As F1 heads for its summer break, we reflect on some of the main talking points from the Hungarian Grand Prix and the 2018 season so far.
Is Valtteri Bottas a glorified wingman for Lewis Hamilton?
NS: Although I think Mercedes is sincere in its desire to give both drivers equal treatment, it's very hard to say he isn't. Bottas has done an admirable job since he joined but has not enjoyed the same luxury Nico Rosberg did alongside Hamilton: When the German was there, Mercedes' drivers were fighting each other for victories and championships. Last year, Bottas and Hamilton had to fend off Ferrari, and this year, the threat posed by the Italian team is even bigger, so it's only natural that the team will find itself in situations where the quicker driver has to rely on his teammate to play rear-gunner. Unfortunately for Bottas, he will be in the latter role more often than not.
KW: Yes, but almost any other driver on the grid would be, so it's no criticism of Valtteri. Kimi Raikkonen is a world champion who is effectively a glorified wingman for Sebastian Vettel. It's a useful way to run a successful racing team. You can't have two roosters in a single henhouse, and what an F1 team wants is two reliable talents to score points. Having a lead driver supported by someone more than capable of picking up any dropped balls is a good way to go. Valtteri has shown that he has the talent to shine, but he's also very good at bringing up the rear when needed. It's an underrated but highly valuable attribute in a team.
MH: Circumstances, such as Sunday's race, might put him in that position, but otherwise he's free to go for it. As the season goes on, however, he might be called upon to do whatever is necessary to help Lewis when Valtteri's points total puts him out of championship contention. He might indeed become a wingman but a bloody good one who hasn't had the best of luck.
LE: Had things turned out differently at the start of the season in Bahrain, China and Baku, Bottas would have more power to control his narrative this year. But sadly, that wasn't the case, and he is now 81 points adrift of Hamilton in the standings, so it makes sense for Mercedes to favour its lead driver in a title battle as close as this. In Hungary, he was put on a high-risk strategy on the pretense that it might have paid off with a podium, but there was no doubt that, for the sake of his race, he should have made a second stop to cover Kimi Raikkonen. Once Sebastian Vettel emerged behind him, however, he was in too good a position not to be used as a rear gunner for Hamilton.
Can Force India survive?
NS: Now that the sale of the team is out of the hands of Vijay Mallya, I think the chances look good. There are a lot of people working to make it happen, and Force India's recent performance history is a very appealing prospect for anyone wanting to get involved.
KW: They should be able to, as the Silverstone racers are something of an F1 hydra, growing a new head every time they're assumed to be down for the count. Over their various iterations, they have become the "little engine that could" of Formula One, consistently punching above their budget in the championship fight. Administration should help preserve the team longer-term, giving them time to find a realistic buyer among the blowhards currently showboating over "rescue deals" that are no such thing.
MH: If ever a team was a viable "going concern" in terms of potential, it's Force India: not big and political, not small and bumping along at the back of the grid. A prospective purchaser would be buying into an experienced little team that somehow has managed without proper investment. We just have to hope that the terms and circumstances allow it to survive. It would be a travesty if not.
LE: As long as Force India's F1 prize money for next year can be guaranteed, then there are buyers that will be interested in the team. There are suggestions that the rights to the prize money will be waived by the team going into administration because under new ownership it would be classified as a new team under the Concorde Agreement. If that is the case, then it appears to be the biggest stumbling block right now because it would require the agreement of all the teams for Force India to get its money.
Does Stoffel Vandoorne deserve to stay in Formula One beyond 2018?
NS: Yes. He has underperformed, but he finds himself in a dumpster fire of a situation. McLaren's track record with young drivers since Lewis Hamilton has been abysmal, and he finds himself mired in what must be the team's lowest ebb in its long history. On top of that, Zak Brown is moulding the team around Fernando Alonso, who is still operating at the top of his game and making Vandoorne's struggles look even worse. Like Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen, Vandoorne deserves the chance to revive his career away from McLaren.
KW: Nope. Next question?
MH: Hungary showed what has been expected, as he stuck with Alonso until the car let him down. Whether this had anything to do with a new chassis and problems with the old one, only the team can tell. It's interesting that Stoffel kept referring to the new car as back to "feeling normal." But it probably comes too late with so many promising and established names looking for his seat (assuming Alonso stays on for 2019, which is not a given).
LE: If he starts equalling or outperforming Alonso after the summer break, then yes. But as things stand, McLaren has some very tempting options for 2019, and Vandoorne isn't one of them.
Which driver has impressed you the most in this first part of the season?
NS: Kevin Magnussen has been in great form for most of the season so far, barring the odd off-day here and there. The Haas driver has been the one most able to convert his team's pace into points this year and has regularly out-performed Romain Grosjean on race weekends. He has also been able to harness his aggression into a very impressive race craft, which he displayed brilliantly against Fernando Alonso at Silverstone.
KW: Charles Leclerc has been excellent, though it has to be acknowledged that Sauber as a team have made a step forward since 2017. But the young Monegasque has consistently outperformed his more experienced teammate, remaining calm under the ongoing and increasing pressure that comes with the 2019 Ferrari drive whispers.
MH: Charles Leclerc is the obvious choice. Beyond that, I'd go for Daniel Ricciardo, who has been outstanding from every aspect, from the overtakes to win in China (and finishing strongly elsewhere) to that pole position lap and incredible performance in Monaco with a car the team thought wouldn't last, never mind stay in front for 78 laps.
LE: This might sound a bit dull and rather obvious, but I'm going with Lewis Hamilton. For four years, he has had the fastest car -- and for three of those just his teammate to fight against -- but this year, he has had to battle against the odds. As things stand, he is the reason Mercedes are leading both championships, and his talent has covered for some fairly big errors on the team's part. He didn't start the season on the best of form -- which is becoming something of a Hamilton trait -- but apart from a lock-up chasing Vettel in Baku, I can't think of a single race-changing error he has made.
On the flip side, which driver have you been most disappointed by so far?
NS: Romain Grosjean. I can't understand what has happened for his form to dip so extremely this year. His previous two years at Haas were excellent, and it is sad to see one of the grid's most unfulfilled talents spend what should be the twilight years of his career.
KW: Kimi Raikkonen, though not on the strength of his performances, several of which have been excellent. I'm more disappointed for Kimi than disappointed by him -- his occasional flashes of brilliance haven't really turned into anything, thanks to a combination of bad luck and questionable team strategy. I'd like to see him stand on top of the podium at least once more before he bows out, whenever that might be.
MH: When you take into account what each driver has done with the equipment available, you have to hesitate before giving the Williams drivers an easy kicking. Romain Grosjean has been as disappointing as Kevin Magnussen has been impressive in what is clearly a good car. The occasional decent performance has been outnumbered by too many schoolboy errors under pressure.
LE: I really wanted Brendon Hartley to break the mold this year and prove that a driver who has been successful in other categories can still kick-start a career in F1. Sadly, that hasn't been the case, and he has struggled to match Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly, who has been outperforming his machinery. As with all bad seasons in F1, there has been a fair bit of bad luck, but of all the drivers on the grid, he is the one who has underperformed the most.