“I need more power” – quite an admission from a driver who has been at the wheel of Formula 1’s most complete package for the entirety of this era.
Since the dawn of the V6 hybrids in 2014, Mercedes has blown away the opposition and claimed four consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Last season, Ferrari mounted the biggest challenge to the Silver Arrows’ supremacy, only to run out of steam at the end of the season.
However, this year looks set to be different and after the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, Mercedes has found itself in rather uncharted territory.
Scorching temperatures were matched by red-hot track action at Silverstone, as the 2018 British Grand Prix delivered the race in which the 2018 title fight was truly ignited.
Sure, this was round 10 of the season and chief title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had already exchanged top spot in the drivers’ championship on three occasions in 2018.
However, the billed ‘Fight for Five’ – in which four-time champions Vettel and Hamilton would fight each other in a duel to secure a fifth crown – had somewhat been lost in other storylines. Valtteri Bottas has starred, only to be hampered by misfortune. Red Bull has won three races with it’s strongest package since 2013.
These distractions dissolved at Silverstone, replaced by what felt like the first gloves off duel between Vettel and Hamilton. It highlighted and potentially foreshadowed some of the themes that will define the outcome of the championship.
When watching Formula 1 races, I steer clear of Twitter. It’s for the same reason as for why it’s best to avoid reviews of a film before watching it for the first time – it’s better not to have someone else’s opinion impeding on your own impressions.
My first reaction when the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon – ‘what a brilliant race.’ Safe to say, it was rather surprising to see that the Twitter machine had fired into a frenzy to the contrary, with fans lamenting what they believed to have been a boring race.
Even Fernando Alonso powerfully described it as “the most boring F1 race ever.”
While the top six may have finished in the same positions that they started and overtaking was at a premium, the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix was far better than the critics would lead you to believe.
The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a modern classic. It had elements of soap opera, late-braking bravery, inter and intra-team anguish and plenty of unexpected heroes. The ’18 edition of the race was, as a result, in danger of being over-hyped.
In the end, the race lived up to the blockbuster billing with a finale that would have earned a ‘fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
“We were a little bit lucky today,” said Sebastian Vettel after having grabbed victory in the opening round of the 2018 Formula 1 season. Buying a lottery ticket on the way home might not be the best option for him – lightning doesn’t strike twice.
When Romain Grosjean’s Haas crawled to a stop on the exit of Turn 2, Vettel suddenly stole a race defining advantage. As the only front-runner yet to make his pitstop, Vettel dived into the pitlane under the subsequent virtual safety car conditions.
Long-time race-leader Hamilton, who had stopped during the green flag running, could do nothing at that moment to stop Vettel emerging from the pits ahead and in the lead of the race. With Albert Park being the second hardest track on the F1 calendar at which to overtake, it was game, set and match to Ferrari in that race-defining moment.
Had it not been for the deployment of the VSC, Vettel would have finished second at best. Luck played a key role but was not the only factor propelling Vettel to victory.
Ferrari has endured a nightmare September. After being trounced by Mercedes at Monza, the first-lap clash in Singapore between Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, marked the first time in Formula 1 history that both Ferrari’s have been eliminated from a Grand Prix on the opening lap.
In Malaysia, the Scuderia seemed to be out of the woods. Friday saw Vettel and Raikkonen top the timesheets, while also posting impressive times during long runs. It seemed certain that Vettel would seize pole position and reduce his points arrears with a win on Sunday. A turbo fault in FP3 before power unit gremlins in qualifying served to derail his weekend by condemning him to the back of the grid.
In the meantime, victories in Italy and Singapore – followed by a second place finish in Malaysia – have allowed Lewis Hamilton to steal a march towards the 2017 drivers’ championship title. He now leads Vettel by 34 points with a maximum 125 points still up for grabs.
September has been bleak for Ferrari. However, positives have emerged from the gloom and Vettel can still enter the final five races with an air of optimism regarding his title aspirations.
The Singapore Grand Prix has a habit of injecting fresh jeopardy into a title battle. Be it Felipe Massa driving off with his fuel hose still attached during Formula 1’s first-ever night race in 2008 – or Nico Rosberg’s faulty wiring loom that led to terminal clutch issues in 2016 – Singapore has the potential to turn a championship fight on its head.
Should 2017 championship leader Lewis Hamilton be crowned a four-time world champion in November, Sebastian Vettel’s dramatic first-lap elimination in Singapore will be looked upon as a season-defining moment.
Now trailing Hamilton by 28-points with just six races remaining, Vettel unquestionably finds himself hugely compromised. However, this is a title battle that is still far from declaring a winner.