The time is HERE! The kick-off to the brand-new 2018 F1 season is just days away, with the cars having hit the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia for the first practice session, at the time of writing. After a four month refresh, a number of changes have been implemented, not just on the track by the FIA and new owners of the sport, Liberty Media. So sit back, relax and get the full run down on the 2018 Australian Grand Prix.
Start Time (GMT): Qualifying – 7am Race – 6.10am – note race start times will now commence at 10 minutes past the hour, as part of changes to the sport for 2018.
Broadcaster (UK): Sky Sports F1 – LIVE, Channel 4 – Highlights
Location: Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia
Number of Laps: 58
Fastest Lap: 1:24.125 – Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 2004
2017 Podium: Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas
Melbourne has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar for the past couple of decades now, and is the de-facto season-opening grand prix. It’s a fan favourite, and provides a solid challenge for drivers and teams, fresh from the offseason break. It’s traditionally well attended too, with up to 80,000 packing out Albert Park on a raceday. Local fans will be backing Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to better his career best fourth-placed finish, to give them something to shout about.
Ones to Watch
Lewis Hamilton – I just cannot see past this man taking a race victory on Sunday in Melbourne. The Mercedes car for 2018 looks every bit as dominant as it has done for the past few years, and you certainly wouldn’t bet against them continuing this streak. Hamilton himself appears as calm and serene as he’s ever been upon entering a season, and while Ferrari and Red Bull will have hopefully closed the gap (for competitive racing it’s a must!), Hamilton and Mercedes will just have too much in the bag, I feel.
McLaren – the team have been down in the doldrums for the past few years, a shadow of the organisation that were once one of the frontrunners in every grand prix. Names like Prost, Senna, Hakkinen, Hamilton brought in the race wins for the team so often, it seems strange to think it will have been SIX years this November since the team’s last race win. By dropping Honda as its engine provider for 2018, the team will be hoping to return to the prominence, and while testing was hampered by everything BUT engine problems, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne appeared inside the top ten for Practice One at Albert Park, and such finishes will certainly not be sniffed at. I’m hoping McLaren can make it back to the podium for 2018.
HALO – the innovation has been through a number of different guises and has been a long time coming, but many are not a fan. Aimed at preventing incidents such as Felipe Massa’s crash at Hungary that saw him end with a fractured skull, after a loose spring hit his helmet at high impact, HALO effectively closes the cockpit off to such an incident happening again. Drivers are mixed on its usefulness, but its implementation across every car for the 2018 season has happened, and the experiments are over – it’s time for action!
Rookies – while Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly narrowly escape this category due to their handful of Grand Prix appearances at the back end of last year, there are just two new drivers to F1 for this season: Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin. Both have points to prove for different reasons, Leclerc is 20 years of age and has already been touted for a future Ferrari drive. Increased links with Ferrari-owned Alfa Romeo, which see the prestigious brand return to the sport for the first time in years, have seen Sauber nab the man from Monaco for 2018, but it’ll be interesting to see how the protege gets on at 2017’s worst team.
Sirotkin has been much maligned for other reasons, namely that he’s a ‘pay driver’ and that he denied the sport a much-needed fairytale, in Robert Kubica’s rumoured return to a drive for this season. But Kubica is test driver, and Sirotkin makes up the youngest driver partnership by a mile, with Canadian Lance Stroll – it’ll be interesting to see how a post-Felipe Massa and extremely youthful Williams team get on this year.
Podium: Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo
Surprise Driver: Sainz
First Retirement: Grosjean
While I feel Hamilton is a given for the race win, I hope I’m wrong for the race’s sake, I do feel like this is going to be Daniel Ricciardo’s weekend! He’s had so many near misses since joining Red Bull, but I think this will be the time for him to reach the podium to the acclaim of his home crowd. Sebastian Vettel will also have something to prove after Ferrari’s poor second half of 2017, so don’t bet against him either. Carlos Sainz might be a good bet on a top six finish in his new Renault, while I just don’t like the look of the 2018 Haas car at all, and I feel, starting from lower down the grid, Romain Grosjean could be dangerous – and not in a good way!
Who do you think will win the Aussie GP? Let me know in the comments below