As if to cement the fact he has been the outstanding driver across the 2018 season, World Champion Lewis Hamilton started from pole position in his Mercedes, and took his 11th win of the season. Hamilton started alongside team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who has become something of a qualifying star these days if only to routinely fade in the race, and promptly took the lead.
It didn’t take long for the safety car to make an appearance. Half-way through the lap, Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg made contact. The accident that followed was alarming, with Hulkenberg’s car rolling over and landing, upside down, against the guard rail.
Unable to get out, the German could only wait as he told the team ‘I’m hanging like a cow – get me out’. Amusing now, but at the time – with the threat of fire at the back of the stricken car – the marshals seemed rather slow in righting the car. Hulkenberg simply climbed out and walked away.
Hamilton made a great restart, and a little further back a great battle was underway between Esteban Ocon, in his final race for Force India, and Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. The two swapped places a couple of times – observers mindful of their collision last time out – with the Dutchman taking advantage eventually.
On lap 7 Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari slowed to halt, in what was his final appearance for Ferrari – he heads back to where he began his F1 career, at Sauber, next season – bringing out the virtual safety car. Leader Hamilton, plus Charles Leclerc in the Sauber and Grosjean, all take the opportunity for an early stop.
When the VSC period is over Bottas leads from Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari, and Daniel Riccardo in the second Red Bull. The pit stops begin in earnest a few laps later with Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen all taking on new tyres before lap 20, leaving the late-stopping Ricciardo out in the lead.
Threat of Rain
Rain did indeed fall during the race, yet the track and air temperature made it of no importance, and once all the necessary pit stops had been undertaken, Hamilton regained the lead, with Bottas and Vettel behind. The Finn, however, was clearly having problems and locked up more than once, allowing Vettel and a little later, Verstappen, to take places from him.
As it happens, Bottas had a problem with a right rear tyre and the team were forced to bring hm in as a precaution late in the race. Despite the best efforts of the front runners, Hamilton was an easy victor here, with everything – once again – going his way. He led home Vettel by 2.5 seconds, with Verstappen third. Behind these came Ricciardo and Bottas, with Ricciardo in his last appearance for Red Bull before he moves to Renault.
Sixth position went to Carlos Sainz in the Renault, this also being his last race for the team as he takes up a seat at McLaren next year, while 7th place represents another fine drive for Charles Leclerc, who will take Kimi Raikkonen’s place at Ferrari for 2018. Sergio Perez took more points for Force India in 8th position, with the final top 10 positions going to the Haas pair of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Merry Go Round
Thus ends one of the most interesting F1 seasons of the modern era, but one can’t help feeling that next year – which features more driver changes than we have seen in a long time – may be even more intriguing. In fact, only two teams – Mercedes and Haas – retain the same driver line-up as this season.
For your information, here are the changes that will take place for the start of the 2019 season:
At Ferrari, Charles Leclerc joins Sebastian Vettel, the first time Ferrari has enlisted a youngster in many a year.
For Red Bull, Pierre Gasly is promoted from Toro Rosso to join Max Verstappen.
At Renault, Daniel Ricciardo will partner Nico Hulkenberg.
For McLaren it’s all change with Fernando Alonso leaving F1, and Carlos Sainz will be partnered by rookie Lando Norris, runner-up in this year’s F2 championship and considered hugely talented.
Sauber also has an all-new line up, with Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari’s favoured Italian Antonio Giovanazzi joining the team.
Williams will also have a new pairing, with Robert Kubica promoted from reserve driver among much excitement, and new F2 champion George Russell, a Mercedes protégé, making his F1 debut.
Force India – which may be renamed for 2019 – retains Mexican Sergio Perez, and is expected to announce Lance Stroll as the second driver imminently.
Finally, Toro Rosso will see the return of Russian Daniil Kvyat after a couple of years on the sidelines, and they remain the only team with a seat yet to be filled. This is expected to go to another young Briton, Alexander Albon, who finished 3rd in this year’s F2 championship.