The final laps have been turned, the last of the flight cases have been sealed and are back at base, and after 21 rollercoaster races, the 2018 Formula 1 season is a wrap.
Looking back at the campaign just gone, it’s hard to encapsulate what the team has been through over the past eight months or so, but if we were to choose one word to describe it all, that word might be ‘bittersweet’.
Four wins, a total of 13 podiums, 419 points and third place in the Constructors’ Championship tells one side of the story – a tale that includes some of the finest moments the team has experienced in F1’s turbo era – but the other side of the story includes the heartbreak of 11 DNFs, the lowest completed laps total of any of the 10 teams taking part in the championship and the sundering of key partnerships that have brought the team so much joy in recent years.
Indeed, whatever way you slice it, bittersweet is perhaps the only word that works when we look back and review just how the 2018 season played out…
The team went into the 2018 season if not brimming with confidence, then satisfied that the hard work done in 2017, the first season under a radically altered set of chassis and aero rules, had provided a good platform for development.
That faith was rewarded in Australia where Daniel matched the team’s best Melbourne in the hybrid era, finishing in fourth place after starting eighth and bagging the fastest lap of the race into the bargain.
“We had a very fast race car,” he said afterwards. “I think we're pretty close with Ferrari and our race pace is strong. Being so close to the podium and getting fastest lap is definitely an encouraging way to start the season.”
However, at Round 2 in Bahrain what would become something of a pattern for the season painfully emerged.
On the opening lap Daniel’s dashboard went dark and the Aussie coasted to a halt at the trackside, an electrical issue causing what would be the first of eight frustrating DNFs across the year. Max’s race didn’t last much longer – damage from a collision with Lewis Hamilton soon after the start leading to eventual retirement on lap four.
The double DNF, the team’s first racing double failure since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, was a body blow, but remarkably it took just seven days for despair to turn to delight, in China.
A lightning-quick decision to pit Daniel and Max during a Safety Car period just after the halfway point of the race put the Bulls on fresh soft tyres, while rivals ahead missed the pit opportunity and were circling on older, harder tyres.
In a stunning sequence of laps Daniel muscled past Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel before executing a daring but brilliant pass on race leader Valtteri Bottas down the inside into the hairpin to seal P1 and eventually his sixth career win. “After the safety car and when I could see the way the race was going I knew we had a chance,” he said. “Once I had a sniff of victory I wasn't going to let it go.”
The remarkable victory should have been the precursor to another weekend of rich pickings on the streets of Baku, but once again the 2018 season bit back.
Starting from fourth and fifth on the grid respectively, Daniel and Max were duelling from the start. Their intense battle was hard but clean, until lap 40, when calamity struck and the pair collided. Both were immediately ruled out of the rest of the race and for the second time in four races the team went home empty-handed.
Into the heartland
With the Baku incident behind us, we headed back to base and prepared for what would be a massively intense European leg of the season, but while the eight-races over 11 weekends were draining, they also proved to be a source of some of the season’s best moments.
In Spain, after a tough start to the season that saw him come under pressure following his Bahrain and Baku exits, Max silenced his critics with an outstanding and composed drive to his first podium finish of the season with third place.
Next, it was Daniel’s turn to deliver a battling performance, in his adopted backyard. Having been robbed of a likely Monaco win in 2016 due to a troublesome pit stop, Daniel started the weekend determined to exploit the RB14’s superior chassis and gain some poetic justice. His efforts were rewarded with a brilliant pole position, his second in the Principality.
On race day, however, it looked like Daniel was destined to once again be disappointed. After taking an early lead the Australian began to experience technical issues that threatened to derail his race.
The Honey Badger wouldn't be denied, however, and though he experienced heavy pressure from Sebastian Vettel, Daniel resisted and nursed his wounded car to a stunning victory, the seventh of his career and the team’s fourth in Monaco.
“We finally got some redemption and this is the sweetest feeling. It wasn't easy but now I can say I'm a winner here and it's great to win the team's 250th race,” he said.
With momentum now building the team claimed its fourth podium finish of the season in Canada, with Max putting in a superb drive to third place.
F1 next travelled to Provence and the Circuit Paul Ricard for the first French Grand Prix in a decade, and there Max powered through to P2 from fourth on the grid at the start and once again he delivered a carefully controlled drive to claim his 14th career podium finish.
The build-up to the race at Le Castellet also saw the team announce that after 12 years it would, at the end of the season, call time on its relationship with Renault as an engine supplier and from 2019 would partner with Honda.
Stay tuned for part two...