Fourteen races have gone quickly in the 2018 Formula 1 season. Scuderia Ferrari‘s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport’s Lewis Hamilton are engaged in a new battle for the World Drivers’ Championship (WDC). The German and the English driver are in a hard-fought duel to become only the third driver in Formula 1 history with at least five championships, after Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio.
Comparison Between The 2017 and 2018 WDC Title Fight
Last season (2017) Vettel and Hamilton fought for the top spot for most of the races. The British driver sealed his fourth Formula 1 title in the second part of the season. Hamilton’s point-tally was 363 against Vettel’s 317. Hamilton won nine races in the year, while the Ferrari driver took the top step of the podium five times. But Vettel won only two of the last ten races after winning three of the first six.
The battle did not go down to the wire, as Hamilton sealed his championship with two races left. But the encounter between two large brands and two multiple champions gave Formula 1 fans great entertainment in 2017.
The 2018 season has started out in the same way as the previous season. Vettel snatched victory from Hamilton’s hands in the first race at the Australian GP in Melbourne. That race was a starting point for a new fight for a shot at the championship in 2018.
Let’s take a look into the two main differences between the 2017 and 2018 F1 seasons. Let’s try to find answers as to why the current championship seems to be headed towards Brackley after fourteen GPs and not so much in Maranello’s direction.
Hamilton’s improved first half of the season
Since 2016, it was normal for Lewis Hamilton not to be at his best level in the first part of the season (although his level was still higher than most drivers on the grid). 2017 did not see a particularly fast and consistent Hamilton in the early stages.
The Briton grabbed pole position at Melbourne, as usual (he has seven poles at the Australian GP), and had some strong performances in China, Spain, Canada, and Silverstone, where he took solid victories. But the Englishman seemed to have some off days, especially at the Russian GP and during the Monaco GP qualifying, where he couldn’t find the pace.
Bad luck hit him too, after failing to clinch a secure win at Baku due to an unusual issue with a loose head-rest in his car.
2018 was an entirely different story for Hamilton in the first half of the season. Hamilton reached four wins, six poles, eight podiums, and 188 points after the eleven-race first half of 2017. In 2018, the British driver scored five wins, five poles, nine podiums, and 213 points in the twelve-race first part of the calendar.
As far as results go, it was not much of a difference for Hamilton, but in 2018 he has been more consistent. In 2017 he finished one race out of the top five with a seventh place at Monaco and did not have mechanical failures. In 2018, Hamilton has not completed a Grand Prix outside of the top 5, and his point-tally has not increased due to his retirement at the Austrian GP due to mechanical failures.
Vettel’s consistency has dropped compared to last year
Vettel’s 2018 has not been close to flawless like the beginning of the 2017 campaign. The German committed two mistakes in the first fourteen races of 2017: crashing into Hamilton’s Mercedes at Baku and his involvement in the first-lap carnage at Singapore, which cost him more than his previous blunder.
Vettel has been erratic in 2018 so far. His series of mistakes started in the same place as last year. The German out-braked himself at turn one at Baku in an attempt to take the lead from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas hands and ended up losing two places. At the French GP, he crashed into Bottas at the start of the race and managed to finish only fifth after starting the race in third place.
Vettel recovered and put up a good performances with a podium at the Austrian GP and a victory at the British GP, where he mocked Hamilton after beating him at his home Grand Prix. Vettel looked in control again, but the rain came in Germany, and he crashed on lap 51 after leading most of the race while Hamilton won from 14th on the grid. At the Hungarian GP, Ferrari dominated the weekend when the track was dry. A rain shower in Q3 pushed Vettel back to fourth place, and he just managed to be second behind Hamilton in the race.
Second half redemption?
Vettel took a convincing victory at the Belgian GP and seemed to be in control for the second half of the season. The German did not have a great week after a small crash in a demo event at Milan. His weekend at the Italian Grand Prix was not significantly good in the early stages, especially after teammate Kimi Raikkonen took Pole Position on Saturday, but things got worse on Sunday.
Hamilton started the race behind Vettel and made a move around the outside at turn four as the German covered the inside, but he clipped Hamilton’s car, which saw Vettel’s SF71-H spun around. The move compromised Vettel’s race, he finished fourth, but with Hamilton passing Raikkonen for the victory, Vettel’s weekend was nowhere near perfect.
The German’s first half in 2017 included four wins, eight podiums, three poles and 202 points (championship leader after the first half). In 2018, things got tougher for Vettel, albeit with a better car. In the first half of the current campaign, Vettel has four wins, seven podiums, and five pole positions, but he has scored 189 points (13 fewer than the previous year, and with one more GP than 2017’s first half).
The most significant difference is regarding top-four finishes. In 2017, Vettel had finished just one race outside the top four, while in 2018 he has three, including his crash at Hockenheim.
The Last Word
Vettel’s incident with Hamilton at Italy is subject to many varied opinions among passionate Formula 1 fans. However, one thing is clear. Hamilton took the risk knowing Vettel had more to lose. That type of mindset is enormous when battling wheel-to-wheel for a Formula 1 championship.
The 2018 title fight is still wide open. Although Hamilton has a 30-point gap over the German, things are far from over. With the Ferrari car having a slight advantage over the Mercedes at the current stage, no one can write Vettel off. Vettel was able to overcome two similarly tricky seasons (2010 and 2012) to win his first and third championships with Red Bull Racing.
The statistical difference between the two seasons is undeniable. However, Ferrari now has a more significant advantage in performance compared to last year, when they arguably had the best car by a minimal gap.
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