After an underwhelming curtain-raiser in Melbourne, Formula One has bounced back in superb fashion with two thoroughly exciting races over the last fortnight.
Sebastian Vettel’s battle with Valtteri Bottas in the Bahrain Grand Prix kept us on the edge of our seats, and Sunday’s Chinese round was just as exciting – with Daniel Ricciardo producing a magnificent performance to seal his first win of 2018.
Those chaotic races have given fans a much-needed boost and here, Sportsmail takes a look at why this season is shaping up to be one of most exciting in years.
Daniel Ricciardo performs trademark celebration by drinking from his shoe following his win
Red Bull driver celebrates on the podium as Valtteri Bottas (left) and Kimi Raikkonen look on
Rivals catching up on Mercedes
With Ricciardo winning the Chinese Grand Prix, Mercedes have now been beaten three races in a row for the first time in the V6 turbo hybrid era that started in 2014.
The Australian driver gave Red Bull their first win of the season, following Ferrari’s back-to-back wins Down Under and in Bahrain.
It highlights the problems the Silver Arrows have endured this season, with Bottas and Lewis Hamilton both enduring difficulties with their cars.
While the Finn has secured second place in the last two races, the Brit’s fourth-placed finish in Shanghai suggests that Mercedes’ dominance is no longer.
Mercedes have now been beaten three races in a row for the first time in V6 turbo hybrid era
It’s only a matter of time until Hamilton begins fightback
Surely it’s a matter of when, not if, Hamilton reminds us why he’s a four-time world champion.
The Brit went five races without a win in the 2016 season before producing four straight victories to keep the pressure on Nico Rosberg. It ended on a sour note for Hamilton, with his then team-mate winning the title that year.
But this isn’t the first time the 33-year-old has endured a difficult spell at Mercedes, and he tends to come up with the goods.
A winless season so far means nothing at this stage, Hamilton will be more fired up then ever before to bounce back.
Surely it’s only a matter of time until Lewis Hamilton reminds us why he’s a four-time champion
Verstappen’s no-nonsense style keeps you on the edge of your seat
The hot-headed young Dutchman has no shortage of critics after his unnecessary attempted overtake on Sebastian Vettel led to a collision.
He certainly keeps us on the edge of our seats and while his approach is borderline dangerous at times, it is also much needed in this sport.
As we saw with Bottas in Bahrain, drivers are often too reserved on the track — but that’s something Verstappen doesn’t need to worry about.
The Red Bull man needs to learn when to curb his enthusiasm but it’s certainly more reason to look forward to his performances for the remainder of this campaign.
Max Verstappen’s second incident of the China race saw him collide with Sebastian Vettel
While his approach is borderline dangerous at times, it is also much needed in this sport
There’s plenty of drivers out of contract at the end of this season including big names Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen.
While Hamilton has admirers, the other three will undoubtedly want to give their all to prove their worth to their current team – or perhaps impress potential future employers.
Ferrari will certainly keep a close eye on Ricciardo’s development at Red Bull, with Raikkonen expected to bow out of the sport at the end of 2018.
And it remains to be seen if Mercedes will tie Bottas to a new deal, but a positive season will surely give them a selection headache.
Red Bull’s Ricciardo is among big-name drivers who are out of contract at end of the season
Who said overtaking was no more?
Following the Australian Grand Prix, Ricciardo suggested a lack of overtaking will ‘hurt’ Formula One this season, believing the width of the 2018 cars has made it even harder for the drivers to entertain fans.
F1 has often been criticised for a lack of on-track passes since the sport shifted back to wider, high-downforce cars in 2017, and the curtain-raiser in Melbourne didn’t provide much hope for supporters this term.
There were just five genuine overtakes after the first lap at the Australian Grand Prix, with Ricciardo and Co finding few opportunities due to a lack of space on the track.
But it seems he spoke too soon – and it was the Red Bull man himself who proved overtaking is still a thing in F1. He showed extraordinary ability to get ahead of his rivals, ultimately helping him secure a deserved victory in Shanghai.
Ricciardo showed extraordinary ability to get ahead of his rivals during the Chinese Grand Prix
McLaren leading the middle-order charge
After a dreadful spell with Honda, it seems McLaren’s decision to switch their engine supplier to Renault has already paid off.
Stoffel Vandoorne had to settle for 13th in China — the first time one of their drivers has finished outside the top 10 this season — but Fernando Alonso’s seventh-placed position gave the British outfit yet more hope for the season ahead.
The two-time world champion now has 22 points for the season, five more than he managed throughout the entirety of last season.
They aren’t the only ones impressing this season, though. Renault are looking good with Nico Hulkenberg leading their charge while Haas and Toro Rosso have shown glimpses of their ability to finish high up the grid.
Fernando Alonso went about his business quietly but managed to secure seventh-placed finish
Kimi’s last hurrah
Could this season be Raikkonen’s last? It’s looking ever more likely, given the role he’s playing at Ferrari this season.
The 2007 world champion has played second fiddle to Vettel for some time now and has cut a sluggish figure in this season’s press conferences.
That’s no real surprise, given the Finn doesn’t exactly scream enthusiasm, but he’ll certainly be missed in the paddock — and the stands — if this is to be his last year.
Raikkonen is playing second fiddle to Vettel at Ferrari and this could be his last season in F1
Toro Rosso pair Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly collided in China, an incident that changed the race.
The team blamed that incident on a miscommunication with the drivers instructed to swap places due to different strategies.
That blunder follows two incidents involving Hamilton – in Australia and China. The Brit wasn’t aware of Vettel’s Melbourne pit-stop and couldn’t believe his rivals were on fresh rubber without his knowledge in Shanghai.
But these blunders make for good viewing for fans – and they’ve certainly played a huge role in this exciting campaign.
Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly collided in China, an incident that changed Sunday’s race
F1’s first ever triple-header
Formula One will host its first triple-header this season. It’ll no doubt be a huge headache for the teams, but one the fans can look forward to.
The returning French Grand Prix, pencilled in for June 24, will kick off a streak of three consecutive races, with the Austrian Grand Prix to follow a week later, and the British Grand Prix to be staged at Silverstone on July 8.
With back-to-back races at Hockenheim in Germany, absent from the schedule last year, and the Hungarian Grand Prix also taking place in July, the sport’s teams will be pushed to their limit with an unprecedented five races taking place inside just six weeks.
Formula One is set for its first triple-header this season, with British GP the last installment
Encouraging future for the young guns
Gasly produced a spectacular drive at the Bahrain Grand Prix in the previous round and was deservedly praised for his exploits.
In China, however, it didn’t go to plan. He was too eager to get ahead of Hartley, colliding with his team-mate and ultimately ruining both of their races.
Having said that, he’s still a raw talent and will no doubt learn from that race. And there are other youngsters who also face huge seasons ahead.
Verstappen is an obvious one while Charles Leclerc will want to kickstart his Sauber career as soon as possible.
Despite his China incident, the future looks bright for Gasly after his Bahrain GP exploits