Formula One 2018: Sebastian Vettel vs Lewis Hamilton, new-look Force India, and other highlights that await second half of season

The 2018 Formula 1 season has been one crazy blockbuster — and after a brief intermission (read: the summer break) the teams and drivers are back. Given how exciting and unpredictable the season has been so far, there is no doubt that we are heading towards an epic climax. Nine races remain in 2018 and 12 cockpits remain to be confirmed for 2019. After all that has happened, now is a good time to look forward to the second half of the season.

Vettel vs Hamilton: The Championship duel

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, right, look at each other during a drivers' press conference at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, Thursday, March 22, 2018. The first race of the 2018 seasons is on Sunday. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Even though Hamilton leads Vettel in the Championships standings as of now, the Mercedes driver can't take his position for granted with Vettel closing in. AP

If there’s anything this season has proved, it’s that we cannot take anything for granted. Even though Hamilton leads Vettel in the Championship standings as things are, all it could take is one DNF from Hamilton to swing the pendulum yet again. Toto Wolff said that the team would rather ‘go up in flames’ than lose to Ferrari — a clear indication of just how hard everyone is pushing this year. This was a sentiment echoed by Lewis Hamilton after the qualifying session at Spa, who said, "This was one of the toughest qualifying sessions I can remember. It seems to get harder and harder all year long." The role played by Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas cannot be overlooked — whether you call the Finns ‘wingmen’ or ‘hitmen’ for their respective teams, they will have crucial supporting roles. By the end of the season, a five-time Formula 1 World Champion will be crowned — who will he be is anyone’s guess.

Ferrari vs Mercedes

While the Drivers’ Championship is always more glorified by the sport, fans and media, let’s remember that we also have the world’s top automobile manufacturers going head-to-head to claim top honours in the Constructors’ Championship. After being beaten by Mercedes in the new hybrid-turbo era since 2014, Ferrari will definitely hope to defeat their road-car rivals in 2018. Given the pressure to win and the development programs pursued by both teams, let’s hope that neither team has a Ferrari-style anti-climax from 2017. It would be a shame to have reliability settle the championship battles.

A new start for Force India

Formula One F1 - Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot, Belgium - August 25, 2018 Force India's Esteban Ocon in action during qualifying REUTERS/Francois Lenoir - RC11A9B67A70

Given their change of ownership, it would be interesting to monitor Force India's progress in the second half of the racing calendar. Reuters

The mid-season change in ownership means that Force India are in a strange situation, where everything is same yet different. The team will no doubt be relieved that the period of uncertainty is over — even if has left them with a new name (Racing Point Force India) and no points. As Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer explained to the media, "We are a new entrant and we start from zero. We’ll do the best we can to score as many points as we can in the remaining race and we’ll see where we end up at the end of the season, and that will determine some of the prize fund for the following year." The reminder of the season will be dedicated to the team rebuilding itself and trying to move as high up the Constructors’ Championship as possible. After the team’s second row lock-out qualifying performance in Spa, one can certainly bet that Force India won’t finish last this season.

Who will be the best of the rest?

With Force India clearly out of the picture in the Constructors’ Championship for the ‘best of the rest’ tag, the game is on for the others. Renault are currently in P4 with Haas closely trailing them in P5. However, Haas’ boss Guenther Steiner declared that while they will continue to fight for the ‘best of the rest tag,’ they will no longer work on developing their 2018 car. Both teams will be looking to consistently bring both cars home in the points — and perhaps even snatch a stray podium (the only team to score a podium outside the Top 3 this season is Force India). A strong performance in 2018 will go a long way in boosting the team’s morale, paddock reputation and earnings in the following season. Mclaren, who suffered from a double elimination in Q1 of qualifying at Spa, also find themselves in sixth place with hope that they are able to challenge Haas and Renault consistently.

Dust starts to settle: Driver silly season

In the weeks to come, we will see more announcements about the remaining cockpits on the grid. Lance Stroll’s highly speculated move to Force India could set in motion a domino effect of sorts. The silver lining of Stroll leaving Williams could be that Robert Kubica gets to make a comeback to Formula 1. Given the heroics that Kubica has pulled to get where he is, this will be a sweet triumph. The fates of several other drivers also hang in balance — Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Ocon, Brendon Hartley and Sergey Sirotkin. These drivers will all be looking for some strong performances to make a compelling case for themselves.

Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso — two drivers with particularly interesting moves in 2019 — will be looking to see this season off on a positive note. Alonso will be eager to belt out some valiant performances (on and off track!) to give the paddock a taste of what they’ll miss in 2019, while Ricciardo will be looking to leave Red Bull Racing with his head held high — by finishing ahead of Max Verstappen in the Drivers’ Championship.

Liberty Media has big tasks ahead

The events of the last few weeks will give Liberty Media something to think about as they work on the sport’s future direction. A few days ago, Liberty Media sporting boss Ross Brawn says a budget cap is arriving in Formula 1 as early as next year. "A top team is currently spending about twice that of a midfield team. The Force India case shows that the financial burden on the teams is unmanageable in the long term. So if we reduce that gap to 10 or 20%, a midfield team doing a great job will be competitive again," Brawn had said.

There are also the engine regulations for 2021 that are eagerly awaited by the teams and fans. Brawn also indicated that the success of the regulations would be measured by the sport’s ability to introduce new teams.

If the first half of this year has been any indication, the second half promises to be packed with adrenaline and unpredictability. Racing fans will surely be delighted with the sheer action on and off the track — as we eagerly watch on for the best racer to win top honours.

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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 13:15:26 IST

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