It’s anyone’s championship as the balance of power in F1 continues to shift wildly.
It’s not advisable to assume anything with regard to the destiny of this year’s FIA Formula 1 World Championship, be it in the constructors’ championship or the more high-profile drivers’ world championship.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton and former four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Mercedes AMG F1 and Ferrari, respectively, are locked in battle and swapping places for the lead of the points standings in almost every round.
This was particularly the case over the course of F1’s recent ‘triple-header’ of races where the French, Austrian and British Grands Prix were held on three successive weekends.
And as this magazine goes to print, another stunning turnaround has occurred with Sebastian Vettel crashing out of his home event – the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim – to hand a charging Lewis Hamilton (who started the race from 14th) an unlikely win and Mercedes a 1-2 finish after Valtteri Bottas was told not to battle the defending champion for the win.
Hamilton came out on top at Paul Ricard in France, when an early-lap incident involving Vettel and Bottas left the German with a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with the Finn.
Austria saw Max Verstappen and Red Bull-Renault rise to the occasion, as they have always done whenever a racetrack suits the characteristics of their car enough to pounce on the big two of Mercedes and Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo did so early in the season in China and also at Monaco. At faster circuits, where horsepower comes into play, the Renault power unit is still not up there with the ones from Mercedes and Ferrari. But at those circuits that put the onus on a car with a good handling chassis, Verstappen and Ricciardo have been quick to take advantage.
Verstappen seems to have overcome his early season worries that earned him the unfortunate nickname of ‘Crashtappen’ with the more cynical F1 fans even going so far as to anoint the super talented 20-year-old as a successor to the accident-prone Pastor Maldonado!
Verstappen has risen above it all, however, and his finishing record in the races since the Monaco Grand Prix, where a huge crash in third practice put him out of the running for a good qualifying spot, has been third, second, first and an unfortunate retirement in the British GP due to brake failure.
For the rest of the participants in the British Grand Prix, however, and especially for the four drivers from the ‘heavyweight’ teams of Mercedes and Ferrari, it was a duel to remember.
Following an incident-filled start where Raikkonen was penalised for colliding with Hamilton and a couple of safety car periods to recover the cars of drivers who went off after high-speed crashes, Vettel made a race-winning pass on Bottas with just five laps left, while Hamilton’s recovery drive culminated in a second-place finish after Bottas let him through.
Coupled with the result in Germany, we are left unable to predict the winner of the championship and wanting this dramatic season to never end.