Vettel’s penalty. Remarkably, it was the first time the Australian was to start inside the front two rows of the grid since he took pole in Monaco 12 races ago, and he planned to make the most of it. “I’m just happy to have my nose there and then we just need to make it happen. If I can get track position at the start then I can maybe … have a good crack at a podium,” he said.

Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen didn’t make it out in Q2 after breaking his right rear suspension when he hit a kerb hard in Q1, an innocuous-looking incident having big consequences. Fifteenth in qualifying for the Dutchman became 13th on the grid after Toro Rosso duo Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley yet again took engine penalties; with a maximum of three power units per driver permitted for the season before penalties kick in, Hartley would race his eighth different Honda powerplant and Gasly his seventh in Austin, both drivers condemned to back-row starts.

Come race day, all eyes were on Vettel’s early progress from fifth, whether Raikkonen could get his elbows out against Hamilton at the start, and whether Austin’s weather – predicted to be hot after a day of incessant rain on Friday ruined every team’s race simulation runs in practice – would throw a curveball into the mix.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Raikkonen won his first Grand Prix in 113 starts (Australia 2013) when he edged Verstappen and Hamilton in a thrilling last stint to the race, the top three split by just 2.3secs after 56 laps. Verstappen stormed through from 18th on the grid after a gearbox penalty, while Hamilton missed out on taking the title when rival Vettel recovered from a first-lap spin to finish behind him in fourth.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
It was a case of the fast and the furious for Ricciardo in Austin; fast in that his race didn’t last very long, his car shutting down after just nine laps when he was running in fourth place, and furious in that he put a fist-sized hole through the wall in his drivers’ room after he returned the garage following his fifth retirement in the past 10 races. It was Ricciardo’s seventh non-finish this season, a total matched only by Hartley at Toro Rosso, and as many as the four Ferrari and Mercedes drivers combined.

Ricciardo made a good getaway from the dirty side of the grid and looked a chance to take second into the first corner before wisely backing out, but was passed down the back straight by Vettel to drop back to fifth. The former teammates then clashed at Turn 13, Vettel making a mistake and spinning after he hit Ricciardo, the Ferrari driver falling right to the back.

Ricciardo ran in a comfortable fourth place until his car switched off coming out of the Turn 11 hairpin onto the back straight; like last year at COTA, he was an early retiree after starting from fourth on the grid.

“Everything just switched off and it seemed pretty much identical to the issue I had in Bahrain at the beginning of the year,” he said.

“I couldn’t even communicate with anyone on the radio, so it looks like a battery failure.”

What the result means
Austin was a race that started with drama, went into a long mid-race lull and built beautifully to a late-race boil that saw three drivers in three different cars fighting for the race win, with Hamilton’s championship win so close he could touch it, and Vettel doing all he could to prolong the Briton’s celebrations for another race.

Ricciardo’s early-race demise saw a virtual safety car period called to remove his stricken car from the side of the circuit, which added another strategic element to a race where the teams were already scrabbling for tyre life information after Friday practice was washed out.

Hamilton, in second after being jumped by Raikkonen into the first corner, was told to do the opposite of the Finn as they approached the pit lane entry on lap 11, and when the Ferrari rounded the final turn, the Mercedes man pitted for new soft tyres, which was to prove crucial later on.

On fresh rubber, Hamilton was so quick that he was back on Raikkonen’s tail within seven laps, but the Finn was able to hold him at bay until lap 21 until he made his own stop, Hamilton’s tyre wear meaning he’d need to stop again and be out of sequence with the rest of the front-runners.

When Hamilton stopped for a second time with 20 laps left, Raikkonen inherited the lead and had to keep his cool as he had Verstappen and Hamilton closing, and the trio ran within a three-second window for the last 10 laps. The crucial moment for Raikkonen – and Hamilton’s title chances – came with three laps left, when the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers ran side-by-side for four corners before Hamilton ran wide at Turn 18 as he chased second place, which would have been enough for him to win the championship.

Raikkonen escaped from Verstappen’s clutches to win for the first time in 113 races, the longest gap ever between victories, and after turning 39 years old during the week leading into Austin, he became the oldest F1 race-winner in 24 years (Nigel Mansell, 1994).

“I’m much happier than finishing second,” the ever-understated Raikkonen said, adding his win drought “hasn’t really been a big deal for me, it’s been a much bigger deal for other people.”

Verstappen might have been miffed at coming oh-so close to a win after coming from so far back, but his drive was inch-perfect and incisive, storming from 18th to fifth in the first seven laps in a display reminiscent of his charge in Sochi two races earlier. A win looked a chance when he started to gap Hamilton and draw closer to Raikkonen with seven laps left, but an eighth podium of the year – and the way he managed it – made him a worthy recipient of the Driver of the Day accolade.

Hamilton wasn’t able to take the title at one of his happiest hunting grounds, out-scoring Vettel by just three points to extend his advantage to 70 points with 75 remaining across the races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. He said he was a “little bit surprised” at the decision to pit early, but acknowledged that a podium finish when the team was wrong-footed strategically was no bad thing. “To get a third, I’m still grateful for that, but naturally, starting first and finishing third is never a good thing.”

Elsewhere, Vettel’s recovery to fourth after facing the wrong way a minute into the race after his spin was as good as he could have hoped for, but it means he’ll have to win all three remaining races and have Hamilton score less than five points if he’s to steal an unlikely title.

Bottas was a quiet fifth, 24secs from the race win after showing no real pace and being asked twice to move aside for teammate Hamilton, while Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth for Renault was the best of the rest, a whopping 87 seconds behind Raikkonen after doing very little wrong. The gap between the haves and have-nots seems to be bigger by the race …

For historical purposes …
Just eight of the drivers who took part in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen’s last race win before Sunday in Austin, are still on the F1 grid; that race was Bottas’ F1 debut (for Williams), and Hamilton’s first Grand Prix for Mercedes after crossing from McLaren.

The number to know
30:
The number of podiums Raikkonen had scored between victories.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Sixth and seventh for Hulkenberg and teammate Carlos Sainz was a huge result for Renault, who extended its lead over Haas for fourth in the constructors’ race to 22 points after the American team didn’t score at home. Romain Grosjean hit Charles Leclerc’s Sauber at the end of the back straight on the first lap and retired with damage on lap four, while teammate Kevin Magnussen was excluded from the results after finishing ninth after his car was found to have had more than the permitted 105kg of fuel at the start of the race. Grosjean was also hit with a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Mexico.

Another driver to make the points and have them taken away was Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who was thrown out of the results after finishing eighth when his car was found to have breached the fuel flow limits in the regulations.

The winners from the two disqualifications were Ocon’s teammate Sergio Perez (promoted from 10th to eighth), Hartley, who inherited ninth for his first points since Germany, and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who finished 12th on the road but moved up two spots to score one point.

Those who lost out
Haas at home, Sauber after Leclerc was forced into retirement on lap 33 after a top-10 qualifying run, and, yes, Ricciardo – especially given he was ahead of his teammate who eventually finished second when his car shut down. “Seeing how the race played out makes it even harder to take as it could have been pretty interesting, and it was a great afternoon for Max,” he said. “There’s not much more to say about it to be honest …”.

What’s next?
Match point number two for Hamilton comes in Mexico in just a week’s time.

What happened at the Japanese Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo comes from the clouds to storm to fourth at Suzuka for Red Bull, but it’s Lewis Hamilton who leaves Japan on top after yet another imperious victory.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
Lewis Hamilton
almost had a fit of the giggles in Friday practice in Japan as he stroked his Mercedes to the top of the timesheets in both sessions. “This track is awesome, I’m having the best day,” he gushed over the team radio, and while the sight of modern-day F1 cars sweeping their way around Suzuka’s swoops is stunning no matter the machinery, it was the Mercedes that did it best no matter the weather, Hamilton topping all three practice sessions leading into qualifying, the last of them in sketchy half-wet conditions on Saturday morning.

The weather would play a part in the hour to set the grid too, but not as much as Mercedes’ ‘opposition’, which largely conspired to shoot itself in the foot. A loss of power with a broken throttle actuator in Q2 did for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who made his frustration audibly obvious when he was out without setting a lap and forced to start from 15th, the latest in a slew of setbacks for the Renault-bound Australian.

Red Bull wasn’t realistically expected to challenge Mercedes for pole at Suzuka, but Ferrari was, especially after Sebastian Vettel finished just over a tenth of a second adrift of Hamilton in final practice.

The Scuderia were found wanting strategically as the session entered the final 12-minute shootout for pole; with rain looming but not falling, the team sent Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres, which clearly proved to be the wrong choice as they immediately pitted for dries, a blunder team principal Maurizio Arrivabene seethed was “unacceptable”. Then, at the end of the session after their rivals had banked a close-to-optimum lap time, Vettel and Raikkonen slithered around on slicks, the German running off track at the Spoon corner on his best lap, and then not getting a better lap in as the rain intensified, almost throwing his car into the barriers at the tricky Degner 2 turn as he was marooned in ninth place. “Tomorrow is a new day,” Vettel said, sounding very much like a man trying to console himself before a race where he desperately needed to hack a chunk out of Hamilton’s 50-point series lead.

Raikkonen at least scrambled to fourth, behind the one working Red Bull of Max Verstappen, but there was little surprise when Mercedes locked out the front row for the sixth time this year, and second in a week after their Saturday 1-2 in Sochi seven days previously. Valtteri Bottas headed Q2 from Hamilton as Mercedes had such a margin over the rest that it could top the timesheets on the slower softer-compound Pirelli tyre, which would allow it to run a longer first stint in the race and retain track position at a circuit that is brilliant to drive, but tricky to pass on.

Hamilton’s pole in Q3 was his eighth this year and the 80th – no misprint – of his career, a figure Bottas acknowledged was a “pretty big number” as the drivers debriefed following the session, the gap back to Verstappen a whopping 1.3secs. Hamilton’s lap of 1:27.760 was 0.299secs faster than his teammate, and on a different planet to the rest.

With Ricciardo out of the picture with another unreliability issue and Vettel’s luck with the weather washing out, Romain Grosjean took best advantage of the opportunity that had presented itself, hauling his Haas to a fine fifth on the grid. The Frenchman was happy, but not as ecstatic as Toro Rosso after Brendon Hartley qualified a career-best sixth, teammate Pierre Gasly just behind him in seventh. On a weekend where engine supplier Honda was under pressure to perform at home, both Toro Rosso in the top 10 was a massive result, and one on the third row something that couldn’t have been dreamed.

Esteban Ocon was mildly disappointed to qualify eighth for Racing Point Force India after being seventh – king of the ‘B’ division – in all three practice sessions, and his mood darkened further when he was slapped with a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for a red flag in an earlier practice session. There was greater disappointment further back though, with Ricciardo missing the top 10 for the fourth time in the past six races after not making Q3 just three times in total in his Red Bull tenure prior to that. “I just can’t catch a break at the moment and I’m pretty fed up with it,” he said.

Elsewhere, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was left back in 16th and eliminated in Q1 after the team had rebuilt his car following a sizeable shunt in final practice, while Marcus Ericsson gave Sauber a late Saturday night after his big off in the first period of qualifying, Suzuka’s old-school run-offs and unforgiving barriers biting hard. As for McLaren, who switched from Honda power last year to Renault engines this year and were third-last (Fernando Alonso) and second-last (Stoffel Vandoorne), ahead only of the crashed Ericsson, their thoughts about Toro Rosso’s star turn can only be imagined …

Come race day, the intrigue surrounded the weather (would it finally stay dry?), Mercedes’ ability to get off the unique downhill starting grid on the slower tyre at the start of the race, and whether Verstappen could elbow his way past one or both Mercedes into a first corner that has seen its fair share of incident over the years. Asked if he’d intervene in the title battle if Vettel came through from ninth, Verstappen had a mischievous response that contained a hard truth. “Is it still a battle?,” he shrugged. “I’m not sure …”.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton extended his series lead to 67 points with just 100 available in 2018 with his sixth win in the past seven races, leading from start to finish. Teammate Bottas fended off a late charge from Verstappen as the top three finished where they started, while Ricciardo charged from 15th to fourth. After contact with Verstappen and an early spin, Vettel finished just sixth, nearly 70 seconds behind Hamilton.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Ricciardo was initially furious and then unusually despondent on Saturday after his latest in a long line of late-season disappointments, but spent his Sunday morning in a focused frame of mind, downing his pre-race protein shakes while watching the UFC bout from Las Vegas on his laptop before the drivers’ parade. He came out swinging in the race; he made just one spot on the opening lap, but the Australian was in a combative mood at a circuit where passing is tougher than most, storming his way through to fifth within 12 laps on the theoretically slower soft-compound tyre, his overtaking into the final chicane up to his usual decisive standard.

He pitted for medium tyres on lap 22 and jumped Raikkonen for fourth, and immediately closed the gap to teammate Verstappen in front, an unlikely podium seemingly within reach. But the longer Ricciardo’s final stint went, Suzuka’s fearsome corners took their toll on his front left tyre, and he was forced to call off his rostrum charge as he finished five seconds behind his teammate after starting 12 places behind him on the grid.

Twelve points for fourth didn’t shift Ricciardo from sixth in the drivers’ standings, where he seems set to stay with only four races left in 2018. But it did represent his best race since Hungary before the mid-season break, and before his announcement that he’d be off to pastures new next year. He was happy, and those watching his passing masterclass liked it too, Ricciardo voted Driver of the Day by the sport’s fans on social media.

“Surprisingly I was able to come through the field and overtake quite easily,” he said.

“That’s not because I thought I couldn’t overtake, it’s just not that easy on this track, but I was able to make good use of the downforce we had on the soft tyre.

“The first part of the race was a lot of fun. We went on to the mediums to try and cover Kimi, and fourth place was kind of written after that. I would have loved a podium and I was kinda hoping for something to happen up front, but I feel I earned at least a fourth today.”

What the result means
Verstappen was right; this isn’t a title fight after all, and if the 2018 season was a boxing bout, the referee would be stepping in. Hamilton didn’t put a foot wrong, and was only denied a grand slam (starting from pole, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap of the race) for the sixth time in his career by Vettel setting a meaningless fastest lap of 1:32.318 on the final tour. By then, Hamilton was in cruise control, and he strolled across the line 12.9secs ahead of Bottas.

Vettel looked to have salvaged something from his qualifying woes when he made a barnstorming start to the race, leaving Gasly and Hartley in his wheeltracks before the field thundered into the first corner, and he was fourth by lap eight and in position to attack for a podium finish when a safety car was called following debris left on the circuit by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, which had been damaged in contact with Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. But things went awry when he clashed with Verstappen at the Spoon curve after the re-start, spinning and seeing the entire field stream past. The race stewards looked at the incident and elected not to penalise either driver, which meant both were quick to blame the other after the race.

“In that corner you cannot overtake,” Verstappen said. “I even gave him space. But he understeered into my car.” Vettel’s reply? “As soon as he realises somebody is close or next to him, he tries to, in my opinion, push when you shouldn’t push any more …”

Such was Vettel’s pace compared to the second-tier teams that he was able to recover to sixth by the flag, but he dropped 17 more points to Hamilton on a weekend where he needed to, at least, shadow the Briton to the line to keep his fading title fire aflame.

Lost in the post-race wash-up was that Vettel could have been more patient; Verstappen had a five-second penalty hanging over his head from earlier contact with Raikkonen, where the Red Bull ran off the track at the final chicane on the first lap and clashed with the Finn’s Ferrari as he resumed. Verstappen was penalised for “leaving the track and not re-joining safely”, which he vehemently disagreed with, but Vettel could have played the long game, sat behind the Dutchman or tried to pass elsewhere, or take third position when Verstappen pitted for new tyres and served his penalty later. It was the latest in a sting of errors by driver and team that have turned what was a close championship for half a season into a Mercedes fait accompli by the end of it.

For historical purposes …
The start-to-finish victory by Hamilton continued a curious trend at Suzuka that has happened every three years since 2009, when Vettel won for Red Bull from top spot in qualifying. In 2012, the German did it again, while Hamilton did the same for Mercedes in 2015, and again on Sunday.

The number to know
50:
Hamilton’s 50th win for Mercedes made him just the second driver to take a half-century of victories with one team; Michael Schumacher won 72 Grands Prix for Ferrari.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Seventh place for Sergio Perez saw the Force India take seventh in the championship, level on points with Magnussen (the first retirement of the race) and Hulkenberg, who retired with a problem at the back of his Renault with 16 laps left. Perez has seventh to himself courtesy of his best result of the year, his third place in Baku (which remains the only podium not scored by a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull driver this year). In an indication of how tight the ‘B” championship is, five drivers are separated by just four points for positions 7-11 in the standings.

Elsewhere, Grosjean was peeved with being passed by Perez after a late-race virtual safety car period to retrieve Leclerc’s broken-down Sauber, but four points for Haas, combined with just one for Renault (Carlos Sainz in 10th) saw the French team’s advantage for fourth place in the constructors’ standings shrink to just eight points with four races left.

Those who lost out
Vettel obviously lost out big-time, but Sauber had a race to forget at Suzuka after Leclerc had front-end damage when Magnussen blocked his path into turn one, and rear-end woes when teammate Ericsson ran into the back of him as the race re-started following the safety car. Leclerc ran off at the Degner corner and stopped with “something broken” with 13 laps left, while Ericsson was a pointless 12th.

Toro Rosso’s Honda’s Saturday celebrations turned into a Sunday horror story, neither Gasly (11th) nor Hartley (13th) scoring points despite starting well inside the top 10. Both cars tried long first stints on the supersoft tyres that didn’t pay dividends, and suffered late with rear tyre blisters (Gasly) and traffic (Hartley). “It would have been great to reward the team and Honda here in Japan for their home race with some points today,” Gasly lamented.

What’s next?
Austin
comes up in two weeks’ time, and the equation for Hamilton is simple; if he can extend his series lead to 75 points by the end of a Grand Prix he’s won for the past four years, he’ll be a five-time F1 world champion.