Top 10 Driving Moments of the 2018 Formula 1 Season
The 2018 Formula 1 season won’t be soon forgotten. Its fierce fight for the championship early in the season saw the lead change hands between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton five times in just eight Grands Prix. Admittedly, the season won’t be remembered for the way the title contest ran after that; Hamilton’s points buffer to Vettel remained almost static after the Italian Grand Prix. But a handful of standout moments will be relived time and time again by fans seeking out the best performances of their favorite drivers or teams—or even simply the best races, regardless of who won.
For this list, we at The Drive have picked out 10 of the best driving moments and performances from across the season, from both qualifying and the Grands Prix themselves. Some moments behind the wheel produced memorable results, but were unspectacular in their achievement for one reason or another—Fernando Alonso’s Australian Grand Prix comes to mind. Consider said drive an honorable mention, along with Charles Leclerc’s performances in Azerbaijan and Russia and Kimi Räikkönen’s pole lap in Italy and race win in Texas. But the 10 examples below will stand the test of time as evidence of why we cared about F1 during the 2018 season.
10: Lewis Hamilton, Pole in Australia
Back in the saddle after a long winter, Lewis Hamilton proved that the tenacity he showed in 2017 wasn’t a one-off. His Q3 lap was almost seven-tenths faster than his nearest challenger, and though Valtteri Bottas would’ve been close if not for his crash in the same session, it’s impossible to say just how close.
Hamilton failed to convert the pole into a win after a virtual safety car allowed Ferrari to maneuver Vettel into the race lead, but Hamilton’s pace in Australia was unquestionable, and he maintained his form for the next 20 Grands Prix to take a well-earned fifth title.
9: Pierre Gasly, P4 in Bahrain Grand Prix
After coming off a miserable Australian Grand Prix weekend where he qualified last (and then failed to finish), Pierre Gasly turned his luck on its head by qualifying P6 in Bahrain. The Toro Rosso driver still saw red even after the lights changed to signal the start of the race, jousting bravely with Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull on the opening lap. Though Gasly succumbed to the Red Bull car’s superior pace, his fighting spirit was not quashed.
Aided by the retirement of both Red Bulls and one Ferrari (when a horrific pit mishap broke a mechanic’s leg), Gasly finished fourth, almost 13 seconds ahead of closest challenger Kevin Magnussen. His result was—and still is—the best of any Honda-powered car in the V-6 era, and Gasly poured salt in McLaren’s wounds by poking fun at Fernando Alonso over the radio after the race.
8: Max Verstappen, Win in Austrian Grand Prix
Red Bull Racing competes under the Austrian flag, and the Red Bull Ring is the site of the Austrian Grand Prix. If any team has a home race, it’s Red Bull in Austria, but despite this, Red Bull had yet to win at home since the circuit’s reintroduction to the Formula 1 calendar in 2014.
Max Verstappen qualified an unremarkable fifth, but catapulted off the line and into the first corner to take position from Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas, next challenging Kimi Räikkönen. Bottas recovered to second in a matter of a few corners, but Verstappen clawed back third with a ballsy overtake into turn five—an unfavorable spot to pass—forcing Kimi wide and snagging third place.
The Dutchman benefitted when Bottas’s transmission crapped out on lap 14, and again when Mercedes botched Hamilton’s strategy by not pitting him during the resulting virtual safety car. When Hamilton at last stopped on lap 25, Verstappen took a lead which he would never relinquish, winning Red Bull its first home turf Grand Prix in front of tens of thousands of nomadic Dutch fans.
7: Sergio Perez, P3 in Azerbaijan Grand Prix
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was, for the second year in a row, what many might call “a shit show.” Its split of long straights and narrow, technical sectors encourages large pace deltas between cars of differing strengths across sectors, and its numerous square corners entice bold overtaking moves. Narrow confines mean contact is a constant risk—and Sergio Perez learned this the hard way when he damaged his front wing on Kimi Räikkönen’s car, forcing a stop for a wing change during a safety car break resulting from the amateur-hour first lap.
Race stewards slapped the Mexican driver with a five-second time penalty for the crash, which he served later, but it didn’t stop the ever-opportunistic Checo from fighting his way back up the order. When the Red Bull cars ran into each other, triggering the safety car, Perez quickly swapped his tires for super softs, which gave him pace to worry the frontrunners in the race’s closing laps.
Perez was running in fifth when the safety car bowed out, and when Sebastian Vettel flat-spotted his tires with a botched lunge up the inside of both Mercedes, the German made himself prey for Perez. While Checo chased down Vettel, race leader Bottas hit a hunk of debris, bursting his tire. In a matter of seconds, Perez vaulted his way into third, where he stayed until the checkered flag waved.
His podium finish in Baku was the only one by a team other than Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes in 2018. Though he needed lots of luck and a couple safety cars to attain this result, his performance was far from without merit.
6: Lewis Hamilton, Pole in Singapore
Singapore has historically been one of Sebastian Vettel’s best tracks, but his Ferrari SF71H wasn’t cooperating with setup changes this year, and the pole was expected to fall into Mercedes’s hands. That doesn’t detract from the absolute monster of a lap Lewis laid down, which team principal Toto Wolff described as “the most epic lap I’ve ever seen around here.”
5: Daniel Ricciardo, Win in Monaco Grand Prix
Daniel Ricciardo plopped himself on pole in Monaco back in 2016, leading the race without difficulty—until his unready team botched a pit stop by not readying tires, giving the race lead to Mercedes. Ricciardo clambered back onto pole in 2018, ready to take the Monaco win he was denied in 2016, and it again looked certain that Ricciardo would win in Monaco.
Then, on lap 28, Ricciardo radioed to his pit wall to report he was “losing power,” which turned out to be an MGU-K failure costing 160 horsepower. This, combined with his Renault engine’s reported peak power deficit of 50 hp to that of the pursuing Ferrari of Vettel, meant that Ricciardo was now down an estimated 210 horses on his closest rival. To add insult to injury, Ricciardo’s transmission was giving him only six of its eight gears, meaning Ricciardo’s sick bull had to last another 50 laps in what seemed to be constantly deteriorating health.
But tire temperature problems plagued the field, and every time Vettel closed on Ricciardo down the pit straight, the Australian eked out another few tenths in Monaco’s winding corners, keeping himself out of DRS range. Despite his handicap, Ricciardo stood atop the podium when the checkered flag flew. This would be Ricciardo’s last podium appearance for Red Bull (he’ll drive for Renault in 2019), and the first race Ricciardo has won from a starting position inside the top three.
4: Sebastian Vettel, Win in Bahrain Grand Prix
Pole to race win isn’t always as simple a story as it sounds. Vettel qualified P1 and got a stellar start, embarking on what Ferrari planned to be a two-stop strategy. Mercedes jeopardized Ferrari’s plans by choosing one-stop strategies that would give it track position in the closing stages of the race after Ferrari’s second stop—but the shit wasn’t done hitting the fan yet. Kimi Räikkönen’s pit stop went awry, resulting in a broken leg for a mechanic and chaos in the Ferrari garage. This forced the team to radio Vettel a request he bitteschön turn his already-in-motion two-stop strategy into a one-stop affair.
This request was utter nonsense; Vettel had already asked everything of his soft tires by having to fight his way past Lewis Hamilton on lap 26. But without another option, Vettel had to keep driving on tires whose condition was worsening each lap, and take said softs 30 percent further than Pirelli predicted they could go.
Driving on fresher, faster tires, Bottas closed in on the German in the closing stages of the race, even coming within DRS range of the leader, but never quite lining up a successful pass attempt. Vettel tiptoed to the finish line on tires that were more cooked than a well-done steak, and celebrated his achievement with a trademark burst of exuberant Italian over team radio.
3: Lewis Hamilton, Pole in Hungary
Weather and track conditions during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix were as predictable as a game of high-stakes poker. At varying points throughout the hour, ultra softs, intermediates, and full wets each had their moments of glory, with Q3 ultimately belonging to the latter. Dry conditions in practice suggested the weekend to be in Ferrari’s bag, but Hamilton’s wet-weather driving dictated otherwise, stitching together a terrific pole lap more than a quarter of a second faster than his teammate—and more than a half-second quicker than the nearest Ferrari.
2: Daniel Ricciardo, Win in Chinese Grand Prix
Daniel Ricciardo’s Chinese Grand Prix weekend got off to a terrible start. His turbo blew in Saturday’s final practice session, which his garage barely had time to fix before the start of qualifying. Red Bull fired up his RB14 with seconds to spare, and Ricciardo had barely enough time to fight his way into Q2 and Q3, where he qualified an unimpressive sixth.
Come Sunday, Red Bull threw an early-race wrench into its competitors’ plans by switching both its drivers to medium tires—on which they were expected to finish—with a high-risk, double-stacked stop. Mercedes reacted, then Ferrari, negating Red Bull’s advantage—but Pandora’s box cracked open on lap 30 when the two Toro Rosso drivers collided. Stewards called on the safety car to enable cleanup, and Red Bull performed a second double-stacked stop, this time to put its cars on the soft tire, making the Red Bulls the fastest cars on track by a considerable margin.
Ricciardo and Verstappen pounced on the leading cars, taking Räikkönen and Hamilton in a matter of laps, but Verstappen knocked both himself and Vettel out of contention with a failed overtake. Only Bottas stood in the way of Ricciardo, and with a daring lunge under braking, Ricciardo dispatched the Finn to take the race lead. It was Ricciardo’s sixth Grand Prix win, all of which, up to that point, he’d achieved from starts outside the top three.
1: Lewis Hamilton, Win in German Grand Prix
Dramatic in its entirety, the German Grand Prix weekend saw Hamilton drop out of Q1 with hydraulic issues and Vettel take pole. Anyone in their right mind would have put money on Vettel cruising to an easy win, but the clouds had other ideas.
Hamilton fought from P14 on his set of soft tires while wishy-washy weather meant that no team was sure when rain would come, if at all. Strategies were improvised on the fly as teams gambled on weather changes, and at one point, every available tire was in use on the track, courtesy of an enterprising (but fruitless) stint by Gasly on a set of full wets.
Mercedes also anticipated a change to wet-weather tires at some point, but never pulled the trigger, forcing the Brit to tend to his soft tires for 43 laps against Pirelli’s warranty of 35. After a long-awaited switch to ultra softs, Hamilton set three consecutive fastest laps while climbing the insurmountable obstacle that was Vettel’s lead—then Vettel crashed on lap 52, forcing a safety car to intervene, under which Bottas and Räikkönen would pit. This gave Hamilton the race lead, but the problem of faster competitors directly on his six.
Upon the race’s restart, Räikkönen failed to take position from Bottas, who looked ready to challenge Hamilton for the lead until orders from on high demanded that Valtteri stand down to preserve a surefire Mercedes one-two in Germany. Bottas complied, and Hamilton took the first win from a start outside the top six of his career.
Though his result was effectively secured by team orders, Hamilton’s drive ticked all the boxes for a heroic performance. The title lead was at stake, conditions were iffy, and he had an entire field to pass—but despite it all, he won, even collecting the fastest lap along the way. Germany 2018 won’t be forgotten any time soon, and is without a doubt one of the best Grands Prix of the V-6 era.
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