For the drama and action-filled thriller movie this season has turned out to be, Bahrain was the perfect beginning. A Lewis Hamilton victory didn’t surprise anyone but the fight that Max Verstappen gave him did turn some heads. For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, a car was faster than the Silver Arrows and had a driver in it with the skill and grit to make Lewis Hamilton sweat. On pure pace, Red Bull clearly had Mercedes beat but because of clever tactics and a crucial undercut, Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag in the season opener.
In Imola, the pace of the Red Bull was on full display and Lewis tried to defend his pole but couldn’t. Things went from bad to worse when he oversteered a little and went into the gravel pushing the Brit down to 8th position. A red flag caused by a crash between Bottas and Russel allowed Hamilton to get his car fixed and reduce the gap to the cars in front. Following that was hammer time and not only did he pull his car back to second place, he also nicked the fastest lap off of Max Verstappen.
Portugal and Spain proved to be very challenging for the 7 times World Champion but with outstanding strategies from the Mercedes pit wall, Hamilton made it 3 wins in 4 and he was looking on track for his 8th World Championship. Spain was also his 100th career pole.
Just as Hamilton was starting to take control of this Championship, he somehow lost his pace in the Monaco GP as he was never able to recover after starting 6th on the grid. The infamous Baku incident followed by the first triple-header of the season meant that Max Verstappen was now 32 points in front in the Championship.
Mercedes knew that if they are to turn this around, the best place to do it is in their own backyard: Silverstone. Though Lewis was fastest in Quali of the first-ever sprint, Max was victorious in the sprint and took an all-important extra 1 point. Max defended his pole valiantly until a collision at Copse corner sent him flying into the barriers. This was dreamland for both Lewis and Mercedes with both Red Bulls taking a grand total of nil points home and Lewis Hamilton taking the win in Britain for a record 8th time.
Then came what was perhaps the most demanding race of Lewis Hamilton’s career at the Hungaroring. A colossal crash on turn 1 saw the whole grid go belly up and Max Verstappen suffer major damage. Lewis took the decision to stay out on the track while the whole grid pitted for Inters. This meant that Lewis had to come in later than everyone and was now last. He most definitely would have finished first only if it wasn’t Fernando Alonso’s teammate leading the Hungarian GP.
On a very wet day in Spa, Max clawed some points off of Lewis and it was not surprising to see Max then complete the comeback in his home race at Zandvoort.
At the second Sprint Race, Max made it 2 poles in 2 despite finishing second after Bottas took a grid penalty. Lewis started 4th due to a very resilient Land Norris. A turn 2 crash between the Championship leaders was surprisingly not the biggest highlight of the race though with Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris making history with the first McLaren 1-2 and race win since Lewis Hamilton drove for them.
In Sochi, we saw Lewis stuck behind Lando for the 3rd time in 2 races. However, unexpected rain and poor judgment from the young driver lead to Lewis Hamilton becoming the first driver ever to win 100 Formula 1 GPs. He also took the Championship lead back.
Turkey was damage control for the defending Champion as he took a 10 place grip penalty because of a new Internal Combustion Engine. He still was able to finish second and was able to salvage some points. The Championship lead changed hands yet again for the 4th time in 6 races.
The US Grand Prix has been a Mercedes mainstay for the past 5 years winning 4 out of the last 5 US GPs. But Max dominated the race this time, undercutting him twice just as Lewis did to him in Bahrain. In Mexico, it was a Mercedes front-row lockout much to everyone’s surprise. But there are many tracks where it is better to be P3 and much to Mercedes’ dismay Mexico was one of them. Max took the lead at turn 1 and never looked back. People were starting to discount the Silver Arrows and a man who has won the last 6 out of 7 World Champions. Those fools!
What came next is perhaps the best racing anyone has ever had the pleasure to witness. What seemed to be a Red Bull-friendly track turned into a nightmare. Lewis was taking another penalty and this time a full 20 place grid penalty and that too on a track with not 26 but 29 points for the taking. The Austrian team was in wonderland. What they didn’t know was that Mercedes had an ace up their sleeve. Whether they were using Valterri as a guinea pig giving him several engine penalties just to perfect the engine or not, they figured out how to fit an engine into that car within regulations that could go 340km/h.
With this rocket in the back of his car, Lewis cleared 15 cars in just 24 laps. He received a further 5 place grid penalty because his rear wing did not follow regulations and he had to get a fresh one. But even this second penalty wasn’t able to stop the most decorated Formula 1 driver of all time to win his 101st Grand Prix and perhaps his best one. The boy from Stevenage overtook 25 cars in this race and won with 10.4 seconds to spare despite shenanigans from Max Verstappen on lap 48 when he pushed both cars wide. It was 95 laps of Hammer Time and racing fans could not get enough of it.
Then Formula 1 came to Qatar and Saudi Arabia both for the first time and Mercedes maintained the record of winning every debut Grand Prix of a track in the turbo-hybrid era. In Qatar, Max never stood a chance against Lewis. Every strategy Red Bull tried, Mercedes just replicated it. It was a textbook performance by the Silver Arrows. In Jeddah, Max put up a much better fight and some of his risks paid off and some led to him ending up in the barriers but the pace of the Mercedes even after the crash was just too much for him to handle.
With just one race left in this season, Lewis has only one job this weekend and that is to finish above Max Verstappen (and maybe steer clear of Mick Schumacher) and win his record 8th World Championship. Whoever wins this race and this World Championship will undoubtedly thoroughly deserve it, they have put up one hell of a show and shown us some excellent driving. As for me, I am just glad that this is the season I decided to start watching Formula 1.