Top 10 Formula One drivers of 2018

After another thrilling season of Formula One closes and we reach the new year we take a look at who were the biggest performers of the 2018 grid. We will consider their on track results, comparisons to teammate and how they’ve performed despite any bad luck or car performance that have affected them.

10. Esteban Ocon

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Copyright: Racing Point Force India

Competing in his second full F1 season and his second with Force India it was important that he came out ahead of his highly regarded teammate Sergio Perez. The Mercedes junior would endure a car that was underfunded and lacking downforce in the first part of the season, despite this he would finish an impressive 6th in Monaco but would throw away a potential podium in Baku in a first lap collision with Raikkonen.

Esteban would out-qualify his teammate 16-5 but would have to contend with much speculation about his future for the second half of the season with Force India under new ownership. Even though he finished behind Perez in the championship he was the faster of the two Force India drivers but mistakes like his unnecessary collision with Verstappen in Brazil have meant he hasn’t featured higher on this list.

Best Finish: 6th/Championship Position: 12th/Points: 49

9. Nico Hulkenberg

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Copyright: Renault Sport F1 Team

After a very strong first season with Renault Hulkenberg would face a bigger challenge with new teammate Carlos Sainz. Nico would eventually come out on top and would prove why he was once considered by Ferrari as a potential driver. Hulkenberg suffered the bulk of the Renault unreliability with 8 retirements but uncharacteristic mistakes in Spa and Abu Dhabi saw Nico throw away points.

A season best finish of 5th at his home race in Germany would help see him to finish best of the rest in the championship but will do well to beat that when Daniel Ricciardo joins the team in 2019.

Best Finish: 5th/Championship Position: 7th/Points: 69

8. Pierre Gasly

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Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

There were high hopes for the Toro Rosso-Honda partnership in 2018 but Pierre Gasly would almost single-handily save their season. Honda would treat the 2018 season as an experimental one, there would be regular changes to the power units which would result in regular grid penalties but when everything came together Pierre delivered.

Bahrain, Monaco and Hungary would be where we would see the best from Gasly; scoring big points in these races would save Toro Rosso’s blushes as they would struggle for the best part of the season and Hartley had no luck and struggled more than Pierre to get the best out of the car. Gasly now faces the biggest challenge of his career in 2019, partnering Max Verstappen in a front running car, Pierre will need to find consistency if he wants to match the Dutchman.

Best Finish: 4th/Championship Position: 15th/Points: 29

7. Kimi Raikkonen

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Copyright: Scuderia Ferrari

2018 would be Raikkonen’s strongest season with Ferrari since his return to the team in 2014 but it would in turn be his last. 12 podiums, 1 pole position and a supreme victory in the USA would see Raikkonen back on form and a real match for Vettel come race day. Qualifying would be his Achilles heel with mistakes in Q3 costing Raikkonen chances of front row positions. Raikkonen will relish a first challenge at Sauber next season and we will surely see some stand out performances from the popular Finn.

Best Finish: 1st/Championship Position: 3rd/Points: 251

6. Sebastian Vettel

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Copyright: Scuderia Ferrari

After the defeat that Vettel suffered in last season courtesy of reliability issues and on track mistakes from Vettel 2018 would need to see a more slick operation to come out on top.

2018 was arguably worse than 2017, the beginning part of the season was strong despite far from ideal results in China and Baku but incidents during wheel-to-wheel combat would characterise Vettel’s season. Germany would signal Vettel’s downfall in 2018 with an unforced error seeing him throw away an almost certain victory but spins after close quarters combat in Italy, Japan and the USA would see Vettel once again finish the season second best. Strategy errors by the team did not help but these combat errors would cost him the most. Strong qualifying pace and exceptional victories in the first half of the season would show what could have been for the German and will need to look at improving his race craft in 2019.

Best Finish: 1st/Championship Position: 2nd/Points: 320

5. Daniel Ricciardo

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Copyright: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

The start of 2018 looked like it could be Ricciardo’s year, not necessarily for the championship but as a regular contender for podiums and victories. China would demonstrate why Ricciardo is the undisputed best overtaker on the grid while Monaco would show his mental strength as he wrangled his sick Red Bull to victory.

After Canada Ricciardo would find himself behind his teammate more regularly than expected but poor reliability from his car would all but wreck his season. 8 retirements and many grid penalties would prevent Ricciardo from reaching the podium again in 2018 but we would still see flashes of his speed in Japan and Mexico but it was far from the send off he wanted in his Red Bull career.

Best Finish: 1st/Championship Position: 6th/Points: 170

4. Max Verstappen

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Copyright: Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

For the first time in his career Verstappen managed to beat Ricciardo across an entire season and claim two commanding victories on his way but it wasn’t the smoothest start to the season. Mistakes in the first 6 races would leave many calling for Max to change his approach, he would bounce back in Canada and from then on find himself regularly on the podium.

Max still isn’t yet the finished article and would need to play it safely if he wants to challenge for the title next year as unnecessary mistakes like his collision with a lapped Ocon in Brazil cost him victory and he can ill-afford to do that in a championship fight. Overall 2018 saw a smarter and faster Verstappen and if the Red Bull-Honda partnership flourishes then we will see him soon crowned as world champion.

Best Finish: 1st/Championship Position: 4th/Points: 249

3. Charles Leclerc

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Copyright: Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

It is very seldom that a driver with just 1 seasons experience would find themselves a Ferrari driver but that is the position that Charles Leclerc finds himself in for 2019. An impressive rookie season last year in Formula 2 where he took the title in dominant fashion was backed up by a very strong rookie campaign in Formula One.

The opening first 3 races would see Charles struggle as he found the leap to Formula One a bigger challenge than expected but quickly turned things around. 6th place in Baku would be the turning point and Charles would be a regular points contender in a Sauber going from strength to strength. Charles would hustle against Fernando Alonso on a regular basis and would often impress the paddock putting in performances not fit for the car he was driving, he was as consistent as he was quick and it’s easy to see why he is a Ferrari driver for 2019.

Best Finish: 6th/Championship Position: 13th/Points: 39

2. Fernando Alonso

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Copyright: Formula One

10 points in the final 10 races of the season do not sound like the results of someone ranked as the 2nd best driver of 2018 but Fernando Alonso once again proved why he is one of sports greatest ever. Despite a McLaren that lacked straight line speed as well as downforce Fernando was one of the stand out drivers of the season. He would out-qualify his highly rated if not out of sorts teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in every race of the season and would score points even when the car wasn’t fast enough.

Fernando would once again show his never say die attitude in Baku wrangling his heavily damaged car back to the pits and eventually to 7th position. Updates did not come regularly to the McLaren and would result in Alonso finding the points further out of reach but that did not stop Alonso performing at his peak if not being the voice of pessimism on team radio. It’s a shame to see Fernando bow out of Formula One at the end of the season as he embarks on his quest for the triple crown but I’m sure we will see him return to win that elusive 3rd word title.

Best Finish: 5th/Championship Position: 11th/Points: 50

1. Lewis Hamilton

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Copyright: LAT Images

11 victories and a 5th world championship would see Lewis Hamilton on his best ever form, he had to overcome an early season slump and a points deficit to Sebastian Vettel but Hamilton would eventually win the title early in Mexico. While rival Vettel would make on track errors Hamilton kept his nose clean picking up podium positions when he could not win.

Hamilton would dominate his teammate forcing Mercedes to put their full support behind the Brit, it’s difficult to say what Lewis Hamilton did well this season as this level of performance is what we have come to expect from Hamilton as he continually raises the bar in a very competitive Formula One grid.

Best Finish: 1st/Championship Position: 1st/Points: 408

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2012: The Ultimate Fernando Alonso?

Fernando Alonso approaches his final Grand Prix this weekend, he has won two world titles and deserved so much more. He has proven to be one of the all time greats over the years with each season passing by Fernando shows no signs of slowing but was 2012 the season where we saw the absolute best of Fernando Alonso?

2011 was a disappointing season for Alonso and Ferrari, after narrowly missing out on the title in 2010 they were tipped to bounce back and win the title. Alonso would only win 1 race that season with his teammate failing to score a single point that season, they needed a strong 2012 to keep the dream of winning together alive.

It was clear during pre-season testing that the Ferrari was one of the Scuderia’s worst designs in recent memory, both Alonso and Massa were wrestling with the car and it lacked downforce compared to it’s competitors not to mention an aesthetic only a mother could love.

Ferrari’s fears came true in Australia with both cars failing to make it into Q3 with Alonso and Massa 12th and 16th respectively, a spin into the gravel for Alonso marked the end of his qualifying and raised questions over the competitiveness of the F2012.

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Australia was the first signs of the Ferrari’s poor qualifying pace. Copyright: AFP

In a race of attrition Alonso would find himself back into the points, his race pace proved to be much stronger than his qualifying. Safety cars would help Alonso finish 5th and 21 seconds adrift from race winner Jenson Button but it was good damage limitation in a race that could have been much worse. It looked like 2012 would be a struggle for Ferrari, Alonso was contending with the Williams of Maldonado rather than fighting with the McLaren’s and Red Bull’s at the front.

Come Malaysia; qualifying would once again prove to be a struggle with Alonso setting the 9th fastest time and it was becoming clear that Ferrari only had the 5th fastest car behind Mercedes, Lotus, McLaren and Red Bull. On Sunday rain had hit the circuit and it looked set to intensify, the wet conditions allowing for the driver to make more of an impact. Alonso made one of his trademark starts and made up 3 places of the start, he was enjoying the F2012 more in the wet conditions but the rain got to torrential levels but benefited by making an earlier pit stop. The race was eventually red flagged due to the adverse weather, on the restart Alonso started to make his way passed the Red Bull of Webber before swapping to intermediates. Alonso would spend the remainder of the race battling with the Sauber of Sergio Perez for the lead but his experience would keep him on track and claim his first win of the season, a win that looked very unlikely after Australia.

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Alonso had now won in Malaysia for three different teams (Renault, McLaren & Ferrari) Copyright: EPA

China and Bahrain would bring Ferrari right back to reality, finishing 9th and 7th in both races. The Ferrari lacked grip and straight line speed, Mercedes would benefit from their double DRS system which would give them their first win of the modern era at the Chinese Grand Prix but the Ferrari lacked any innovation that could give them any advantage in any conditions.

Come his home race Alonso was eager to return to the podium, Ferrari had their first decent qualifying of the season with Alonso qualifying 3rd which would become second when Lewis Hamilton would be thrown to the back of the grid for not having enough fuel in the car. Alonso hadn’t won at his home race since 2006 so wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this get away from him, Pastor Maldonado took a shock pole position but come the start it was Alonso who came out in front. He was unable to build a substantial gap to the Venezuelan however and when Williams opted to pit their driver first it allowed Maldonado to get the undercut over Alonso to take their first win since 2004, Alonso would have to settle for 2nd.

Where Alonso struggled with the F2012 teammate Massa has a tougher time, in the first 5 races he only managed to score 2 points with a best finish of 9th showing just how bad the Ferrari was.

Alonso would qualify 6th in Monaco but would benefit from a start line collision between Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher, Alonso found that he could manage to keep up the pace with the leaders and crossed the line 3rd and just under 1 second behind race winner Mark Webber. Somewhat surprisingly Alonso now found himself at the top of drivers standings, in a topsy-turvy season Alonso had been the most consistent and against all odds led the championship.

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Monaco would spell Alonso’s 3rd podium of the season. Copyright: Motorsport Images

Canada would see Ferrari’s upturn in pace continue, Fernando was embroiled in a three-way fight with Hamilton and Vettel. In a race of high tyre degradation Alonso and Vettel opted to preserve their tyres in a two-stop strategy but this would prove to be an inferior strategy and both cars soon found themselves being passed by Hamilton, Perez and Grosjean and Alonso would eventually finish 5th.

The European Grand Prix would be Alonso’s second home race of the season, Alonso had never won around the streets of Valencia but with the unpredictability of 2012 after having 7 winners from 7 races then nothing could be ruled out.

Qualifying proved to be a struggle once again however an Alonso would start his home race 11th but would show his class in the race. Alonso made up places on lap 1 while Sebastian Vettel pulled away at the front, Fernando demonstrated the best of his overtaking abilities to the delight of his home crowd, he soon found himself in 4th prior to a safety car caused by debris on track after Vergne and Kovalainen made contact. Alonso jumped Hamilton in the pit stops and was now 3rd, on the restart Alonso made a lunge on Grosjean for second behind only Vettel but he soon ran into problem and retired with alternator failure. Alonso became the first repeat winner of 2012 and took his 2nd ever win at home, furthermore he extended his championship lead and now started to believe he had a chance at the title.

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Fernando was joined on the podium by his old rivals Schumacher and Raikkonen. Copyright: Reuters

The title was swinging towards Alonso, he finished 2nd and 1st in Britain and Germany after starting from pole in both races and had no real challenger in sight, after Hungary Alonso would have a massive 40-point lead in the championship and with the consistency he shown it looked difficult to write him off. Wet weather in qualifying in Britain and Germany and helped Alonso to his pole positions, it hid the deficiencies of the Ferrari but Red Bull and McLaren were starting to get on top of the tyre situation and make things lot harder for Alonso.

Alonso was the only driver to score points in every race but that would all end in Spa, Romain Grosjean had developed a reputation for his lap 1 incidents and made the biggest error in his career. Heading into turn 1 he moved across Lewis Hamilton causing the two to lose control and collect Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi with them. Alonso would see his championship lead slashed in a race where he would have found a way on the podium.

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Romain Grosjean would receive a 1-race ban for his part in the collision. Copyright: Sutton Images

Monza and Singapore would see Alonso score back to back podiums but far from challenging for the win, McLaren and Red Bull had pulled away and were the cars to beat but Alonso knew consistency was key to winning the title. Japan would see him suffer his second DNF of the season when Raikkonen’s front win clipped Alonso’s wheel at the start causing him to spin into retirement meanwhile Vettel took his second back-to-back win which would soon become four.

Back to back podiums in Korea, India, Brazil and USA meant the championship would go down to the final race, Vettel was now leading the championship thanks to his 4 win streak and Fernando’s two DNF’s.

It would take something big to win the title with Fernando needing to outscore Vettel by 15 points to win, Vettel would offer Alonso a glimmer of hope however when he made contact with Bruno Senna causing him to drop to last place. Alonso took the opportunity and made an outstanding double overtake on Webber and Massa for 3rd putting him in prime position for the championship but he made an unforced error dropping him to fourth behind Nico Hulkenberg.

Alonso would be promoted into 2nd place however when Hulkenberg and Hamilton would collide ending the Brits final race with McLaren in retirement. Vettel would make his way back up to sixth which was all he needed to win the championship and would end Alonso’s dream for the title that year.

Considering how the beginning of the season turned out for Alonso it was amazing to think he could even have a chance of winning the title but he took it down to the last race and was without a doubt the best driver that season. For those that had forgotten how talented Alonso was he reminded them that he was one of the best on the grid and arguably one of the best F1 has seen. He took a car that wasn’t fast enough for wins and challenged for the championship, if the car was a fraction faster he would have won the title in a dominant fashion. 2012 was the best performance we had ever seen from Fernando Alonso.

@F1 Brazil

Copyright: Formula One

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Is Magnussen 2018’s most underrated driver?

Kevin Magnussen currently sits 9th in the drivers standings and has had 4 top six finishes this season, so why isn’t aren’t his performances being talked about in the same way as the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc?

The first obvious explanation is that bot Pierre and Charles are in their rookie seasons whereas Kevin is in his 4th but after that the comparisons are hard to make. Magnussen was originally a part of the McLaren young driver beating the likes of current McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne and Ex-Red Bull junior Antonio Felix Da Costa in the junior categories. Magnussen impressed McLaren enough that they opted to replace Sergio Perez with the Dane for the 2014 season and he delivered by scoring a podium on his debut and the last for McLaren to date.

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3rd place became 2nd after Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified for a fuel flow infringement.  Copyright: McLaren F1 disqualifed

After a troubled season Magnussen found himself in a reserve role for McLaren in 2015 with 1 stand-in event in place of an injured Alonso but would be dropped completely by McLaren at the end of the season. Magnussen endured an uncompetitive season with Renault in 2016 before finding himself with his current team Haas.

After an inconspicuous season in 2017 Magnussen had a lot to prove in 2018, winter testing looked good for the team and appeared to have the 4th fastest car. Come Melbourne this would prove to be true with both Haas cars starting in the top ten and with Magnussen 5th after a 3-place penalty for home hero Ricciardo. Magnussen was solid throughout the race, he would find himself 4th following a mistake from Magnussen and with overtaking difficult in Melbourne he looked good to stay there. Mistakes in both Haas pit stops however meant that Magnussen nor his teammate Romain Grosjean could finish the race chucking away 22 points for the team.

Magnussen bounced back in Bahrain with a superb 5th but was eclipsed by Pierre Gasly who finished just in-front of him, China would see him finish 10th after a safety car ruined his strategy but made it his second point score in a row. Azerbaijan would be the first of his headlining performances but unfortunately for the wrong reasons, in a battle with Pierre Gasly it appeared that Magnussen defended too aggressively and almost put the Frenchman in the wall.

If Magnussen made the wrong headlines in Azerbaijan then his teammate would make bigger ones in Spain after a clumsy spin on lap one would eliminate 3 drivers and spell a 5th consecutive race without scoring a point. This would again overshadow the 6th place finish scored by Magnussen but the Haas driver was enjoying his best form of his career to date.

Magnussen appeared to have the measure of his teammate in the first 5 races of the season scoring 13 points to Grosjean’s 0. Romain is a highly rated driver in his own right, he fared well against his world champion teammate Raikkonen when they were teammates at Lotus but headline crashes overshadow his results.

Haas would have a slump in performance in Monaco and Canada and would fail to score points in both races but the following 3 races would prove even stronger. 6th in Canada followed by 5th in Austria would make Magnussen best of the rest behind the big three teams but once again his 5th place finish would be overshadowed by his teammate finishing 4th and scoring his first points of the season.

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Copyright: Haas F1 Team

Austria would see the pendulum swing towards his teammate Grosjean who appeared to have found his confidence again but Magnussen wasn’t letting it affect him, he would continue his points scoring consistency and was never too far away from his teammate in the race. Another incident on track would again attract headline for the Dane, another aggressive defensive move in Japan would see himself retire from the race when Leclerc’s front wing would puncture his tyre causing damage to the bodywork and floor of the Haas.

Magnussen has a bad boy reputation; his aggressive overtakes and defensive moves have won him both fans and critics. His James Hunt-esque remarks haven’t endeared him to his fellow competitors but Magnussen isn’t bothered by this. The consequence this has is that it takes away from the performance he has, he is still ahead of his teammate in the drivers championship and still has a chance of winning the “Class-B” championship.

He has only scored one podium in his F1 career to date but Magnussen has a chance of adding to his tally next season, Haas will have a bigger budget thanks to its very likely 5th place finish in the Constructors title and new title sponsor Rich Energy. Magnussen has attributed part of his success to his continuity with the team and an environment that in his opinion is a “proper racing team” unlike the more corporate teams he had raced for in the past. Magnussen should have made more headlines this season for his results but with next year having the potential to be his best yet be sure to see Magnussen showing his best.

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Is Verstappen ready to be champion in 2019?

Max Verstappen is only in his 4th Formula One season but has already claimed 5 victories, 21 podiums and 655 championship points. He is already regarded as one of the best on the grid and many are touting him as a world champion in the making but could he achieve this as early as next year?

First we need to take a look at his career to date, In 2014 Verstappen would participate in his maiden season of FIA European Formula 3, a tough series where experience typically counts. Despite this the young Dutchman took 10 wins including 6 in a row to finish 3rd in the standings finishing behind Tom Blomqvist and Esteban Ocon. This would see him get the nod from Red Bull to join their junior team Toro Rosso for 2015, Verstappen would be partnered with Carlos Sainz who was also about to embark on his debut F1 season in a very strong if not experienced lineup.

Verstappen would soon make a name for himself, he was fast but he was also a brilliant overtaker, Carlos Sainz is highly rated but Verstappen had the measure of him taking 49 points on his way to 12th in the standings. Even in his first season he was already setting records, in Malaysia he became the youngest ever points scorer at the age of 17 as well as being the youngest ever F1 driver. 4th place finishes in Hungary and the USA as well as  a bold overtake around the outside of Felipe Nasr in Spa led to many touting him as the next Ayrton Senna but blunders like his crash with Grosjean in Monaco would highlight his impetuous nature.

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After just one season Max Verstappen had already score more points the his father Jos in his entire career. Copyright: Formula One

2016 would begin with Verstappen remaining at Toro Rosso once again partnered by Carlos Sainz. The team would benefit in the early part of the season by running a 2015 Ferrari engine, although it wouldn’t see any development throughout the year it had good reliability compared to it’s rivals to which Verstappen would benefit scoring 13 points in the first 3 races.

In the sister team Red Bull the bosses were unhappy with the performances of driver Daniil Kvyat who showed some massive inconsistency despite claiming a podium in China. In the 4th round in Russia Daniil Kvyat would collide with Vettel and teammate Ricciardo resulting in both Red Bulls failing to score points. Red Bull who were impressed with the speed and consistency of Verstappen opted to swap him with Kvyat promoting Verstappen to the big team for the remainder of the season. This would prove to be his biggest test to date, he had nowhere to hide in the Red Bull and had a formidable teammate on Daniel Ricciardo who already had 3 race wins to his name.

The Spanish Grand Prix would see Verstappen make his debut with the team, he was slower than Ricciardo throughout the weekend but was impressive enough considering this was his first race with the team. He qualified 4th a few tenths behind teammate Ricciardo but come race day everything was about to change, both Mercedes drivers collided and took each other out of the race gifting Ricciardo the lead. Vettel would hound Ricciardo while Verstappen would sit in 3rd, both Ricciardo and Vettel would opt to make a second pit stop while Raikkonen and Verstappen would stay out. Both managed their tyres to the end and Raikkonen hounded Verstappen to the chequered flag but Max kept a cool head and won on his Red Bull debut cementing himself as the youngest ever race winner.

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Max Verstappen took his first win in Spain but it would remain his only win that season. Copyright: Formula One

Verstappen would take a further 5 podiums that season on his way to 5th in the standings that season, Brazil being a particular triumph with a mega drive in the wet where he made overtaking look easy in treacherous conditions. The 2017 season would start well with Verstappen taking a podium in China despite and engine issue on Saturday forcing him to start 19th but things would soon turn sour for Verstappen. 5 retirements in the first 9 races was not the kind of results that Verstappen expected especially now that he had a taste for fighting for wins.

The season would prove to be a test of his resolve, if poor reliability wasn’t bad enough Verstappen would find himself squeezed by the two Ferrari’s in Singapore causing an almighty crash in a race where he could have challenged for the win. Verstappen would eventually win in Malaysia in dominant fashion ahead of Lewis Hamilton, he showed that not only can he reach the podium by overtaking but also by controlling the pace and leading from the front something he repeated this in Mexico.

The start of the 2018 season would prove to be a disaster, he would spin from 5th chucking away good points in Australia, collide with Hamilton and retire in Bahrain, spin Vettel round throwing away a potential win in China and crashing with Ricciardo in Baku. His most costly mistake was ruining any chances of fighting for pole in Monaco when he pushed too hard in Saturday practice wrecking his car and preventing him from taking any further part in the action that day.

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Monaco hasn’t been kind to Verstappen, retirements in 2015 and 2016 swell as the crash in practice in 2018 would not hold the circuit in high regards for Verstappen. Copyright: Getty Images

Many claimed that Verstappen would need to change his approach if he wanted any future title success something which Verstappen didn’t take kindly to. Whether he has changed his approach or not will remain a mystery but ever since Canada Verstappen has been the faster of the two Red Bull drivers and has an outside shot of finishing 3rd in the drivers standings.

A needless crash with Ocon in Brazil however highlights the fact that Verstappen still has much to learn. Ocon was trying to un lap himself when the two collided after Verstappen refused to yield throwing away a certain victory for the Dutchman. Mistakes like that would be very costly in a championship fight particularly when they were as avoidable as  the incident in Brazil.

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The former F3 rivals would collide in Brazil but both would continue in the race. Copyright: Formula One

Red Bull have been very critical of their engine partners Renault since the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era. Poor reliability as well as a power deficit have prevented the team from fighting for regular wins and the title but next year has the potential to be different. From next season Red Bull will have Honda power and have been impressed by the progress the Japanese manufacturer has made with sister team Toro Rosso. If the engine is going to be as competitive as Red Bull expect then coupled with the almighty chassis we usually expect from Red Bull we may well see them challenge for the title in 2019.

Max Verstappen has now firmly established Red Bull as his team, they naturally gravitate towards him and he can do no wrong in their eyes. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo will leave the team at the end of the Season and will be replaced by Pierre Gasly, this is an ideal situation for Verstappen as he can cement his number one status in the team while Gasly acclimatises himself with the team.

No one doubts the speed of Verstappen, I would argue that he is second only to Lewis Hamilton in terms of outright speed. He also has the consistency of a world champion not to mention the star power that you usually associate with them. Reducing the number of hot-headed moments or just silly impatient mistakes will be his biggest challenge ahead of him. Don’t forget that Verstappen is only 21 years old, Kimi Raikkonen is set to run into his 40’s so Verstappen has a long road ahead of him. I’m sure we will see Max challenge the record books set by Michael Schumacher and currently set by Lewis Hamilton in the near future.

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Has Hartley done enough to stay in F1?

Just over a year ago Brendon Hartley made his F1 debut replacing Carlos Sainz but now faces the real possibility that his F1 career is over as quickly as it began but has Hartley done enough to stay in F1?

Hartley was originally a junior programme while he was progressing through the junior categories but a lacklustre second season in Formula Renault 3.5 where he was teammates with current Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo he would soon be dropped by the Red Bull programme in favour of Jean-Eric Vergne. Hartley would still progress GP2 but fail to complete a full season before making the switch to sports cars.

2014 would see Hartley compete with the Porsche LMP1 team and would eventually claim 2 WEC titles and 1 LeMans win, Hartley made a name for himself and the struggles he had in junior categories would be a distant memory. Meanwhile the programme that dropped him in 2010 were in need of a driver, Carlos Sainz had signed a contract with Renault and Daniil Kvyat had underperformed so the team would need a completely new driver lineup.

Pierre Gasly was the only driver in their stable ready for Formula One so Red Bull would need to look outside of their programme for a driver, Hartley earlier that same year made a phone call to Red Bull Motorsport boss Helmut Marko about giving him an opportunity in the future now that Porsche were leaving WEC and this would enable Hartley to get his chance in F1 7 years after it appeared to be over.

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Hartley made his debut in the 2017 US Grand Prix. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Hartley’s first few race in the sport would prove challenging, he had no experience in a current F1 car and hadn’t driven a single-seater since 2012. To add to his challenge Toro Rosso would face regular engine penalties due to poor reliability from the Renault engine and Brendon would start from the back on his 4 races of 2017. Hartley would fail to score a point in 2017 but there would be an opportunity for the team in 2018 after they announced they would be running Honda power as the sole team with their engines.

2018 so far has been a struggle for Brendon, the Honda power unit isn’t fast nor reliable and Toro Rosso have also struggled with their chassis. Hartley’s teammate Pierre Gasly has had a strong season with a best finish of 4th place in Bahrain and had generally had the pace over Hartley throughout the season.

Hartley scored his first point in Baku which appeared to be his breakthrough but a huge crash in practice in Spain would see his confidence damaged almost as much as his car and he would be unable to participate in qualifying.

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Hartley would suffer a 160mph crash wrecking his car before qualifying. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Another crash courtesy of a suspension failure in practice in Britain would see the Kiwi miss out on yet another qualifying session, Hartley just wouldn’t have the luck. Germany proved to be much stronger and would score another point in a wet-dry race but there was already much speculation that Red Bull were keen on replacing him.

Daniel Riccardo would then shock the world of F1 by announcing that he would leave Red Bull to join Renault in 2019, the senior team would then opt to promote Pierre Gasly to Red Bull which appeared to give Hartley a lifeline.

To the amazement of the F1 paddock Toro Rosso would resign Daniil Kvyat for 2019 a year after they opted to drop him from the Red Bull programme which through Hartley’s future into further doubt. Red Bull yet again faced the same problem as they did last year; they didn’t have any young drivers ready for Toro Rosso, Dan Ticktum is the highest placed junior driver but doesn’t have the necessary super licence points to race in F1.

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In 2019 Daniil Kvyat will race for Toro Rosso for a 3rd time. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Helmut Marko has stated that Brendon Hartley needs to beat his teammate Pierre Gasly in the reaming races if he wants to retain his seat with the team. Hartley has been very outspoken recently by the lack of support he has had and his performances against his teammate and is no doubt very frustrated with the constant speculation about his future which he has had to content with all year.

Suzuka has proved to be a turning point for Hartley though, he had his best qualifying of the year with 6th but Toro Rosso’s poor race pace and a bad start for Brendon prevented him and the team scoring points at Honda’s home track. Hartley would then score 2 more points in the US a year on from his F1 debut and had a solid weekend in Mexico where he had the measure of his teammate before damage to his floor in a collision with Esteban Ocon hurt his pace.

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9th in the United States would be Hartley’s best finish to date. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

There are only 2 races left in the season for Brendon to prove to Red Bull that he deserves to stay but he arguably has already done that in the past few weekends. Red Bull isn’t the most forgiving environment and with rumours that they will sign F2 driver Alexander Albon in place of Hartley it may already be too late.

Hartley has recently turned a corner and yet may lose his drive in F1 but being outside of Red Bull may be the best thing for Brendon’s development and can turn to a test and reserve role with another team ready to return in 2020 or reconnect with Porsche when they join Formula E later next year.

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What next for Esteban Ocon?

With teams confirming their 2019 driver lineup it is looking less and less likely that Esteban Ocon will be on the grid for next season, a surprise when you consider that he beat Max Verstappen to the Formula 3 title, won the GP3 title in his first attempt and has been nothing but impressive since he started in Formula One, but where has it gone wrong?

Esteban Ocon is a Mercedes junior along with Formula 2 championship leader George Russell but both looking like they won’t feature on the Formula One grid for next season. Ocon is in his second season with Force India and has compared favourably compared to his highly rated teammate Sergio Perez, he also holds the record for the most consecutive finishes from the start of his career (27 races). So why is it that Ocon’s future looks in doubt?

It all started to look complicated when Force India went into administration, the team’s future looked uncertain but the team were confident to find a buyer. It would end up that a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll (Father of Lance Stroll) would purchase the teams assets to allow the team to continue. Racing Point Force India would be a new entry into Formula One (due to complications buying the original entry) but questions started about Lawrence’s intentions with his son Lance, it was clear that Lawrence desired to put his son in the Force India sooner rather than later, due to Perez’s commercial backing and that he was in effect the one to save the team by putting it into administration so that a new buyer could be easily found that he would be the one remaining with the team and not Ocon.

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Lance Stroll is tipped to switch to Force India. Copyright: Williams

 

Mercedes would now have to find Ocon a new drive for next season, it was looking like Mercedes would be able to place Ocon at Renault, the team had an appetite to run a French driver and with his obvious talent the move would make a lot of sense. During the summer break however Daniel Ricciardo took the F1 paddock by surprise by announcing that he would be partnering Nico Hulkenberg at the French outfit from 2019, this caught all not to mention Mercedes and Ocon by surprise and another door closed on Esteban Ocon. Part of the reasoning for Renault not to sign Ocon was due to his Mercedes ties Cyril Abiteboul confirmed:

“I have to accept the fact that without discussing with Red Bull we would not have had Carlos this year, and I think it was great to have Carlos, so I think on balance we still did something good last year.”

“But having to do that again – one more year or two more years, 2019 and ’20 – in years we are supposed to, if we are to comply with our road map, start competing with top teams… Being dependent on that top team, a competitor, for a very important resource, felt a little bit awkward.”

Speculation then started that Mercedes were discussing a mid-season switch to McLaren replacing the struggling Vandoorne and remaining with the team for 2019. McLaren would be another good option for Esteban, the team were on in the process of a rebuilding phase and are close to Force India in performance but the Woking based squad would opt for their own junior Lando Norris. Zak Brown confirmed that yet again Ocon’s Mercedes ties were a contributing factor in not signing him:

“Esteban is someone that we rate extremely highly, and I think any time when a driver, you’re looking to something long-term, has ties to another manufacturer, that’s a tick in the wrong box”

“Hopefully Esteban will get a ride, or maybe stay where he is, because he certainly deserves to be in Formula 1”

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Lando Norris will make his F1 debut next season. Copyright: McLaren

So where does Esteban Ocon go now? Both he and fellow junior George Russell will struggle to find a drive for next season with most teams having signed or close to signing it’s drivers. The only realistic option is Williams who run Mercedes engines in their cars but may need some financial incentive to sign one of Mercedes’ drivers, Toto Wolff has already stated that paying for his drivers to get seats is unlikely.

“If you’re lacking either a partner team like Red Bull has with Toro Rosso, or contractual relationships like Ferrari has with Sauber or Haas, then it’s very difficult to find the right place for young drivers.”

“99% of our resource goes into running the team. The young drivers, beyond the emotional aspect, also needs to make commercial sense.”

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Pascal Wehrlien is currently competing with Mercedes in DTM. Copyright: Sauber

Mercedes have already dropped one of it’s drivers, Pascal Wehrlein who is tipped to either join Toro Rosso or make the switch to Formula E. It is perhaps more likely that both of Mercedes remaining junior drivers will take a year outside of F1, Russell may take up a reserve role with Williams with potential FP1 outings where Ocon will more likely take a test and reserve role with Mercedes, there is speculation that an IndyCar team has approached Ocon for a 2019 seat which would be a good stop-gap for him while he takes a year out of Formula One.

It is a great shame that Ocon may lose out on a drive in Formula One in 2019 but we certainly will see him again. Mercedes may look at Ferrari and Red Bull closely who decided to take a risk on their juniors Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly respectively and see how they perform in the front end of the field. If they perform then Mercedes may decide to give Ocon the nod at Valtteri Bottas’ expense. Lewis Hamilton won’t be in Formula One forever and Mercedes need to think about their long-term future, Ocon certainly should be one of the first names they discuss as a potential Hamilton replacement to lead the team.

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There have been many twists and turns in F1’s silly season this year and we certainly haven’t seen the last of it, perhaps Ocon still has a chance at a drive but it is more likely that he will follow in the footsteps of Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg and take a year out, it may give Ocon some comfort to look at these two as their careers have been long in Formula One.

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Pierre Gasly: Red Bull’s New Protégé

He may have only competed in 18 Grand Prix but Pierre Gasly is to join the big leagues next season as Daniel Ricciardo’s replacement at Red Bull courtesy of the Australian’s switch to Renault for 2019.

A hard thought battle with the now Ferrari junior Antonio Giovanazzi on his way to the GP2 title put the frenchman on the map in motorsport and was Red Bull’s latest rising talent. An impressive CV in the junior categories meant he more than deserved his chance when he replaced Daniil Kvyat at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix, but does he risk following the path of the Russian? Both drivers had just one single season with Toro Rosso before making the jump up to Red Bull. Kvyat too impressed on his debut season but struggled when jumping to the senior team, part of that can be blamed on the poor performance of the RB11 and the Renault power unit, Kvyat only scored 2 podiums before being pushed aside for Max Verstappen. Pierre’s situation is slightly different however, he has had the measure of his teammate whereas Daniil did not, there are also no Red Bull drivers on the horizon that could threaten Pierre if he doesnt perform to Helmut Marko’s standards. His edge perhaps is that he also has experience with  Honda engines; of which Red Bull will be using next season.

Pierre is having a stunning first full season in F1 with a career best 4th in Bahrain where he looked to be on fine form, consistently in the top ten in all practice sessions, qualified 6th and led the midfield all the way to the chequered flag. Further impressive performances in Monaco and Hungary mean that Pierre currently sits 13th in the drivers championship with 28 points compared with his teammates 2. His performances this season have impressed the entire paddock, particularly that of Christian Horner.

“His stellar performances this year at the Honda-powered team, in only his first full season in Formula One, have only enhanced his reputation as one of the most exciting young drivers in motorsport and we look forward to Pierre bringing his speed, skill and attitude to the Team in 2019.”

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Pierre celebrating 4th in the Bahrain Grand Prix (Copyright: Toro Rosso)

What’s also on his side is his positive attitude towards Honda, perhaps the anthesis of Fernando Alonso in the world of Honda relationships, he gets on well with the team and has a very mature attitude towards their development. This will be critical when making the move to Red Bull as his experience and relationship with Honda will make Milton Keynes based team’s transition even more seamless.

He does however have a monumental challenge; Max Verstappen. Red Bull is starting to centre around Max and with the ability he possesses it will be hard for Pierre to get on top of him, despite being two years younger than Pierre; Max has 3 years more experience and has already chalked up four race wins. Pierre is inexperienced and will no doubt need some time to acclimatise to Red Bull and the front of the F1 field but Pierre has a lot of potential and could be the perfect fit for Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

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Max Verstappen took his 4th career victory at Red Bull’s home race. (Copyright: Red Bull)

Pierre’s greatest risk however is to become a number 2 at Red Bull and leave himself open in the future to be replaced by Red Bull’s latest young star. If the car is capable he must win races next season and regularly contest for podiums, Helmut Marko is a tough cookie and has high expectations of his drivers, he is not afraid to drop a driver at any time. There have been many drivers enter the Red Bull stable and it hasn’t always worked out, look at Daniil Kvyat as the first example, at Red Bull you can fall as quickly as you can rise and you cannot afford to underperform.

What we have seen this season is a driver who rarely makes mistakes and has a great level of speed and maturity which will help him go far, we will need to see more consistency from him but we could be looking at Frances next world champion.

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Pierre and Max will be teammates from 2019. (Copyright: Red Bull)

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