2018 had a lot to deliver for some teams and drivers, McLaren had ended their disastrous relationship with Honda with Toro Rosso taking on the Japanese marque, Sauber had the highly rated rookie Charles Leclerc and Williams would run it’s first car under ex-Mercedes man Paddy Lowe.
Sadly not all of these teams would find success in 2018, Williams and McLaren were once the teams to beat, they dominated the 90’s a remained top teams for the following decade. McLaren had gone from race winners and regular podium finishers to struggling to score points courtesy of it’s Honda power unit and a switch to Renault power which rivals Red Bull have taken to victories in recent years promised to be a necessary decision. Winter testing proved difficult for McLaren, they struggled to get laps in after suffering numerous mechanical failures while Toro Rosso who had taken on Honda power were running reliably.
Williams & Sauber also appeared to struggle, reliability proved fine but both cars looked like a handful to drive. Sauber had struggled a lot in the past few seasons but Williams have been podium contenders since 2014 but some were tipping them to have the worst car on the grid. There were some question marks over the true reliability of the Honda engine, Honda would be putting in new power units in the Toro Rosso each day and were the only team to do so.
Australia would be the first time we could see the true pace of the cars, Williams and Sauber were true to their winter form, they were the slowest of them all and Toro Rosso now with Honda power weren’t much better. McLaren struggled to get in long distance running in winter and they were concerned whether their cars would make the distance, both cars failed to make Q3 but weren’t far off the pace. Come race day an inspired strategy choice would see Alonso finish the race in 5th just ahead of Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and prompted Alonso to remark “Now we can fight” over team radio making a clear jab at ex partners Honda. It wasn’t a dream start for the Toro-Rosso Honda partnership with Pierre Gasly retiring with engine failure.
Bahrain would see Pierre Gasly surprise the paddock when he qualified 6th for the race; a complete upturn in performance from Australia, his pace continued in the race and would see him finish 4th after others retired. Alonso would finish 7th in a less convincing race for McLaren but it would at-least be the teams first back-to-back double points score since 2014 with Stoffel Vandoorne securing more points for McLaren. Marcus Ericsson would finish 9th scoring his first points in the Sauber since 2015, Williams would have another discouraging race, fighting at the back and nowhere near a points finish.
Alonso would continue his points scoring streak with another 7th place in China after making a very aggressive move on a damaged Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. Toro Rosso would not be able to repeat their Bahrain performance after a lack of communication in the team led to Gasly and Hartley colliding in a botched switching of positions.
Charles Leclerc was hotly tipped for success in 2018, he won the GP3 and Formula 2 titles on his first attempts and had been hallmarked as a future Ferrari driver but had been anonymous in the first 3 races.
Azerbaijan is a very unique circuit and threw a crazy race last season and is a track that Leclerc had shown form at in F2, he took both wins in a weekend marred by the death of his father but Leclerc put in the performance of his career to take both victories. 1 year on and Leclerc finally showed the his promise, after another chaotic race Leclerc kept his head cool to secure 6th place and the first points of his F1 career.
Lance Stroll and Brendon Hartley would also benefit from the chaos and score their first points of the season, Alonso continued his run of 7th places but was lucky to make it to the end after his collision with Sergey Sirotkin on lap 1 left him with damage and a puncture.
Charles Leclerc would continue to impress and find himself battling regularly with Alonso in the next few races but reliability issues would prevent Alonso from continuing his point scoring streak.
While Sauber were making significant improvements to their car meanwhile McLaren were failing to improve theirs which would result in Chief Technical Officer Tim Goss and Racing Director Eric Boullier departing from the team.
Williams would also struggle with their chassis with Silverstone proving to be a tipping point, a rear wing stall would cause both cars to spin-off the track in qualifying and further highlighted the issues that plagued the former great team. Williams were criticised for running two inexperienced drivers but with the car itself performing so poorly it wouldn’t be correct to blame the teams issues on it’s drivers.
Meanwhile Charles Leclerc’s impressive performance would see him linked to a Ferrari drive for 2019, it is a rare occasion that Ferrari would sign someone so young and inexperienced. Jean Alesi in 1991 would be the last time someone with less than 2 years experience would drive for Ferrari but a decision would not be made for a while yet.
Pierre Gasly would once again put on a stunning performance with 6th in Hungary; a circuit where a power deficit was less critical, this would prove timely as he would get the nod to drive for Red Bull in 2019 after Daniel Ricciardo made the shock decision to sign with Renault. Alonso would also announce his retirement from Formula One at the end of the season to pursue other racing conquests.
A huge crash in Spa would see Alonso fly over Leclerc’s cockpit damaging his Halo after Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point launching him into the back of Alonso. Gasly would score once again and Sergey Sirotkin would find the Williams at it’s most competitive since Azerbaijan albeit out of the points.
Monza would be a breakthrough for Williams with both cars in the points for the first time this season courtesy of Romain Grosjean’s disqualification. After the Italian Grand Prix it would be confirmed that Charles Leclerc would partner Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari for 2019 and the outbound Kimi Raikkonen would take his place at Sauber.
With development of cars stagnant due to rule changes in 2019 forcing teams to focus on designing next years cars rather than it’s 2018 efforts prevented McLaren and Williams from turning their seasons around. Mexico would be the only race where McLaren would score points in the closing stages of the season thanks to Vandoorne but the team would find themselves fighting with Williams at the back of the grid.
Sauber would continue it’s new-found position in the top ten while Brendon Hartley would start to get the better of his teammate. It would prove too little to late for the Kiwi though as he be replaced by Alexander Albon for 2019.
Fernando Alonso had many celebrations held for him prior to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which would mark his last ever F1 race (for now) and would see McLaren run a tribute livery in his honour. Alonso would fail to score a point in Abu Dhabi but gave it everything and even racked up 15 seconds worth of penalties as he abused track limits in an attempt to close in on tenth place Kevin Magnussen.
As F1 loses one of it’s biggest stars in Fernando Alonso we see two new stars in Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc get their break in F1’s top-tier for 2019. Williams and McLaren have all-new lineups and the latter a new technical team to help get them back to the top but we will have to see what 2019 has in store for it’s rising stars and fallen giants.
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