With ten races gone in the 2018 Formula 1 season, Scuderia Ferrari is in charge. The Maranello-based squad leads both the drivers’ championship and the constructors’ championship. The Italian side leads the constructors’ title race with a 20-point gap over Mercedes. Also, Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers’ contest with 171 points, eight more than Lewis Hamilton‘s tally of 163.
Two questions come to mind after ten races.
Is Ferrari stronger than Mercedes? Or has the German team been unlucky?
Well, both premises can be true. Ferrari has deployed remarkable performances in many tracks where Mercedes dominated with ease in the past few years (Silverstone, for example).
Although Ferrari has had its genuinely brilliant races, on the other hand, Mercedes could not catch some breaks during the year, especially with Valtteri Bottas. In addition, Mercedes’ has had consistent struggles with strategy from the pitwall and with reliability (double retirement in Austria due to mechanical failures). Incidents with Ferrari cars occurred in two of the last three races, which compromised Mercedes double-podium chances and took away points from Toto Wolff’s side.
In Australia, Mercedes’ weekend received the first blow with Bottas’s crash in Q3. Then, after Haas F1 team‘s woes, the strategy let down Hamilton as he lost his lead to Vettel under VSC conditions. This ultimately cost them the race-win.
Bahrain was Ferrari’s specific race to lose, despite some weird strategic calls from Mercedes, Vettel pretty much dominated and earned his win in Sakhir. Regarding hard luck, Vettel had it all in China, when his chances of fighting for a victory went up in smoke after Red Bull‘s Max Verstappen crashed into him.
Mercedes team did not perform well strategically in China either, and the victory went to Red Bull. Azerbaijan was unlucky too, for Vettel’s side. The German led the whole race until a Safety Car came out and he lost his track position. Ultimately, Bottas was in a position to win, but one of his tires exploded because of debris on the track.
With seven races gone in the calendar, Ferrari had three victories. Mercedes and Red Bull had two apiece. The first-ever Formula 1 triple-header seemed like an excellent chance for Mercedes car upgrades make the German team have an edge again.
France showed that to be true. Hamilton dominated the weekend, but Mercedes could not have a 1-2 nor a double-podium finish. Mostly thanks to Vettel taking Bottas out in the first corner. After qualifying 1-2 for the Austrian Grand Prix, Mercedes was on top again. With Bottas in P1 and Hamilton locking the front-row.
Hamilton took the lead in the first corner, while his teammate had a weak start but had it all covered after taking P2 in the first lap. Mercedes was running away from its rivals until Bottas retired with a gearbox failure and forced a VSC. Mercedes again dropped the ball under the VSC and did not call Hamilton into the pits. This helped its rivals to jump ahead of the English driver when he completed his pitstop, but things were about to get uglier.
Although Hamilton’s race wasn’t great, things got worse for the Stevenage-born driver. The then championship leader retired due to a fuel pressure issue and let Vettel retake the championship lead.
Battle at Silverstone
Silverstone is fresh in every F1 fan’s memory. Kimi Räikkönen‘s touch on Hamilton’s car was enough to make the Briton lose his winning streak at home (four victories in a row) and to generate a controversial fight between the two teams.
After Vettel crashed into Bottas in France and Räikkönen’s clip on Hamilton’s rear tire, the Mercedes team was annoyed with their Italian rivals. Toto Wolff quoted James Allison, Mercedes’ technical director, saying Ferrari’s crashes were either “deliberate or incompetence.”
Hamilton added fuel to the fire. Calling Ferrari’s crashes “interesting tactics,” although he admitted those comments were inappropriate and prompted by the heat of the moment.
Ferrari is the stronger team in the 2018 Formula 1 season. Mercedes had its share of bad luck; however, it would not be fair to blame only the intangibles for its situation. Mercedes is not doing an incredibly great job on the pitwall when complex race-situations present itself.
Ferrari has just one pole fewer than Mercedes, with luck not being involved in those situations. Double-podium finishes are on Ferrari’s side (3-2), but it really does not say much, because Mercedes should have had more. For instance, France was a perfect opportunity for the Silver Arrows for a 1-2 finish, as it was in Austria.
Although anyone can talk about missed opportunities and bad luck. Formula 1 has a tremendous history made out of bad luck and things that should have gone one way going in another direction.
The conclusion is that a great battle between two fantastic teams lies ahead. Bringing controversy into sport makes it even better, and the tension rises every weekend. This gives fans what they want: action, wheel to wheel fights and amazing drivers battling with heart and determination.
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