Summer testing: five things we learned

With Formula 1 taking a break for three weeks following the Hungaroring test, it’s a good time to take stock of everything from the comfort of a beach in Bali (if you’re Charles Leclerc) or home in Switzerland (if you’re Sebastian Vettel). So, what have we learned about the F1 season so far?

Hamilton carries the momentum into the second half of the season

The emotion on Lewis Hamilton’s face after the German Grand Prix in particular, when he went from 14th to first, said it all: at the moment, he’s driving like a champion. Possibly, better than he’s ever done. With a new Mercedes deal in his pocket and more wins (five) this year than any other driver – as well as five pole positions, matching Sebastian Vettel – he leads the championship by 24 points. That’s by no means an invincible margin, but it’s still a solid one heading into the summer break. At a time when most people are planning to sit either on the beach or at home, Lewis says that he’s going to do some travelling over the summer; this crazy lifestyle somehow energises him. But he combines the rock star persona with an almost extra sensory perception of what a car is doing. At the moment, he has the sort of energy and momentum that’s going to be hard to beat over the rest of 2018.

The hypersoft is a (raceable) record breaker

The first full season of the hypersoft has proved to be a popular one among the drivers. It’s a tyre that has broken records, with the fastest-ever laps of Monaco and Canada, where it was nominated this year. But not only that. It also broke the track record where it wasn’t nominated, such as Hungary: the latest venue for in-season testing. Lewis Hamilton described it as the best tyre that Pirelli has ever made, and the reason is obvious: the drivers love the massive extra speed that it brings. It’s a tyre that combines the best of both worlds: the speed of a qualifying tyre but the usability of a race tyre. In Monaco it completed stint lengths of more than 30 laps before needing to be changed.

There’s an amazing amount of young talent waiting in the wings

While there’s no doubt about the skills of the current established top stars, we’re also witnessing the emergence of some incredible young talents who are making their presence felt. First and foremost is reigning Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc, capitalising on the opportunity he has been handed at Sauber: which could yet lead to bigger and better things in the future. But there’s a range of different drivers following him through Formula 2, chiefly George Russell and Lando Norris, who have already been linked with Formula 1 drives – even this year – and shown well in testing. Just look at the two fastest testing times each day from Hungary, set by Antonio Giovinazzi on day one for Ferrari and George Russell on day two for Mercedes. That tells you how the future is in safe hands.

There will be a few changes for the 2019 tyres

Over the course of the first half of the season, it emerged that there were a few changes in the pipeline for the 2019 tyres. Each year, the compounds and structures change slightly, but in 2019 there’s going to be fewer of them, there will be a bigger performance gap between each compound, and they will be described in a different way: with just a soft, medium and hard compound available at every race. Of course these tyres won’t be the same for each grand prix: the hardest compound available for Silverstone will be very different to the hardest compound available for Monaco, for example.

So, for those wishing to go into a little more technical detail, each compound step will be given its own name or letter to distinguish it. Keeping the example of Silverstone and Monaco, for instance, the hard Silverstone tyre might be compound one whereas the hard Monaco compound might be compound three. The exact details (and colours) are yet to be confirmed, but this is the general principle. 

The midfield battle has never been closer

If you think the battle at the top is tight, you should take a look at the midfield... The gaps have closed dramatically outside the top four this season, which adds to the perception that some teams have suffered a spectacular fall from grace. The reality is that the smallest fraction of a second now makes a massive difference to the overall pecking order as all the midfield teams are a lot closer. This was always expected to happen this year, but the extent to which it has occurred has shocked a few people. Particularly those at the receiving end. The positive side is that a good tyre strategy can make a real difference now too, as some stellar performances from Toro Rosso (for instance) in Bahrain and Hungary proved....

Read more