Kimi Raikkonen

Russian rules, Ricciardo on the rise

Daniil Kvyat gives Toro Rosso an unexpected headline time, while Renault has its strongest Spanish showing yet with its new star signing.  

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A late lap by Formula One returnee Daniil Kvyat has given Toro Rosso bragging rights at pre-season testing in Spain, the Russian topping the timesheets with the fastest time of the first three days of the 2019 pre-season in Barcelona.

After Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) looked set to cap a strong day of work with his name atop the leaderboard, Toro Rosso sent Kvyat out on track shod with the softest-compound C5 tyres, and the effect was dramatic, the 24-year-old firing in a 1min 17.704secs flyer with 13 minutes of the day remaining.

Kvyat finished 0.058secs faster than Raikkonen, who completed the most laps of day three (138), while Daniel Ricciardo shook off a slow start to life at Renault with an encouraging showing in the afternoon session, completing 80 laps and finishing third on the timesheets, 0.460secs behind his former teammate at Red Bull Racing, Kvyat.

“We lacked some running on day one, so we definitely bounced back today,” Kvyat said.

“Now it’s important to go on working hard without getting caught up with where we finished on the timesheets, even if it’s quite pleasant to end up where we did.”

While Kvyat and Toro Rosso became the first team to show their pre-season hand at the Circuit de Catalunya this week, Mercedes continued to put kilometres into its new W10 machine, Valtteri Bottas (11th, nearly three seconds off first place) and Lewis Hamilton (12th, 3.1secs adrift) content to complete long runs for the reigning world champions over a combined 182 laps, more than any other team. Mercedes is yet to use the two softest-compound tyres at the test as it keeps its powder dry ahead of the season-opener in Melbourne.

Ricciardo had endured a difficult first two official on-track days at Renault, his second day curtailed when the DRS flap on his RS.19 machine broke as he approached the high-speed first corner, only the Australian’s reflexes keeping his new car from clattering into the outside wall.

Teammate Nico Hulkenberg ran a conservative program in Wednesday’s morning session, the team electing not to use DRS as the German recorded a time that stood for sixth place at the end of the day.

The Australian hit the track at 2pm local time and immediately set to fine-tuning his car’s set-up on harder tyres, and a late run with DRS enabled inside the final 30 minutes on Pirelli’s C4 rubber saw Ricciardo record a time that was comfortably the best Renault has managed across the test.

“I’m happy to get some solid laps in,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a positive as we’ve been lacking that rhythm in the car over the last few days. We tried three different compounds of tyre so that was also good to go through and understand.

“I’m keen to get stuck into it to see where we can keep improving. The main thing was driving 80 laps, that was really important.”

Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel was fourth for Ferrari after the Prancing Horse dominated the opening two days, the German recording the fastest time on Monday before new teammate Charles Leclerc did likewise 24 hours later. Vettel completed 134 laps to bring Ferrari’s tally to a mammoth 460 in three days with barely a hitch, proving the SF90 is both fast and reliable as it attempts to find a way to loosen Mercedes’ five-year stronghold on the sport.

Max Verstappen was fifth and concentrated on long runs after a delayed start to the day for Red Bull, while Wednesday proved problematic for Haas, which had its drivers in the top three on the first two days of testing.

Test driver Pietro Fittipaldi crawled to a halt in the morning session with an electrical problem, while Romain Grosjean stopped on track twice in the afternoon, the final time with four minutes remaining to cause a red flag that saw the session finish prematurely.

Grosjean was seventh overall, but the Frenchman has completed just 134 laps in two days of running so far.

The only driver slower than Bottas and Hamilton on Wednesday was British rookie George Russell, but day three was little more than a glorified shakedown for Williams after its FW42 machine finally hit the track after missing the opening two days. Deputy team principal Claire Williams described her eponymous team’s late start to 2019 as “embarrassing”, something it can ill-afford after finishing last season at the bottom of the constructors’ standings.

“It’s not a situation we ever wanted to find ourselves in,” Williams told reporters.

“It’s embarrassing not bringing a race car to a circuit when everyone else has managed to do that, particularly for a team like ours that has managed to deliver a race car to testing for the past 40-odd years.”

Russell completed 23 cautious laps and was nearly five seconds slower than Hamilton, and will hand the car over to teammate Robert Kubica for the morning session of Thursday’s final day of the first test of the year.

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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.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

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.

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.

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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.

Mercedes

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

Ferrari

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

Renault

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

Haas

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

McLaren

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

Sauber

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

Williams

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

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.

Who’s winning the F1 teammate battles in 2018?

Which teammates have the wood over one another? Who has the biggest presence in each of Formula One’s 10 team garages? We’ve crunched the numbers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The first person as a Formula One driver you have to beat? Your teammate, of course, who (in theory) has the same equipment as you and the same opportunity for success, or failure. If you’re driving for one of the backmarker teams, you’re clearly not winning this year’s drivers’ championship – but one thing you can do is emerge victorious from the intra-team battle and be the biggest man in the garage over a full season. Careers have been made (or ruined) by less.

With F1 in its (northern) summer shutdown ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix in a bit over a fortnight’s time, we run the rule over each team and the mano a mano battle within them, and who has internal bragging rights at the mid-point of 2018.

Mercedes

Qualifying head-to-head: Lewis Hamilton 7, Valtteri Bottas 5
Races head-to-head (where both cars finished): Hamilton 7, Bottas 3
Best result: Hamilton 1st (five times), Bottas 2nd (five times)
Points: Hamilton 213, Bottas 132
Podiums: Hamilton 9, Bottas 5
Average grid position: Hamilton 3.17, Bottas 3.25
Average race finish: Hamilton 2.18, Bottas 3.9

Summary: No surprises here, but this is closer than you think despite Hamilton’s hefty points advantage after 12 races. Season 2018 has been a case of the reigning world champion making the most of the days when he shouldn’t win, like Germany and Hungary before the break, to go with the races like Spain and France where he runs and hides. Bottas could have won six races this year, but Hamilton’s ability to conjure a special qualifying lap or mesmerising race performance gives him the advantage.

Ferrari

Qualifying head-to-head: Sebastian Vettel 10, Kimi Raikkonen 2
Races head-to-head: Vettel 6, Raikkonen 4
Best result: Vettel 1st (four times), Raikkonen 2nd (twice)
Points: Vettel 189, Raikkonen 146
Podiums: Raikkonen 8, Vettel 7
Average grid position: Vettel 2.08, Raikkonen 3.67
Average race finish: Vettel 2.91, Raikkonen 3.2

Summary: It’s been a bloodbath for Vettel in qualifying – Raikkonen has only out-qualified the German in Australia and Hungary – but the Finn’s sheer consistency saw him arrive at the break with more podiums than any other driver besides Hamilton. Six of them though are for third place, and that’s partly down to Vettel’s grid-best average starting position. It’s been Raikkonen’s strongest season for some time, but the stats show he’s still the second-best Ferrari driver out there.

Red Bull Racing

Qualifying head-to-head: Max Verstappen 9, Daniel Ricciardo 3
Races head-to-head: Ricciardo 3, Verstappen 3
Best result: Ricciardo 1st (twice), Verstappen 1st
Points: Ricciardo 118, Verstappen 105
Podiums: Verstappen 4, Ricciardo 2
Average grid position: Ricciardo 6.5, Verstappen 6.83
Average race finish: Ricciardo 3.5, Verstappen 4.13

Summary: This isn’t easy to call, primarily because Red Bull’s rocky reliability has seen both drivers finish in the same race just six times, half of the 12 Grands Prix this season. Crashing out in the same accident in Azerbaijan didn’t help, of course, but the final four races before the break saw only one of Ricciardo or Verstappen make the chequered flag, the other an early spectator with a DNF. Verstappen has dominated his teammate in qualifying, but Ricciardo has the only pole between the pair (Monaco), and while the Australian has finished on the podium just twice in 12 races, they’ve both been victories (China and Monaco), which skews his stats somewhat. Like we said, not easy, and you could make an argument for either.

Renault

Qualifying head-to-head: Nico Hulkenberg 7, Carlos Sainz 5
Races head-to-head: Hulkenberg 5, Sainz 2
Best result: Hulkenberg 5th, Sainz 5th
Points: Hulkenberg 52, Sainz 30
Average grid position: Hulkenberg 9.92, Sainz 9.08
Average race finish: Hulkenberg 7.33, Sainz 8.27

Summary: Ask this question after three races, and it was all Hulkenberg, who had out-scored Sainz 22-3 and qualified higher all three times. Since, the German has just three more points than his Spanish teammate, although to be fair to Hulkenberg, he’s retired three times to Sainz’s one. The points gap suggests a clear leader, but this could easily flip by the end of 2018.

Haas

Qualifying head-to-head: Kevin Magnussen 9, Romain Grosjean 3
Races head-to-head: Magnussen 5, Grosjean 3
Best result: Grosjean 4th, Magnussen 5th (twice)
Points: Magnussen 45, Grosjean 21
Average grid position: Magnussen 9.5, Grosjean 11.5
Average race finish: Magnussen 9, Grosjean 11

Summary: Grosjean has the better race result of the Haas duo thanks to his outstanding fourth in Austria, but there’s been little else to cheer about for the Frenchman against his Danish teammate, Magnussen enjoying his most convincing season yet. Much of that is down to his qualifying superiority, and Magnussen has converted on Sundays, seven top-10 finishes seeing him more than double Grosjean’s points tally at the mid-point.

Force India

Qualifying head-to-head: Esteban Ocon 9, Sergio Perez 3
Races head-to-head: Ocon 7, Perez 2
Best result: Perez 3rd, Ocon 6th (twice)
Points: Perez 30, Ocon 29
Podiums: Perez 1, Ocon 0
Average grid position: Ocon 11.33, Perez 11.75
Average race finish: Ocon 9.11, Perez 10.36

Summary: Perez is the only driver outside of F1’s ‘big three’ teams to nab a podium this season, which came when he finished an opportunistic third after he picked his way through the late-race chaos in Azerbaijan. So that does that means he’s had a bigger impact that Ocon this season? Not exactly – the Frenchman enjoys comfortable leads in the qualifying and race head-to-heads with his Mexican teammate, and just – just – shades him in average starting and finishing spots. It’s the closest fight between teammates in any team, and one that will be played out for the remainder of the season amid uncertainty about Force India’s future.

McLaren

Qualifying head-to-head: Fernando Alonso 12, Stoffel Vandoorne 0
Races head-to-head: Alonso 6, Vandoorne 2
Best result: Alonso 5th, Vandoorne 8th
Points: Alonso 44, Vandoorne 8
Average grid position: Alonso 12, Vandoorne 15.1
Average race finish: Alonso 9, Vandoorne 12

Summary: Alonso may have turned 37 years old on race day in Hungary, but the two-time world champion remains a formidable foe – just ask Vandoorne, who is the only driver to have been beaten by his teammate in qualifying in every race this season (Alonso’s streak actually stands at 16, after out-qualifying the Belgian in the last four races of last season as well). Vandoorne’s star may have lost some of its lustre in his stuttering F1 career to date, but that’s only because of who he’s up against, and what both drivers are up against in driving the cars they’ve had. Gaps between teammates don’t get a lot bigger.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Qualifying head-to-head: Pierre Gasly 9, Brendon Hartley 3
Races head-to-head: Gasly 2, Hartley 2
Best result: Gasly 4th, Hartley 10th (twice)
Points: Gasly 26, Hartley 2
Average grid position: Gasly 13.42, Hartley 15.92
Average race finish: Gasly 10.67, Hartley 13

Summary: Other than Williams (and we’ll get to them), Gasly’s impact on Toro Rosso’s points (93 per cent) is higher than any single driver in any other team, but it’s how they’ve come about that’s been eye-catching. The Frenchman has scored just three top-10 finishes to Hartley’s two, but they’ve all been superb results; a spectacular fourth in Bahrain, a strong seventh in Monaco and an assured sixth in Hungary, where he was the last car not lapped by victor Hamilton. Hartley’s first full season has been blighted by retirements; the Kiwi has five DNF’s, more than any other driver, and both cars have only finished the same race four times in 12 Grands Prix.

Sauber

Qualifying head-to-head: Charles Leclerc 9, Marcus Ericsson 3
Races head-to-head: Leclerc 5, Ericsson 3
Best result: Leclerc 6th, Ericsson 9th (twice)
Points: Leclerc 13, Ericsson 5
Average grid position: Leclerc 13.92, Ericsson 16.83
Average race finish: Leclerc 11.56, Ericsson 12.44

Summary: Leclerc has announced himself as a star of the future by virtue of what he’s done in the present, and scored all of his points in five races across a six-race run between Azerbaijan and Austria, bookending the start and end of the year’s first half with a trio of non-scores. Three top-10 qualifying efforts show that he’s been able to extract those last few tenths of a second out of an improved Sauber that Ericsson can’t. The pair are closer in the races than you’d think, though, with more than half of Leclerc’s points coming with his out-of-the-blue sixth in Baku.

Williams

Qualifying head-to-head: Sergey Sirotkin 7, Lance Stroll 5
Races head-to-head: Stroll 4, Sirotkin 4
Best result: Stroll 8th, Sirotkin 13th
Points: Stroll 4, Sirotkin 0
Average grid position: Sirotkin 16.75, Stroll 17.08
Average race finish: Stroll 13.8, Sirotkin 15

Summary: The good news for Stroll is that no other driver is responsible for 100 per cent of his team’s points; the bad news is that there’s just four of them, earned when he finished eighth in Baku. Sirotkin is the only one of the 20 drivers not to score a point yet this season, but the Russian rookie has been more rapid (relatively speaking) on Saturdays, ensuring his Canadian teammate has the lowest average starting spot on the grid. But really, there’s no winners here in what has been a torrid season for one of the sport’s most famous teams.

The F1 2018 mid-term report

Who is the dux of this year’s Formula One class? Who needs to raise their grades? Who gets extra detention? We’re naming names …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hear that sound? No? That’s the peace and quiet of the Formula One mid-season break, with teams specifically and the sport generally in its (northern hemisphere) summer shutdown for the season. For two weeks between tools down in Hungary last weekend to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium for the next round of the season on August 26, the F1 world takes a pause to gear up for the frantic end of the season, with just two more races in Europe before the endless array of flyaways to conclude the 21-race campaign.

Rest? Not us. The summer slumber is the ideal time to catch our breath and revive an annual tradition, the half-term grades for the good and great on four wheels this season. And after 12 of 21 races (yes, not halfway, but the ‘halftime’ break), there’s no shortage of material to cast an eye over.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari have ensured this year’s championship chase shouldn’t be an intra-term Mercedes fight for the first time since F1 entered the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, while Lewis Hamilton has shown enough to suggest the road to the title still goes through the driver who, statistically, now has a chance of usurping Michael Schumacher’s seemingly untouchable records by the time his next Mercedes contract is up at the end of 2020 after extending his tenure at the team in Germany. We’ve had Red Bull winning races, plural, and Daniel Ricciardo showing that, if there were points for winning with style, he’d be leading the championship after barely-believable victories in China and Monaco. Max Verstappen sent the traveling Dutch fans home delirious after Austria, Charles Leclerc looks to be the best rookie we’ve seen since Verstappen with his exploits for a much-improved Sauber, and the constructors’ championship – from position four onwards – chops and changes seemingly by the race.

With nine races to go, who has stood out, for the right and wrong reasons? Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen short? Who needs to finish 2018 with a wet sail? And who might be getting extra detention if (just imagine) is the F1 paddock was a school classroom?

Here’s our take on who has earned what so far.

Dux of the class

Right from the outset, the 2018 F1 campaign was billed as ‘the fight for five’, as in which of Vettel or Hamilton could join the great Juan Manuel Fangio on a quintet of titles to trail only Schumacher (seven crowns) in the sport’s history books. The stats show that Mercedes’ Hamilton has a 24-point lead over his Ferrari rival at the mid-season break, and while there’s more to it than simply assessing the raw numbers before arriving at Hamilton as our mid-year dux, the Briton’s advantage has to be taken into account, and more particularly, how he’s taken it.

Hamilton was eight points behind Vettel coming into the German’s home race at Hockenheim and a million miles behind him on the grid, with the Ferrari taking pole while a hydraulics failure left Hamilton languishing in 14th. But from Saturday in Germany onwards, Hamilton showed that he has to be considered the favourite in the title chase despite driving, what most paddock observers agree, is a slightly inferior car to Vettel in 2018.

As the rain turned the later stages in Germany into a battle of who could keep their wits, Hamilton maintained his while Vettel dropped the ball, binning it in a single-car shunt to become the first race leader to crash out of a race in 13 years (Fernando Alonso for Renault in Canada in 2005). Seven days later, at what was considered by Mercedes to be one of its weakest races of the year on paper, Hamilton was peerless in a deluge in qualifying before winning in Hungary by 17 seconds from Vettel, who had to elbow his way past Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas just to minimise the points loss. The win was, remarkably, Hamilton’s ninth in succession when a GP weekend has been affected by, at some stage, wet conditions.

Both drivers have five pole positions, Hamilton has five victories to Vettel’s four (and that stat stands at 5-2 after Vettel won the season-opener in Australia and backed it up in Bahrain), and each has one DNF, Hamilton’s a car failure in Austria. And each has led the world championship after six of the 12 rounds, meaning we’re splitting hairs as to who has been better so far. Ferrari’s sheer pace and the relentless pull of its car down the straights means there’ll be some tracks where it’ll be untouchable, while Mercedes’ prowess in the high-speed corners means tracks like Spa and Suzuka should be right up its alley in the back half of the year. So what gives?

It’s hard to imagine Ferrari will drop the ball in the second half of this year as it did last, meaning we should get a title fight that rages all the way to the finale in Abu Dhabi in November, and, for the first time in the V6 turbo hybrid era, feature more than one team. But on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, Hamilton has his nose in front of Vettel, with no other driver even worthy of an honourable mention to this point.

Encouragement award

Doing the best with what you have available is the theme here, and top of this group are Ricciardo and Verstappen who, despite driving a Red Bull that most times is nowhere near the one-lap pace of Ferrari and Mercedes, have won three races between them despite having more non-finishes as a team (eight) than the aforementioned two other teams have had combined between their four drivers (six).

If our dux was going to the driver who ranks top of the class for opportunism and overtaking, then Ricciardo would be a shoe-in; the Australian’s driving in China, when he had a tyre advantage but had to pick and choose when to use it in the latter stages, was as good as it gets, and his win in Monaco while nursing a crippled car that seemed seconds away from retirement for the last three-quarters of the race proved that he has more strings to his bow than his usual swashbuckling style. Hungary, and his charge from 16th after lap one to fourth by the end, was an overtaking masterclass, and while he sits fifth in the title chase ahead of his teammate, he has just two podiums in 12 races, his results falling off after Monaco, often through no fault of his own.

Verstappen spent most of the first few races spinning, hitting rivals or clattering into stationary objects, but all that seems long ago after his superbly-judged win in Austria and other podiums in Spain, Canada and France, and he holds a healthy 9-3 lead over Ricciardo in qualifying. Like his teammate, the Dutchman has endured his fair share of reliability gremlins, but you’d back him in for another win or two before the season is out.

Elsewhere, the battle for the best of the ‘other teams’ (or, as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen has called it more than once, the ‘B’ championship) looks likely to come down to the Dane against old sparring partner Nico Hulkenberg, the Renault driver with his nose in front at the mid-point (52 points to 45) even while suffering from less luck and reliability (Hulkenberg hasn’t finished three races, Magnussen just one). Seventh place in the title race doesn’t sound like a lot, but it would be a career-best for either driver should it happen.

Leclerc’s excellent debut season for Sauber has made his eventual Ferrari promotion surely a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, while we tip our hat to Alonso, who has somehow coaxed 44 points out of a McLaren that arguably isn’t as fast (if more reliable) than last year’s Honda-powered machine, which scored 17 points for the whole season. The Spaniard may have turned 37 at the last race in Hungary, but his raging competitive fire shows no sign of being extinguished.

Could do better

Listing Mercedes and Ferrari drivers in our ‘dux’ section was easy, but listing their teammates here is harder, given that Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen is third in the championship, 14 points and one place ahead of his compatriot, Mercedes’ Bottas. But where else can you put these two Finns when they haven’t won a race between them in the same cars their teammates have used to take victory in nine of the season’s 12 Grands Prix to date?

Raikkonen, 39 in October, is having his strongest season in some time, which (perhaps not coincidentally) comes in a contract year. He knows his place in Ferrari’s structure; keep your head down, provide as much technical feedback as possible (an under-rated part of his appeal) and don’t rock the boat. Eight podiums in 12 races trails only Hamilton’s nine, and he’s been on the rostrum in all five races leading into the break. But Raikkonen hasn’t won a race since Australia 2013 (for Lotus), has taken 29 podiums without a win in the five-and-a-half seasons since, and there remains the nagging feeling that a younger, hungrier driver in a car that good could do more. He’s out-qualified Vettel just twice, trails him by 43 points in the championship, and has become an over-qualified number two driver in the twilight of his career.

Bottas, in an alternate universe, could have already won six races this season, which is six more wins than Raikkonen has sniffed. Bottas failed to take the last-lap chance he had to pass an ailing Vettel in Bahrain, got mugged by Ricciardo in China, had a puncture while leading in Azerbaijan, was on pole in Austria before his gearbox broke, had a tyre gamble backfire late in the race at Silverstone, and was ordered by his team not to attack Hamilton late in Germany with Vettel out of the picture. Yes, all ifs and buts, and yes, he has six less than six wins. But still; he’s generally been more on Hamilton’s pace than Raikkonen has been on Vettel’s, but sitting 81 points behind his Mercedes teammate suggests he’ll be used more as Hamilton’s wingman for the rest of the season, much as he bristled at the suggestion in Hungary last time out.

Are both Finns having solid seasons? Sure. Is there a case for expecting them to do better given what they’re driving? Their teammates’ stats suggest so.

Needs a strong second semester

We’ll share the love here. Ricciardo will be desperate to beat Verstappen for the third straight year, qualifying disparity or not, to keep the statistical high ground at Red Bull. At cash-strapped Force India, Esteban Ocon will need to put the perennially-underrated Sergio Perez in the shade if he’s to justify the expectations that he could be driving a factory Renault in 2019; after 12 races, Perez holds sway by a single point (30-29). And, as we mentioned earlier, Ferrari gets a berth here, as the sport’s neutral observers hope it can carry the fight all the way to the end against Mercedes. Following Singapore last year and Vettel’s start-line shunt after qualifying on pole, Ferrari unravelled to such an extent that Hamilton won the title in Mexico with two races remaining.

Extra detention

Who gets to sit in the naughty corner? Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean has been left in the shade in points (45-21) and in qualifying (9-3) as Haas has emerged as a genuine midfield threat in every race, while it’s even worse for Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren against Alonso; the Belgian has scored just eight of McLaren’s 52 points, hasn’t outqualified his teammate in the same car since Japan last year, a span of 16 straight races, and rapid reserve driver Lando Norris is hovering for a race seat.

As for the teams, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone who watched F1 religiously in the 1980s and 90s but not much since that grandee squads McLaren (seventh) and Williams (10th and last) would be struggling so much in the constructors’ championship, and Williams’ Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin is the only driver not to have scored a point so far, 13th in Austria the best he’s managed. Good job there’s the second half of 2018 to come to put that right …

Vettel exploits Mercedes miscalculation

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Once again, Lewis Hamilton was Formula One’s fastest man in Melbourne. But once again, Mercedes’ four-time world champion saw an Australian Grand Prix win slip through his fingers, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel riding his luck and making the most of a Mercedes miscalculation to take a second successive win at Albert Park on Sunday.

Hamilton had set the fastest lap in Melbourne’s 23-year F1 history in qualifying on Saturday and led for the first half of Sunday’s race, but a mid-race safety car – and quick thinking by Ferrari – saw his run of Australian outs continue.

The Briton has been on pole five years in a row for the season-opening race, but only once in that period, in 2015, has he converted Saturday speed into Sunday silverware, as Vettel won for the third time in Australia.

On pole by a whopping six-tenths of a second after his record lap in qualifying, Hamilton had the 58-lap race under control until it was turned upside down on lap 26, when a virtual safety car period was called to retrieve the stricken Haas of French driver Romain Grosjean, which had been released from its pit stop with a wheel incorrectly affixed and crawled to a halt at the exit of turn two.

The virtual safety car mandates drivers lap the track at a much slower mandatory speed, but that speed restriction doesn’t apply to the pit lane. With Mercedes miscalculating the pace Hamilton could carry under safety car conditions, Ferrari pounced.

Vettel, who had yet to make his tyre stop after running in third in the early laps, leapt into pit lane, changed tyres and was on his way before Hamilton traversed the start-finish straight.

Try as he might, the Briton couldn’t peg the gap to the Ferrari driver, running wide at turn nine with 11 laps to go and allowing Vettel the breathing space to escape to a five-second win.

“We got a bit lucky with the safety car,” Vettel admitted after his 100th F1 podium finish.

“My start didn’t really work, I lost my connection to Lewis and Kimi (Raikkonen). I was struggling with my tyres, I was praying for a safety car.”

Hamilton was crestfallen after the result, the Briton lingering in his car after returning to the pits, coming to terms with a familiar feeling of Australian déjà vu.

“We have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

“We had pace, but it’s so hard to overtake here.”

Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen, who had started alongside Hamilton on the front row of the grid, rounded out the podium, the Finnish veteran narrowly repelling the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who missed out by seven-tenths of a second from becoming the first home driver to stand on the Australian Grand Prix rostrum.

Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen, who had the measure of the Australian in every on-track session before Sunday’s race, finished behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in sixth place, the Dutchman damaging his car when he spun wildly at the first corner on lap 10 and dropped three places. He finished 21 seconds behind Ricciardo after looking set to challenge for the podium all weekend.

Penalised three grid places for a red flag infringement on Friday, Ricciardo started from eighth and made little headway in the early stages. Like Vettel, he was a beneficiary of pitting under safety car conditions, Grosjean’s retirement coming after teammate Kevin Magnussen suffered the same fate after his own pit stop, the third-year American team throwing away a significant haul of points after showing impressive speed all weekend.

With Raikkonen in his sights, Ricciardo vowed to “not let him breathe” as he closed in on the 2007 world champion in the final laps, and despite setting the fastest lap of the race with five laps remaining, he had to be content with matching his fourth place from two years ago for his best result at his home race.

Fifth was a significant result for Alonso and McLaren in its first race with Renault power after a disastrous three-year association with Honda engines, while Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and Hulkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10, Sainz struggling with nausea in the closing stages.