Abu Dhabi power rankings

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With Formula 1 season 2018 in the bag we take one last look up and down the grid to cherry pick those who impressed and those who fell short. Here’s our power rankings from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Moving on up

Carlos Sainz left behind him the disappointment on his Q2 exit from qualifying on Saturday to launch his Renault into the P6 and deep into the points positions. He’s leaving Renault on the high, and with a question mark over the performance of McLaren now and into the future, it might be a while before we seeing him troubling the scorers again.

Lewis Hamilton rounded out the year in a way that he never has before: winning races after claiming the championship. Not just that, his points haul for the season blasted through the 400 point barrier, making him the first driver ever to do so. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t show the same enthusiasm performing his official duties as he does with his mates behind the scenes.

Charles Leclerc has cemented his reputation as “best of the rest” many times this season, despite only finishing in P7 four times. Another solid performance from the man who soon after had his first spin in a Ferrari during testing as a prelude to the big show.

Backsliding

Romain Grosjean made quite an impact in Abu Dhabi, right into the side of Nico Hulkenberg. Although it generated one of the main talking points from the race, it’s just another example of Grosjean lacking what it takes to be a consistent performer at the highest level, even if the German admitted he played a small part in the contact.

Valtteri Bottas qualified on the front row only to tumble backwards to finish in P5. By his own admission he couldn’t wait for the season to end, and it’s no wonder. Despite being in the fastest (i.e. championship winning) team, to finish fifth in the drivers’ championship behind his teammate, both Ferraris and one of the Red Bull drivers is poor. With Ocon being kept on the leash for next year, the heat is on the Finn throughout next season.

Kimi Raikkonen finished his tenure at Ferrari not with a bang but a whimper, with the prospect of testing for Sauber only days after the race on his mind, even he must have felt that the F1 gods were trying to send the Iceman a message.

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Brazil GP power rankings

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Brazil often turns up a few surprises, and from Vettel destroying a weighbridge in qualifying to the argy-bargy between Verstappen and Ocon post race, there was just as much action on track as there was adjacent to it.

Here’s our power rankings from a dynamic Brazilian GP:

Moving on up

Daniel Ricciardo came through the pack from the midfield, and not only made up the numbers among the top six, but asserted himself in the race narrative to finish a few tenths away from the podium positions.

Charles Leclerc predictably won the “best of the rest” finishing P7 yet again, and continues to put a gap on the rest of the field. How he measures up against Vettel next year at Ferrari will be fascinating, but we also feel for poor Marcus “Sony” Ericsson who is in similar machinery but got knocked around in the race leaving his teammate to claim the spoils.

Mercedes capped off a tremendous season and snagged their fifth double championship, matching Ferrari’s dominance of the early 2000s.

Backsliding

Max Verstappen drove a remarkable race, overtaking all before him from his P5 starting position to lead the race. His chop in front of Ocon, who was at that time a lap down, smacked of entitlement and an expectation that a car that was alongside him during one corner should simply disappear at the next. Stewards’ decision aside, Verstappen’s premeditated altercation with Ocon post race was juvenile and showed that the version of Max that joked about head-butting journalists earlier in the year is not yet buried.

Esteban Ocon makes his way on to the naughty list, but mostly for balance than any genuine wrong-doing. As much as Verstappen played a hand in his own demise, it’s hard to shake the villain tag when you’re a back marker making contact with the race leaders.

Pierre Gasly not only finished a forgettable P13, but made his team look foolish by repeatedly ignoring team orders when Hartley was much faster on fresher tyres. Despite Gasly’s claim there weren’t any stakes, Hartley ultimately finished just outside of the points, with the Toro Rosso driver engaging “controlled aggression against teammate mode” slightly prematurely.

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Mexican GP power rankings

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Mexico wasn’t where the championship was won or lost, but it’s where it was decided. For the third time Hamilton has claimed a championship from outside the podium places, and joins only two others, Fangio and Schumacher, with five or more championships. The greatest brit ever? Surely. Best there has ever been? The next years might just confirm that claim.

Here’s how the power rankings shaped up in Mexico.

Moving on up

Max Verstappen missed pole by inches, but despite only getting three hours sleep on Saturday, he was on top of his game on Sunday. After launching into the lead off the line, he ran a controlled race, continuing the rich form that has seen him outscore everyone apart from Lewis Hamilton in the last six races.

Sebastian Vettel needed to give it everything and hope for a Hamilton failure to keep the championship alive. Although things didn’t all go his way, he suddenly enjoyed good pace and put it to good use against but Hamilton and Ricciardo. 

Stoffel Vandoorne and McLaren will soon be parting ways, largely because “Doff” hasn’t finished in the points since Azerbaijan. Despite falling short compared to his teammate this season, popping into the top ten is a rare glimpse of his talents, which hopefully return to the F1 grid sometime soon.

Backsliding

Brendon Hartley did his hopes of securing a drive with Toro Rosso next year no favours, running in a steady position before coming together with Ocon for which he was handed a five-second penalty and demoted down the grid, letting any hope of scoring points slip through his fingers.

Red Bull’s reliability issues continued to bite Daniel Ricciardo in his already thoroughly chewed hide. Clearly chasing performance over reliability, with more retirements than any driver this season, Ricciardo exasperatedly claimed he was done with his car, doesn’t see the point of racing any more this season and is happy to let Pierre Gasly have his car for the remaining races (which just might be on the team’s mind anyway).

Will Smith fans were in for a treat with the…. actor (what is he these days?) delivering a bewildering congratulations message to Hamilton on winning his championship, after a largely forgettable drive. I’m not saying I’m always in touch with the cultural zeitgeist, but even WTF1 wasn’t feeling this misjudged celebration. Liberty continues to struggle to get the balance right between pushing the envelope and sitting on it.

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United States GP power rankings

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In a season that’s had it’s fair share of exciting racing, many thought the United States Grand Prix would be a yawn-inducing dead-rubber. In truth, it was anything but, with mixed tyre strategies and a mixed grid, helped along by a couple of SCs, the race was yet another highlight in Formula 1’s modern era.

Here’s who climbed the ladders and slid down the snakes:

Moving on up

Max Verstappen made the predictable charge to the front after mechanical issues pre-race, but going wheel to wheel with Hamilton was Max at his aggressive best, and confirmed he has nothing to lose and is racing for himself for the rest of the season.

Kimi Raikkonen took, what must have been, a thoroughly unexpected win. When most thought he was on the “wrong” tyres to start the race, his incredible run up the inside of turn 1 to get ahead of Hamilton proved otherwise. Although small, his slight hint toward the pitlane during the VSC indicated that he was at the height of his powers, and where he’d normally put up a fight before capitulating, he held on the win by the scruff of the neck. Bravo, Kimi.

Nico Hulkenberg led the charge in “Group B” and with Sainz helped cement Renault in 4th place in the constructors’ championship. Another solid performance from the German, who is turning his season around and building moment before going head to head with his new teammate next season.

Backsliding

Romain Grosjean left it too late to avoid trouble with Charles Leclerc, and his indiscretion brings himself to within two super licence points of being benched for a race. If he is banned, it’ll be the first time a driver was sidelined since the points system was introduced, ironically after Grosjean himself had to sit out a race following a number of reckless opening lap incidents.

Renault’s power units again let down Daniel Ricciardo, who was surely on track for a podium if not the race win. Sure, Red Bull might be running the higher performing/less reliable engine spec (Renault, for instance, aren’t suffering these issues), but his failures are breaking viewer’s hearts and helps justify his decision to race elsewhere next season.

Haas’s fuel management woes capped off a dreadful race for the US-owned team. Although Esteban Ocon was disqualified for a fuel flow issue on the opening lap, Magnussen’s excessive fuel usage (105.1kgs of the allowed 105kgs) was utterly manageable, avoidable and straight up humiliating in front of their home fans.

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Japanese GP power rankings

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Although the frontrunners didn’t deliver anything like the head-to-head between Vettel and Hamilton that we’ve been waiting all year for, there was plenty of action up and down the rest of the field, with plenty of activity and lots to consider in this week’s power rankings.

Moving on up

Daniel Ricciardo gave his fans something to cheer about after a maddening technical issue hampered his qualifying. Starting P15 he finished P4, and although he was never within striking distance of his teammate, but to be one mechanical failure away from finishing on the podium redeemed the weekend for the Australian.

Sergio Perez negotiated a hectic midfield that, thanks to a mix of strategies and safety cars early in the race, was a hive of activity throughout the race. Now equal with Hulkenberg and Magnussen on points, the sins of Singapore were erased with another best of the rest performance.

Lewis Hamilton now needs only to win in the United States, and should Vettel finish P3 or lower, Lewis will claim his 5th World Championship. If Verstappen’s declaration post-qualifying that there wasn’t really any competition left in the title battle wasn’t confirmation enough, the effortless victory this week certainly was.

Backsliding

Sebastian Vettel backed up his team’s regrettable error in qualifying with a sterling assault on the top 6, making short work of the gap between himself and the top 3. In the run up to Spoon, Vettel carried a huge pace advantage and with more patience should have passed Verstappen with ease later on the lap. It’s not that he wasn’t patient enough to wait until Max stopped to serve his 5-second penalty (the win would have been well off-the-cards by then), it’s that after a year of continual unforced errors, Sebastian again got himself into a position where his competitiveness was sacrificed unnecessarily.

Stewards had a busy one ruling on a number of incidents, none more curious than the opening lap contact between Alonso and Stroll. Despite agreeing that Stroll had unreasonably forced Alonso off the track, they also deemed that Alonso had gained an unfair advantage by leaving the track and cutting across the chicane. Both drivers were penalised, including receiving penalty points.

Suzuka’s trophy design…. I mean, I thought the Gorilla one in Italy was bad, but this takes the cake.

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