The 2018 racing season has come and gone like Jean Alesi entering the stadium at the old Hockenheimring in the ‘94 Ferrari V-12, blasting past the start finish line at 16,000 rpm and motoring off into the forest for another 1:45 lap. As we head into the dark days of winter, it’s time for a little reflection to make sense of this latest chapter of the motor racing saga.
So what did we learn?
First and foremost, we were reminded that Hamilton and Mercedes are just a little better than Vettel and Ferrari. I think it’s safe to say that Ferrari arrived in Melbourne in 2017 and 2018 with a slightly better package than Mercedes, but throughout the course of 21 races, Hamilton has been the more consistent operator and Mercedes has gained the edge in the development war. In fact, there is a trend here that Ferrari will need to address if the Scuderia intend to win another title. Namely, how they interpret the FIA imposed two week summer break. From the outside, it seems like Ferrari goes into the tank each year after the break while Mercedes discover their sweet spot. Can it be as simple as the Italian based team spending their two weeks bobbing in waves and sipping cocktails while Toto has a secret command center in a small barn in the German countryside where engineers are hard at work 24/7?
Check out these numbers- Through Hungary 2017 and 2018 combined points:
Post Hungary combined points:
To hammer this point home, Lewis has won 11 GP’s after the break to Vettel’s 2, while their pre-break totals are Lewis 9 wins to Vettel’s 8. This can’t all be down to the circuits in the second half of the season favoring the handling characteristics of the Mercedes over the Ferrari. There is something else at play here that needs to be examined in more detail. I’m not a sports psychologist, but I have a blog so that makes me qualified to offer my professional opinion on the psychological battle between our two championship protagonists.
Here then is the B.E.V Hot Take brought to you by Hanks’s CD’s and VHS Tapes: Life looks to be one big celebrity jet setting adventure for Lewis while Vettel appears to prefer the quiet life. Yet when they turn up to the track, it is Lewis who is better able to absorb the pressure and make the correct split second critical decisions that win races and championships. My advice for Vettel: Quit playing with your garden gnomes and get out to the nearest fashion shows and nightclubs. And while you are at it, get a few tats and date a pop star or two. Trust me, the weekend at the race track will feel like a pressure free relaxing getaway after all that chaos and you may quit spinning the car out every time you make a little contact.
The pursuit of the mythical Triple Crown is alive and well and Fernando Alonso is knocking at the door. To recap, winning the triple crown of racing involves winning Monaco, Indy and LeMans. Graham Hill is the only driver who has captured this impressive trio to date. After seeing the way Alonso adapted to driving at the speedway in 2017, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him join Mr Hill in the Triple Crown Club someday in the near future, but winning Indy involves a lot of luck. Case in point, Mario and Michael Andretti only have 1 win in a combined 45 attempts at the brickyard.
Contemplating Alonso’s run at the triple crown and his recent test in the #48 Cup car has me thinking about a few recent drivers with cool well rounded resumes. We know about the legendary exploits of Mario, AJ, Gurney, Clark and Stewart, who participated in a period when the drivers were men and they would race anything with four wheels and an engine, but here are a few of my favorite modern day all rounders:
Juan Pablo Montoya: F3000 champ, CART champ, Indy 500 Champ, Monaco winner, NASCAR Cup winner, Daytona 24hr winner. He may be missing the LeMans win, but when you add in a Nascar Cup win, that puts JPM in the Mario-Gurney class. Shoot this guy was/is so good he tied Dixon for the 2015 Indycar championship and would have won it if not for the silly double points season finale at Sears Point.
Jacques Villeneuve: CART champ, Indy 500 champ, F1 champ, LeMans runner-up, pole sitter and podium finisher in NASCAR nationwide series, made starts in just about every other series under the sun including Nascar Cup, Aussie V8 Supercar, FE, World Rallycross, etc. Love him or hate him, a young Jacques was exciting.
Nelson Piquet Jr: Okay I can hear you crying foul over this call but look at the total body of work. South American F3 champ, British F3 champ, F3000 runner up, F1 podium finisher, Nascar Craftsman Truck winner, Nascar Nationwide winner, FE champ, 4th overall in Global Rallycross, many other starts across numerous disciplines. Young Piquet even randomly entered the 2015 Toronto Indy Lights race for Carlin and put the car on pole but was taken out in the race.
Tony Stewart: Sprint car champ, Indycar Champ, NASCAR champ
Robbie Gordon: CART winner, Nascar Cup winner, BAJA off road legend. I still think this guy had the natural talent of anybody.
Mattias Ekstrom: DTM champ, World Rallycross champ, two NASCAR Cup starts.
Other cool feats:
F1 & Indy Car champ: Emmo, Nige, Mario, JV
F1 & MotoGP champ: John Surtees
Lake Speed – 1978 World Karting champ over Senna and Nascar Cup winner
AJ Allmendinger – Atlantic Champ, CART winner, Nascar Cup winner, Daytona 24hr winner
Whenever I get into this mode I start to daydream about what Senna would have done post F1. Would he still be showing up today and strapping on the overalls in IMSA or WEC? Can you imagine how cool it would have been watching him in sports cars or the 500? Just the thought of seeing him at Laguna in the fan friendly US paddock has me giddy. What a catastrophic loss for all of mankind.
When did the FIA announce that there was an official F1.5 series? Over the past two seasons, there has only been two podiums outside of the Big 3 teams. Two! And they were both luck jobs (Stroll ‘17, Perez ‘18) at Baku due to the chaotic nature of the circuit. What blows me away is that we are not talking about the mid 80’s when half the teams were operating on a shoestring budget with a leased Cosworth V8 competing against McLaren and Williams with majorly funded factory turbo motors. No, we are talking about Williams, McLaren and a factory Renault effort with works engine deals struggling to stay on the same lap in a race. McLaren has the same engine and rubber as Red Bull with Fernando Alonso peddling the car and they can’t stay on the same lap? Amazing. At least this year the F1.5 action was closely fought and enjoyable to watch. Per the FIA points, Nico Hulkenberg is the 2018 F1.5 World Driving Champion and Renault are the Constructors Champions. Now if you removed the Big 3 from all races that may change the points, but I would need an intern to do those calculations so instead here are the win totals for F1.5
Hulkenberg – 6
Perez – 3
Alonso – 2
Magnussen – 2
Ocon – 2
Leclerc – 2
Grosjean – 1
Sainz – 1
Now that’s more like it! I’m getting a Nico ‘18 F1.5 WDC T-Shirt printed immediately.
On a personal level, I was fortunate enough to spend 2 days at the Long Beach GP, 2 days at the Portland Indycar weekend and 3 days at COTA for the USGP. Great events all. Long Beach is still the quintessential street event in the US, PIR is still a fan friendly mellow facility in a beautiful setting with a great race track and in COTA, F1 has found a great home.
LBGP- Sit down at Turn 1 in Grandstand #40 as high as you can get for the race. During practice, watch the cars from the elevated walking area on the inside of turn 8 and go stand down along the fence at turn 10. During breaks, check out the expo center and the IMSA paddock. For food and beverage, walk into the harbor and you will have all sorts of choices at regular prices. In other words, you can probably save $10 for a beer just for walking an additional ¼ mile. Enjoy the local SoCal flavor.
Portland – Sit in the Festival Chicane (C-3) as high as you can get for the race. For practice, walk the entire track and make sure to stand on the outside of T9-10 to get a feel for the speed of the cars and commitment of the drivers. Buy a paddock pass, take the Portland local rail to the circuit from downtown, and enjoy the outdoors.
COTA- Sit in Grandstand 12 down near the apex of T12 for the race. During practice, walk the T3-7 esses and stand on the berm at the entry to T19. Be prepared to be blown away. I’ve seen everything on 4 wheels and these current cars are shocking to witness in person. The cornering capabilities defy the laws of physics. During downtime (and there is way too much downtime for the F1 weekend) seek the Pakistani family food truck on the soccer field and enjoy the best Shawarma you’ve ever had. After the race on Sunday, walk the main straight and then go check out the local bands set up on the outside of the track at various points having nice little jams.
And now for the moment of truth. Each season I put my esteemed rep on the line by picking the the entire F1 grid;
Here were the top 10 pre-season picks:
- Hamilton – 7 wins
- Vettel – 5 wins
- Verstappen – 5 wins
- Bottas – 2 wins
- Ricciardo – 2 wins
And here is the reality:
- Hamilton – 11 wins
- Vettel – 5 wins
- Kimi – 1 win
- Verstappen – 2 wins
- Ricciardo – 2 wins
Postmortem: My hopes of a Max championship charge were dashed early on due to poor driving and the down on power Renault engine. From the summer break on he was back on form and should have won Brazil if it wasn’t for that meddling Ocon. Next year! Lewis wasn’t into sharing the spoils with Bottas this year and reached a level that left the paddock in awe and likely left his teammate thinking about life after F1. In the 1.5 field, McLaren were a major letdown and Renault were the most consistent performer. I’m honored to say that I got to witness Kimi defy the odds and win his 21st gp. Props also to my preseason #16 pick Magnussen and preseason #19 pick Leclerc for making me look like a proper fool.
Looking to 2019, the revamped driver lineups have me counting the days to Melbourne.
Mercedes: Lewis vs Bottas
Ferrari: Vettel vs Leclerc
Red Bull: Verstappen vs Gasly
Renault: Hulkenberg vs Ricciardo
Haas: Magnussen vs Grosjean
McLaren: Sainz vs Norris
Force India: Perez vs Stroll
Sauber: Kimi vs Giovinazzi
Torro Rosso: Kyvat vs Albon
Williams: Kubica vs Russell
A Christmas Wish List:
- A harmonious mating of the Red Bull chassis and Honda powerplant
- Revised aero that actually works and allows closer racing
- Leclerc magic
- Kubica on pace with Russell
- More than 1 podium for the 1.5 class
In Indycar, I’m counting the days to see Rosenqvist and O’Ward get in there and mix it up with the old guard.
Now, it’s time for hibernation. Until March.