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F1 2018 mid-season report: 9 things we've learnt this year

Published: 30 July 2018

► A look at the first half of 2018
► The winners and losers
► What can we predict going forward? 

Yesterday’s Hungarian GP wasn’t a thriller – but it wasn’t the dull procession we’re used to from the Budapest-based circuit, either. Friday’s form predicted a rather safe Ferrari one-two, but a wet qualifying meant that it was the silver arrows, not scuderia, that started on pole. After that, the race was pretty uneventful – minus some unusually aggressive driving from Valtteri Bottas.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look back at the first half of the 2018 championship as a whole, rather than the just the Hungarian race. Keep reading to find out what we’ve learnt from this year’s F1 championship.

1) It’s the closest season in ages

One thing’s for sure; 2018 is the season we’ve wanted ever since the hybrid rules began. Rather than an intra-team battle between Mercedes drivers, 2018 is delivering the classic Mercedes vs Ferrari narrative we’ve been waiting for. It threatened to happen in 2016, we came close to it last year, but in 2018 Ferrari really are the favourites for the championship right now.

2) The Mercedes ISN’T the fastest car

Last year, the Mercedes was tough to set up, but clearly the faster car – and later on in the season it had a decent pace advantage against its rivals. This year started off with both the red and silver cars on equal footing, and since Canada the Ferrari has been the faster package. Is it aero trickery, ERS manipulation or software magic? Probably all three, but it’s seriously benefitting Ferrari-engined cars, whatever it is.

Ferrari’s new found straightline speed, combined with its marginally better handling has made it favourite at tracks like Silverstone as well as Hungary. Mercedes has a fight on its hands.

3) Red Bull fading

Red Bull used to be a team that could challenge for race victories week in, week out but now we seem them as a team that a) clears up when Mercedes and Ferrari have a bad day, or b) wins on the twistiest tracks like Monaco where power doesn’t matter. Either way, that’s a far cry from the legitimate championship challengers we thought they could be this year.

Part of the problem has been down to the team’s Renault engines, and that issue was particularly obvious in Hungary. Daniel Ricciardo started from the back of the grid after having to replace elements of his PU, while Max Verstappen didn’t even finish the race – once again due to an engine problem. You can see why Red Bull is moving to Honda power units from next year. And you can also see why Daniel Ricciardo has taken his time in resigning with the team.

4) Missed opportunities

2018 is only half through, but it’s already a season of what might’ve been, as all three top teams have thrown away race wins and serious points – or had them taken away at the last minute. In the first race of the season, Mercedes couldn’t convert a pole position to a win, while at Hungary this weekend Ferrari couldn’t get the one-two its car was clearly capable of. And then there’s Vettel’s huge mistake in Germany, and Hamilton’s possible lost win at Silverstone.

Even without the DNFs and small mistakes, which we’ll get to later, it seems as though both teams can’t really convert a pace advantage when they do have one.

The same can be said of the midfield battle. Despite having the fastest car in the pack for much of the season, Haas has failed to convert its speed to points, with the Renault team now best of the rest.

5) Bottas

Last year Valtteri was clearly overshadowed by his teammate, but this year he’s been much closer to Lewis Hamilton, and even beaten him on occasion. When Hamilton hasn’t been that satisfied with the car, Bottas has been able to drag it to a slightly higher position – an ability you’d usually associate with the Englishman.

In the first third of the year, Bottas has arguably been more consistent, with possible wins at Baku and China not happening due to various reasons. Minus those with technical issues, team orders in Germany and tyre issues in Silverstone, and Bottas could be leading the championship right now. However, he now looks to be Hamilton’s best weapon against the threat of Ferrari.

Was he always on a rear-gunner strategy in Hungary, Silverstone and Germany, or was he given the best chance to win? We’re not sure, but during the race in Hungary at least, he seems to have lacked pace compared to his team mate.

6) Small mistakes

Last season started very much like this year’s, but after the mid-point Ferrari’s challenge faltered while Mercedes’ stayed consistent. This year, both teams have already made serious errors; Vettel’s off in Germany gave Hamilton the championship lead, and Mercedes’ strategy errors and double DNF in Austria was also critical to the championship.

If last year’s anything to go by, the championship will be decided on who can minimise those terrible weekends, and keep their car on the podium even on a bad day. Vettel and Ferrari need to avoid the self-destructive second half to a season they had in Singapore and Malaysia in 2017. With the championship so finely balanced, any mistake on either side would be championship-deciding.

7) Is Raikkonen finished?

Is this Kimi’s last year in Formula One, or perhaps with Ferrari? Throughout the first half of the year, Raikkonen has rarely been able to challenge his team mate or the Mercedes cars – and when he has – something has prevented him being on pole, or getting the win. While he’s still clearly competitive, and a factor in the races, Kimi doesn’t seem to be able to be a legitimate contender. In Hungary for example, Vettel was able to drive around him – and he never threatened his team mate after that. It’s true that he’s now subject to team orders, but that’s partly because of his weak first half of 2018.

8) LeClerc and Gasly shine

This year’s set of rookies are proving themselves on a weekly basis. Charles LeClerc has achieved three tenth places and a sixth place this year (although Hungary’s early retirement wasn’t exactly his finest hour), while Gasly has bagged a fourth, seventh and sixth. When you consider the cars they’re in, that’s pretty impressive.

Further up the grid, Verstappen – still one of the youngest drivers on the grid – has recovered from a rocky start to the year with some significantly more mature drives.

9) Williams and McLaren fall back

It’s been a year to forget for the British privateers, with both McLaren and Williams falling back compared to last year. Despite a new engine and a double-world champion, McLaren have got worse this year, with the team admitting this year’s car has less downforce than 2017’s. Eric Boullier is out and James Key may be in, but it’ll be awhile before McLaren are anywhere near the top.

In the same way, Williams has also suffered in 2018 – despite the arrival of ex-McLaren and ex-Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe. The car has been unstable since the beginning of the year, but a rear-wing update in Silverstone took things to a new level – with both cars flying off the track due to an aerodynamic flaw. The Williams looked better in Hungary, but with four points, the Grove-based team are in the midst of their worst season in a long time.

F1 2018: season guide and race calendar

Round Event Location and date
1 Australian Grand Prix
Melbourne, 23-25 March
2 Bahrain Grand Prix
Sakhir, 6-8 April
3 Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai, 13-15 April
4 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Baku, 27-29 April
5 Spanish Grand Prix
Barcelona, 11-13 May
6 Monaco Grand Prix
Monte Carlo, 24, 26-27 May
7 Canadian Grand Prix
Montreal, 8-10 June
8 French Grand Prix
Le Castellet, 22-24 June
9 Austrian Grand Prix
Spielberg, 29 June-1 July
10 British Grand Prix
Silverstone, 6-8 July
11 German Grand Prix
Hockenheim, 20-22 July
12 Hungarian Grand Prix
Budapest, 27-29 July
13 Belgian Grand Prix
Spa-Francorchamps, 24-26 August
14 Italian Grand Prix
Monza, 31 August-2 September
15 Singapore Grand Prix
Marina Bay, 14-16 September
16 Russian Grand Prix
Sochi, 28-30 September
17 Japanese Grand Prix
Suzuka, 5-7 October
18 United States Grand Prix
Austin, 19-21 October*
19 Mexican Grand Prix
Mexico City, 26-28 October
20 Brazilian Grand Prix
Sao Paulo, 9-11 November
21 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Yas Marina, 23-25 November

F1 2018 background: the rule changes

This year’s cars look the same as last year’s with the caveat of two small changes: shark fins (the large boards attached to the car’s engine covers) are gone for this year, and the controversial new Halo system will be installed to every racer in 2018, too.

The engine rules aren’t that different to last year’s with the only difference being the amount of engines the teams can use throughout the season. Last year, drivers had an allocation of four power units each per season, and now that’s been reduced to just three.

It’s a move that was originally designed to save money, but according to Mercedes’ engine boss Andy Cowell, it’s meant the development of an all-new engine, and the construction of up to 100 possible test units.

‘It's crazy,' Cowell told Italy's Corriere dello Sport, 'because the manufacturers will have to virtually redo many parts. We will build at least 80 to 100 engines and then test them on the bench and take the three or four that have the best reliability and power characteristics. That's a huge cost that the manufacturers will not be able to recover.’

What you need to know about the new 2018 Halo in F1

Brought in to reduce the risk of head injuries after incidents involving Jules Bianchi and before that, Felippe Massa, the Halo device is essentially a metal ring that floats above the driver’s head – hopefully protecting them from flying debris after an impact.

Although it’s not been favoured by fans, teams or drivers, the FIA forced the new safety system through late last year, and that means it’ll be present on every car on the grid from the first race of 2018. 

However, despite F1 shooting for a new, fan-friendly image, it’s actually revealed nothing about what the Halo is, how it works and the rules and challenges around it. Instead, Mercedes and its new technical director James Allison have explained everything you need to know about the new Halo system.

According to Allison, the relatively late decision to include the system in 2018 has resulted in a serious challenge for teams, with the weight of the titanium device proving to be an issue. Teams have also had to strengthen the chassis of the car to make sure the Halo can withstand the weight of a double-decker bus.

Finally, Allison explains that the Halo can be modified for aero reasons, with each team using a fairing to reduce the wake of the device, and hopefully stop it interfering with the aero surfaces on the rest of the car – as well as the engine air intake.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast