Photo: McLaren

Heptagon Viewpoints: Seven Takeaways from the Final Third of the F1 Season

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The 69th season of Formula One has officially concluded, and Mercedes continued to steamroll the competition in the Hybrid Era. Lewis Hamilton once again proved to have risen on the occasion as Sebastian Vettel faded away due to Ferrari’s costly errors that eliminated him from the championship race.

Not only that, the 2019 season is starting to look clear with key names having no choice but to become a test driver or find different ventures in favor of even younger drivers and even the comeback for the ages. The final third saw a lot of drama, for better or worse.

In my final installment of “Heptagon Viewpoints” for 2018, I look back at my final seven takeaways that’s happened from the Singapore to Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

At the Expense of Ferrari, Hamilton Puts Out Tremendous Season

The Rosso Corsa fanbase would like to forget the latter leg of the season, especially if they were rooting for Vettel to finally stop the Mercedes regime of led by Hamilton. Instead, it saw a hyped-up Will Smith at both Mexico and Abu Dhabi, making his presence known that he’s still the man in Formula One.

Vettel wouldn’t win in this stretch, and simply didn’t have the same mojo as he did in the first leg when he led the points battle. That is partially Ferrari’s fault. Look no further than the abysmal Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Poor strategy in qualifying that had the four-time champion start ninth to Hamilton’s pole position. Then the incident with Max Verstappen early on was the final nail to the coffin and Hamilton cruised towards victory for the fourth consecutive grand prix. Two rounds later, a fifth World Championship was added to his legendary resume.

Compared to his other four, I felt it was Hamilton’s season where he showed that he can overcome a deficit and boy did he proved it. He scored 11 victories and poles and finished outside the podium four times.

It’s unfathomable seeing Ferrari blowing another title opportunity this decade. When it’s not Red Bull in the early 2010s, it’s now Mercedes. This hasn’t hindered the two’s admiration for each other, and it’s the closest thing since Michael Schuamcher and Mika Hakkinen, where both were fierce on the track, but respect one another. A far cry from Hamilton’s previous rivals Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg.

That’s beside the point, Hamilton had in my eye, his strongest season yet where a challenge favored him compared to 2016 when he lost to Nico Rosberg.

At 33 years old, Hamilton is on track of surpassing Schumacher’s 91-win mark and reach 100 poles. The question begs now, is he the greatest driver of all-time?

A debate that’s grown more than ever indeed, but everyone has their opinion on the British icon.

Epitome of Lame Duck for Daniel Ricciardo

If there’s one driver I felt sorry than anyone else, Daniel Ricciardo is a slam dunk.

His move to Renault couldn’t come fast enough after his sudden unreliable Red Bull began giving up on him, and he almost wanted to leave after the Mexican Grand Prix, which marked his season-high eighth retirement.

This heartbreak came a day after winning the pole and looked extremely happy. The week prior was another case of Riccardo’s personality changing, when he shouted in anger after another problem took a hit on the car at Suzuka.

To me it was evident that he’s the lame duck to Pierre Gasly, but after a having the best string of races of his career earlier on, it’s been all but forgotten after seeing him struggle so bad while Max Verstappen blossomed more than ever.

That’s been happening ever since his win at Monaco, six of his eight retirements happened since, and he hasn’t cracked the podium either. This setback really hurt Red Bull’s aspirations of being the season of catching both Ferrari and Mercedes.

Now entering 2019, it’s the land of the unpredictability with Gasly. He’s shown some brilliance like at COTA, but the results aren’t there compared to Charles Leclerc. Time will tell how Red Bull will pan out going forward.

I wish nothing but the best for Ricciardo next season, as he’ll look to strengthen the team that’s now “Best of the Rest” after Renault finished fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.

Grosjean, Ocon and Verstappen: F1’s Villainous Trio

The three names that’s got fans rattled up more than Hamilton dominating, Romain Grosejan, Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen.

The “Villainous Trio” stormed through the headlines in multiple grand prixs, more so in this stretch, specifically three rounds.

Let’s start with Grosjean. He faced severe pressure of possibly being banned from the sport due to his points reaching 12 on his Super License. However, twice in the finale in Abu Dhabi, he was involved in major incidents.

The first was FP3 with Pierre Gasly, where he was heated with how Grosjean approached a corner. Unlike another confrontation, this one was subdued as Grosjean approached the Toro Rosso paddock to apologize over the incident. No pushes, but a simple chat and both carried on with their day.

Grosjean was again involved in a major crash at the start of the race. Going into Turns 8-9, he clipped Nico Hulkenburg, sending his car tumbling end over end before landing on his lid. This resulted in a safety car, but nobody was hurt. Hulkenburg didn’t saw Grosjean upon the contact, and again Grosjean apologized over the radio.

Those incidents epitomize Grosjean’s F1 career. He’s either at fault or puts it on others like Marcus Ericsson. In this case, he self-admitted in both which tells me that he’s aware how vital his longevity matters and handled himself well. No harm, no foul.

Ocon and Verstappen on the other hand, are both example of F1’s future. For the former, Singapore Grand Prix was another blemish to his young career and further strained his relationship at Racing Point Force India.

The bullock contact with teammate Sergio Perez once again maddened everyone, and was the sign that one will be gone, and it was Ocon. Perez doesn’t get away with it either, he too has been a burden in the eyes of people, but the senior driver with huge finances got his way and will stay with the team next season.

At Interlagos, Ocon was again the subject of controversy, this time involving Verstappen. During the 44th lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Ocon tangled with him at Senna ‘S,’ ending Verstappen’s chance of scoring a third win and back-to-back as he won in Mexico the race before, was gone. Ocon received a 10-second penalty, Hamilton was victorious, and the 21-year-old was fuming.

This led to a post-race shoving match between the two and Verstappen was reprimanded with a two-day public service.

It showed Verstappen’s frustrations when things don’t go his way, which has already rubbed fans the wrong way, but it’s also a case of justification on pent up anger he’s had throughout the season. Sure, he finished a career-high fourth in the championship and stepped up to be a guy that can steal wins from both Mercedes and Ferrari. Not only that, he’s no longer a guy who cracks under pressure like he faced in the first leg, but this overshadowed his season in my book.

Ocon’s stock didn’t fare any better as he won’t a home next season on an F1 grid. For me, this was a case of youth being shown and hopefully once they’ve been around in the sport, both mature and go back at this moment as just a chapter in their driver development.

Age Is Just A Number

39-year-old Kimi Raikkonen proved at Circuit of the Americas that age is a number. Not only that, but also 33-year-old Robert Kubica even running laps on a grand prix weekend showcases it as Williams are taking the risk of bringing him back on the F1 grid eight-year absence next season.

What could’ve been a triumphant victory in front of the diehard home crowd at Monza, the “Ice Man’s” return to the top step of the podium would have to wait four rounds later in the United States Grand Prix. Raikkonen did everything what he had to do to hold off Hamilton, who was looking to clinch his fifth world title, and it paid off.

Always a highlight reel, Raikkonen felt rejoiced the only way he knew how, anti-animated but it was a long time coming indeed. Fans roared and with him going to the Alfa Romeo Sauber next season, this could be the last time he’ll ever win an F1 race.

It’s too bad that my ABC affiliate in Seattle decided to tape delay the home soil race but not the one in Mexico the following week. Personally, you show both live without any excuses. Miami, who wants an F1 date, also had the U.S. Grand Prix delayed. Inexcusable in my book.

Kubica’s story is known, he was once the rawest talent on the grid, but a near fatal crash in a Rallying event in Italy before the 2011 F1 campaign started appeared to have ended a promising career.

Fast forward to now, the Polish driver has test driven a Renault and Williams, giving him a rare second chance of getting back on the grid. Now, he’ll have that chance next season at 34, in what’s considered “too old” in modern F1.

By the time the Australian Grand Prix rolls along on March 17, Kubica is the second oldest driver on the grid behind Raikkonen. In fact, of the 18 confirmed drivers, he’s one of six drivers over the age of 30, and the average age on the grid is 27.

Williams Racing are taking a risk indeed of bringing Kubica back, but they’re in dire straits of change after their worst season in history with Lance Stroll and “Driver of the Year” Sergey Sirotkin. I’m not making that up with the man who scored one lousy point after Renault snitched on Haas F1’s Grosjean at Monza, that got him disqualified.

Not only that, Kubica will be partnered with 20-year-old F2 champion George Russell, and it’s going to be intriguing how both will fare in what I hope becomes the start of a renaissance for the team of 1990s.

While teams look for young and financially stabled drivers, the two oldest drivers on next year’s grid showcased in 2018 that if you’re gifted and given an opportunity to shine, sky’s the limit.

Bottas Must Step Up to Keep His Ride Going Forward

If I were Valtteri Bottas, the announcement of Ocon becoming a test driver should worry him. The veteran Finn’s 2018 campaign was underwhelming, with no wins to his name and wound up fifth in points. Compared to the almighty Hamilton, it’s a poor season if you asked me.

People were outraged how in the Russian Grand Prix, which Bottas had a great shot of winning, saw scrutiny in favor of the five-time champion. Team orders is common, but when shades of Schumacher in Spielberg, Austria in 2002 comes from Hamilton, people knew that it was Bottas’ race. It won’t go away from the sport, but it wasn’t the fondest moment of the season.

Aside of another runner-up finish at Suzuka, he ended up in his championship position for the final four rounds, fifth. Raikkonen got third in the final tally, beating Verstappen by two points. Bottas lost third by four points to the elder Finn. In those races, the two guys Bottas lost third two scored podiums with the exception or Raikkonen’s retirement at Abu Dhabi.

The writing on the wall is loud and clear, if he doesn’t step up his game in 2019, Ocon may be back on the grid in no time. Only commonality Bottas and Hamilton has from this year was equaling for the fewest official retirements, with just one. However, he didn’t cross the finish line at Baku, but he completed 90% of the race to that point, so even that isn’t necessarily sharing a thing in common.

Alonso’s Legacy Won’t Be Solidified Yet

In my last viewpoints, I said both Alonso and Charles Leclerc were plagued by rotten luck. Fortunately, the soon-to-be Ferrari driver scored four seventh-place finishes in the last seven rounds and beaten Grosjean for 13th in points. I cannot say the same for the two-time World Champion.

His final leg was even worse, with his last-ever points finish being at the start of the final leg at Singapore, finishing seventh. The rest were plagued by retirements and consequently at the Mexican Grand Prix, it meant he can no longer surpass Schumacher for most laps completed in their F1 career.

At least his final F1 race was better because crossed the line at the finish in 11th, his best since Singapore. A nice touch was joining Hamilton and Vettel in a trio burnout, capping off a memorable F1 season and one of Alonso’s better moments as well.

While his 17-year run in Formula One was underwhelming at the end, I feel that his legacy isn’t tarnished nor solidified. Alonso is fighting for the WEC title and will make his return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May, looking to join Graham Hill as the only guys to have conquered the Motorsports Triple Crown (victory in the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans).

Now that he’s branching out, Alonso is far from done in my book and cannot simply close it in 2018. Some will say his legacy has been tarnished on how his F1 career ended, but how he did in his prime was unforgettable.

Not many guys could’ve gone toe-to-toe with Schumacher and beat him regularly in the 2000s. He was at a different zip code in the Mild Seven Renault. Dark years with his lone season at McLaren in 2007 and return to Renault would follow, but his run with Ferrari brought new life and proved me that no matter what team he goes, he brings the best out of him and the team. That’s my takeaway from Alonso in F1, making the most out of his rides, come hell or high water.

The charismatic Spaniard, who brought laughter, sometimes anger, but mostly riveting, to Formula One will be missed, but the racer in him will certainly carry on and eager to see how he fares in WEC and at Indy.

All 20 Drivers Competing All 21 Rounds

This season will go down as the fewest drivers to have competed in F1, all thanks to not one mid-season change took place for the first time since 2008.

Yes, while some shouldn’t be in racing past halfway or maybe a few should’ve served a race-ban, all 20 drivers that responded to the lights at Melbourne, competed in all 21 rounds.

It’s only the second time in history to have such thing occurred, but the here’s some more astonishing factoids.

2018 is far from the first time in F1 history that at least 20 drivers scored points, it’s the 37th overall, but the first since 2016, and only the second in the 2010s. But it’s not the most in history, the honor goes to 1989 when 29 out of 43 drivers scored points.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is for the first time in F1 history, all drivers that competed has scored points, and to me it’s worth including in this final leg of the season.

Do I see the trend continuing in 2019? I don’t think so, but as Murray Walker famously said, “Anything happens in Grand Prix racing, and it usually does.”

Conclusion

With those takeaways, another season of F1 has concluded. All 20 drivers that started the wild journey in Albert Park, finished it under the lights in Yas Marina with a bone tossed due to the rain. Compared to most seasons in the 2010s, this one stands out due to Hamilton’s title reign being more significant on how he won it, and driver’s pressing their luck to get the best position possible.

People may give flak on the Halo and how the Hybrid Era has been a Mercedes runaway, but I found myself as invested in the sport going into 2019. New faces, new looks and teams looking for a renaissance, the 70th season is shaping out to be a much-anticipated one.

The road to the Australian Grand Prix is just 109 days away, but who’s really counting?

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.