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: Vettel
A combination of qualifying errors, pit stop problems and mechanical issues prevented Kimi Raikkonen from being closer to his championship-challenging team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the first six races of the season.
His pace since then hasn’t been enough to challenge Vettel in qualifying, a battle he trails 5-1, but with no in-race reliability issues to contend with, he managed to take five podiums from six races, despite not winning a race.
The race record is three races apiece, with Vettel ahead on points (93 to 86) over the six races mostly thanks to his two victories at the Canadian and British Grands Prix, and despite his retirement from the German Grand Prix.
Raikkonen hasn’t been helped by the fact that he’s running the older-specification power unit, but updated Ferrari power units – due to be assigned to the Ferrari works team after the summer break – may help the Finn edge ahead in qualifying slightly more frequently than he has been doing.
It may not be long before Raikkonen is officially called on to play second fiddle to Vettel, but the target for Raikkonen must be to get himself into more positions where the ‘move over’ call has to be made, as opposed to being behind regardless.
Vettel, meanwhile, will be keen to avoid the mistakes which have beset his mid-season. Added to the error whilst in the lead of the German Grand Prix, he was to blame for the collision with Bottas at Paul Ricard, and he hampered his Austrian Grand Prix chances by receiving a penalty for blocking Renault’s Carlos Sainz in qualifying.
Leading Driver: Lance Stroll
The 2018 season has remained a difficult one for Williams – almost a complete write-off for them.
They’re at the foot of the standings and 14 points adrift of their nearest competitor (Sauber), who seem to have only become more competitive as the season has progressed, thanks to investment and technical support from Ferrari.
With the team having to go ‘back to the drawing board’ to undo the difficult characteristics of the car, it seems their only chances of taking anything other than tenth place in the constructors’ championship would be in a race of bizarre circumstances, preferably for them at a track with increased power unit importance, as was the case in Baku where Lance Stroll took P8, their only points of the year.
Over the last six races, their qualifying record is 3-3, albeit with Stroll progressing into Q2 twice, and and Sergey Sirotkin once.
In the races, things appear to have favoured Stroll, but it’s been difficult to have to many direct comparisons between the two drivers. Starting as far back as they do, they’re open to variables such as first lap incidents and split pit strategies.
Stroll was out of his home Grand Prix after a collision on lap one, in France he narrowly lead Sirotkin before his tyre failed in the closing stages of the race, and he finished ahead of Sirotkin in Austria, but the two had different tyre strategies.
Stroll again finished ahead in Silverstone after the two ran almost mirror-image strategies, and was ahead at Hockenheim before both cars pitted for intermediates and retired with mechanical troubles shortly after.
The Hungarian Grand Prix was already compromised by a pit lane start for Stroll. He gradually caught up to Sirotkin over the course of the race, but was unable to pass his Russian team-mate despite having faster, fresher tyres.
Things look very difficult for Williams going forward, with Martini set to leave at the end of the season and Stroll looking around at other opportunities including Force India.
Leading Driver: Leclerc
Whilst the battle at Sauber looked much closer at the start of the season, rookie driver Charles Leclerc has started to put real daylight between himself and Marcus Ericsson.
Leclerc has given Sauber their first Q3 appearance since the 2015 Austrian Grand Prix, a feat which he has now achieved three times this year, and led the team’s first double-points finish since the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix.
The qualifying battle since Monaco has been 5-1 to Leclerc, and the head-to-head only gets slightly easier for Ericsson, who can only really claim to have beaten his team-mate at the German Grand Prix, where his tyre calls in the adverse weather prevailed whilst Leclerc pirouetted at turn one.
The only question mark remains over Hungarian Grand Prix. Ericsson qualified ahead, but both got into tangles at turn one and probably would’ve only been battling for 13th at best.
Leclerc has really caught the eye this season and was being tipped for a move to Ferrari for 2019. That was before Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne suddenly passed away.
Raikkonen has strong support from team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and now it will be a case of whose voice carries the strongest in the new structure at Ferrari as to whether Leclerc gets a promotion or where Raikkonen will get to approach 40 as an F1 driver.