With Formula One currently on ‘summer break’, teams and drivers have the chance to relax, recharge, take stock of the season so far, and figure out how to come back stronger after the unofficial halftime of the 2018 season.
A clearer picture is starting to emerge between this season’s team-mates; which drivers are currently winning their battles, which ones are fighting back from a poor start to the season, and how do these outcomes compare to start of the season predictions?
Leading Driver: Magnussen
Six races ago, Romain Grosjean was a man under serious pressure. He was without a point and had lost big points-scoring opportunities at Baku and Barcelona, whilst team-mate Kevin Magunssen was, rightly so, receiving all the plaudits.
His form has improved since Monaco, but remains patchy. He’s demonstrated that there is little wrong with his pace; he was the lead car in Haas’ best-ever result of fourth and fifth place at the Austrian Grand Prix, but incidents at the British Grand Prix and qualifying for the French Grand Prix have prevented him from taking what should’ve been more points.
Over the last six races, Magnussen has led the qualifying battle 4-2, although Grosjean was unable to participate in the Canadian Grand Prix qualifying session due to technical problems. Points-wise, Magnussen leads that contest by 26 points to 21.
Overall, the duel between them is much closer, but Grosjean still has work to do if he’s to prove that he can have the consistency required to be kept on by the team for 2019.
As a Ferrari customer team, Haas may have the option of using a Ferrari junior driver (Charles Leclerc or Antonio Giovinazzi) for the second seat alongside Magnussen.
Leading Driver: Hulkenberg
At the start of the season, many thought that Renault would be the perfect opportunity for Carlos Sainz to break away from the Red Bull stable – although still technically on loan – and flourish in a works team in order to give himself the best chance of being at the sharp end of the grid.
However, Nico Hulkenberg – who has already been at Renault for one season – has kept the highly-regarded Sainz quiet this year, and the Spanish driver already appears to be considering his options away from Renault, to either be called back replace Ricciardo at Red Bull, or even leave the Red Bull family altogether.
Hulkenberg generally had the upper hand in the first six races, but Sainz’s recovery has started by levelling up the qualifying battle, which is 3-3 over the last six races, although Hulkenberg’s Q2 exit in the wet Hungary qualifying – where Sainz shone – was blamed on a fuel system issue, which meant he was late onto a worsening track.
The race performances still favour Hulkenberg, though. The pair have one race retirement each; where Hulkenberg retired early from the Austrian Grand Prix, and Sainz was taken out by Grosjean in the British Grand Prix. However, Hulkenberg was ahead in both races.
Sainz can claim to have definitely beaten his team-mate in two races; the French Grand Prix and the Hungarian Grand Prix, whilst Hulkenberg was the victor in Canada and Germany. The points over the six races are 26 to 10 in Hulkenberg’s favour.
Red Bull Racing
Leading Driver: Tied – but Verstappen in the ascendancy
How things can change in six races. Ricciardo, fresh from his second win of the season at Monaco, looked to be the most coveted driver on the grid, and there were murmurs about whether he would leave Red Bull for a team more likely to give him a chance at fighting for a championship straight away; Mercedes or Ferrari.
Now, with Mercedes all signed up and Ferrari looking to partner either Kimi Raikkonen or Charles Leclerc alongside Sebastian Vettel, Ricciardo has opted to move to Renault in order to establish himself as the lead driver at a ‘works’ team.
In the meantime, he has to do something about the resurgent Max Verstappen, who has upped his consistency, taken a race win in Austria and – mostly – kept his nose clean in the last six events.
The recent qualifying battle is 6-0 to Verstappen, although this includes two race weekends of poor fortune for Ricciardo; Red Bull, sensibly, didn’t run a complete qualifying session in Germany after the Australian was given a 20-place grid penalty for power unit component changes, and he was caught out by yellow flags in Q2 for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Red Bulls have had two mechanical-related DNFs each; Ricciardo was eliminated from the Austrian and German Grands Prix, whilst Verstappen went out of the British and Hungarian Grands Prix.
Despite the side notes that you can put next to Ricciardo’s name at some of the races, the form doesn’t make for great reading. Even if you discount the races where he was set back by qualifying dramas, it’s still 4-0 to Verstappen, who has now reversed his early-season form and is now looking like the stronger driver. Can Ricciardo fight back after the summer break?