The weather is gradually warming (excuse the ‘Beast from the East’ that just will not go away), the nights are growing longer, spring is almost upon us, but what’s missing? The roar of twenty cars roaring around a race circuit, the fervour of race day and the ensuing storylines that come with a monster EIGHT MONTH season! Yep, F1 is back for its 2018 season, with many new aspects and features thrown into the familiar mixture of motorsport’s premier racing discipline.
Sure while the top four teams – Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Force India – have unchanged driver line-ups, there has been an influx of new faces at the lower end of the grid, both at the forefront of teams, and in the background. McLaren have waved goodbye to their disastrous Honda engine partnership, a series of events documented very well in Amazon’s recent “Grand Prix Driver” mini-series, and have welcomed Renault into the fray, to provide engines for 2018. While the 2018 car may have underwhelmed in pre-season testing, the fresh, papaya livery should be a beaut to watch Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne battle with this season.
Over at the Renault works team, Nico Hulkenberg will be hoping for an upturn in form, to repay the leap of faith he took in joining the team in 2017, a decision which looks all the worse, when you consider the form of his former team, Force India last year. Still Spanish talent Carlos Sainz, should be a marked improvement on the past couple of season’s ‘experiment’ on Nico’s teammate, the Brit Jolyon Palmer – the less said about him the better!
Toro Rosso, having dropped Renault engines for Honda, complete the engine merry-go-round of the offseason, and show faith in late-season debutants, New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley and French racer Pierre Gasly. Both decisions are big risks, having shed Sainz and the unpredictable, if ultimately disappointing Daniil Kvyat (who becomes Ferrari’s test driver), but if they strike the spark with Honda that McLaren couldn’t, they may be a surprise.
The controversial HALO devices are now in place among all twenty cars this season. The addition is a response to further calls for driver safety that followed in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s death in 2014. The device is proving Marmite to fans, and while some fans may dislike the new look and claim the sport is losing its mortal edge, I for one feel that anything that saves lives and keeps drivers safe is imperative in 2018.
Perpetual minnows Sauber will be hoping that the additions of both Alfa Romeo as a partner and exciting Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc will combine to see them rise from the back row of the grid. It’ll be tough for a team that scored just five points in 2017, but the 20-year-old racer from Monaco, is already being tipped for a future drive at the Italian giants, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on in such an inferior drive during 2018.
American team Haas enter their third season on the grid, with nothing much changing! Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are still the pair in the cockpit, and while both have their merits and a considerable level of experience, do either have the talent to elevate this car above eighth place in the championship? With predicted improvements for the likes of McLaren and Sauber, they may be looking further backwards than forwards in 2018.
We were so, so close to the ultimate fairytale story in F1 this year, as rumours swirled during the off-season of Williams testing out the capabilities of the semi-retired Robert Kubica as Felipe Massa’s replacement. Alas, Kubica was narrowly edged out of a return to the sport by Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin, to pair up with Canadian Lance Stroll, who’s own rookie season had it’s highs and lows last year. The lack of driving experience is clear between a pair who’s overall age totals 41, but with Kubica waiting in the wings, and on-hand to mentor both drivers, this Williams team might notch a podium or two in 2018.
The 2018 calendar sees the F1 circus stretch out to twenty-one races, with the long-awaited return of the French Grand Prix, at the famous Paul Ricard circuit, that sporadically held the race from 1971 through to 1990. The German Grand Prix will be held at Hockenheim once again, while Malaysia drops from the calendar. Australia, of course, remains the season-opener on March 25, while the epic season ends eight months later on November 25 in Abu Dhabi.
The ultimate underdog, Force India just love upsetting the odds in F1. A team with well-documented limited resources, they have a fiery, but wickedly talented driver line-up that can mix it with the best on their day. Esteban Ocon, in particular, will only get better with age, as the 21-year-old Frenchman often proved equal to his teammate Sergio Perez last year, and the two came to blows on several occasions. Fourth position may just be their ceiling in the current iteration of F1, but they’d love to break onto the podium with more regularity.
The first of the ‘Big Three’, Red Bull Racing are best placed to cause the boys in red some trouble this year. With Aston Martin taking place on their livery and title, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo are a mega talented driver pairing, perhaps the most on the grid, and will push this pretty good car to its limits to keep up with Ferrari and Mercedes. Power unit reliability may remain a factor, but will hopefully not hamper an exciting battle at the front of the grid.
A team I grew up watching regularly on the top step of the podium, that German-Italian anthem pairing a prominent feature of my childhood, Ferrari haven’t won a constructors title in a decade. Sure, F1 is incredibly cyclical, with Mercedes in the midst of their own period of domination, succeeding Red Bull’s domination, which succeeded…you’ve guessed it, Ferrari!
They tested Mercedes more than they had any right to last year, with Sebastian Vettel’s huge lead in the championship being eviscerated by a terribly unreliable second-half of the season. This may well be Kimi Raikkonen’s last season in red, too, so you hope the brains at Maranello have calmed last year’s technical issues even more so, to allow the Flying Finn another race win or two. Sort out the car trouble and it’ll be Vettel v Hamilton again for the title, a repeat doesn’t bear thinking about for the Prancing Horse…
The one, the only, Mercedes. The team that know how to bounce back from shock retirements, immense championship deficits, driver infighting – I could go on! To say Mercedes are not the favourites for 2018 would be a sin at this stage, in reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and the dependable Valtteri Bottas, they have a harmonious driver pairing and a record in their sights. Ferrari’s record of five consecutive double titles is the carrot dangling just above the team’s head, as they head to Melbourne. You’d be hard pressed to bet against them grabbing that carrot with two hands, come the end of the year, becoming the joint-best team ever in the process.
What are your hopes for 2018? Who’s going to win the title? And what do you think of HALO? Let me know in the comments below!