Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

Pass masters: Who made F1’s biggest recovery drives of 2018?

2018 F1 season

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Which Formula 1 driver put on the most impressive overtaking display during last year’s races?

Analysis of last year’s championship shows there were 13 occasions when a driver made up a dozen places or more during a single race. And surprisingly, not all of these involved drivers from F1’s ‘big three’ teams.

Here are the drivers who made the biggest recovery drives of last season.

12 places gained

Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Perez charged to the podium at Baku

Vettel: 17th to 5th in France
Perez: 15th to 3rd in Azerbaijan
Ocon: 20th to 8th in Germany
Alonso: 20th to 8th in Austria
Ricciardo: 16th to 4th in Hungary and 18th to 6th in Russia

There were six occasions last year when a driver made up a dozen places from the lowest place they occupied during a race. Among them was Sebastian Vettel’s recovery to fifth in France following his first-lap collision with Valtteri Bottas – a theme we’ll return to.

Daniel Ricciardo made up 12 places in two races. One of them was in Russia, where he took the chequered flag sixth having started 18th. Team mate Max Verstappen started one place behind him – that’s something else we’ll return to.

But the drives by those not blessed with front-running cars were arguably more impressive. The Force India pair each made up 12 places on occasion. Sergio Perez did so en route to his excellent podium in Baku, while Ocon would have made up 13 places in Germany had he not been passed by Romain Grosjean late in the race.

13 places gained

Vettel: 19th to 6th in Japan
Hamilton: 14th to 1st in Germany
Bottas: 17th to 4th in Belgium

Another of Vettel’s enforced recovery drives came at Suzuka, where he clashed with Verstappen early on in proceedings. On that occasion it was significant Ferrari was content to let him finish sixth, one place behind team mate Kimi Raikkonen, and not swap the pair – a clear sign they recognised Vettel’s title hopes were realistically over.

Lewis Hamilton produced one of the drives of the season by winning from 14th on the grid in Germany. Mercedes did apply team orders on this occasion, telling Bottas to follow his team mate home, though to be fair this came after Hamilton had rebuffed an attack from Bottas at the restart. Bottas also gained 13 places after starting near the back at Spa.

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14 places gained

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Monza, 2018
Vettel’s Monza recovery run was bittersweet

Vettel: 18th to 4th in Italy
Verstappen: 19th to 5th in Russia

Vettel’s biggest recovery drive came in one of the costliest races for his title hopes. He clashed with Hamilton on lap one at Monza and recovering to fourth was scant consolation while Hamilton won the race.

Verstappen started behind Ricciardo but finished ahead of him in Russia after his team mate damaged his front wing on the first lap. And that wasn’t Verstappen’s best day in the office for overtaking, either.

15 places gained:

Hamilton: 17th to 2nd in Britain

Hamilton’s streak of home race wins came to an end last year. That looked likely to happen from the moment he was knocked into a spin on the first lap of the race. Remarkably, he recovered to be in contention for victory following a late Safety Car period. Second place behind Vettel was a remarkable damage limitation effort.

16 places gained

Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Verstappen rose 16 places to finish on the podium at the Circuit of the Americas

Verstappen: 18th to 2nd in USA

When the chequered flag dropped at the Circuit of the Americas, Verstappen was only 1.2 seconds away from victory. Nonetheless his 16-place climb through the field following a self-inflicted Q1 exit – he damaged his suspension on a kerb – was the biggest of the season and one of the racing highlights of the year.

NB: Analysis based on the positions drivers officially held at the start and end of each lap.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “Pass masters: Who made F1’s biggest recovery drives of 2018?”

  1. Alonso’s drive from Baku is missing on the list. Deadlast at the end of lap1 to 7th at end of race.

    1. He wasn’t so much dead last as second to last, i.e. in 17th at the end of the first lap. Thus, he made up ‘only’ 10 places.
      I do think it was a more impressive drive than most on this list, considering the circumstances, but objectively, it falls short of the entry criteria for this list.

      1. Correction: He was 16th at the end of the first lap, and 17th a lap later. How that’s possible during a Safety Car period, is beyond me.

      2. Exactly.

    2. Baku…7 DNF’s is what made Alonso’s P7 possible, Stroll finished 8th

      1. Same for Pérez, eh?

  2. ‘Verstappen started behind Ricciardo but finished ahead of him in Russia after his team mate damaged his front wing on the first lap.’

    Law of cause and effect? Verstappen would have finished ahead of Ricciardo anyway, on pace. This makes it sound like the decisive factor was Ricciardo damaging his front wing.

    1. @hahostolze
      Speaking of cause and effect – how do you know Verstappen would’ve finished ahead of Ricciardo on pace either way, when we didn’t see Ricciardo complete a single lap without front wing damage?
      I mean, come on. I know unconscious bias is a thing and all, but in this case it’s blatantly obvious.

      1. Verstappen passed Ricciardo before his wing took damage…maybe that’s why..?
        Verstappen was P5 while Ricciardo was still struggling on P12 somewhere

      2. I know unconscious bias is a thing and all, but in this case it’s blatantly obvious.

        yepp.. looking at the way the race developed and knowing VER already passed RIC your view is indeed “somewhat” biassed.

        1. And also, we know verstappen is generally faster than ricciardo, so the opposite happening like baku, would be an exception.

          If you want to see what those 2 drivers are like generally, watch monza 2017: verstappen started like 13th, ricciardo 17th, verstappen recovered much quicker, started better etc. and was quickly fighting for 7th place but risked too much with massa and got a puncture; ricciardo slowly recovered to 4th place, chasing vettel in the end, verstappen recovered to 9th.

          One is clearly faster, one is clearly safer.

          1. it’s a race.. i go for the faster driver..
            Safe driving is for grandpa and ma..

      3. Verstappen started behind Ricciardo, and at the time that Ricciardo damaged his front wing, Verstappen was already 5 (!!) places in front of Ricciardo. That fact, combined with the fact that Verstappen’s race pace has been better than Ricciardo’s on average, suggests it is pretty fair to say that regardless the front wing damage, Verstappen would have ended in front of Ricciardo imho.

        You are basically arguing that if the guy on p6 on the grid, ends up behind the pole sitter at the end of the race, after sustaining minor wing damage, it would be biased to say that the guy on pole would have most likely ended up in front anyway.

        To me that sounds very silly? To me, you seem the biased one here.

  3. One of the most impressive overtake drives isn’t on the list (only 11 places) and got the driver a Struggler accolade on this site: Verstappen in Monaco.

    1. @coldfly yep, agreed. Also marks his rebirth (or birth).

    2. Agreed, that one is more worth than the ones mentioned in the article. Also it worth noting that there was no safety car at that race (only virtual once if I’m not mistaken). For me recovering in a Mercedes or Ferrari on races .org safety car periods never meant much. Also, most of drivers from the midfield teams never bothered to fight w

      1. Damn internet bug! Continuing my previous post, the midfield drivers never bothered to fight against top teams recovery anyway. They weren’t to fight in a worthless battle and ruin their tires with the top teams. So most of these recovery’s from top 3 teams doesn’t mean much to me (besides that Monaco that is not on the article due to the circuit nature)

    3. There will be readers that are willing to contribute Max’s recovering race (11 places) in Monaco (questionably the hardest track to overtake) to Danny Ricciardo because he was driving slow at the front. Some people will even argue that Verstappen has to thank his teammate’s technical failures for all the praise he collected. Some fanatical anti-Verstappen F1 desktop commentators will conclude in 2019 that Max ruined the car when the Honda engine breaks down. There are even hard core haters that would like to see Verstappen punished with grid penalties in very race. In the end some of these will mark Verstappens first F1 championship as not so impressive because any other driver would have won in the Honda powered car.

  4. I felt Abu Dhabi was impressive as well…but among his best races (ruined by side factors) was Brasil. Overtaking 4 better cars on track just by being brilliant. Ricciardo couldn’t get passed though he was just 1.4 sec behind Vettel already in lap 4.

    That would have been an epic win, though it became epic for other reasons

    1. His car was the best that day.
      To people like you, if Mercedes and Ferrari are better at tracks like Monza or Spa, they are better everywhere.

      Red Bull had the best car for a couple of races, like Monaco, Mexico AND Brazil.

    2. I appreciate there are ‘MV fans” here but honestly Brazil is not a race where the chap showed his championship credentials… at all.

      Further, his ‘ability’ to overtake the greatest racers of a generation in later in the season races has to be tempered with the fact he has nothing to lose and they have everything to lose. They are not even racing him. Even the one eyed brigade must see that? Perhaps the earlier in the season failed attempts are a realistic guide.

      Which makes Brazil even more ridiculous for such a talented young man.

      1. If RBR really was the best car for the job, how come Ricciardo couldn’t catch up…? Is he just mediocre at best then?
        Fact remains the RBR was ‘just’ good enough for P5 during quali and never had a reasonable chance in Brasil during the hybrid era.

        Ironicly, I’ve heard the excuse of fe. Hamilton avoiding direct duals and picking his fights before…is that really..?
        Makes me wonder why Hamilton crashed out in Mexico last season, with the title at stake…they don’t race to become second best, they race for wins, but loose out sometimes. Take the US GP…did Hamilton chicken out , or was Max simply to strong…?

        Max 11 podiums against Ricciardo just 2 really says it all

        1. I’d say red bull was indeed the best car in race pace at interlagos, after all it’s not like ricciardo held back, he overtook some of the top cars and was very close to raikkonen to try to get a last podium in the end of the race, but verstappen is obviously faster, when he doesn’t make mistakes he’s better than ricciardo, who compensates being an incredibly safe driver.

          1. “who compensates being an incredibly safe driver.”

            Though I generally agree to that, it’s all a bit exxagerated, not all Verstappens errors over the first few races have been due to his own fault, while Ricciardo took a penalty for ignoring a red flag, crashed in FP Spain, spunt wice in Spain and crashed in Baku…. it’s not like Ricciardo was way safer, his incidents din;t have the same impact cause the aftermath was not that dramatic, doesn’t change the fact he made about the same amount of mistakes…

          2. I agree RB had a better car in Brazil, especially when you take into account both Vettel & Hamilton had pace affecting car issues.

            Getting tired of some Verstappen fans who want to label Ferrari or Merc the best car at every race track simpy to grandiose Max’s performances. Also getting tired of their inability to look at the context in which the drivers race e.g if a driver has more to lose, so will avoid greater risks..

        2. He did not crash out and the title was hardly at stake.

          He was crashed into. Big difference.

          1. Why because he showed that he is also able to overtake when starting down the grid thus showing the world that MV is not the only one?
            I appreciate your a fan. I also appreciate you see every outing as a MV ‘brilliance’ exhibition. That’s fine. Right up until you suggest one of the best of all time is somehow a second rate racer and denigrate his skills.

            The vast canvas of work that Hamilton and even Vettel have managed in their careers tells its own story. One that MV, despite having undertaken more races than say Jim Clark ever did (33 poles etc) has yet to even paint a tiny corner of.

            The lad has talent – so do others. Sometimes they even have such without such an entitled attitude and without driving the very best chassis Red Bull ever produced.

  5. To me, the fact that most of those recovery drives are so heavily dominated by the top three teams says a lot more to me about how dominant those teams were and how easy it became for them to literally drive round the midfield teams.

    In that respect, I would say that the more impressive results were not those of the likes of Verstappen, Hamilton or Vettel, but rather those of Ocon, Perez and Alonso. In those instances, those drivers were having to work their way back up the field with a car that was of similar performance to those around them, so to me that is a more impressive achievement when the relative performance of their car is taken into account.

    1. Fully agree with you.

    2. @anon, Couldn’t agree more.

    3. Took the words right out of my typing.

      Most of the recovery drives were from the top 3 teams with many of them being caused by a lesser teams car “allowing” the car through to avoid any time loss (or for 1 driver in particular, collision) to protect their position rather that being a demonstration of amazing passing skills.

      I’d actually much rather see two cars locked in battle for several laps rather than the series of meek capitulation we saw last year.

      1. @dbradock, in some cases, it’s debatable what those midfield drivers could have done to try and prevent those drivers passing them, as sometimes the performance cap was pretty extreme.

        If we look at, for example, the case of Verstappen in the US GP, in those opening laps he was between 2 seconds and 2.5 seconds a lap faster than the midfield drivers around him. The gap was such that, at times, even if the leading driver stuck to the racing line, Verstappen just took a wider line and drove round the outside of them, as his cornering advantage was such that he was still significantly faster even on what would normally be a compromised racing line.

        Again, in earlier races in the season you could see a similar trend – when Hamilton was making his way back through the field in Silverstone, he was around 1.5 seconds a lap faster than those around him. Now, whilst the recent circuit changes have made passing more difficult, traditionally it’s been tricky to pass at Silverstone – but, in this case, Hamilton was able to keep up with the leading car through Becketts and Chapel, making it easier to make a pass stick into Stowe when, in the past, that normally would have been a lot more challenging.

        In some cases, a minor amount of car damage might not be enough to slow down those drivers either – Vettel did have some minor damage in Monza, but was still able to lap around a second a lap faster than the midfield drivers in the opening stages, and around two seconds a lap faster after his second stop.

        Now, even with the major blistering problems Ferrari had in that race and despite the fact that a two stop strategy is traditionally a slower strategy at Monza, Vettel was still able to come through the field pretty quickly – with that sort of difference, he could pretty much place the car where he liked and pass where he liked.

        I will concede that, perhaps a bit earlier in the season, that might have been a fraction more difficult for the top three teams as the performance gap was a little less pronounced – it felt as if a lot of midfield teams decided to focus more on 2019 and slowed development down in the latter part of this year, resulting in an ever widening gap between the top teams and the rest of the field.

        By the end of the year, with that sort of difference in hand, it felt as if the midfield drivers weren’t even surrendering the position – it felt more as if, even if they wanted to try and defend their position, those top three teams had such a performance advantage that they could easily just go round them even if they did try to defend their position.

    4. I get the point, so we have a midfield championship which is far more interesting as what is happening up front. Charging to the midfield is likely not a big deal for Ferrari and Mercedes due to the fact that most of the midfield use Ferrari or Mercedes engines. Maybe RB has a light disadvantage here. But these are still all F1 cars just a bit slower, it doesn’t make it a walk through, on television it just looks that way.

      1. Yes, maybe some slightly bigger difficulty for red bull, but look at verstappen in russia, if you want to recover quickly you can do it even in a red bull.

        Tbh while at least in 2017 someone put in some defense for what the car allowed in 2018 it was just almost always a cakewalk, B team drivers just gave up when being overtaken by A team drivers, to the point that aside from obvious tracks like australia and monaco, if someone span or had to change front wing or started from the back in one of those cars, you immediately said: “ok, he’ll recover to 6th if no one else retires, or even better”, it wasn’t even a question.

  6. If we take into account DNF’s (including those that were classified but did not actually get to the finish line) and DSQ’s, it looks to me like Max did the best recovery drive of anyone this season in Russia. He went from 19th to 5th with only two DNF’s to ‘help’ him. The drive in the US got him more “places recovered” but there was also 4 DNF’s and 2 DSQ’s to ‘help’ him.

    (Obviously I haven’t looked into how DNF’s actually effected the race and when they occurred, eg, if a dnf occurred after the passing driver has already made the pass it was still a pass that needed to be made and cost him time, yet I’m disregarding that, searching this could change the outlook of my ‘analysis’)

  7. Out of all the recovery drives mentioned, I thought Hamilton’s drive in Germany and Max’s drive in USA were really outstanding. Too bad Alonso’s drive in Baku isn’t on the list because that was another spectacular comeback drive from last after dragging a nearly-retired car back to the pits.

  8. For me this is a story for the statisticians only.
    If a driver in the top three teams of 2018 couldn’t make their way from the back of the grid and into one of the top six positions, then his car was broken or the driver did something stupid.
    These numbers are not going to convince me that some of these drivers are the greatest overtakers of all time.

    1. What is needed is something like the as used in the US. Not perfect, but better than trying to justify a drivers performance on data skewed by the cars performance.

      1. That only works if you take the performance of cars into account in the ELO calculation as well, because the result is a combination of car and driver performance.

        1. Agree, you would probably have to measure the team performance first and then the drivers with an offset for the teams car numbers.

  9. Got the idea, but overtaking even through the midfield can cost you the tyres because of degrading through temp, braking, of the race line etc. Remembering how bad these Pirelli’s are, it really isn’t as simple as it looks.

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