And that as they say, is that for the 2018 season. Well, almost. The track action might be done and dusted but until the champion collects his trophy from the FIA at their annual prize-giving gala, technically it’s not quite over just yet.
On that subject by the way, I really do think its time to have a look at how the governing body could allow those at the track and watching around the world to join in the celebrations when it comes to crowning the champion. It’s true that by waiting a few weeks the regulations allow for any protests or the possibility of an enquiry, but in the unlikely event that something is untoward, then we can deal with that at a later date. What’s more important here, the show or procedure?
Let’s have the champ announced in the brightest spotlight possible, rather than for a select few who are lucky, or in the case of Kimi Raikkonen, unlucky enough to have go to St Petersburg. Sadly for Kimi, he beat Max by just 2 points in 3rd place and will now have to go and pick up his trophy.
His team mate for one more race, Sebastian Vettel says that he needs some time off now after a quite difficult and exhausting year. That doesn’t surprise me. Vettel has seen an 8 point lead after his win at Silverstone turn into defeat by 88 points as Hamilton became the first man ever in the history of the world championship to score over 400 points in a season.
A period of reflection is needed for Sebastian, and for Ferrari, to work out where they went wrong this year, and crucially how they can get it right next year. Seb intimated that he was going to spend some time restoring his old motorbike from when he was 15, whether that helps him erase the memories of what has been a painful year for him I’m not sure? Seb has always struck me as a man for whom the only way to erase the pain of defeat is to get back to winning ways and the fact that Mercedes this year have gone one step beyond his run of 4 straight championships will have increased that pain.
To Red Bull in a moment, but if Seb’s year has been painful, what of Valtteri Bottas? He could have won China, and Baku and without team orders, would have won in Russia. His season ended with him going from 2nd to 5th in a handful of laps, his challenge disintegrating before our eyes as his team mate went on to claim his 2nd win in a row and 11th overall.
To make matters worse, with Esteban Ocon holding the Mercedes reserve seat for next year and a guarantee from Toto Wolff that a good seat will be his the year after, how can Valtteri manage at this moment to believe that this is a long term future with the Silver Arrows? His boss, and former manager don’t forget, has twice given Valtteri a one year vote of confidence when it comes to a contract and now he’s got a Mercedes young gun waiting in the wings to seize his chance. I do wonder how different this season would have been had he won in China – defeat was by no means his fault as well – sadly it unravelled and left him looking vulnerable for the future.
You couldn’t say the same about Max Verstappen though who finished the year with a flourish on the track and a defiance off it. The defiance we’ve seen before, his strength of character has been evident from his very first races. But the level of consistency before hind the wheel that has characterised the second half of his season, coupled with the departure from Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, hints at an opportunity from him to challenge for the title in 2019.
If Pierre Gasly is consistently battling with Max at the sharp end of the grid, then good on the Frenchman. I’m not necessarily expecting that straight away. But I would be amazed if Red Bull aren’t in a position to offer Max a title winning car next season, especially as they switched their focus on 2019 a lot sooner than both Mercedes and Ferrari during this year, assured as they were of 3rd place in the championship. A lot rests on Honda to deliver a reliable and powerful engine, I’m told that so far Honda are living up to those expectations.
Which leads me to think that the 3 men on the podium at the final race, could well be the three men fighting for the big prize in a few months time. At Mercedes and at Red Bull it’s easy to see a situation where there is a number one and a number two driver. At Ferrari a lot depends on whether Sebastian can stop making errors and whether Charles can hit the ground running with a level of consistency demanded by the Scuderia, but that you don’t often find in a drive beginning only his 2nd season on the F1 grid.
A lot to look forward to next season and whilst Fernando has gone – for now, I’m still expecting him to head back to the place he really wants to be in the future if only he could find a car that better suited his still outstanding talent – Robert Kubica is back. A story that is so heartwarming. A man who’s life hung in the balance, who’s dreams of a future world championship were replaced by the struggles and battles to regain his health and fitness. Whose focus switched to finding a way to drive to somewhere near his best. He’s made it, although he’ll tell you that this moment is nowhere near the end of the journey, only a second beginning.
Robert Kubica would have been a Ferrari driver but for that accident 8 years ago. He’s a man as warm and generous and engaging as his talent is prestigious and I for one, am delighted to see him given this opportunity. Don’t for one second think that he’s not backed by sponsors who bring much needed finances to the Williams team, but well done to them for allowing this incredible sporting comeback, to begin a new chapter.
And it is to new chapters we look now, once the season of revelry and celebrations die down. Happy Christmas to each and everyone of you and thank you for your company throughout this season.
Shall we all do it again next year? Why not, and a 100 or so days isn’t that long to wait till Formula 1 returns in Melbourne, it really isn’t.