Season review

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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The 5 best F1 drivers of 2017

Who overdelivered, who made the most of their chances and who underperformed in Formula One this season? It’s time to name names.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If you think Formula One looked a bit similar in 2017 to the three seasons that preceded it, you’d be right. A fourth championship on the bounce for Mercedes and a third in four years for Lewis Hamilton meant that the Silver Arrows took the gold medal once again; for those counting at home, that’s 63 wins in 79 races for Mercedes since F1 went V6 turbo hybrid in 2014 …

So, is picking the best five F1 drivers of the year as simple as putting the two Mercedes pilots in first and second and everyone else slotting into place? In short, no. Some drivers out-performed the equipment at their disposal, others made giant strides in midfield teams, others did wonders in cars down the back, and one continues to be employed by a front-running team despite doing very little of note for four straight years …

We’re as confused as most about the latter, but we’re adamant about this: our top five list. We’ve scanned up and down the field, looked at their stats, their impact and the gravity of their achievements to come up with our best of the best. Let’s count them down.

5. Valtteri Bottas

The stats

Points/championship position: 305, third

Wins: 3 (Russia, Austria, Abu Dhabi)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 4

Fastest laps: 2

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Bottas 7, Lewis Hamilton 13

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Bottas 8, Hamilton 12

Points compared to teammate: Bottas 305, Hamilton 363

The summary
If we were hitting the pause button on the 2017 season at the mid-year break after Hungary, Bottas would be closer to the top of this list, just as he was in Hamilton’s wheeltracks as the Mercedes pair tried to chase down Vettel at the top of the standings. But as Hamilton raised his game after the summer shutdown, Bottas wilted, the Finn beaten six times in a row in races and seven times in succession in qualifying as the eventual champion found a new gear. Losing out to Hamilton is no disgrace, but it was the size of the margin to his stablemate that was most concerning. Bottas never beat Hamilton again until the title was decided, and even then, his meek defence off the start into Turn 1 from pole in Brazil saw Vettel take a win that should have been his, and didn’t quieten the noise that Bottas can be found wanting in wheel-to-wheel battles. A win in Abu Dhabi was a strong way to round out the season, but he arguably should have beaten Vettel to the runner-up spot in the championship given the machinery at each driver’s disposal. Mercedes is undoubtedly a more harmonious team than it was in the Hamilton/Nico Rosberg era, but is Bottas capable of winning the title if Hamilton doesn’t, like Rosberg did? The jury is still out.

The quote
“There has been no point in this season that I have been in a massive panic about it, because this season started pretty well. We have got some good results together and at no point during this year have I got any signs from the team that they were looking somewhere else.” – Bottas on re-signing with Mercedes for 2018 in Singapore

4. Daniel Ricciardo

The stats

Points/championship position: 200, 5th

Wins: 1 (Azerbaijan)

Podiums: 9

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 1

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Ricciardo 7, Max Verstappen 13

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Ricciardo 9, Verstappen 11

Points compared to teammate: Ricciardo 200, Verstappen 168

The summary
Assessing Ricciardo’s 2017 campaign, both in relation to teammate Verstappen and in isolation, is a tricky exercise given the RB13’s propensity to break down – 13 retirements between its two drivers shows that maybe superstitions should be heeded when naming your car for a new season … Both Red Bull drivers saw the chequered flag in just seven of 20 races (Verstappen leading Ricciardo 5-2), and not one of the Australian’s six retirements were of his own doing – he had five mechanical failures, and was taken out by a clumsy (and later repentant) Verstappen on lap one in Hungary. Three non-finishes in the final four races and a qualifying deficit to his teammate saw Ricciardo’s season end with a whimper, but the high points were steep – five podiums in a row from Spain to Austria contained his brilliantly opportunistic win in Baku, a day when being flawless was as important as being merely fast. Ricciardo enhanced his reputation as being the most decisive overtaker in F1 throughout 2017, but it’s the years to come – especially given his teammate has been re-signed until the end of the 2020 season – that will be of most interest moving forward for a driver who becomes a free agent at the end of next season.

The quote
“It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head … and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages.” – Ricciardo, writing for redbull.com

3. Max Verstappen

The stats

Points/championship position: 168, sixth

Wins: 2 (Malaysia, Mexico)

Podiums: 4

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 1

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Verstappen 13, Ricciardo 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Verstappen 11, Ricciardo 9

Points compared to teammate: Verstappen 168, Ricciardo 200

The summary
For all of the talk about Verstappen’s lack of luck and reliability this season – which was legitimate – it’s worth pointing out that the Dutchman had just one more non-finish than Ricciardo, and ended up 32 points behind his Red Bull teammate despite handily out-qualifying him over the course of the year. So how is he ahead of the ‘Honey Badger’ on this list? Momentum counts for plenty, and wins in Malaysia and Mexico (the latter as emphatic as it gets) in the final six races said much for Verstappen’s speed when his car actually held together. He was an innocent victim in first-lap crashes in Spain, Austria and Singapore, the middle of those the most depressing when he ground to a halt in a broken car just in front of a grandstand full of orange-clad fans who’d made the journey to watch him tame the Red Bull Ring. His Saturday speed – particularly when compared to a noted qualifying specialist in Ricciardo – was immense, and while he’s still prone to being impetuous in the heat of battle, the 20-year-old is still young enough to learn and good enough to improve. Verstappen has championship contender written all over him – it’s just a matter of how soon, and how he copes when the stakes are raised and wins are expected rather than being a nice novelty. Beating Ricciardo for the first time in the championship is a bare minimum for 2018.

The quote
“It’s been a positive end to the year. We will keep working hard to improve as we have done over the latter stages of this season – with some improvement from the engine side we should at least be close to the top guys next year.” – Verstappen after Abu Dhabi

2. Sebastian Vettel

The stats

Points/championship position: 317, second

Wins: 5 (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary, Brazil)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 4

Fastest laps: 5

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Vettel 15, Kimi Raikkonen 5

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Vettel 15, Raikkonen 3 (neither Ferrari finished in Singapore, and Raikkonen didn’t start in Malaysia)

Points compared to teammate: Vettel 317, Raikkonen 205

The summary
Was 2017 a championship lost by Ferrari after Vettel had them in a position to win it? Not once did it seem like the SF70H was a match for the pace and potential Mercedes appeared to have over the Scuderia, but Vettel won the opening race in Melbourne and stayed atop the title tree until just after the mid-year break. Then things unravelled quickly: Hamilton thrashed the red team at its home ground, Monza, and then came a disastrous Asian swing where Vettel was the architect of his own demise off the start in Singapore before car failures in qualifying (Malaysia) and the race (Japan) saw him consigned to being a mathematical contender rather than a legitimate one. Hamilton ended it all in Mexico, and Ferrari’s wait for a championship since Kimi Raikkonen took its last in 2007 reached a decade. It’s hard to know Ferrari’s true pace when the occasionally interested Raikkonen finishes more than 100 points behind his teammate in an identical car, but, Singapore aside, Vettel didn’t do a lot wrong, besides his moment of madness when he sideswiped Hamilton under safety car conditions in Baku. Can the Prancing Horse resist the bloodletting that typically takes place whenever it has been deemed to fail to allow Vettel to reload and go again over the winter break? For the sake of the championship fight and some variety at the top, we’re hoping so.

The quote
“Next year will be a different story, as we all start again, but right now, in these moments, you need to give credit to the best man, and that is him this year. Overall, he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that.” – Vettel on Hamilton after Mexico

1. Lewis Hamilton

The stats

Points/championship position: 363, first

Wins: 9 (China, Spain, Canada, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, USA)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 11

Fastest laps: 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Hamilton 13, Bottas 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Hamilton 12, Bottas 8

Points compared to teammate: Hamilton 363, Bottas 305

The summary
Can one race make a season? Singapore was where the title fight swung dramatically in Hamilton’s favour when, after thrashing Ferrari at Monza the race prior, the Briton was presented with an open goal when Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen were all out within seconds of the start at Marina Bay. On Mercedes’ weakest circuit of the year, Hamilton banked 25 precious points to extend his series lead, and from there, it was a matter of when, not if, he’d join Vettel and Alain Prost as a four-time world champion. Hamilton’s second half of the 2017 season was devastating, and five wins and a second place in the first six races after the mid-year break show why he has to be considered one of the all-time greats. Sure, he had a car advantage, but the relentless speed he showed in a race he didn’t win – when he finished fourth from a pit lane start in Brazil and finished less than three seconds behind pole-sitting teammate Bottas – was a reminder why Hamilton is approaching rarefied air. With 40 wins in the past four seasons – more than half of the races held since 2014 – the 32-year-old now has 62 career wins, and Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories, once thought to be untouchable, isn’t out of the question. It’ll all depend on Hamilton’s hunger and motivation – and if Mercedes keep producing cars capable of winning championships, its star driver will surely stick around for a good while yet.

The quote
“I want to be better next year. The challenge is going to be even bigger from Ferrari and Red Bull next year. Formula One doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t stand still. There is always someone there waiting to take my position.” – Hamilton after winning the championship in Mexico

The 5 best MotoGP riders of 2017

Who shone the brightest on two wheels? Who was the surprise packet? And who underdelivered in MotoGP this season?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

MotoGP in 2017 might not have had the sheer quantity of the season that preceded it; nine race winners a year ago was, after all, a high-water mark in the history of the sport. But in 2017, was had quality – top-shelf quality – at nearly every turn. Multiple last-lap thrillers, races turned upside down by topsy-turvy weather, a frantic race at Phillip Island that left most observers (and participants) breathless – there was much to like.

That’s the season in a nutshell, but what of the riders who made it what it was? Some 31 riders took to the grid in 18 races across nearly eight months, but who were the elite of the elite? We’ve scanned up and down the field while looking at their stats, their impact and the gravity of their achievements to come up with our five riders of the year. Let’s count them down.

5. Valentino Rossi

The stats

Points/championship position: 208, fifth

Wins: 1 (Assen)

Podiums: 6

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 0

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Rossi 6, Maverick Vinales 11 (Rossi missed Misano with injury)

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Rossi 6, Vinales 11

Points compared to teammate: Rossi 208, Vinales 230

The summary
This list isn’t measuring popularity; if it was, the seemingly ageless 38-year-old would be in pole position by the length of the straight, a remarkable feat given he’s eight years removed from the last of his seven premier-class titles, and 22 years from his world championship debut on a 125cc Aprilia in 1996. A broken leg suffered in a motocross training accident before the Misano round makes it difficult to clearly judge 2017 for ‘The Doctor’, but the stats show his points total (208) was his lowest in 12 Yamaha seasons across two stints, and the lowest in his career other than the lost years at Ducati in 2011-12. That’s the downside; the positives were his thrilling win at Assen where he edged compatriot Danilo Petrucci by 0.063secs, while qualifying third at Aragon just 23 days after busting his leg was something quite extraordinary. His appetite for the fight remains undiminished – he was right in the thick of the race-long brawl at Phillip Island and gave as good as he got – and while he’s out of contract at the end of 2018, don’t be surprised if he continues into his 40s if Yamaha’s bike proves to be competitive. The sport’s fans (and organisers) will be crossing their fingers that he does.

The quote
“Realistically speaking, even if I didn’t break the leg, I couldn’t fight for the championship because I was not strong enough. I was never able to do two good races in a row.” – Rossi after Malaysia

4. Johann Zarco

The stats

Points/championship position: 174, sixth

Wins: 0

Podiums: 3

Poles: 2

Fastest laps: 4

Head-to-head vs teammates in qualifying: 15-3

Head-to-head vs teammates in races: 13-4

Points compared to teammates: 174-84

NB: Zarco had four different teammates for the season: Jonas Folger (13 races, 84 points), Michael van der Mark (2 races, 0 points), Kohta Nozane and Broc Parkes (1 race each, 0 points). Folger qualified but did not race at the British GP.

The summary
Zarco arrived in MotoGP this year on a satellite Yamaha as a back-to-back Moto2 champion, but nobody expected he’d make his mark in the top flight as rapidly as he did; from fourth on the grid at the season-opener in Qatar, the Frenchman muscled his way to the front and led for the first third of the race before crashing out. He learned fast (Qatar was his only DNF of the year) and rode faster, finishing second in just his fifth race at home at Le Mans, qualifying on pole for his eighth race at Assen, and finishing the year with consecutive podiums in Malaysia and Valencia, Dani Pedrosa denying him a maiden win at the death in the latter. What’s more, Zarco showed no mercy when engaged in wheel-to-wheel battles with some of the sport’s biggest names, and gave absolutely no quarter in fights with Rossi (Austin) and Jorge Lorenzo (Japan), with Lorenzo slamming Zarco’s “PlayStation” riding. If and when Rossi decides he’s had enough, the factory Yamaha squad has his replacement ready to roll.

The quote
“He reminds me a little bit of me when I arrived in MotoGP. Really aggressive, pushing on the limit and nearly crashing, but in the end it is the way to learn.” – Marquez on Zarco

3. Maverick Vinales

The stats

Points/championship position: 230, third

Wins: 3 (Qatar, Argentina, France)

Podiums: 7

Poles: 5

Fastest laps: 4

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Vinales 11, Rossi 6 (Rossi missed Misano with injury)

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Vinales 11, Rossi 6

Points compared to teammate: Vinales 230, Rossi 208

The summary
Pause this year’s championship after five of the 18 rounds, and Vinales would be an undisputed number one on this list in year one as Rossi’s teammate at the factory Yamaha squad. The Spaniard translated his pre-season pace dominance into the early part of the year, and wins in Qatar, Argentina and France, the latter coming after Rossi had made a rare last-lap error and crashed as the teammates fought for victory, saw the 22-year-old take a handy championship lead. From there? Just four more podiums, only one in the final six races when he was a brilliant third in Australia, and a 68-point deficit to Marquez by the end of the year. Yamaha tinkering with different chassis through the year hurt his confidence, and the bike was nowhere in the rain, which didn’t help as 2017 featured an abnormally-high number of wet races. Give Vinales a bike that can change direction and where he can get on the throttle quickly, and he looks the class of the field. Without that? Next year might look disappointingly similar to the end of this one.

The quote
“We started better than we expected … then we had some up and downs, and this confused us a lot with the chassis set-up and many things. It was important to do these mistakes so we don’t do them next year.” – Vinales at Phillip Island

2. Andrea Dovizioso

The stats

Points/championship position: 261, second

Wins: 6 (Italy, Catalunya, Austria, Great Britain, Japan, Malaysia)

Podiums: 8

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 2

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Dovizioso 10, Jorge Lorenzo 8

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Dovizioso 14, Lorenzo 2 (neither rider finished in Argentina and Valencia)

Points compared to teammate: Dovizioso 261, Lorenzo 137

The summary
If you’d asked for a show of hands to nominate who would emerge as Marc Marquez’s main rival for the championship this season, even Andrea Dovizioso’s would have probably stayed down. After all, this was a rider who was the wrong side of 30, had never finished better than third overall in nine previous MotoGP seasons, and whose second career win at Sepang in the penultimate race of 2016 was seen to be more as a curiosity (he was the ninth and final rider to win a race last year) than a launchpad for a tilt at the ’17 title. But that was the old ‘Dovi’; while his customary late braking and self-effacing nature didn’t go anywhere this year, his results – and the belief they generated – made him a new man. Who would have thought he’d take on and beat Marquez twice in head-to-head last-lap battles in Austria and Japan? Who saw him winning six races and nearly scoring double the points of his higher-profile new teammate, Lorenzo? One bad weekend in Australia – coupled with Marquez’s brilliance at Phillip Island – did for his championship chances, but the response he received after crashing out of the final race at Valencia to ensure Marquez would win the title showed the esteem he’s held in across the sport, and the respect he’d earned for a season few saw coming.

The quote
“This year, when people were asking me which opponent is the most dangerous, I was always saying Maverick, Dani (Pedrosa), Valentino, maybe Lorenzo, but I never said ‘Dovi’. It’s something I learned this year, that you need to try to pay attention to everybody. In the end the most constant, the most complete guy to fight for the title was Dovi.” – Marquez on Dovizioso after Valencia

1. Marc Marquez

The stats

Points/championship position: 298, first

Wins: 6 (USA, Germany, Czech Republic, San Marino, Aragon, Australia)

Podiums: 12

Poles: 8

Fastest laps: 3

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Marquez 14, Dani Pedrosa 4

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Marquez 13, Pedrosa 4 (neither rider finished in Argentina).

Points compared to teammate: Marquez 298, Pedrosa 210

The summary
The ever-present smile and willingness to laugh were still there, but Marquez was worried at the start of the season when Vinales won the first two Grands Prix. After Catalunya in round seven, his body was showing the signs of stress. “After Montmelo (Barcelona) I was with my hairdresser, and she says, ‘what is going on, what happened? You are losing the hair’,” he recalled. Marquez vowed to manage his anxiety levels better, and after Honda made changes to its bike following a revelatory mid-season test at Brno, the results started to come. The result of that was a fourth MotoGP crown in five years, a six-win season that mixed the expected (he won in Austin for the fifth year in a row, and took victory at the Sachsenring for the eighth consecutive time) with the signs his mind is becoming as powerful a weapon as his sheer talent, his last-lap win at Misano and calculated controlling of Australia races won with brain as much as brawn. Add to the skills and smarts his incredible propensity to recover from slips that would leave most riders picking gravel out of their teeth, and you have the best rider in the world. Can Marquez get better? Why not? Remember, he’s just 24 years of age – and has proven that, with either the best bike on the MotoGP grid or without it, he’s the benchmark of a golden age for the sport.

The quote
“I feel really proud, I feel really happy … I’m in a dream. But I know where is the ground. I will be the world champion until December 31. When I go in on January, I will be another rider, another opponent, and hope to fight again for the title.” – Marquez after Valencia

And that’s a wrap

Phew. Another year done, my 18th working in and around F1 to various degrees in a media capacity, and one that will be remembered for being more dramatic than the history books will show 15 years from now. You never stop gaining knowledge about the sport and the people in it year on year, so here’s what I learned in 2014.

1. One-team dominance can be fun
This wasn’t the Ferrari of the early 2000s, when Rubens Barrichello wasn’t allowed to race Michael Schumacher even when he was occasionally faster, and you knew the results of each race well in advance. Which, as a Rubens fan, I hated. Lost a little in all of the negativity off-track about F1 and the cacophony of noise that surrounded the lack of noise the new-generation cars made early in the season was just how awesome the W05 was this year, and Mercedes probably deserved more credit. Thanks goodness their drivers were allowed to race one another and were capable of racing one another. The right driver won the title, and given 2015 is shaping up as being more of the same, the driver who didn’t win will be better for his first taste of being in a title fight. Should be compelling viewing.

2. There’s no time like the present
Say you’d spent the best part of 20 years working on forming a professional relationship with someone who was an unloved battler who blossomed into a global sporting star. Say you’d done everything to make that relationship rock-solid, even if it came at a cost to your credibility, judgement, and reputation as you strategically elbowed people aside to maintain your position. And say you then missed your one golden chance for a big payday because you hung onto something that wasn’t there any more out of greed, trying to squeeze a few more drops out of the lemon, and another brighter, younger and more personable star eclipsed “your” cash cow and made him very much yesterday’s man. The lesson: spend it while you have it, and before it isn’t worth what it was. The world moves too fast these days to do otherwise.

3. F1 is better with Williams at the front
To my mind, the motorsport image of the year was Valentino Rossi standing on the top step of the podium at Misano in Italy, the massive crowd who’d invaded the track in the background, and everyone going nuts. MotoGP is undoubtedly in a great place when ‘The Doctor’ is at the sharp end, as is F1 when Williams is doing well. Everyone likes Williams, its people, the tradition and the history. To see a team with such a successful past having a bright future again was a heart-warming turn of events.

4. You can’t sell a secret
You’ve got something nobody else does, something that is established, isn’t lacking for star power and has the goodwill of the people on the inside of the sport to make a contribution. And then you fail to tell anyone about it, meaning it disappears into the ether and gets swamped by fictitious click bait about driver salaries and other mis-information from people who don’t know better. It’s all very well having something to sell, but nobody’s buying if you keep it to yourself.

5. Wolff was man of the year
He didn’t drive a single lap, and spent some of his year in plaster and with a red face. But thank goodness for Toto Wolff this season. Setting the groundwork for the Mercedes drivers to race one another – the ‘Rules of Engagement’ document established in Australia which had contributions from senior management and both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – saved us from a dreary season. Wolff stood by Mercedes’ decision all season when it would have been very easy to cave, and Mercedes – and the fans who wanted a sporting contest – got what it wanted as a result.

6. The sport can be its own worst enemy
Where do you even start with this? The sport doesn’t want or need young fans, apparently. The cars sound different, so let’s shit-can them. We’ll devote the final half-hour of a Grand Prix coverage to showing Bernie Ecclestone and Vladimir Putin sitting in the grandstand together (which made me feel slightly dirty for even watching). The sport doesn’t sell itself, relying on the teams to promote everything along with the various event promoters around the world, some of whom do a fantastic job, and others who do next to nothing. The press conference structure is old, tired and nobody wants to be there. The celebrities doing podium interviews nonsense hit new lows with Nelson Piquet in Brazil this year as he trivialised a world championship fight by making a crass, sexist and completely inappropriate comment. There’s so much to like about modern F1, but the sport seems to succeed in spite of itself sometimes.

7. Ferrari is the best at something
If there was an award for most comical management or greatest bloodletting this season, Ferrari wins by a mile. Sack two team principals. Sack the engine boss. Have the president leave. Have the worst season by your team in a generation thanks to a car with poor aerodynamics being propelled by an engine that was underpowered and no match for Mercedes. Oh, and piss your number one asset in Fernando Alonso off sufficiently that he wants to leave two years early. Even by Ferrari standards, that’s a crazy year. Nothing in any other team came close. Still, at least they have Kimi Raikkonen for next year …

8. Money can buy anything
Bernie isn’t in jail. Any questions?

9. Plagiarism is thriving
I interviewed a driver earlier this year with no-one else around, and conducted a test. I mentioned a word that they wouldn’t have used normally and framed a question so they’d agree with it, and more than likely use said word in response. Which they did. I then wrote the story, included the quote, waited 24 hours and typed the driver’s name and said word into Google. The first three pages of references contained the quote word for word, no attribution, spun into a million different directions in copy from publications and websites all over the world. One notorious bottom-feeder claimed it as an exclusive, as I knew she would. Amazing. Even in an industry where I’ve seen one big-name writer hover behind people while they’re crashing words into their laptops and then get on the phone to break an “exclusive” to their employer before the person had finished their story, that was impressive.

10. Be thankful for what you have
Media in most places is a bit of a basket case, and especially in Australia. Print media is worse. Print media for freelancers is worse still. And print media for freelancers who cover anything other than football … In the face of all of that, 2014 has been an amazing year, and I’m enormously thankful for those who have been and continue to be supportive. In no particular order, and with apologies to those I forget: Pete and especially Tim at Intrepid for handing me the keys and letting me drive. Andrew and Peter downstairs with the comfy couch, their professional approach, and pushing the extra one per cent. Marc and Aaron in Sydney for putting up with the email deluge at 2am and helping me maintain a run that started in 1998. Those at the AGPC who have thrown their support behind ‘Keeping Track’, which somehow has made it to 37 episodes. Spud and co at Spencer St for the space and finding budget where there isn’t any. Graem at Inside Sport for keeping the dream of long-form journalism alive. Tony for allowing me to pretend to be a radio person. Fox for picking up the phone when something big breaks. Gabi at Premium in Perth (and thanks, Norm). Thomas at Bauer. And everyone for reading. I’ll have another go next year. Can’t wait.

F1 2013 review: The more things change …

THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE DECEMBER 11 ISSUE OF MOTORSPORT ILLUSTRATED NEWS. READ MORE HERE

Maybe there is something to the theory that Formula One only comes up with a season filled with drama, intrigue on and off track and a championship battle that rages until the last possible moment in even-numbered years. Think 2008, and Lewis Hamilton’s late, late pass on the final lap of the final race to steal the title from a crestfallen Felipe Massa. Think 2010, when four drivers went into the season finale in Abu Dhabi with a shot at the crown, which was won by Sebastian Vettel after the German hadn’t led the standings at any other time that year. And cast your mind back to 2012, where the last race in Brazil came down to a straight fight between Vettel and Fernando Alonso that only went Vettel’s way after a remarkable recovery drive from the back of the field.

Season 2013 had all of the ingredients to produce another campaign that would live long in the memory of those who relish gripping sporting contests, but the rubber-shredding chaos of the British Grand Prix saw a change to the construction of Pirelli’s tires in line with what it supplied the sport with in 2012. In the final 11 races that followed, one man won 10 of them.

In doing so, Vettel moved himself up to fourth on the all-time win list with 39 wins, just two victories behind Ayrton Senna, which was almost unthinkable as recently as three years ago, and his fourth straight title established or equalled records for wins in a season (13), points scored (397), the greatest winning margin (Alonso was 155 points behind as runner-up), and plenty more besides.

It was a tame end to the V8 era, and a season eerily reminiscent of Michael Schumacher’s similarly-dominant campaign of 2004, where the Ferrari driver annihilated the field and left many wondering how they could ever catch up. Of course, nothing lasts forever – as proven by ’04 being Schumacher’s seventh and final title – and a raft of rule changes for 2014 will be welcomed by all but one driver and his team.

That much we know, but what else did we learn in 2013? Read on.

1. We’ve seen this before
There was a brilliant German driver who raced for an outfit with a massive budget and the best equipment who used searing speed, laser-like focus and the almost complete attention of his team to rack up one win after another, all against the backdrop of questionable ethical and moral decisions at rare times of duress. And then there was Sebastian Vettel …. Vettel’s record-breaking 2013 showed that the ‘Baby Schumi’ moniker that has followed him throughout his career is still applicable, from capitalising on the best car on the grid to his insatiable hunger for success and his occasional penchant for making regrettable decisions in the heat of battle (filed under ‘Multi-21’ after defying a team instruction to overtake defenceless teammate Mark Webber in Malaysia). The boos that followed him for much of the rest of the season as he lifted one winners’ trophy after another – justified or not – were a distraction from what the 26-year-old achieved in 2013. Like Schumacher through the early part of the 2000s, watching man and machine in harmony in pursuit of perfection may not be compelling viewing, but credit needs to be given where it’s due.

2. An OBE is the MVP
Sports in this country like to anoint a Most Valuable Player; in F1, the Most Valuable Person would undoubtedly be Adrian Newey, Red Bull Racing’s chief technical officer who was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2012 for his services to motorsport. The 54-year-old design guru won his 10th world championship across three decades with three teams when Vettel took the RB9 to the 2013 crown; the notoriously publicity-shy Newey generally makes a better fist of new rules and regulations than most, meaning all eyes will be peeled when the RB10 breaks cover at the first test of 2014 at Jerez in late January. As Webber departed Red Bull at the end of the season, he made it clear where Newey stands in the sport. “He’s a genius,” was the Australian’s assertion, and it’s one that hard to argue against.

3. Webber’s career was a success
Yes, Vettel’s nine straight wins to end 2013 matched the total number of victories his teammate managed in a 215-race career, but Webber’s tenacity, skill and determination to wring a 12-year stint in F1 out of a three-race contract in 2002 is the sort of story you wonder will ever be replicated in this era of ever-younger drivers with increasingly weighty wallets. By his own admission, the 37-year-old’s motivation waned as the season progressed, but he finished strongly with two poles in the final five races and three straight podiums before stepping away. No, he wasn’t Sebastian Vettel, but Webber’s achievements against him will likely look better over time as the German bids to make the F1 record book his own. The sport will miss him.

4. Sometimes staying put is the best option
McLaren ended 2012 with arguably the fastest car on the grid, and as most teams took an evolutionary approach to tweaking their machinery for 2013 ahead of the big rule changes planned for the following season, McLaren went against the grain by producing a revolutionary car that stretched its ample resources in a bid for a first drivers’ title since 2008. It was a gamble that could barely have gone worse, the team going without a podium for the first time since 1980 and needing a late-season push just to see off the likes of Force India and Sauber to finish fifth in the constructors’ championship. Sergio Perez was signed with great fanfare and then dumped within 12 months, and team principal Martin Whitmarsh candidly admitted the annus horribilis was “a symptom of too much ambition”.

5. A three-pointed star can shine
With its motorsport history and a host of a big names in the cockpit and behind the scenes, Mercedes had largely failed to impress in the three years since its comeback to the sport in 2010, but this season was when it finally arrived. Eight poles from nine races from round three in China showed the team was a legitimate front-runner, and while the F1 W04 was harder on its tires than most, three victories and a strong second in the constructors’ championship was a massive gain on 2012, where the team managed just one top-10 finish in the final six Grands Prix. With a strong driver line-up being retained for 2014 and what is thought to be the best engine in F1 as the sport changes to 1.6-liter V6 power plants, there’s much to look forward to for fans of the Silver Arrows.

6. A Prancing Horse casts a large shadow
The internal politics within Ferrari provided one of the more fascinating subplots of 2013. Alonso, increasingly frustrated at seeing his status as the sport’s top driver overwhelmed by the sheer statistical dominance of Vettel, aired his criticisms of the team one time too many for Luca di Montezemolo after saying he wanted “the same car as the others” for his 32nd birthday in July, with a statement soon after saying the Ferrari president had “tweaked Alonso’s ear” while reminding him that “all the great champions who have driven for Ferrari have always been asked to put the interests of the team above their own”. It was a public dressing-down that raised eyebrows, and Ferrari’s decision to replace the subservient Massa with 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen as Alonso’s teammate for next season soon after left few with any doubt as to who calls the shots at the most famous team of all.

7. The French evolution
It was just over a year ago that Webber referred to Romain Grosjean as a “first-lap nutcase” after punting the Australian out of the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix, yet another opening-lap incident for a driver who had only just returned from a ban for causing a massive shunt at the start in Belgium. The Frenchman’s rough edges were still apparent early in 2013 – his Monaco weekend finished with three big accidents and a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Canada for taking out Daniel Ricciardo – but his late-season form was too consistently good to be thought of as a fluke. In the final six races, the 27-year-old had four podiums and a fourth, and his one non-finish came when his Renault engine decided to end the V8 era earlier than the rest of the field by blowing up in Brazil. With Raikkonen off to Ferrari, Grosjean will inherit the responsibility that comes with being a team leader at Lotus in 2014; on the strength of what we saw late this season, he’s up to the challenge.

8. Money talks more than ever
It’s somewhat of an indictment on modern-day F1 when a driver like Pastor Maldonado – who scored one point all season – accused Williams of sabotaging his car in qualifying for the penultimate race in Austin, knowing that his combination of speed and $30 million in funding from the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA would all but guarantee him a place on the 2014 grid, a place he duly found at cash-strapped Lotus. It was Lotus, of course, that Raikkonen left after saying he hadn’t been paid all season, fleeing to Ferrari and scheduling back surgery that ruled him out of the final two races after threatening to go on strike. And it was Lotus who considered Nico Hulkenberg, who continually out-performed his Sauber machinery in the second half of the year to become of the stars of the season, before settling with Maldonado and his millions. Lotus are far from the only team to consider drivers based on the depth of their pockets as much as their talent behind the wheel, but F1’s parlous financial state was brought into starker focus by the team that was Red Bull’s main challenger across the final stages of the season making the decision to go with a lesser, but wealthier, driver over someone like Hulkenberg, who must be wondering what he has to do to get a break.

9. Britney moves up the charts
Nico Rosberg – once derisively known as ‘Britney’ for his long blond locks that could have been those of Britney Spears – finally came of age in 2013, showing the promise that was evident from the moment he set the fastest lap of the race on his F1 debut for Williams in Bahrain in 2006. The 28-year-old had always demonstrated flashes, but it was his performances relative to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton that confirmed his quality. Rosberg was out-scored by Hamilton by just 18 points over the course of the season while enduring three times the number of retirements, mostly through no fault of his own, and won the Monaco and British Grands Prix, two of the sport’s most famous races. Always a technically astute driver, the new-for-2014 formula of fuel efficiency, tire management and driving to a moving target rather than letting rip lap after lap will be right down Rosberg’s alley.

10. Tilke can come up trumps
F1’s circuit designer of choice, German Hermann Tilke, has been the target of plenty of criticism for some of the tracks that have come onto the calendar since his first in Malaysia in 1999; while it could be argued much of that was justified after the emergence of such cookie-cutter venues as the soulless Sakhir International Circuit (Bahrain), the unloved street circuit in Valencia and the beautiful but dull Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Tilke hit the jackpot with the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, which has become one of the most popular stops on the calendar in just two years. Elevation change, sweeping corners, high-speed stretches, superb facilities close to a city center … COTA, as it has become known, has it all. The fans obviously agree, more than 100,000 of them cramming into the circuit for the first two races at the new home for F1 in the ‘States.