The 2017 F1 Season was a closely contested affair up until the Mid-Season Break. The season ended in style in Abu Dhabi and as the F1 fraternity headed into the winter break, the sport turned a page in the Chapter of the "Turbo Era".
Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 ensured the return of the French Grand Prix ( Paul Ricard Circuit ), German Grand Prix ( Hockenheimring ) thus making 2018 the longest season in F1 History.
The iconic logo made way for another, "Grid Girls" make an exit from the sport and these garnered mixed reactions from fans but the concept of having "Grid Kids" was welcomed by one and all!
A Summary of the Changes in the 2018 F1 Season ( source : www.formula1.com ) :
- T-wings and shark-fin style engine covers outlawed
- halo cockpit protection device mandatory
- suspension systems that could alter the car’s aero performance over a lap not allowed
- drivers allowed three rather than four power units per season
- simplified grid penalties for power unit changes
- wider range of dry tyre compounds
The greatest technical change is the addition of a new safety measure to closed cockpit racing - something which extends to the feeder series as well - The Halo!
Incorporating the device into the monocoque has created many engineering problems and increased the mass of the car. Driver escape time has been adjusted to seven seconds to leave the cockpit and twelve seconds for escape and replacing the steering wheel. Frontal crash test standards will also be higher with the objective of improving the protection against carbon elements breaking through the chassis.
Different iterations of the Halo were tested by teams throughout the 2017 season but we saw the final model at the pre-season tests :
( Pic credit : XPB Images )
Pirelli remain the official tyre suppliers for 2018 and have increased the available dry weather range from five to seven variants. They have also introduced a superhard and a hypersoft option.
The side wall colour designations are as follows: Hypersoft – Pink Ultrasoft – Purple Supersoft – Red Soft – Yellow Medium – White Hard – Blue Superhard – Orange.
Pirelli will supply three dry weather compounds per race and intermediates and full wet weather tyres when required.
So how have the teams fared at the tests? What are their prospects for the season? Time to find out!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes retained Valtteri Bottas for 2018. Bottas played the perfect team-mate to Hamilton in 2017 and the decision to extend his contract was a no-brainer. The team flexed their muscles and were the fastest in the pre-season tests. They have a lot in reserve and will be the team to beat in 2018.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have been raking up the miles and the car is very reliable. It will be interesting to see how Mercedes' latest challenger performs at circuits like Singapore which were unforgiving in the past. "Damage Limitation" is a rare occurrence for the fastest team in the Turbo Era and they seem to be favourites to lift the Constructors' Crown. Lewis' aim will be to become a 5 time World Champion but will Bottas pose a threat? I believe his challenge will fizzle out towards the business end of the season. Lewis remains my favourite to retain his championship crown.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari had a strong 2017 and Sebastian Vettel was a contender for the crown until the coming together in Singapore derailed his chances. The results after the Mid-Season break hurt the team badly and it seemed that they had lost the plot. The Team has lost its Title sponsor for 2018. However the results from pre-season tests prove that the car is no slouch. It is more than capable of challenging for the title. 2017 was a solid base to build on, its time to go one better in 2018.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen renew their partnership in 2018. Its no secret that they share the healthiest relationship between team-mates on the grid. Kimi is a team man and the team sees Vettel as their main challenger to the title. Kimi might be calling it a day at the end of the season and will be pushing all the way. Hope to see him win some races this year. Vettel's biggest challenger is Hamilton. The prospect of two 4 time World Champions facing off is too good to miss! Ferrari need to ensure that they don't repeat the tactical errors of 2017. They must remember that they have 2 cars racing and have competitive strategies for both. Its a long road ahead but it will be a start..
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull kicks off 2018 with Aston Martin becoming a major shareholder in the team. Its nice to see the presence of a new manufacturer on the grid ( although the team uses Tag Heuer branded Renault engines ). Red Bull had a strong second half in 2017 and will look to build from there. They seem to be the 3rd fastest from the pre-season tests but then the tests are just indicators of what is to unfold. There are certain tracks on the calendar where the car is far superior to its rivals and then there are tracks where the power deficit simply cannot be compensated for. Red Bull will be hoping that the power disparity isn't as much as it was in 2017. They will definitely have Ferrari nervously looking over their shoulders in 2018.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the dynamic duo drive for Red Bull in 2018. Daniel had a good outing in 2017 but Max's campaign was riddled with reliability issues. Red Bull wouldn't want a repeat of 2017 since its no secret that Max with his abilities and racing acumen, is hot property in the driver market. Ricciardo too is yet to clarify where his loyalties will lie beyond 2018. So its a make or break year for the car. Red Bull boast of a very potent lineup, 2 drivers who can pounce at the tiniest of slip-ups. Beating the Mercedes and Ferrari will be no walk in the park but they have the personnel and the power to make this a reality.
Sahara Force India F1 Team :
Force India F1 had quite an eventful winter break - first news of a name change and now news of a possible buyout. Pre-season tests yielded grim results and the team must address issues as soon as possible to minimize the damage that could happen in the first few races. McLaren, Renault will be stronger this year so retaining P4 in the Constructors will be a tough ask.
The Relatively Volatile partnership of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon might damage the team's chances in 2018. The team must ensure that wheel to wheel racing between the team-mates is kept clean and incidents such as those in 2017 aren't repeated. Will Force India remain the fastest Mercedes Customer Team in 2018? I have serious doubts.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault made their return as a works team in 2015 and since then its been an uphill task. Renault retains the services of Nico Hulkenberg along with the loanee Carlos Sainz Jr. from the Red Bull Driver Program. Renault's focus has been on improving reliability since 2017 and it seems to be paying dividends now. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team should be able to finish consistently in the points at the races. They must capitalise on any slip-ups by the front runners. I believe their battle with McLaren ( now a Renault customer team ) will be a closesly fought one and they should prevail at the end of the year.
Hulkenberg and Sainz Jr. are an interesting duo. They will be pushing each other throughout the year. Both are clean racers. Its hard to put one's money on who could win the Intra-team battle. Renault should also explore the possibility of signing Sainz Jr. on a long term contract. It will help them in their quest to make it to the sharp end of the grid. I really hope the best for them!
McLaren Renault F1 Team :
McLaren Renault, 2 names that were never seen together in the lifespan of F1. McLaren had some amazing battles with the Renault works team in the early 2000s but after breaking off from Mercedes and joining forces with Honda ( returning as an engine supplier ) in 2015, McLaren went into a downward spiral. Their partnership with Honda was a disaster leading existing sponsors away from the brand and pushing them into making the big decision of becoming a Renault customer team from 2018 ( for 3 years ). Reliability and lack of pace hurt the McLaren Honda assocation. McLaren has to rebuild itself from 2018 and strive to return to the glory days of old..
McLaren have the perfect combination of experience and youth in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Alonso is still one of the best and getting a competent car under him is long due. Alonso will be instrumental in improving the car throughout 2018. Vandoorne is an exciting prospect for the future and will bring home the results. Reliability still seems to be the challenge for the team but pace has improved drastically. The signs for 2018 are positive. Lets hope it stays that way!
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso broke away from Renault and signed a deal with Honda engines for 2018. Many questioned the thought behind such a decision. They also lost a sponsor to Renault Sport F1 ( after Sainz Jr's loan deal ). However the top brass in the team seem to know what they are doing. Ironically Toro Rosso was the team to clock the most number of miles in the pres-season tests while McLaren was riddled with mechanical failures and driver errors. The big question for the team : Can they sustain this kind of reliability through the year. I have my reservations.
Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly will drive for Toro Rosso in 2018. Both are relatively inexperienced but how they fare would determine whether they can make it to the A team, should a spot open up in 2019. Hartley will be the man who will lead the charge according to me. Gasly will enter the fray eventually. Toro Rosso boast of a potent chassis. Consistent point finishes should be easy for them.
Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :
Williams retain the services of Lance Stroll for 2018. Sergei Sirotkin, a rookie joins their ranks alongwith Robert Kubica who will take up the spot of Reserve Driver. The choice has been an interesting one considering the fact that Sirotkin has big financial backing. Williams has a strong car for 2018 but will the inexperience of their drivers cost them in the long run? The absence of Felipe Massa who called it a day ( this time for good ) means Stroll will be bearing the burden of scoring points while Sirotkin finds his feet in the sport.
Williams must fare better in 2018. They had 3 torrid years and a good 2018 is very important to ensure that they have a title sponsor for 2019 ( Martini leaves at the end of 2018 ).
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 continue their quest to become the best with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the wheel. Grosjean will be the more reliable, Mangussen's performances were pretty mercurial in 2017. Grosjean will be hoping that the braking issues he suffered in 2017 wouldn't repeat itself. The main challenge for Haas will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1. They do need more financial influx and sponsorship deals to improve on the R&D front. Lets hope 2018 opens up new vistas for them.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo a name that was associated with the sport for long, now makes a re-entry in 2018 alongwith Sauber. The Swiss team, which has struggled financially for a number of years, will be rebranded as Alfa Romeo Sauber from 2018 after a technical and commercial partnership was agreed. The Italian manufacturer will have their logo carried on the car, although it will still be powered by year-old Ferrari engines. Sauber released Pascal Wehrlein and aquired the services of GP2 Champion and rookie Charles LeClerc for 2018. LeClerc is an class act and I believe he will outperform Marcus Ericsson in 2018. The Swede retains his seat thanks to the sizeable sponsorship deals he brings to his employers. Ferrari will definitely have an influence and say in this team since Alfa Romeo belongs to FCA of which Ferrari is also a subsidary.
The F1 Season kicks off this weekend in Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia!
Mercedes are still favourites to retain the crown but Ferrari are close on their heels. The results in Bahrain and China will tell the true story. Reliability will be the deciding factor again and it wont be a surprise to see drivers serving grid penalties in the latter half of the season.
I am hoping to see Kimi Raikkonen on the top step of the podium in a few races!
I am looking forward to being a guest of Scuderia Ferrari F1 in Silverstone, Belgium and Abu Dhabi.
Wishing all the teams and the drivers the best for the season...
There are many contenders to the crown..however...There can only be One!