F1 2019 Season Preview

Feature image: Twitter – @F1

It’s finally here, Formula 1 2019. It’s taken a long time to get here but we are here, the start of it all again.

And it promises to be a fascinating season in prospect, with the gap between the top three teams seemingly as tight as ever, if testing is to be believed (always a dangerous thing).

Let’s break this title down between the top three, the midfield and then those near the back. In the process, I’ll touch on the drivers and the such, before making a few predictions and the such.

We’ll have fun.

The Top Three

Everything in testing should be taken with (many) grains of salt but, listening and reading the thoughts of people — well-informed people — who were there at Barcelona and the experts that were there, it would seem that Ferrari are the early team to beat.

It’s tough to gauge Mercedes in testing because they generally stick to their own programme and tend not to really care about what anyone else is doing, but when you hear the quotes from the drivers being unhappy with the balance and Mercedes bringing a heavily revised car to Week 2 of testing and another revised car to Melbourne, it would seem to suggest they’re on the back-foot (something Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed on Thursday).

I do think Mercedes are closer than people think but if they haven’t fixed their balance issues, it’s going to be a difficult opening for them in Melbourne if they can’t get on top of that quickly.

Ferrari, in comparison, seemed pretty happy with testing — at least in Week 1, all smiles with Vettel and company, though, the second week wasn’t as good as the first, they still set the fastest lap in testing and, according to those who are in the know, Mercedes’ fastest lap of testing wasn’t a true reflection of the gap between the two teams — the lap times suggesting that things are closer than things would appear.

We’ll see what happens but the Scuderia look good.

Red Bull look really intriguing, they’re a team that could easily spring a surprise at Australia, and some think they could be right there with Mercedes.

It’s hard to say where they will fall, we didn’t really see their true pace during Test 2.

They always build good cars but have been left wanting in the power department since 2014. Now armed with Honda engines, they enjoyed good reliability (Pierre Gasly letting them down in Spain more so than Honda) and I think there’s some genuine optimism for the Red Bull outfit.

It’ll be one of two things for Red Bull — they’ll either spring the biggest surprise in the paddock if they can turn up quicker than Mercedes, or we’ll see how much sandbagging has actually taken place between Ferrari and Mercedes and Red Bull will, again, be a distant third.

We’ll see.

Out of the top three teams, only Mercedes retained their driver lineup of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.

Hamilton comes in as a five-time champion and coming off one of the most consistent seasons I’ve ever seen — I’d imagine he’s in a good place.

It’s a different story for Bottas, who — from race number one — I’d imagine will be under pressure. He’s technically out of contract at the end of this year and Esteban Ocon is lingering, waiting for a seat to present itself. F1’s infamous politics kept Ocon — a member of the Mercedes driver programme — out of a seat in 2019 but a repeat of last season for Bottas would surely result in a change of drivers for 2020.

Bottas was unlucky in many spots last year (Baku, France etc.) but he was poles apart from Hamilton when it counted. If he’s in the title hunt after seven, eight races, Mercedes will probably let them at it — as they’ve historically done when their two drivers have been in genuine contention for the title. But if Hamilton has a significant advantage — as he did last year — you can only see it swinging as it did last year with Mercedes giving their backing to Hamilton.

Bottas says he’s ready and raring to go but we’ll see how he responds in Australia — a track where, of course, he binned it in a major way in Q3.

At Ferrari, it’s a case of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ as Kimi Raikkonen makes way for Charles Leclerc.

Where Mercedes let their cars race — for the most part — Ferrari have held preference in terms of drivers for a while now: it’s Sebastian Vettel > teammate.

Ferrari have been back and forth in their comments about letting the two race and whether Leclerc is a number two or not… It’s all words at Ferrari but until we see it in action for sure, nothing that has been said matters — that’s the reality of it.

If Leclerc gets off to the dream start and beats his teammate in Australia and is ahead of Vettel in the standings, say, after Spain, it’ll make for a fascinating situation at Maranello.

I ultimately think that Vettel’s savviness and experience will edge Leclerc in his first season at Ferrari, and I think this year could prove a learning experience for Leclerc about what it means to be a Ferrari driver, what it means to win races and it means to have every mistake/inconsistency scrutinised.

It’s a pressure he’s never faced before.

That’s not to say he can’t be in the hunt and take it to Vettel — I’m sure he will at times. But over 21 races, everything would point toward Vettel edging Leclerc — experience, savviness and his position in the team, which matters massively at a team like Ferrari.

Their car looks incredibly promising but the issue with Ferrari is their development throughout the season. They had to go backwards to go forwards, shedding the upgrades they had placed on the car from Singapore onwards off at USA and boom, the car was back at the front.

Mercedes, in recent history, have been able to out-develop Ferrari over the course of the season, so if Ferrari have an advantage they need to maximise it in the first few rounds before Mercedes bring those upgrades. Ferrari having their upgrades actually work would also help…

Red Bull officially made Max Verstappen their number one driver as Daniel Ricciardo moves on to Renault. Pierre Gasly arrives from Toro Rosso very much as a number two driver.

I’m not a huge Gasly fan and I think he will struggle against Verstappen.

That pairing is going to be explosive and not in a good way. Danny Ric was great for Max and those two personalities got on well even after a clash or two, they could at least exist but if Max and Gasly come together, you’d fear the worst, and I think those two aren’t going to like each other and it’s not going to take long for that happen.

A personality clash waiting to happen.

Red Bull themselves are an interesting prospect. We have no idea what to expect other than they’ll probably be in the top three. After that, who knows? They do develop quite well historically, so if they’re close to Ferrari and Ferrari have another development disaster, it’s going to be interesting.

The Midfield

The midfield battle looks as tight as ever, and it’s hard to say who’s leading the way.

It’s very unpredictable.

McLaren went for some headline laps in testing, so it’s hard to say where they’re at whereas Racing Point’s car in testing is going to be very different to one we see at Australia — so it’s tough to say where those two teams will figure amongst the pack.

Haas had a mixed winter but whispers are they’re looking decent but I’d imagine the top two in the midfield will come between Renault and I think Alfa Romeo could be in the mix. Their front wing design is one that everyone is talking about and I think they could easily mix it up with Haas and maybe Renault but I’m a bit skeptical about that one.

Toro Rosso, I’d imagine, will be in the lower part of the midfield but there’s optimism for them after a strong testing. Perhaps they could be duking it out with McLaren, we’ll see.

Speakng of, McLaren is where arguably the most change has occurred as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exit, and Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris come in. Sainz will be fine, he’ll do well. I don’t think there’s any need to worry there. It’s Norris where the unpredictability lies. I like Norris’ superstar potential. I think his ceiling is higher than George Russell’s but I think his floor is lower.

What I mean by that is I think there’s a greater potential for stardom in Norris but more chance of Norris being a bust. There’ll be ups and downs for Norris in his rookie season but I think he’ll be OK — I do expect Sainz to better him in his rookie season though.

Alfa Romeo have also changed their lineup, replacing the outgoing Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi — old and young. Raikkonen is a great addition and I think he’s going to enjoy a somewhat resurgent season, even though I thought he had a good season last year. But he’s free of Ferrari. Free of ‘number two status’, free of the awful strategies Ferrari put him on to help Vettel/hamper Mercedes. As a team leader, I think Raikkonen will have a strong season.

Giovinazzi is already under pressure due to his past. He filled in in 2017 for the injured Pascal Wehrlein and binned it on both occasions when it mattered, as well as binning it in Hungary too in a test with Haas. He’s got to build some consistency and I have no idea what to expect.

All change at Toro Rosso too, as Daniil Kvyat returns and Alex Albon is promoted from F2. I like Kvyat and I think he can have a bounce-back season but I think Albon has a tough season ahead and, with the exception of perhaps Lance Stroll, there’s a chance Albon is the worst driver on the grid — never even setting foot in an F1 car until testing.

Speaking of Lance Stroll, he joins the newly named Racing Point team alongside Perez. Perez should smoke him, I don’t believe in Stroll at all but let’s see. Their car is going to be interesting, let’s see where they’re at with this new car in Australia, again, vastly different from the one we saw in Spain.

Haas were one of the few teams to stick with their driver lineup, in fact, the only Haas and Mercedes are the only teams to retain their lineups in 2019 with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen is in good shape but there’s a lot of pressure on Grosjean after his mixed 2018. He’s a good driver, for sure, but is prone to mistakes so if he can iron those out, he should have a good year because the car I think could be promising out of the box.

Renault are an intriguing prospect and I think boast one of the better lineups in Nico Hulkenburg and Daniel Ricciardo.

It’s going to be an interesting year for Hulkenburg.

Many thought (myself not included) that Sainz would come and slap Hulkenburg but it never happened, Nico acquitting himself very well in that battle, besting Sainz in the end. But Ricciardo will be a different beast. As long as he can match, even if he finishes a few point behind Ricciardo (reliability depending, of course), that’s a successful season for Hulk.

In terms of Renault themselves, even if they don’t start out fourth quickest, I thoroughly expect them to end fourth quickest. How close can they get to the top three? I think they’ll be closer but not close enough to compete for podiums on raw pace.

The Rear

Williams, I’m afraid, look a long way off everyone else after their disastrous start, missing the majority of the first test in Spain.

Robert Kubica returning to F1 is a great story but it’s probably not going to be a great year for him in terms of the machinery he has underneath him to work with — he already seemed fed up with the car in Spain in testing. It might be tough to measure Kubica’s season against rookie George Russell, given that Russell, well, is a rookie.

If Russell completely out-paces him, it’s going to be tough to say whether Russell is legit or if coming back to F1 was one step too many for Kubica, faced with physical limitations no other driver has to deal with after his rallying accident in 2011.

I’m hopeful Williams will be better than advertised but it’s not looking good. The car looks great in terms of its livery but in terms of performance… Yeah… Sorry.

Awards/Predictions

Let’s get into the fun stuff. Awards and predictions.

Driver’s Champion: Sebastian Vettel

Constructors’ Champion: Ferrari

Best of the Rest: Renault

Surprise of the Season: Alfa Romeo

Best Rookie: Lando Norris

Most Improved: Daniil Kvyat

Most Disappointment Driver: Pierre Gasly

Most Disappointing Team: Williams

Best Livery: Ferrari, their matte finish and the added black really stand out. What a gorgeous car.

Worst Livery: Racing Point. I like the pink but the blue they added is in the wrong places, and it just doesn’t look great.

Best Helmet:

The most important one of the lot. Here are the helmets, put together fantastically by Racefans.net:

racefansdotnet-f1-drivers-helmets-2019.jpg

Lewis Hamilton’s is great this year, Lando Norris’ is great too as is Charles Leclerc’s.

I’ll say Danny Ric though — just way off the beaten path but looks fantastic — the most wild one out there.

Worst Helmet: Pierre Gasly. Hands down. Awful. There’s 1000 better ways to incorporate the French flag in your helmet, Romain Grosjean does a good job if it but this is awful…


I can’t wait for it to all unfold.

F1 2019 promises to be the most exciting season in recent memory. May she live to the hype.

Let’s go.

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Why Persona 5 Became my Favourite Game of All Time

(If it wasn’t obvious, there’s going to spoilers for Persona 5 here. So please, if you’re still playing it or haven’t finished it, please don’t read this)

Gaming is part of who I am. Ever since I’ve been young, I’ve loved gaming.

It always provided me with an escape from reality and an opportunity to delve into a fantasy world/setting where my imagination and mind can run free and dream. Where I could spend endless hours of enjoyment and enjoy the creation of someone’s imagination through the splendour of a great story or gripping gameplay – and in some cases, both.

But such an occurrence is rare — usually it’s one or the other. Or, perhaps one of one and a half of the other. The gameplay could be fantastic but maybe story doesn’t add up to that level — or visa-versa.

For example, I love Horizon Zero Dawn. That’s an amazing game, truly one of my favourite games in terms of gameplay, mechanics and its overall functionality – it’s an absolutely amazing experience. Almost perfect to play. But the story isn’t quite on the same level. The story is good, don’t get me wrong. It just didn’t grip me the way the gameplay did. I was left wanting a something a little different in the end.

Look, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I love that game and would recommend it to anyone and it’s one of my all-time favourites, but the story couldn’t match its incredible gameplay.

But I played a game recently that did keep up in all areas: Persona 5.

I actually first saw the game when I was over in America in February 2018 when I was at a friend’s house and saw her playing it. It looked interesting but did nothing more for me than that at that moment.

The part of the game she was playing was when Ann Takamaki discovers her Persona — so the part with Kamoshida in his gown and pink, um, undies and the such… At the time, I didn’t realise that my first viewing of the game was not a normal part of the game but more so a rare occurrence — not every day in the game does someone discovers their Persona…

But I didn’t let what would’ve been an odd scene to someone seeing it for the first time with no context stand in the way of my initial impressions: it looked interesting. Certainly, the art direction and its main colour of red got my attention.

Anyways, fast forward to near the end of 2018 or so. I’m spending time with some friends and one of them mentioned Persona 5, and I at least knew of its existence at this stage and had seen enough to have a little conversation about it and he mentioned that it was an amazing game.

All of these things intrigued me enough to check it out on the PSN store to see what the story was.

Sure enough, there was a sale for the game and it was going for 40 euro. Before I committed to that price, I had a quick look at some of the ratings/reviews to see what others thought of it and it received really positive scores: IGN gave it a 9.7.

Now, IGN’s ratings have been known to be odd from time to time (see: Pokemon ORAS) but to throw out a 9.7 on a game that looks styled and fashioned like a Japanese anime — and a game mainstream gamers would never play or could appreciate — is a rarity.

So, I bought it and hopped in not knowing a thing about Persona 5 or the Persona series (I had at least heard of the Persona series but no more than that) and little did I know what adventure would lie before me.

Not only did Persona 5 leave a lasting impact on me, but it would end up becoming my favourite game of all time.

For the longest time, the original Ratchet and Clank held that mantle. I’ll love Ratchet and Clank forever, and the original boasts a wonderful sense of adventure, humour — among many other things. It’s the game I know off of by heart and could play with my eyes closed, tell you where all the secrets are etc…

That’s my jam.

The original quartet of Ratchet and Clank games for the PS2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, the original Need for Speed Most Wanted, Need for Speed Carbon, Tony Hawk’s Underground, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for PS1… These are some of my other favourite games. 

Some timeless classics in there, future classics and some games that wouldn’t mean a lot to anyone else other than myself.

And now Persona 5 has climbed to the top of that list, ahead of games I’ve spent countless hours and have known, in some cases, for well over a decade — heck, nearly two decades when it comes to the original Ratchet and Clank quarted for PS2.

How did this happen? What was it about Persona 5 that caused this?

One of the biggest things for in Persona 5 me is the story.

It’s obviously extremely well thought out, well written and it always kept me guessing. I was never sure how exactly it was going to go or wind up.

But there’s the story itself and then how one tells a story.

For the majority of the game, the game goes back and forth between past and present as you recall your past events to prosecutor Sae Nijiima after your arrest in the game’s opening sequence, in what is the present-tense/present day.

I do enjoy this method of storytelling, especially in Persona 5 and the way it’s handled. Well, that is once you get used as to when and why you go from past to present, because at first it can be a little confusing.

When you reach the, I guess, ‘next chapter’ of the story, you’re returned to the present to help set the table for what’s going to happen in the story — for example, you know who your next target is but don’t know how you get to that point when you see it.

The instance of going from present to past is when you create a bond/establish a relationship with a character (referred to as ‘confidants’), as you’re recalling your memories to Sae.

As you go from past to present, Sae asks how about key members of your journey and what their role with assisting you and the Phantom Thieves was — which, of course, you already know once you establish that confidant, for example, Kawakami helps you skip classes which allows you extra time to do a variety of things.

I really enjoyed that method of storytelling but if you haven’t played the game before it can get a little confusing.

Another thing I loved about Persona 5 was its length.

Generally speaking, I love games that are long but that comes with a condition: it can’t be long for the sake of being long — there needs to be substance to the length and it’s not just long for the sake of being long. Meaningful length.

For example, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a long game, and it’s unnecessarily long.

Alright, here’s a basic synopsis of Skyward Sword.

You have your first visits to Lanayru Desert, Eldin Volcano and Faron Woods and then, during your second visits to each area, you explore a brand new area that you didn’t on your first — new skills/items to be applied and applied etc.. Cool.

Then, you have your third visits to each area but there’s no new area to be found but instead it’s the conditions/environment that have changed (though, that isn’t totally true for Lanayru where you do, kind of, explore some new ground).

The reason behind your third visit to each area is to search for the Song of the Hero, key to unlocking the last temple. The whole chase for the Song of the Hero is too long — too many rings to jump through for a measly song. And during that time, little story development actually takes place — you’re just going to get part of a song in each dungeon/area. Nothing new is really revealed in this time in the game’s story — it’s just spending HOURS doing things like collecting tadnotes under the water for one part of a song. There’s no story development, that’s it. You’re assembling a song.

That part of the game feels repeated, it feels arduous and it drags on and you’re truly ready to be done with each region when it’s over — after all, how excited can you be about returning to the same three areas throughout your incredibly long adventure while not being able to fast travel on the ground? It takes its toll.

But these are feelings that I never got that feeling with Persona 5, even as the hours racked up — 50, 60, 70, 80 hours later I never felt as though the game was dragging. I was always fascinated by the direction the game was going, where the story was going, and you were still exploring new areas, all the way to the end. New things were always coming to light and not for the sake making up things — it all feels connected. Even when you get to the Mementos Depths and while Mementos itself is nothing new (arguably, the one area of the game that does feel like it drags on but you’re never there for too long and it’s rarely required), it’s drastically different to anything you’ve seen of/in Mementos up to that point.

With the story as a whole, you just take it all in your stride — the ups, the downs — but the really big plot stuff starts to go down after you complete the sixth Palace of the game: Sae Nijiima’s Casino.

When you complete Sae’s Palace you really feel things have come around full circle, as the escape from Sae’s Palace is where you begin the game originally — the failed heist.

But this time, you now know almost everything that has happened in the build up to your arrest (how you became a Phantom Thief, the people whose hearts you changed etc.), so when you go sacrafice yourself — which you didn’t know first time around — in order to ensure your team escapes, there’s a certain heaviness when you repeat the opening scene again, because you know what’s coming and you don’t know what happens after this point. You now know how you ended up where you are but now it’s all truly into unknown. It’s the same kind of heaviness that you feel when you see the casino interior the first time you see the inside of Sae’s Palace and recognise that this is the same casino that you know your eventual arrest is coming in. A sense of ‘what goes wrong here?’.

But one difference between the beginning of the game and this time is that you’re greeted by your starting Persona, Arsene, which did not happen in the game’s opening sequence.

You fuse away Arsene very early in the game, so seeing him again was very cool after all of this time, but his reunion is not one of happiness but of duty and he implores Joker to ‘recall’ his friends and his bonds, as his ‘fate will be determined soon’.

Having played the game, I’m sure you know that there are multiple endings — and multiple bad endings at that — and you’ll be greeted with one of them you sell out your friends to Sae in the interrogation, but you are told you would see Arsene again if you ‘fated to continue past this point’ if you follow his drift — in other words, you’ll see him again if you’re not an asshole and you don’t sell out your friends.

I really like Arsene and the fact he knows what lies ahead of you and that the moment that arguably, changes everything in the game (if not, it’s at least one of the most defining moments in the story) is coming — I just really loved that part. He knows what he knows and there’s a ‘I’ll see you on the other side’ kind of element to it, which I personally really love.

Though, I’m not sure anyone could’ve expected what happens after you finish wrapping up your testimony to Sae, who, throughout the game, slowly comes around to the truth as Joker’s testimony lines up with some of her thoughts and theories, even though they makes no earthly sense.

Well, I’ll rephrase somewhat. When you’re arrested, you’re told you’ve been betrayed by one of your team members. As you progress through the story, there’s no question in your mind that anyone in your team — Ryuji, Ann, Morgana, Makoto, Yusuke, Futaba, Haru — would ever betray you. But what you didn’t know when the game started was that Goro Akechi — a detective with a Persona of his own — was a late addition to the team, joining only to take the Treasure from Sae’s Palace and joined with the condition that the Phantom Thieves disband after the job was done, threatening to expose the identities if they refused his offer. With how he joined the Phantom Thieves in the first place through blackmailing them and being someone who has spoken out against the Phantom Thieves throughout the story, you were always a little suspicious of him when he joined and it wasn’t really a surprise when you learned he was the traitor that sold out the Phantom Thieves.

Once he reveals his true affiliation, he kills who he believes is the leader of the Phantom Thieves in the interrogation room after Sae leaves and you’re left to believe for a minute that you’ve chosen the bad ending (which you get if you sell out your friends when Sae asks you to confess the names of the other Phantom Thieves).

Of course, as it turns out, this is not the bad ending, and that Akechi only killed a cognitive replica of Joker — all part of a plan to trick Akechi, who the Phantom Thieves knew joined with ulterior motives from the get-go (which is revealed after the event itself).

I loved the twist that the Phantom Thieves actually knew Akechi joined with ulterior motives the start and how they knew something was off; flashing back to a conversation that took place many, many hours ago — and, in-game, months beforehand — and one certainly most would’ve forgotten or disregarded. It was during a school trip to a TV studio where Akechi overheard talk about pancakes, which came not from Joker, Ryuji or Ann but from Morgana, the cat.

As we find out, only people who have been into the Metaverse can hear Morgana speak in the real world — to everyone else, he’s just a normal cat meowing.

The plan to get caught at Sae’s Palace, placed into the interrogation room, earning enough trust from Sae to go along with a plan she had no idea was taking place and show Akechi Joker’s phone, which would place him in the Metaverse — where the interrogation room is the same in reality as it is in the Metaverse – thus, leaving Joker to twiddle his thumbs in the real world as Sae saves him and smuggles him back to Leblanc while Akechi believing he killed the real Joker. It was so well thought out and I had to go back and watch how the whole thing played out again on YouTube to try make sense of it again.

Sae’s Palace was the sixth in the game, the Palaces being the main dungeons/temples in Persona 5.

The Palaces themselves were really cool, touching on so many different themes based on the ruler’s distortion. Arguably, they started the game off with the worst Palace with Kamoshida’s Castle. It’s just a slow climb up without a ton of puzzle solving aspects to it (at least the music was great), whereas Madarame’s, Kaneshiro’s, Futaba’s, Okumura’s, Sae’s and Shido’s Palaces are filled with a ton of puzzles and are just much more interesting Palaces than Kamoshida’s.

Futaba’s was one of my favourites, not just because of the music but because her set of circumstances as to why you’re in her Palace to begin with was so different from everyone else. And seeing her story and tragedy told as you progress through the Palace was very moving.

Kaneshiro’s Palace was really interesting puzzle-wise but, I think, unlike the other Palaces, you kind of stumble on the end of it whereas you knew with the others where the Treasure was. For me at least, it was just getting to the middle of the that giant vault and expecting more after solving the puzzle and getting to the middle, only to take the lift down and see the Treasure floating in mid-air and go ‘Oh, this is it.’

The Palaces music was usually great. The only Palace that was left really lacking in the music department is Madarame’s, and I guess the first theme in Kaneshiro’s gets a bit repetitive, but it is catchy.

The music in general in Persona 5 was something I thoroughly enjoyed. From the start when you’re greeted with ‘Life Will Change’, from the main overworld theme and to the final credits… Just a wonderful soundtrack. I can’t say enough about it. From conveying urgency, humour, to the battle themes, Palace themes…absolutely fantastic.

The story progresses after Sae’s Palace and you’re left to infiltrate one final Palace, the one belonging to the man who is the reason you had to relocate to Shibuya in the first place and the man running for Prime Minister — Masayoshi Shido.

Shido’s Palace was a great last Palace. Not only was a luxury ship a great idea (and the theme of his ship sailing while everything around him is submerged being a really twisted one), the main mechanic of the Palace was extremely clever.

Placed in certain rooms are statues of Shido that, if activated, will turn you all turned into mice. Being turned into a mouse is a status ailment (called ‘Rattled’ … ha-ha) that can be afflicted onto you in battle and seeing that turned into a major dungeon mechanic and having to crawl through holes/vents to progress and find the switch to turn off the statues (and sometimes needing to find one to become a mouse to progress) I think was really inspired. The music was incredible too, a really fitting final Palace theme (and some great Yusuke mouse puns too).

When things came to Shido, you knew you’d get a crack at him — everything had been leading up to it. The revelation that Akechi was working directly for Shido was a bit of a surprise but not the confrontation of Shido himself. You knew that was coming.

Anyways, the obvious showdown takes place but even then (and maybe this was just me) when you’re fighting him, you should’ve been feeling like this was your final battle — everything should’ve, in theory, ended with Shido. You beat him, you help save Japan from a cruel ruler and you’re cleared of the crime you didn’t commit — happy days.

But it didn’t feel like that. It felt like there was more to come, that this wouldn’t be the end.

And that, indeed, turned out to be the case. Even though you took down Shido and everything should’ve felt like a victory lap after that, it wasn’t. People didn’t recognise your victory, even as Shido confessed his crimes.

And indeed, just as I thought, there was more to come. A lot more to come.

You end up journeying to the depths of Mementos to steal the public’s treasure in one last mission but the journey downward is unsettling as you see people behind bars, chained but wanting to be chained and locked away as a means of ‘not having to think’ for themselves.

Did I expect the plot-twist with the Holy Grail, Igor and Mementos? No way. I didn’t expect the scale of things to become that big, though, I guess that had been a theme throughout the game as each target steadily increased in the societal chain — the steady progression from Kamoshida to Shido.

I think you always were a little suspicious of Igor because, I mean, how could not be at first? They say don’t judge a book by its cover but with Igor that didn’t apply for the first few meetings.

But you just kind of let your guard down after a while as you continue to meet with Igor in scripted and non-scripted cutscenes, due to your constant need of the Velvet Room. Added to that, the help you receive from Igor throughout the game builds up some aspect of trust, you do think he’s on your side but there was always that part that wasn’t totally sure.

It ends up becoming a whole lot bigger than the Phantom Thieves themselves as it becomes a fight for life itself, a life where people are free to think for themselves. I’m personally not always a fan when it suddenly becomes a battle for life itself after dealing with issues that were a big deal before but now seem trivial in comparison to the fate of the world, but with everything you’ve gone through and how things have steadily progressed, you just kinda roll with it and it’s something you want to face with your friends that you’ve grown so close to — it works here.

But how the story unfolded, it reminded me of one of my other favourite RPG stories ever: Final Fantasy IV.

In FF4, you think Golbez is where it’ll all end, similarly how you thought the game would conclude with Shido. But it ends up become a lot more than that and just as you descend to fight Zeromus in FF4, you descend down Mementos in Persona 5 and fight what awaits at the very bottom — the Holy Grail.

And then, coincidentally, it ends up being similar to the FF4’s sequel, ‘Final Fantasy IV: The After Years’ and with its final boss, The Creator, where it becomes the fight for life itself as you rebel against the ruin that the evil Igor — later revealing himself as ‘Yaldabaoth’ — begins to bring upon the world as Mementos and Shibuya fused together.

I think there’s more similarities between The Creator and Yaldabaoth.

Their reasons for bringing ruin upon the world, at first, seem similar. The Creator’s reasons for bring the second moon closer to The Blue Planet was that mankind had not progressed enough.

With Yaldabaoth (the Holy Grail/evil Igor), he set up an experiment that pitted two designated people (Goro Akechi and Joker) against each other, with Akechi representing the change to bring people under rule behind under an iron-fisted ruler like Shido (which is what Yaldabaoth is to begin with, the will of the people to be ruled over) whereas Joker represents the rise against corruption to see which would prevail but Yaldabaoth ended up rigging the outcome so that he would rule no matter who won.

The similarity comes in that both, initially, gave humanity the chance to do more, to be more, but ultimately didn’t. Yaldabaoth’s reasoning at the time was that ‘how could humanity continue’ when the masses didn’t recognise the Phantom Thieves, despite everything they did.

I hoped seeing a righteous thief vanquish would spur mankind to change their own indolent hearts. However… the result is as you know — the masses have made it so none of it has transpired. Humans should be met with ruin: you brought forth that answer.

— The God of Control

We find out of course that this was all a game that was rigged by Yaldaboath so he would rule — preventing the people to have the ability to think for themselves and have free will.

After you turn down his offer to keep the world as it is — where people aren’t free to think for themselves, without free will but the Phantom Thieves will be famous — the real Igor is returned and what seemed bleak may not be as bleak as it seems. That you or your friends didn’t die.

There’s a very touching part of the game where your friends are imprisoned in the Velvet Room and in their regular attire, having lost the will to rebel after their defeat to what ended up being a god. You find each member locked behind a cell and talk to each one to re-invigorate them and basically say to them ‘Look, I don’t know if we can win either but stand up for what you believe in and believe in yourself. Let’s do it together.’

Various members question if what the Phantom Thieves have been doing was the right thing and it’s just a touching part of the game as each member of the team, with your help, find the will to rebel again.

Well, everyone except Futaba, who doesn’t need much convincing from Joker to get up and go again. It’s just one aspect of her incredible character development.

In the final confrontation — and rematch — with Yaldabaoth, similarities are drawn from another game and another of my favourite stories: Okami.

Not only is it a flipping tough fight (I was not good at the game on my first playthrough, struggling massively on easy mode) but, like in Okami’s final boss fight with Yami, you’re down and out for the count in a fight that you seemingly can’t win.

How could you win? You’re against a god after all.

But, like Okami, the belief of the people below — spurred by the confidants you’ve spent the game developing — rallies you to get up and fight, and with the help of Arsene’s ultimate Persona after he is unchained (and the ultimate Persona) Satanael is born and he, through Joker, shoots Yaldabaoth in the head and thus, ending the final fight.

Pretty badass — somehow Satanael makes Yaldabaoth look small.

You think it’s over after that, and while the fighting is over, there’s one more thing left to do.

When the dust settles for a moment and you’re back to how things should be, initially there is no happy ending. After everything, Sae asks you, for the sake of prosecuting the changed heart of Shido and to ensure the protection of your friends in the future, to turn yourself in as the leader of the Phantom Thieves but to do so will land you in juvenile prison — the thing you’ve been trying to avoid from the day you arrived in Shibuya on probation. Doing so will also mean that the Phantom Thieves will not be recorded as heroes.

It was a sad twist that and one that Joker nor the Phantom Thieves did not deserve. They saved everyone and risked everything to save everyone. After everything, Joker will still end up going to go to prison. But it’s a decision you make not for your sake but for your friends, who’ll you happily do it for to protect them.

It was another twist to an already amazing story, and seeing as your friends and confidants spend the next few months trying to free their leader and friend — doing everything in their power and using their various connections to help move things along — was moving

A few months later, you are eventually set free and learn that Shido will stand trial and everything has come full circle and, now, you begin to feel the closure taking place.

With how long the game is, by the time you’re nearing the end of the game (and you know when you are), you really do feel like your first Palace heist in Kamoshida’s Castle was a thousand years ago and during a different lifetime. Heck, when you’re at the end of the game, even Sae’s Palace seems like it was so long ago – so much happens from that point. And that’s the sixth Palace of the game.

Such is the level of growth and progression of time in this game not only just through you, the protagonist, but your team too. Your friends.

That’s one of, if not, my favourite aspect of this game: the characters.

Joker is a character you’re drawn to right away.

To begin the game, you’re dropped into the past, seven months in the past to be specific, to when you first arrive in Shibuya to start life anew. The reason for this relocation is made pretty clear early on: you’re a school kid who tries to step in to a case of abuse between a man (who ends up being Shido) and a woman and end up injuring the Shido, who sues and uses his ties to the police to manipulate the truth, accusing and eventually having you charged for assault. This results in the Joker obtaining a criminal record, expelled from school and relocated to another part of the country, away from everything and everyone who knows him, as he serves a years probation.

You learn pretty quickly that you’re innocent of assault and not a malicious criminal as people you are introduced to initially make you out to be/feel at first. — the likes of your guardian, Sojiro Sakura, Principal Kobayakawa (who I end up feeling quite sorry for) and Ms. Kawakami

I think that’s what helps draw the player to liking Joker almost right away. The fact he has been wrongly accused and is, at heart, a good person sent away and living under people’s perception and opinion that he is a no-good delinquent who would lay his hands on you the first chance he gets. The fact he is mistreated and misjudged in the eyes of everyone for a crime he didn’t commit — that he doesn’t belong.

The sense of belonging is a huge theme in Persona 5. The characters you meet and become members of your team all have their issues, reasons as to why they don’t belong or fit in with the normal masses — they’re blacklisted in their own way.

And that’s why they make perfect Phantom Thieves. It ends up being a group of people who don’t belong, belonging together.

Ryuji Sakamato, Ann Takamaki, Morgana, Yusuke Kitagawa, Makoto Nijiima, Futaba Sakura and Haru Okumura — The Phantom Thieves. All amazing characters in their own way.

All of these people — with the exceptions of Ryuji and Morgana, who you kinda meet straight away as you’re thrown into the action — you get know a bit before they join you as Phantom Thieves. And they take some time to grow on you, like meeting anyone for the first time.

I didn’t really like Ryuji, Yusuke, Makoto or Haru as they were introduced but when you get to know them a bit — whether it’s through the story or through their Confidant arcs — you really do warm up to them.

Morgana was one character I had a particular love/hate relationship with.

He was an asshole at times and I preferred to take the piss and call him a cat whenever I could. He could call Ryuji stupid and unintelligent all of the time but when Ryuji would joke about him being useless now there were others on the team who excelled at planning and intel (mostly Makoto and Futaba), he gets all in a fit and leaves.

I just never felt a ton of affinity for Morgana as I did for, say Ann or Makoto.

When he left the team prior to Okumura’s Palace, I wasn’t really upset. I was hoping that there’d be a fake boss battle where you truly believed for a moment he had really switched sides and then something would change and he’d come back to you.

I hated him at times and I loved him at times.

It was sad when he disappeared when Mementos faded away after Yaldabaoth is defeated but it wasn’t gut-wrenching for me as it almost was when you thought Ryuji had been blown up on Shido’s ship. It was nice to see Morgana return as a real ass cat (and the reason why he returned was cool: cognition and stuff!) when you celebrate your release from juvie, that he was still kicking.

The twist that he was created by the real Igor as a means to assist Joker in his journey and that he was never really of this world was a cool one. It was nice for him that he was clearly not just a cat but someone who with immense purpose and importance, whose role is arguably under-sold when all is revealed, said and done.

It was tough at times to watch him see every one of the team find their purpose while he didn’t have a clue who he was or why he was a cat, and nothing seemed to move for him for the majority of the game. He didn’t remember anything about his past until the Mementos Depths, 80+ hours later.

Though he wasn’t a member of the Phantom Thieves, Goro Akechi was one of the most interesting characters out of of everyone.

The bastard child of Shido, Akechi just wanted to be loved and respected but went about it all in all the wrong ways as he used the power of the Metaverse bestowed to him by Yaldabaoth to turn killer for Shido and Akechi turned out to be the one who was behind the mental shutdowns within the Metaverse as part of Akechi’s own plan to ruin Shido after he was elected as Prime Minister.

There’s a serious conflict within Akechi even after he declares himself the Phantom Thieves’ enemy — that, perhaps, things could’ve been different had he met Joker a few years earlier. Of course, when we find out that Yaldabaoth had intended for Akechi and Joker to go against each other, you realise this could never have been the case. Which is sad.

Akechi’s ending is sad: he realises that he’s been Shido’s puppet the entire time and that Shido had always planned to kill him after his election as Prime Minister. Akechi makes peace with Joker before saving the Phantom Thieves from Shido’s cognition of Akechi but dies in the Metaverse himself as the two Akechi’s shoot each other. And when, after everything else happens and you defeat Yaldabaoth, Sae tells you that Akechi is missing, and it’s a painful reminder of an end of a character that wasn’t so evil at heart and played a significant role in saving the Phantom Thieves that is understated, that no one really ever talks about after his death. Heck, he doesn’t even get a little screen as all of the other members of the Phantom Thieves do in the credits, even after his redemption.

I grew to love all members of the Phantom Thieves but my favourite team member was Ann.

She was someone I was drawn to from the start, the one I’d prioritise spending my time with when she asked, and when the chance came for Joker to be in a relationship with I jumped at the chance instantly. To me, she was the sweetest of the bunch and the answers you can give her compared to the other women you can get involved with do not compare to Ann’s. Being able to tell Ann you love her in Hawaii for example…you can’t get that intimate with any of the other female characters and it just makes your relationship with Ann so incredibly special.

Yusuke is a chatacter I admire greatly too, maybe because he reminds me of myself in many ways. I love his calm demeanor, his level-headedness. Not only that, but he has some of the more memorable lines from the game and his Trickster taking the form Susano is one that is one of the memorable Tricksters for me, because of the Okami connection.

The character development in Persona 5 is fantastic, you really do see the growth in everyone as the story progresses and you get to see sides you never would’ve imagined existed on the surface. They’re all deep, thoughtful characters who you spend so much time with over your adventure — you really do draw close to them. That’s why, when you’re arrested and told that you’ve been betrayed, you have no doubts whatsoever that any of your main team would’ve ever sold you out.

That was my favourite part of Persona 5: the relationship building and the confidants Not just with your team but with others like Kawakami and Sojiro (one of my favourite character turnarounds) as you learn their story and help them through their struggles.

It was one of my favourite things to do after I beat a Palace. I liked getting Palaces done early, so I could unwind and just spend extended time with my friends before the next phase of the story kicked in.

Building your relationships with your confidants was a really rewarding experience — you get to know them for more than just what they do. You get a peek in their lives and make an impact on them too as they all go through something different.

In life, you have an event and its aftermath. For every action there’s a reaction, and a lot of the confidant quests deal with the aftermath of an event — which I love, because it’s real. When you have the event happen in the real world, there’s an aftermath for the people involved.

For example, with Ryuji, it’s him dealing with the aftermath of his decision to hit Kamoshida and the subsequent disbandment and fallout with the track team, which he was a part of. Even though you change Kamoshida’s heart and he’s no longer in the picture, the fallout from that action still applies.

For Ann, it’s the aftermath of dealing with Shiho’s attempted suicide and how she didn’t have a strong enough heart to do more for friend, and trying to be better in that regard.

For Yusuke, it’s dealing with artists-block after the Madarame incident …. and so on.

In nearly all cases, the aftermath lasts far longer than the event itself. Life goes on but you have to deal with the aftermath of the event and I love that dynamic of working through that with your confidants.

It’s really rewarding that your ever-improving relationships with your fellow Phantom Thieves have an impact in the Metaverse too. As you grow closer to them (not just through their confidant but with the story too), it really does feel like they’d do anything for you once you grow your friendship.

One of the later unlockable abilities for your party members is the chance to shield not only Joker but other party members too from what would be a fatal hit — to shield one from death. And that helps just bring the characters not only closer to you but to each other — that they’d put themselves between a fatal attack and you/other party members.

It just helps add that little bit extra to your relationships with these characters, and makes the relationship building with your confidants rewarding, because it actually has such a significant bearing in the Metaverse. And that goes for your confidants that aren’t Phantom Thieves. Without the likes of Hifumi’s abilities (the ability to switch out party members in battle), it feels like true victory would never be achieved. I love how your experience in the Metaverse is different based on the standing of the relationship with your confidants — what do in the real world matters in the cognitive one.

With how many hours you spend playing the game, you grow so attached to these characters and it was the main reason I was going to be sad when I finished game because it meant that I’d have to say goodbye to these characters I spent over 80 hours with on an incredible journey during my first playthrough.

And saying goodbye to your confidants on your last day in Shibuya was emotional. They all mean something in their own way, but your teammates… Saying goodbye to them was the toughest of all. The pain of parting…

It takes a while to get there (and you have to dodge a few bullets to get there) but the true ending is one of great satisfaction. After everything has happened, it gives you a chance to unwind and spend time with those you really care about before you go back home, with your friends driving you back.

The overall lasting impact of the story was overwhelming for me. I knew that the end was coming and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. When the final credits rolled, it was tough. I had a moment of ‘Well, what do I even do now this is over?’

That’s the true mark of an incredible game.

There’s one issue I had though. With some confidants requiring certain level of a certain skill you need (be it proficiency, kindness etc.) there’s just no way you’re going to max out your bonds on your first playthrough. And that sucks, because when you’re saying your goodbyes on your last day in Shibuya, you can’t properly say goodbye to everyone that has had an impact on your journey.

For example, I wasn’t able to max out my proficiency so I could never even get to know Haru at all and learn her story (which was incredible, experiencing that during my second playthrough).

I didn’t have enough charm to finish Makoto’s story either.

So, two members of the Phantom Thieves, who I’ve spent hours with and really admired, I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to properly and I think that’s a great shame — especially Makoto, who I think is absolutely fantastic.

But, between missing the game itself now that it was over and missing the characters, missing out on maxing those bonds drove me to immediately hop into New Game + and right that wrong.

With Horizon Zero Dawn, after everything was over I felt I needed time to cool down and I’d play through it another time for a second playthrough — to see the game a second time now that I know the end. That was in late 2017 and I still haven’t done it. Again, that’s not to say that Horizon isn’t a great game, it’s fantastic — it’s to illustrate how much Persona 5 had an effect on me.

With Persona 5, I immediately jumped back in. For a game you can easily spend 100 hours (I spent about 80 hours playing on my first playthrough, I did not spend a ton of time in Mementos) on your first playthrough, to immediately hop back in shows, well, not only shows my love for the game but its replay-ability.

There’s so many different things you can do during a playthrough of Persona 5 that you’ll struggle to find two playthroughs of it that are the exact same. So many different paths to take on a second playthrough but, above all, I had to right that wrong of not having all of my bonds maxed out and only then will I consider that the true ending.

Having now gone through a second playthrough, there was so much I learned that I didn’t know the first time.

Firstly, I ended up raising the difficulty to normal after Futaba’s Palace and expected things to really get tough — like fighting Okumura’s shadow — but they didn’t really. Part of that was me learning the game and the personas more and realising — for boss battles — that stat raising across your whole team (evasion/accuracy being so key) really helps so much.

I learned more about the Persona fusing, Persona types and I still want to try to complete as much of the Persona 5 ‘Pokedex’ as possible in a third playthrough because, yes, I’m going to play through it a third time — but probably after a little break.

Though there’s a few things I did differently in my second playthrough, I still ended up choosing Ann. Spending Christmas Eve with her knowing Joker would turn himself in the next day, spending Valentine’s Day with her and then saying goodbye to her was emotional and special to me (as sad as that sounds). I wanted to go through that all over again because I do think she’s the one for Joker. It just always felt like she looked at Joker a bit more longingly than the others and that there was something between them in other scenes in the game — like that scene when you arrive back to Leblanc after you’re released from prison, she’s the last one to say something and it just feels like there’s just something more there than there is with Makoto and Haru.

Makoto and Haru made huge impressions on me in my second playthrough but I locked in Ann early and I ain’t about that cheating life. But I won’t lie when I say Makoto made it difficult…

The ending was a lot more emotional for me second time around and I’m not sure why. I guess it’s probably because I was just so caught up in what was happening as it happened and trying to process it, compared to this time where I knew the ending.

As I mentioned, I will be going through Persona 5 a third time and I’ll be doing it for a few reasons.

Having devoted time to maxing out all of the confidants (including Yoshida, who I didn’t know even existed until my second playthrough) and thinking I had them all I, somehow, never knew about Shinya Oda — a confidant that you’re never introduced to and doesn’t show up on the map as a confidant and that really annoys me because I’m scrambling as it is to complete the final few confidants before December 23rd and it turns out there’s one I completely missed because I didn’t know about him — through two playthroughs!

Even though I’m not going to get the trophy for maxing out all confidants on my second playthrough, I achieved what I set out to do on this second playthrough.

I wanted to complete Makoto’s and Haru’s stories and after that, everyone else’s that I didn’t get to the first time, such as Takemi, Iwai, you know, the people who you see often on your journey and ACTUALLY MATTER.

Little brat, Oda… I still can’t believe I missed out on a confidant, because I literally spent the entire game-year with confidants and on the very last night (December 23rd) I maxed what I thought was my last confidant. So, I’ll have to look up how to do rank up confidants quicker because there’s got to be a way…

So, between that, and there’s a few more trophies I want to pick up for completion’s sake, such as the trophy for completing all of the Mementos requests and things like that — things that’ll take me closer to 100%-ing the game. I also want to try make Arsene a usable persona. The ultimate fusions…I’ll do my best and do some research as to how one gets to that high of a level and merciless difficulty seems like a realistic target now after the second playthrough.

Ultimately, Persona 5, for me, is about relationships and friendships. That’s what feels most real to me. To be immersed in a world that understands how to develop characters and relationships, what they mean and what the characters mean to each other… That’s something that’s truly special.

After that, it’s about standing up for what’s right, standing up for what and who you believe in.

Persona 5 is an experience like no other. I began the journey with an open mind and finished with a blown one.

Sure, it’s easier to just hop into Ratchet and Clank and you just pick it up and go compared to Persona 5 where you embark on an 80-hour journey, but as an overall experience there’s no comparison between the two (and it is comparing apples to oranges — different games, different times)

Persona 5 is the greatest game I’ve ever played. And more than a game for me, it’s made me think about what I can take from it and apply in the real world. How to be better, my relationships with others, how to stand up for what’s right.

I think that’s the mark of something truly special.

Thank you, Persona 5.

 

 

 

 

I’m Trying

In anything I’ve ever done, my mum has always told me to try my best. Try.

I’m trying to stand on my own two feet.

I’m trying to chase my dreams. I’m trying to pay bills while I chase dreams. I’m trying to juggle two jobs. I’m trying to turn that passion into a living.

I’m trying to be myself when people told me that that wasn’t good enough, when I was picked apart for being myself. I’m trying to be my own man.

I’m trying to understand and learn more about myself. I’m trying to live with myself and my dyspraxia and how it affects me everyday.

I’m trying to deal with my insecurities. I’m trying be comfortable in own skin. I’m trying to brush off what others say about me. I’m trying not to care what others say about me.

I’m trying to be a better person. I’m trying to be someone that someone else will want to spend time with and that other people want to spend time with.

I’m trying to faithful to what I believe in. I’m trying to live to the values I believe in. I’m trying to be faithful to others while trying to be faithful to myself. I’m trying to have my actions and words line up. I’m trying to be real.

I’m trying to be there for others. I’m trying to be a better friend. I’m trying to be a better brother, a better son, a better grandson and I want to be a good uncle to my beloved nephew.

I’m trying to deal with loss. I’m trying to deal with rejection. I’m trying to deal with loneliness. I’m trying to find a balance between wanting my own space to be alone and wanting to be with people, which comes and goes like a flick of a switch. I’m trying to find a never-pleasing balance between accepting help and wanting to deal with things myself.

I’m trying to tell myself I’m young when I feel so much older than I am. I’m trying not to be undone by weariness.

I’m trying to deal with my mental health. I’m trying, as I’ve done for years, to deal with depression. I’m trying to be happy.

I’m trying. I’m trying my best.

I plough on as I always have, as I always will. I always pull through and I have pulled through much worse. Do not be concerned, for I write this so maybe others may feel empowered knowing they are not alone, that maybe someone feels just like they do. That they have permission to feel the same and not run away from the truth but face it and fight. To say, in this moment, there is hope and there are better days ahead. To help shine a spotlight on mental health, and not just when someone famous commits suicide.

Graham

Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

Sunday afternoon provided another exciting Grand Prix in 2018, as a tight affair between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen was ultimately decided by tyre wear and Mercedes’ great tactics — positioning the yet-to-stop Valterri Bottas in front of Raikkonen to draw Hamilton close — with Hamilton emerging as the victor and extended his championship lead to 30 points over Sebastian Vettel.

For Hamilton’s title rival, Vettel, his P4 required a recovery drive after a spin on lap 1 following contact with Lewis Hamilton heading into the second chicane sent him to the back of the grid.

The stewards ultimately deemed this a racing incident, but really this is Vettel’s fault and he rightly bore the brunt of the outcome as he spun around. Hamilton left him more than enough room and Vettel should’ve gotten out of it — I just think Vettel didn’t want to accept that Hamilton had just brilliantly done him around the outside and expected Hamilton to just get out of the way? Like that was going to happen…

Whether Vettel had the pace to win in Monza, whether his presence up front may have actually helped Ferrari win the race we’ll never know, but what do we do know is that it was another crucial swing in the championship as Hamilton extended his lead to 30 points over his German rival.

Vettel and Hamilton have shared the grid since 2007 and have both enjoyed driving title-winning cars, but only in 2017 did the two finally share a title-contending car at the same time and lock horns together as the two title favourites (2010 doesn’t really count, that was a Vettel-Webber-Alonso title showdown. Hamilton was just on the fringes come showdown). In these two years where Formula 1’s selling point has been ‘Hamilton vs. Vettel’, what has become abundantly clear is the consistency of Hamilton across an entire season compared to Vettel, who has faltered under the pressure with the Italian Grand Prix proving to be another blot for the German’s copybook in his quest to become the first Ferrari champion since 2007.

With this latest knock in the German’s title challenge, the question that should be arising about now: is Vettel’s legacy going to be altered as a result of the outcomes of his two title battles against Lewis Hamilton?

Let’s go over it so far…

Vettel has enjoyed a glittering career in which he has won four titles and amassed over 50 grand prix victories.

He quickly rose from the ranks of Toro Rosso to replace the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and continued his rise as one of Formula 1’s hottest new properties as he secured the first win for Red Bull in China.

In 2010 he went all the way as he won the title at the final Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, pipping Fernando Alonso and teammate Mark Webber to the throne and claim the honour of youngest World Champion.

As Vettel made history, Red Bull had quickly developed a car that was the class of the field. By the end of 2009, it was the quickest car on the grid as Red Bull won the final three races of 2009.

In 2010, Ferrari and McLaren arrived with much improved cars from their 2009 counterparts — enabling Alonso, Hamilton and Jenson Button to win races — but the superiority eventually swung back to Red Bull, who won 9 of the 19 races in 2010.

By Abu Dhabi, the McLaren’s of Hamilton and Button had no chance of winning the title (Hamilton technically could have but it was never going to happen) and Alonso was sucking absolutely everything that Ferrari had to offer — it was clearly the worse car between itself and the Red Bull.

In 2011, Red Bull pressed their advantage right from the off as the Austrian outfit clearly had the best package right from the get-go as Vettel tore away to win five of the first six races. The respective packages from McLaren and Ferrari wasn’t up to snuff over the course of the season to contend with the Red Bulls, leaving Hamilton, Button and Alonso with no chance of contending for the title. The sister Red Bull in the hands of Mark Webber fared no better than Alonso, Button or Hamilton. By his own admission in his book, after his best title opportunity in 2010 slipped away, Webber admitted the “stuffing was knocked out of him”. He had prepared to retire after he had won the title but it didn’t happen, and Webber was on the decline in his career — no match for Vettel. In the end, it was a very easy title for Vettel to claim — which he did by round 15 of 19 in Japan — in what was easily the best car on the grid.

In 2012, again, the Red Bull proved to be the best car on the grid with Alonso, incredibly, willing his Ferrari to a title challenge despite winning just three races and winning none of them from Round 10 onwards — the infamous 2010 German Grand Prix where Ferrari enforced team orders, forcing Felipe Massa to move aside for Alonso. It took until the final round again but Vettel ultimately prevailed as he always should have given his machinery — his third world title coming a lot closer than it really should have.

And for the last of Vettel’s current four titles, 2013 was an absolute landslide as he won 12 races, including the last nine in a row, to win by 157 points over Alonso in second — the Red Bull as dominant as it’s ever been in the final year of the V8 era.

At the point of 2013, Vettel has had the dream career powered by a great car which had been the class of the field every year since the end of 2009.

Of course, Vettel’s unrelenting pace, in addition to a dream car, was unquestionable. His place as one of Formula 1’s finest drivers ever was, arguably, secured at the end of 2013 as he scured his fourth title in a row.

Anything that came after only cemented it…or did it?

Since 2014 began, Vettel hasn’t had everything his way. He went winless in 2014 as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo won three races before moving to Ferrari for the 2015 season, replacing Alonso. In his first two years with the Scuderia, Vettel didn’t have a title-winning car underneath him as Mercedes continued their domination in the V6 era.

In 2017, things changed.

After a regulation reshuffle, Ferrari finally produced a car in which the accomplished Vettel could finally mount a challenge to Lewis Hamilton’s and Mercedes’ throne, and so Vettel was thrust into the title fight.

When you’re in a title challenge, the microscope is incredibly fine. If there’s a fault in you it will be found out, especially when your opponent is Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.

The 2017 Ferrari was equally as capable of winning the 2017 driver’s title as the Mercedes but its challenge was let down by two things. One was the Ferrari’s reliability, which gave up the ghost in Japan (forcing Vettel to retire in the early stages) and Malaysia, where Vettel was also forced to start from the back of the grid after an engine issue.

The second reason why Vettel’s title quest came up short was that Vettel cracked in key moments whereas Hamilton did not.

At Round No. 8 in Baku, Vettel saw red as he intentionally drove alongside and then into the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes after Vettel adjudged the Brit to brake-check him under the safety car, leading to some damage to Vettel’s front wing.

Vettel was handed a 10 second stop-go penalty for his actions, which ultimately cost him victory after Hamilton was forced to pit after his head-rest became loose, requiring a replacement. Vettel ultimately finished fourth ahead of Hamilton in fifth but needlessly threw away the victory, and 13 points were lost that day on account on his own recklessness…

Arguably the pinnacle moment of the entire 2017 season (certainly an iconic one) ,and the moment that the championship tide turned for good, came that Singapore.

Having stuck his Ferrari on pole, Vettel’s getaway off the line in the wet was slow, with both Max Verstappen and Raikkonen both enjoying much better starts. Raikkonen hugged the wall as he went to attack Verstappen while Vettel — with all the track to his right available to him — veered to the left to cover off his threats and pinched Verstappen in between the two Ferraris, which ended up in a massive crash and all three were forced to retire, but not before Vettel had a second off as he lost the back-end and made contact with the wall.

The stewards decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Verstappen isn’t making contact with Raikkonen until Vettel comes over, which left Verstappen between a rock and a hard place. But the ultimate backshot was that Hamilton ended up winning the race — at a track Mercedes were genuinely struggling and Ferrari thriving — and extended his championship lead from 3 points to 28 points.

It marked the beginning of the end of Vettel’s title challenge…

After the reliability issues of Malaysia and Japan, Hamilton beat Vettel to victory in USA and had the chance to clinch the title at the next round in Mexico.

Having qualified on pole, Vettel faced pressure from Verstappen heading into Turn 1. Verstappen hangs his car around the outside through Turn 1 and is left very little room by Vettel. The two make tyre-to-tyre contact before Turn 2, before Verstappen claims the corner and makes slight contact with Vettel’s wing as they head into Turn 3. Meanwhile, Hamilton switches back on Vettel heading into Turn 2 and gets himself ahead of his rival. Vettel then makes contact with Hamilton’s rear tyre, damaging his own wing and giving Hamilton a puncture. After being forced to pit, both cars fought through the field in recovery drives but it wasn’t enough for Vettel to deny Hamilton his fourth world title.

In the race that would decide the title, Vettel not only lost a position off the line, squeezed another car off of the track limits, he has also made contact with his main championship rival in an incident that probably could’ve been avoided. Some believe that Vettel knew exactly what he was doing when he made contact with Hamilton…

If it was intentional, it didn’t pay off as Hamilton secured his fourth world title and Vettel is left to reflect on what could’ve been…

Ultimately, Vettel had the machinery to beat Hamilton in 2017. Yes reliability played its part in Malaysia and Japan but the Ferrari had the potential to win the title on pace — those cars were incredibly close, with perhaps a slight edge going toward Mercedes ultimately in terms of performance but it was marginal.

But in the end, over the course of the 20-race season, Vettel made more mistakes than Hamilton. Hamilton — who is used to facing incredible pressure in intense title fights with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg in particular — didn’t falter under the pressure, didn’t make mistakes as Vettel did and remained calm while Vettel made mistakes and lost his cool in Baku.

When the big moments came, Hamilton seized them and Vettel faltered.

While 2017 was a missed opportunity for Vettel and Ferrari, 2018 held a lot of promise, with Ferrari building on their 2017 resurgence.

Though Ferrari won the first two races, the general feeling was that Mercedes still held the quicker car but this advantage wouldn’t last for long as Ferrari made significant engine gains. The general feeling by Canada was that Ferrari now had the quicker car.

Heading into the French Grand Prix, Vettel led the championship by a single point after his win in Canada. The weekend not only represented F1’s first return to France in 10 years but the first major moment in terms of the championship.

Heading into Turn 1, Vettel — having qualified behind both Mercedes — locks up and makes contact with Valterri Bottas, resulting in a puncture for Bottas (as well as damage to the rear of the car and leaving him in last place for good measure) and a new wing required for Vettel. Hamilton would go on to secure an easy win, uncontested from his teammate and his title rival Vettel (who finished in 5th), and take the lead of the championship by 14 points.

A pretty major, unforced error from Vettel who received a five second penalty for the accident, ruined the race of Valterri Bottas and ruined his own race single-handedly, while handing the championship lead to Hamilton.

Vettel was handed a reprieve for his error in France as Hamilton suffered a mechanical fault in Austria while Vettel finished third, allowing Vettel to re-take the championship lead before extending it further to eight points in Britain after a brilliant victory at Silverstone.

The most pivotal moment of the season (at least as of right now) came in Germany…

Having absolutely smashed his way to pole position at his home grand prix (with a huge opportunity to extend his lead after a failure for Hamilton is qualifying meant he started from P14), Vettel comfortably led the first part of the race before making his pitstop on lap 26. Having got the jump on his teammate having stopped earlier, Kimi Raikkonen was ordered to move aside for Vettel as the rain loomed in the air. On Lap 44 the rain arrived and then on Lap 52, arguably the most important moment of the whole season arrived.

Leading the race, Vettel lost control as he made his way through the beginning of the stadium section and helplessly skidded into the gravel, into the barrier and out of the race, with German admitting afterwards he was on the brakes too late.

Vettel sounded extremely upset over team radio and sounded like a man who knew he had made a catastrophic error… An error that has probably cost him the world title…

It was the same conditions for everyone out there (though, perhaps a tad different for Pierre Gasly, who Toro Rosso incredibly sent out on full wets for a period) but ultimately it was only Vettel who fell victim to the conditions and retired as a result.

Meanwhile Hamilton (though in controversial circumstances after a shady excursion between the pitlane and the track) recovered to win the race and retake the championship lead by 17 points.

Even if Hamilton had finished 2nd behind Vettel in 1st, Vettel would’ve extended his lead to 15 points. Instead, it’s a DNF and Hamilton claims victory — a 32 point swing in favour of Hamilton. Instead of Vettel picking up the full 25 points and extending his lead into double figures, it’s Hamilton who takes the double-digit lead.

When the rain came again in Hungary on Saturday, it was Mercedes who triumphed over Ferrari, leaving Hamilton on pole on a track where track position is everything. With Vettel out-of-place in fourth, he did well to salvage second on race-day, but was powerless to prevent Hamilton from winning — as the German struggled behind the sister Merc of Bottas after a poor pitstop from Ferrari left him behind the Finn — and powerless to prevent Hamilton extending the championship lead to 24 points heading into the summer break.

With it all to do after the summer break, Vettel was able to strike-back in a statement win at Spa as Ferrari left Hamilton and Mercedes trailing in their dust, reducing the Hamilton’s gap to 17 points.

But just when momentum seemed to be with Vettel again, it slipped away.

Already disgruntled over how qualifying went at the Italian Grand Prix, Vettel — starting P2, ahead of Hamilton — was unable to get a move done on teammate Raikkonen heading into Turn 1. On the run down to the second chicane, Vettel is off the racing line on the left-hand side of the track as he tries to find a way by Raikkonen. Under braking, an opportunity opens for Hamilton around the outside. Hamilton’s overtake is delivered to perfection, clean around the outside whilst leaving Vettel fair space. But Vettel didn’t apply enough steering lock heading out of the corner, didn’t leave enough space for the second part of the chicane and makes contact with the Mercedes, spinning Vettel around and damaging part of his car.

The stewards, again, decided that this was a racing incident but, really, Vettel is to blame here. Hamilton left enough space and the move was done — that was Hamilton’s corner. Vettel could’ve avoided this incident if he had gotten out of it and applied more sterring lock instead of allowing his car to open up into Hamilton. Again, if Vettel expected Hamilton to get out of that move, he should’ve known better — he could’ve avoided this accident.

Hamilton would go on to win the race while Vettel finished fourth, the Brit extending his championship lead to what could be an insurmountable 30 points.

The error marks the third major error Vettel has made this season that has cost him significant points — France, Germany and now Italy. Against Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, such errors are punished and Hamilton has taken victory in each race Vettel has faltered in 2018.

Vettel isn’t out of this title race yet but it’s going to be extremely difficult to come back from here. Hamilton has, again, proven unshakable this season, and Vettel is going to have to hope Hamilton makes a mistake (which is very rare), or hope Mercedes’ bulletproof reliability is tested later in the year.

Again, in the key moments of the season, it’s Vettel who has made the mistakes and not Hamilton.

So, I come back to the question of which this piece is named after… Is Sebastian Vettel’s legacy being altered amidst his title fights with Lewis Hamilton?

Yes is the answer.

During his first four titles with Red Bull, and his battles squaring off against Fernando Alonso, Vettel clearly had the best car each and every time, he won the title. And that’s where things are different here. His car has been as good (2017) if not better (2018) than Hamilton’s.

In two title fights with equal cars this time around, there will be something said for Vettel’s inability to beat Hamilton over a season — that it was Vettel who made more mistakes over this two-year period than his title rival.

A huge knock some had on Vettel’s first four titles was ‘He had the best car, the best car by far’. There was no way to know for sure but what is for sure is that when Vettel has had more-or-less equal equipment than his title rival, he has fallen short.

Reliability issues near the end of 2017 were a factor for Vettel and Ferrari in their title quest but when people talk about 2017’s title and the key moments, Singapore and Baku (i.e. Vettel’s main errors) are the main talking points over the reliability issues in Malaysia or Japan. Japan was the exclamation point after the damage that Vettel had done in Singapore.

In 2018 so far, it’s actually been Hamilton who has been the recipient of reliability issues over Vettel, and Ferrari (marginally) have had the better car this year so far too. And yet, Hamilton is 30 points ahead…

It’s been Vettel’s errors/mistakes that have left him with everything to do with seven races to go and Hamilton’s consistency that has him in the ascendancy in the race for a fifth world title.

In two title battles with effectively equal cars, mistakes are going to define who wins the title and who doesn’t, and, consistently, it’s been Vettel who has slipped up and not Hamilton. It’s been Hamilton who has proven to be the more complete and consistent driver, not Vettel.

Hamilton and Vettel are two of the best drivers of their generation — entering Formula 1 at about the same time. Their careers will eventually end and they will draw comparisons for the rest of time, as two of the greatest drivers of their time. They’ve both enjoyed the best car in Formula 1 on their way to world championships — dominant cars at that — have taken many pole positions, many podiums, many wins and many world championships.

But, ultimately, in this two-year stretch where they’ve shared title winning cars and squared off for the world championship, it’s been Hamilton who has emerged on top and Vettel the one folding under pressure, Hamilton proving to be the model of consistency while Vettel continues to make mistakes.

And that is why Vettel’s legacy will be affected, unless he find away to overturn a 30 point deficit in the remaining seven races…

Ricciardo to Renault and a 2019 lineup prediction

Image: Manuel Goria/Sutton Images via F1.com

We all knew the silly season was coming, but come on…

In what was expected to be a quiet week — with the F1 summer break upon us and the mid-season testing just finished with — Daniel Ricciardo and Renault blew everyone away on Friday afternoon when the rumours broke that the Red Bull driver had signed a contract with Renault for 2019 before the news was confirmed first by Red Bull (that he wouldn’t be with the team in 2019) and then by Renault who were obviously delighted to announce the deal.

This comes as a surprise for many reasons but mostly because, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking beyond Ricciardo for 2019, everything pointed to Danny Ric re-signing with the only F1 team he has considered home (I think that’s fair to say) — it really was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

Heck, even Ricciardo himself gave a pretty strong indication that he would re-signing with Red Bull, telling reporters in Hungary that his extension with Red Bull “…will definitely be done by Spa,” and that “It’s just a little bit of fine tuning here and there…it’s all good.”

A pretty strong indication, you’d have to say.,,

It’s unclear right now (writing this the day the news dropped) what has caused this 180 turn but I have a few theories…

Firstly, I don’t think Red Bull’s decision to switch to Honda engines from 2019 onwards played that much of a role. Since Canada, where they brought a significant upgrade, that Honda engine has shown some solid competitiveness — how much worse, if at all, is it to Renaut’s engine now in terms of both pace and reliability? A lot more Red Bull-Renault engines seemed to have given up the ghost more than Toro Rosso-Hondas this season…

I do think finance has played a big part here. Being a works team, it’s no secret that Renault have a bit more disposable income at their discretion than a team like, say, Williams or Force India. I also think it’s no secret that Ricciardo is underpaid across the board, not only for what he delivers on track but off of it too — an extremely marketable (and fantastic) personality with the team itself and sponsors. We don’t know what the figures from the respective Red Bull and Renault offers were, but you’d have to imagine that the Renault offer was significantly more handsome than what Red Bull might have offered — who, it’s well documented and mentioned by team principal Christian Horner, already pay a handsome amount to Max Verstappen…

Speaking of Max Verstappen, I’m sure he played a part in this decision too. Not so much to do with Max himself (they seem to get on pretty well) but everything surrounding him — the hype, the attention (media and fans alike), Max’s growing position in the team (you can definitely sense small elements of Vettel-Webber) and possibly his salary compared to Danny Ric for all we know.

The reasons I’m sure will become a bit more clear when Ricciardo and the F1 circus arrives at Spa near the end of August but the fact of the matter is the Aussie will be donning yellow next season, leaving the team that have nurtured his 7-year Formula 1 career that started in the HRT at Silverstone in 2011…

I think it’s an extremely bold move to Ricciardo to make when he had a very safe option in Red Bull on the table. For sure, Renault have made gains in each season since their return to F1 in 2016 but they still have a long way to go if they want to be challenging Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, and I don’t expect them to be challenging Red Bull next season either unless Renault make significant steps forward with their car and engine and Red Bull fall backwards with Honda power.

But there comes a time where every man has to make a change in his life, the bird must leave the nest at some stage in its life, and Ricciardo I think will do well with a new change of scenery — I’m just worried he’ll be fighting for P6’s, P7’s, P8’s next year instead of top 5 finishes, including race victories.

With this mega announcement, Renault have confirmed their driver lineup next year as Ricciardo joins Nico Hulkenburg, paving the way for what could be a lot of change down the paddock. The silly season had begun anyways but now it’s been ignited with jet propulsion.

And, really, it depends greatly on what Red Bull decide to do with their now vacant seat for 2019. A year ago, if this situation where Daniel Ricciardo leaves Red Bull had arisen, Carlos Sainz would’ve been the no-brainer to be his replacement. But it’s not that simple anymore.

Not only has Sainz, who has been in reported contract talks with McLaren, endured a difficult season at Renault (by his own standards) and has been outdriven by teammate Nico Hulkenburg, who many expected to trail the highly rated Spaniard, but the emergence of Toro Rosso starlet Pierre Gasly — who has performed brilliantly in his Toro Rosso this season, guiding his Honda-powered car to P4 in Bahrain and more recently P6 at Hungary — has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to Sainz and Red Bull.

But more than that, according to RaceFans.net (article linked above), Red Bull’s advisor and head of young driver programme, Helmut Marko, is reportedly against the idea of reuniting former Toro Rosso teammates Max Verstappen and Sainz again at Red Bull. With Red Bull already nailing their colours to the mast that is Max Verstappen, that would be a problem for Carlos Sainz and Red Bull, so it would seem unlikely based on that and performance this season compared to Gasly (which may or may not be a factor), that Sainz will reunite with Verstappen…

Sainz has been discussing a possible deal with McLaren, who rate Sainz highly.

“We think Carlos is an excellent racecar driver,” McLaren chief Zak Brown said. “Of course Carlos is potentially on the market, I don’t know his exact situation at Renault and Red Bull but he’s certainly someone as you go down the shortlist of drivers that you’d consider putting in your car.

“If he was free, and if we had a seat, he would certainly be high up the list for a racing seat.”

If it ends up that it’s not Ricciardo for Sainz in a like-for-like swap, it blows the driver market wide open.

Firstly, it opens up the Red Bull seat to, more than likely as discussed, Pierre Gasly. I’d love to see Fernando Alonso in that Red Bull seat but that seems unlikely given how Red Bull normally promote from within — usually from their young driver programme — and possibly Alonso’s relationship with Honda (given how he often threw Honda under the bus during their three-years together) could also play a part.

If Gasly is promoted, that opens up a spot at Toro Rosso and there could be two spots open should they decide not to bring back Brendon Hartley. I still think, if Alonso stays and Sainz joins his fellow Spaniard at Woking, McLaren and Toro Rosso could come into an agreement to send Lando Norris to Toro Rosso for a season/until Fernando Alonso calls time on his stellar Formula 1 career — especially if Norris wins F2, with F2 rules preventing champions from returning to the series. It’s beneficial for everyone: Toro Rosso get a quality driver for a year or two and McLaren have their man in an F1 seat (though the complications there are obvious, it’s just a theory of mine) And after that, I think Toro Rosso are better off sticking with Hartley over test driver Sean Galael… And as for the Red Bull junior driver programme, I think they’re a year or two from promoting another one to Toro Rosso.

At McLaren, there could easily be two spots going there too if the team elect not bring Stoffel Vandoorne back and Fernando Alonso either moves on to another F1 team or retires from F1. Vandoorne has had a terrible season compared to Alonso and he’s definitely under pressure for his F1 future. If Alonso retired, his McLaren career might be safe, depending on what McLaren choose to do with junior driver — and current F2 championship leader — Lando Norris and if they sign Carlos Sainz in the process.

With the Renault lineup confirmed, the Esteban Ocon-Renault rumours disappear immediately, leaving Ocon likely to spend another season with Force India. The other seat at Force India is up for debate, with Sergio Perez rumoured to be heading to Haas and who knows what else will go down there with the recent administration. And where Lance Stroll/Lawrence Stroll potentially figure into things remains to be seen in the midst of the administration/potential new ownership process.

I think it’s at this point in the driver market where the Ricciardo-Renault news begins to have less of an effect when it comes to drives. The likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Williams, Haas and Sauber…

With regards Perez, he’s rumoured for a seat at Haas, who don’t have anything lined up for 2019, though it’s safe to assume Kevin Magnussen has done enough to secure a seat. I personally believe Charles Leclerc would be best suited for that Haas spot rather than a promotion straight to the best seat F1 might have to offer if Ferrari move on from Kimi Raikkonen. Romain Grosjean is certainly still quick enough to be in F1 but his consistency has been left wanting this season — involved in a number of accidents/incidents this season.

Perez has also been rumoured to return to the team that gave him his first seat in 2011: Sauber. I’d be surprised if it happened but upon thinking about further, you can talk yourself into it. I certainly don’t expect rising star Charles Leclerc to remain with the Swiss outfit and I think time will finally expire on Marcus Ericcson’s Formula 1 career now that Sauber are in the points hunt again. With that said, and with Leclerc surely moving on, I expect another Ferrari junior driver Antonio Giovinazzi to take his place. That 2nd spot next to Giovinazzi could end up being the lifeline of drivers such as maybe Stoffel Vandoorne, Romain Grosjean or even Kimi Raikkonen, whose name has been mentioned with Sauber…

At Williams, I’d imagine Sergey Sirotkin will remain but Lance Stroll’s spot is a bit more questionable with this Force India link. Force India, obviously, need the cash and Stroll offers that. If Stroll moves on, I’d expect Mercedes to use their connection with Williams to try push junior driver George Russell into an F1 seat at Grove. Junior driver Olly Rowland would be a good shout for the second drive as is test driver Robert Kubica.

For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas were signed to deals at Hockenheim, so nothing doing there.

And, lastly, at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is secured for another season whereas Kimi Raikkonen’s seat is not guaranteed. Raikkonen has had a strong 2018 (certainly better than his 2017 season) and I think has done enough to earn one more season with the Scuderia. Charles Leclerc is the obvious replacement — and he will be one day — but I think it’s a year or two too soon for him. There’s a lot of pressures and expectations that comes with a Ferrari drive and I think the experience at Haas for a year or two would help round him out, improve as a driver and help iron out some of those little errors he makes at times that may not mean much in a Sauber but mean everything in a Ferrari — the difference between pole position and the second row. Plus, it’s not in Ferrari’s nature to promote young drivers to their seats, especially ones heading into just their second season — they just don’t do it. So for those reasons, I’d be very surprised if Ferrari actually went through with it — it would be incredibly un-Ferrari.

So, with all of that said, I’m going to (horribly) predict the F1 2019 grid.

Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton & Valterri Bottas

Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen

Red Bull: Max Verstappen & Pierre Gasly

Renault: Daniel Ricciardo & Nico Hulkenburg

McLaren: Fernando Alonso & Carlos Sainz

Haas: Charles LeClerc & Kevin Magnussen

Force India: Esteban Ocon & Lance Stroll

Toro Rosso: Lando Norris & Brendan Hartley

Sauber: Sergio Perez & Antonio Giovinazzi

Williams: Sergey Sirotkin & Robert Kubica

Should be fun to see how wrong I am, but hey…always fun.

The Dončić Dossier Vol. 24 — vs. Fenerbahce Dogus

Image: EuroLeague.net

After smashing Barcelona last time out, Real Madrid lost a close encounter with defending champions Fenerbahce in Madrid on March 2nd.

For top NBA draft prospect Luka Doncic, it was a bounce back game after a tough outing against Barcelona: 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 1-of-4 from three, 3-of-4 from the free throw line, one rebound, four assists, one steal, three turnovers and a PIR of 17 in 28 minutes coming off of the bench.

Let’s go through it…

Offense

14 points for Doncic, let’s go through how he got to those 14 points.

It began with Doncic drawing free throws after getting bumped on the drive:

Not a great foul to give away…

Off of the Fenerbahce turnover, Doncic streaks ahead off-ball and is found by Gustavo Ayon and Doncic does the rest:

What I really liked on this play was that Doncic used the rim to shield the ball from any potential shot blocker. If he had used the other side of the rim, the block would’ve been more realistic if the defender was chasing.

For his only three-pointer of the game, Doncic bides his time before simply takes a dribble to his left and rises into a contested three:

Next, Doncic comes off of the Edy Taveres and gets to the free throw line area where he bumps into the defender behind him before rising into an easy jumper in the paint:

Doncic turned defense into offense as he comes up with a steal, heads down the court and almost (kind of) cradles the ball as he goes by the defender to protect the ball and lays it in:

In one of his best moments in this game, Doncic manages to squeeze between two defenders on the drive and gets to the rim for the score:

Next, Doncic comes off of a Gustavo Ayon screen, gets inside the paint and somehow — again — manages to squeeze himself inside and draws the foul and free throws:

One of the things I didn’t like from Doncic in this game was some of his three-point shot selections.

This first one isn’t too bad, to be fair. Late clock situation and Doncic is basically asked to bail out Madrid after a very poor offensive set but can’t connect on the three:

This next three I’d like to see some offense run before this shot goes up — Doncic ‘dribble-dribble’, tries to create some space against Gigi Datome but the three he launches is contested and misses:

Elsewhere, Doncic’s only turnover of the game occurred in the first quarter as he drives on the switch, drives into the help defender, falls over and loses the ball:

Passing/playmaking

Four assists for Doncic in this game and, as always, there chances created but Doncic was a bit less smooth this game, making a number of blunders/errors.

Things didn’t start well as Doncic checks into the game trailing 12-2 and his first contribution is a turnover as he tries to link with Edy Tavares in a pick-and-roll:

Not long after that, Doncic tried to hook up with Felipe Reyes and commits another turnover as the ball just sails by the hands of Reyes:

In transition, Doncic lifts his pass to Fabien Causeur a little too high for Causeur to handle and it results in a Madrid turnover:

Doncic did eventually get into a groove and set up a number of three-point opportunities.

Heading down the court, Doncic draws the defense as the ball-handler and finds Jeffrey Taylor for a three-point attempt but Taylor is unable to hit:

Another simple play/pass followed as Doncic waits for Rudy Fernandez to come off of the screen for a catch-and-shoot three but Rudy can’t connect:

Heading down the floor again, Doncic spots that Fenerbahce haven’t set up as well as they should and Doncic finds the open Rudy Fernandez in the corner for a three:

A lot later, Doncic picks up the ball following a turnover and finds Anthony Randolph with an outlet pass for the assist:

Defense

Not a lot to note here today but what there is to note is pretty good.

Here, Doncic does well to get around the screen to contest the three-pointer but cannot prevent it from going in:

We’ve seen this one already, but Doncic finds himself in position to grab the steal and he heads down the other end for the score:

Finally, Doncic plays some really tight defense on Jan Vesely in the corner and contests the shot, which results in an airball as the shotclock expires:

I lover good vertical defense and this was textbook from Doncic to force a tough shot for a very good player in the EuroLeague in Vesely.

In closing vs Fenerbahce…

An interesting game for Luka Doncic…

Definitely a more offensive game for Doncic than anything else, which is fine since his shooting was efficient overall in this game. In fact, the only shots Doncic missed were three-point attempts — always a good thing.

From a facilitation point of view, Doncic had a rough going of things initially but did eventually get going but his teammates couldn’t always connect on their finds from Doncic.

Defensively, again, nothing huge to note but Doncic has definitely improved on the defensive end throughout the season and this game was a great example of that with a lack of defenive foibles/errors throughout the course of his 28 minutes of action.

The Dončić Dossier Vol 23 — @ Barcelona Lassa

Image: EuroLeague.net

Real Madrid got back winning ways after they absolutely smashed rivals Barcelona in their own house 101-74 on February 23rd.

For top NBA prospect Luka Doncic, it was a strange night. Doncic came off the bench sporting a sleeve on his left arm and only played 15 minutes, scoring 2 points, shooting 1-of-7 from the field, 0-of-4 from three, six assists, four rebounds, one turnover and a PIR of just 3.

This won’t be too long but still things to go over as always…

(Apologies for the lacking video quality this week, just how things went…)

Offense

A difficult night for Doncic offensively and, again, the three-point shooting wasn’t there.

In the second quarter, Doncic puts on a dribble clinic, eventually steps back and rises into a three but misses:

Very shortly after that, Doncic works himself into the corner with the dribble, floats behind the three-pointer, rises but, again, misses the three-pointer:

Doncic made sure he made up for lost time coming off of the bench and he launched another three-pointer a few minutes after that last one, this time coming in a late clock situation as some good Barcelona defense makes this attempt a tough one for Doncic:

Very good Barcelona defense, actually…

On the wing, Doncic again settles for an outside/bad shot with 15 seconds left on the shotclock:

Doncic struggled to get anything going inside the three-point line.

Here, Doncic weaves his way to the free throw line, rises into a jumper but can’t get the shot to fall:

Even the one shot Doncic made came off of his own miss, tipping in the rebound:

And to sum it up, Doncic drives inside with nowhere to go and ends up turning the ball over and committing the foul:

Passing/playmaking

Here’s where Doncic made his biggest impact of the game, with his apparent injury clearly affecting him offensively.

Here, Doncic feeds Reyes in the post with the deep bounce-pass, and Reyes takes care of the rest:

In transition, Doncic makes this nice outlet pass to Gustavo Ayon (making his long-awaited return) but Ayon is rejected at the rim:

In the second quarter, a bit of a more flashy touch from Doncic as he delivers the flashy bounce-pass to Felipe Reyes in transition for the assist:

Reyes and Doncic hooked up on multiple occasions in this game and did so again in the third quarter as Doncic lifts this pass inside to Reyes who finishes the play with the turnaround J:

One of Doncic’s better plays came in the fourth quarter as he draws a crowd (three defenders) as he pushes in transition and finds Reyes on the move for the layup:

Of course, Reyes wasn’t the only teammate Doncic hooked up with for buckets as he finds Fabien Causeur on the drive and kick for the three-pointer in the weak-side corner:

And for the play of the game, in a ‘welcome back’ kind of moment for Gustavo Ayon, Doncic hooks up with Ayon for the ally-oop:

As soon as Ayon turned, Doncic lifted the oop skywards — great feel/vision for the game to make that play.

Defense

Only two things to talk about defensively…

Doncic played this defensive possession well as he shows good defensive activity from full court before committing a bad foul and being subsequently yanked afterwards:

Not a good way to give a team some free throws…

Doncic showed some better defensive play as he did a good job chasing around these screens, getting himself back into the defensive play:

Good defense from Ayon too on the show…

In closing @ Barcelona…

Not a ton to say here…just one of those games for Doncic.

He definitely seemed bothered by his injury but was still able to make things happen when it came to getting others involved with those six assists — Felipe Reyes being the big beneficiary in this game.

Just 15 minutes played, struggling from the field…yeah… There’s nothing to say here for this game.