Feature: The fierce fight for F1's Class B title
The schism between the leading three teams and the rest has grown in Formula 1 this year, resulting in a two-tier system, with the midfield gaggle often referred to as ‘Class B’. Motorsport Week delves deeper into the situation to have a slightly left-field fantasy-style look at a ferocious fight for honours.
The fight among the top three times has provided sufficient entertainment in terms of the actual title battle but for the rest, it has also been a close-run affair. The law of unintended consequences is such that removing the top three teams from the equation would undoubtedly have knock-on effects (particularly in terms of race strategies) but we will work with what we have available, particularly given that the divide in pace has meant that two separate races have effectively taken place at most Grands Prix anyway. The focus on the front-runners means that little attention is sometimes given to those further down the order – but it has been quite the battle…
NB – Motorsport Week has re-distributed points on a 25-18-15 basis for the midfield teams. In an instance of the driver in effect P10 not finishing, they do not receive a point.
Haas delivers on its pre-season promise by locking out the front-row of the grid, and easily converts it into a 1-2 during the early stages of the race. But it suffers a complete disaster in its pit stop as both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean retire due to cross threaded wheel-nuts, and the team cannot believe its misfortune. Fernando Alonso is promoted to the lead and begins the campaign with a surprise win for McLaren, making amends for a dismal winter, while Stoffel Vandoorne climbs onto the podium, the duo split by Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Result: 1. Alonso, 2. Hulkenberg, 3. Vandoorne, 4. Sainz Jr., 5. Perez, 6. Ocon, 7. Leclerc, 8. Stroll, 9. Hartley.
Standings: Alonso 25, Hulkenberg 18, Vandoorne 15, Sainz Jr. 12, Perez 10, Ocon 8, Leclerc 6, Stroll 4, Hartley 2
Pierre Gasly retired in Australia to compound a difficult start to the Toro Rosso-Honda partnership but he thrives in the twilight of Bahrain, edging Magnussen in qualifying before dominating the Grand Prix. Magnussen cannot live with Gasly’s pace but collects second place for Haas in the wake of its double DNF in Australia. Hulkenberg bags another podium, edging McLaren pair Alonso and Vandoorne, with Marcus Ericsson a surprise sixth for Sauber.
Result: 1. Gasly, 2. Magnussen, 3. Hulkenberg, 4. Alonso, 5. Vandoorne, 6. Ericsson, 7. Ocon, 8. Sainz Jr., 9. Leclerc, 10. Grosjean
Standings: Alonso 37, Hulkenberg 33, Gasly 25, Vandoorne 25, Magnussen 18, Sainz Jr. 16, Ocon 14, Perez 10, Ericsson 8, Leclerc 8, Stroll 4, Hartley 2, Grosjean 1
Having provided a glimpse of Renault’s pace across the first two events Hulkenberg finally delivers victory for the manufacturer. The R.S.18 holds a relatively comfortable advantage around the Shanghai circuit and his win ensures he takes the title lead from Alonso, who finishes a valiant runner-up. It’s a double podium finish for Renault as Sainz Jr. takes third, narrowly ahead of Haas’ Magnussen. Bahrain victor Gasly has a shocker and fails to score after colliding with Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley.
Result: 1. Hulkenberg, 2. Alonso, 3. Sainz Jr., 4. Magnussen, 5. Ocon, 6. Perez, 7. Vandoorne, 8. Stroll, 9. Sirotkin, 10. Ericsson
Standings: Hulkenberg 58, Alonso 55, Sainz Jr. 31, Vandoorne 31, Magnussen 30, Gasly 25, Ocon 24, Perez 18, Ericsson 9, Leclerc 8, Stroll 8, Sirotkin 2, Hartley 2, Grosjean 1
Perez kick-starts his title challenge with a classy win in a chaotic Grand Prix to make it four different winners from four different teams, ahead of Sainz Jr. and rookie Charles Leclerc, who profits from Grosjean crashing under the Safety Car. Hulkenberg looks good early on but a small lapse sends him into the wall – and retirement – though title rival Alonso also gets caught up in the drama, recovering to fourth, ahead of Lance Stroll, who gives Williams its best result of a challenging campaign.
Result: 1. Perez, 2. Sainz Jr., 3. Leclerc, 4. Alonso, 5. Stroll, 6. Vandoorne, 7. Hartley, 8. Ericsson, 9. Gasly, 10. Magnussen
Standings: Alonso 67, Hulkenberg 58, Sainz Jr. 49, Perez 43, Vandoorne 39, Magnussen 31, Gasly 27, Ocon 24, Leclerc 23, Stroll 18, Ericsson 13, Hartley 8, Sirotkin 2, Grosjean 1
It’s five from five – but a race of mixed emotions for Haas, as Magnussen’s dominant win is counterbalanced by Grosjean’s dismal run continuing, as he triggers a first-lap pile-up that eliminates erstwhile title leader Hulkenberg and Bahrain winner Gasly. Home heroes Sainz Jr. and Alonso finish on the podium, enabling the latter to extend his title lead, while Perez bags more decent points, ahead of Leclerc.
Result: 1. Magnussen, 2. Sainz Jr., 3. Alonso, 4. Perez, 5. Leclerc, 6. Stroll, 7. Hartley, 8. Ericsson, 9. Sirotkin
Standings: Alonso 82, Sainz Jr. 67, Hulkenberg 58, Magnussen 56, Perez 55, Vandoorne 39, Leclerc 33, Gasly 27, Stroll 26, Ocon 24, Ericsson 17, Hartley 14, Sirotkin 4, Grosjean 1
A classy performance gives Esteban Ocon his first 2018 win, becoming the sixth different victor in as many races, as Force India becomes the first team to mount the top step twice. Alonso’s title ambitions take a dent as he retires from second due to a gearbox issue, promoting Gasly and Hulkenberg, while Sainz Jr. closes on his compatriot for the title lead, despite failing to finish on the podium. Hartley looks good for fifth but is wiped out when Leclerc suffers a major brake failure.
Result: 1. Ocon, 2. Gasly, 3. Hulkenberg, 4. Sainz Jr., 5. Ericsson, 6. Perez, 7. Magnussen, 8. Vandoorne, 9. Grosjean, 10. Sirotkin
Standings: Alonso 82, Sainz Jr. 79, Hulkenberg 63, Perez 63, Magnussen 62, Ocon 49, Gasly 45, Vandoorne 43, Leclerc 33, Ericsson 27, Stroll 26, Hartley 14, Sirotkin 5, Grosjean 3
McLaren’s unreliability proves costly as Alonso relinquishes his title lead due to an exhaust failure, but he was already under the cosh thanks to Renault emphatically taking a 1-2 finish, with Hulkenberg leading home team-mate Sainz Jr. Ocon leads early on but is overhauled by both Renaults, while the other Force India of Perez loses out after a move on Sainz Jr. backfires and he spins.
Result: 1. Hulkenberg, 2. Sainz Jr., 3. Ocon, 4. Leclerc, 5. Gasly, 6 Grosjean, 7. Magnussen, 8. Perez, 9 Ericsson, 10. Vandoorne
Standings: Sainz Jr. 97, Hulkenberg 88, Alonso 82, Magnussen 68, Perez 67, Ocon 64, Gasly 55, Leclerc 45, Vandoorne 44, Ericsson 29, Stroll 26, Grosjean 11, Hartley 14, Sirotkin 5
New title leader Sainz Jr. commands proceedings to the delight of Renault on home soil, backing up a strong pole position with a cruise in race trim. But drama strikes within a few laps of the finish as an MGU-K failure robs his R.S.18 of vital straight-line speed! Magnussen picks up the pieces to win while Sainz Jr. preserves second courtesy of a late VSC period to clear up Stroll’s high-speed puncture. Hulkenberg fends off Leclerc for third, with the Sauber driver ruing a spin while chasing Magnussen. Erstwhile title leader Alonso picks up a point despite a late suspension failure.
Result: 1. Magnussen, 2. Sainz Jr., 3. Hulkenberg, 4. Leclerc, 5. Grosjean, 6. Vandoorne, 7. Ericsson, 8. Hartley, 9. Sirotkin, 10. Alonso (DNF, but still classified)
Standings: Sainz Jr. 115, Hulkenberg 103, Magnussen 93, Alonso 83, Perez 67, Ocon 64, Leclerc 57, Gasly 55, Vandoorne 52, Ericsson 35, Stroll 26, Grosjean 21, Hartley 18, Sirotkin 7
Grosjean consigns a miserable opening segment of the season to the bin as he leads a Haas 1-2 in Austria, more than doubling his points tally, while Renault has a tough time. Sainz Jr. struggles with tyre wear and is only ninth while Hulkenberg has an early exit due to an engine failure. Ocon edges Perez for the final spot on the podium, while Alonso works his way past both Sauber drivers to take fifth.
Result: 1. Grosjean, 2. Magnussen, 3. Ocon, 4. Perez, 5. Alonso, 6. Leclerc, 7. Ericsson, 8. Gasly, 9. Sainz Jr., 10. Sirotkin
Standings: Sainz Jr. 117, Magnussen 111, Hulkenberg 103, Alonso 93, Perez 79, Ocon 79, Leclerc 65, Gasly 59, Vandoorne 52, Grosjean 46, Ericsson 41, Stroll 26, Hartley 18, Sirotkin 8
Haas qualifies 1-2 but Grosjean and Magnussen collide into Village, prompting a furious response from Guenther Steiner, as Hulkenberg slips past. Leclerc challenges Hulkenberg for victory but a loose wheel in the pit stop leaves the youngster out of the race, promoting Ocon into second and Alonso third, the latter returning to the podium for the first time since Spain. Hulkenberg’s win elevates him back into the title lead as Sainz Jr. suffers his first retirement after clashing with Grosjean.
Result: 1. Hulkenberg, 2. Ocon, 3. Alonso, 4. Magnussen, 5. Perez, 6. Vandoorne, 7. Stroll, 8. Gasly, 9. Sirotkin
Standings: Hulkenberg 128, Magnussen 123, Sainz Jr. 117, Alonso 108, Ocon 97, Perez 89, Leclerc 65, Gasly 63, Vandoorne 60, Grosjean 46, Ericsson 41, Stroll 32, Hartley 18, Sirotkin 10
Haas looks good to bounce back from its missed chance in Britain but a rain shower throws the race into chaos – and it loses out. That acts as good news for Hulkenberg as he takes victory on home soil to extend his title advantage, but Grosjean stars in the closing stages, using fresh rubber to surge from sixth to second. The strategic error demotes Magnussen from a likely win to seventh, while a penalty means Sainz Jr. takes only eighth.
Result: 1. Hulkenberg, 2. Grosjean, 3. Perez, 4. Ocon, 5. Ericsson, 6. Hartley, 7. Magnussen, 8. Sainz Jr., 9. Vandoorne, 10. Gasly
Standings: Hulkenberg 153, Magnussen 129, Sainz Jr. 121, Ocon 109, Alonso 108, Perez 104, Leclerc 65, Grosjean 64, Gasly 64, Vandoorne 62, Ericsson 51, Stroll 32, Hartley 26, Sirotkin 10
Gasly’s middling season receives a timely boost as he vaults polesitter Sainz Jr. at the start and echoes his Bahrain result with a thumping triumph. Strategy conspires against the Renault driver as he slips behind Magnussen and Alonso, while a poor qualifying result leaves title leader Hulkenberg only seventh. He nonetheless heads into the summer shutdown with a slender advantage in the standings.
Result: 1. Gasly, 2. Magnussen, 3. Alonso, 4. Sainz Jr., 5. Grosjean, 6. Hartley, 7. Hulkenberg, 8. Ocon, 9. Perez, 10. Ericsson
Standings: 1. Hulkenberg 159, Magnussen 147, Sainz Jr. 133, Alonso 123, Ocon 113, Perez 106, Gasly 89, Grosjean 74, Leclerc 65, Vandoorne 62, Ericsson 52, Hartley 34, Stroll 32, Sirotkin 10
Force India’s summer break is dominated by its takeover and its typical strong form in Belgium rears its head again as the team’s Q3 gamble in mixed condition pays off. It converts a front-row lockout into a 1-2, with Perez the victor after his first-lap pass of Ocon. Grosjean is third, while Magnussen draws level on points with Hulkenberg after the Renault driver triggers a major pile-up at the start, cannoning into Alonso, who rides over Leclerc.
Result: 1. Perez, 2. Ocon, 3. Grosjean. 4. Magnussen, 5. Gasly, 6. Ericsson, 7. Sainz Jr., 8, Sirotkin, 9. Stroll, 10. Hartley
Standings: Hulkenberg 159, Magnussen 159, Sainz Jr. 139, Perez 131, Ocon 131, Alonso 123, Gasly 99, Grosjean 89, Leclerc 65, Vandoorne 62, Ericsson 60, Hartley 35, Stroll 34, Sirotkin 14
Joint points leader Magnussen clashes with Alonso in qualifying, facilitating Grosjean’s charge to pole position. He stays clear of the rest in the race but drama strikes long into the evening. Renault protests Haas’ floor and the Frenchman is chucked out of the results, a situation that hands Force India its second successive 1-2, this time with Ocon ahead. Hulkenberg is only eighth after his Spa-inflicted grid drop, while Magnussen fails to score after an early clash with Perez.
Result: 1. Ocon, 2. Perez, 3. Sainz Jr., 4. Stroll, 5. Sirotkin, 6. Leclerc, 7. Vandoorne, 8. Hulk, 9. Gasly, 10. Ericsson
Standings: Hulkenberg 163, Magnussen 159, Ocon 156, Sainz Jr. 154, Perez 149, Alonso 123, Gasly 101, Grosjean 89, Leclerc 73, Vandoorne 68, Ericsson 61, Stroll 46, Hartley 35, Sirotkin 24
Force India’s post-summer break dream turns into a nightmare as Perez and Ocon collide at the start, leaving the latter in the wall, and helping pave the way for Alonso to take his first win since Melbourne’s season-opener to reignite his championship hopes. Sainz Jr. is second while Leclerc gives Sauber another podium, as Hulkenberg retains his title advantage with fourth position. Magnussen fails to score after struggling for pace all weekend.
Result: 1. Alonso. 2 Sainz Jr., 3. Leclerc, 4. Hulkenberg, 5. Ericsson, 6. Vandoorne, 7. Gasly, 8. Stroll, 9. Grosjean, 10. Perez
Standings: Hulkenberg 175, Sainz Jr. 172, Magnussen 159, Ocon 156, Perez 150, Alonso 148, Gasly 107, Grosjean 91, Leclerc 88, Vandoorne 76, Ericsson 71, Stroll 50, Hartley 35, Sirotkin 24
As in the real table, it’s an extraordinarily close battle (albeit with the top six order slightly different), with results ebbing and flowing, and reliability proving crucial. Hulkenberg leads the way with four wins, Sainz Jr. is just three points off the title lead despite failing to score a win, while Magnussen, Ocon and Perez have all had standout moments. McLaren’s mid-season regression has cost Alonso – though he typically remains in the hunt – while Gasly has won twice but is only seventh overall, and Grosjean’s dismal start to the year is evident in comparison to his opponents.
It serves to show just how tight and unpredictable Formula 1’s midfield battle has been in 2018, with the situation effectively replicated in the actual table. Hulkenberg (53), Alonso (50), Magnussen (49), Perez (46) and Ocon (45) are closely separated, while Sainz Jr. (39) is also in the hunt for the real Class B honours. Liberty Media has stressed its desire to ensure that the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ is vastly reduced in the future, and the 2018 midfield battle demonstrates how such a competitive fight between all teams could provide an extraordinarily encapsulating storyline.