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2019 F1 Season Preview - Win the Battles, Win the War

2018 was a great year for Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton as they lifted the title for the 5th time. 2018 also saw Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 do a fabulous job, be it Fan Interaction and Access Trackside or coverage off it. 

2019 is upon us and the Pre-season tests have finished. The First Race is merely 10 days away and the excitement is already building. 2019 will see Sauber rebranded as Alfa Romeo, Sahara Force India as Racing Point F1. 

The sport will also have rookies like George Russell ( reigning F2 Champion ), Lando Norris, Alexander Albon while Daniel Kvyat and old gun Robert Kubica return from their sabbaticals!

2019 is also a teaser for the Technical Regulations overhaul in 2021. A lot has changed in terms of Front Wing Design, Barge boards, Brake Ducts design, Rear wing width which will affect downforce and promise to improve wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking. 


Lets have a quick look at the Rule Changes for the Season ( source : www.formula1.com )

Technical Regulations :

1) The front wing endplates are reshaped to alter the airflow across the car and reduce the effects of aerodynamic turbulence. Winglets above the main plane of the front wing have been banned. 

2) The slot in the rear wing is wider, this will make DRS more powerful. Two additional rear lights, one on each endplate to improve visibility in poor weather conditions. These must be illuminated at all times when a driver is using intermediate or wet-weather tyres.

Pre-season tests also saw green coloured tail-lights on Albon's car; these indicated that the driver didn't have the required super-license points ( for a Grand Prix ).

    3) Smaller – and repositioned – barge boards to make them less powerful and less aerodynamically disruptive.This ultimately helps make the flow coming off the rear of the car less problematic for following drivers, meaning they should be able to get closer to the car in front. 

    4) Simplified Brake Ducts design to reduce the aerodynamic exploitation of brake ducts.

    5) Maximum fuel levels are raised from 105 kg to 110 kg so as to minimise the need for drivers to conserve fuel during a race.

    6) Driver weights are no longer considered when measuring the minimum weight of the car. Drivers who weigh less than 80 kg will have to make up this weight with ballast, located around the seat to minimise possible performance gains. This will aid Drivers who have a taller or larger frame, Nico Hulkenberg for example.

    7) New Standard for helmets and stricter crash helmet specifications

    8) Biometric Gloves for drivers so that their vitals can be monitored at all times and valuable information can be relayed in the event of a crash.

    A lot more is explained in this Video Link :



    Tyres :

    Pirelli complied with the FIA and FOM's request to simplify the naming conventions for Tyre compounds for race weekends. Dry Tyre Compounds will be termed as "Soft, Medium and Hard" besides the Intermediates and Full Wets. Now each Grand Prix will feature simply a white-marked hard tyre, a yellow-marked medium, and a red-marked soft. However, the actual compounds used for those three designations will change depending on the circuit, with Pirelli having five treads to choose from – C1 being the hardest, C5 the softest ( Tyre Treads and characteristics mirror the range from Hypersoft to Hard from 2018 to some extent ). 


    Marc Priestly has done a fabulous job at explaining the Tyre Changes ( Video Link ) :


     

    So how do the teams stack up and what are their chances for 2019? Here are my 2 cents..


    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

    Mercedes retain their lineup for 2019 with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. The Latter will have to prove his worth to warrant a seat in 2020. Lewis should be able to maintain the edge over his team-mate and I see him as a favourite for the title. Bottas will have a stronger 2019 and should aim to win races first to make a strong case for himself in the Title Fight. 

    Mercedes was not the fastest car on the grid for the major part of 2018. 2019 seems to be a similar story based on the results of the pre-season tests. However they were always there to capitalize on the mistakes made by their competitors. They managed the Drivers' Title Fight in a professional way, prioritizing results for Lewis who they believed could bring the trophy home and the 5 time World Champion didn't disappoint. They also need to improve results at street circuits and ensure optimum engine performance at higher altitudes, the Achilles' heel of their car. Mercedes cannot afford to be complacent in 2019. The Gap at the front is now non-existent.


    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    Ferrari the most successful team in the History of F1 is yet to lift the title in the "Turbo Era". The Talent has always been there, be it off the track or on it but they have come up second best. 2018 was their best shot at both titles and sadly they blew it with strategic blunders and some driver mistakes. Ferrari replace Kimi Raikkonen with Charles LeClerc for 2019. It is no secret that he is the next big thing and will eventually be champion...whether he will be able to beat a 4 time World Champion in Sebastian Vettel is a completely different story.  The Team has stated that they will favour Vettel in the opening few rounds, a logical decision considering LeClerc will need time to adjust to his new team. LeClerc posted some blistering laps during the tests and if he does manage to outdo his more experienced team-mate, things might get fiesty. The bosses have to be clear and precise in their decision making, we all know what unfolds when the team-mate battle heats up. Vettel must ensure that he doesn't repeat his mistakes on track, his greatest weapon will be his experience.

    The team has also gone through a Management Overhaul over the winter while some have left to move to greener pastures. Ferrari are the team to beat based on the results of the tests. They have the strongest driver pairing on the grid according to me. The Constructors should be well within their grasp. The people should be allowed to carry out their respective roles without any hindrance or interference, something that they failed to adhere to in the past year. Will they prevail in 2019 or will team politics be the cause of their undoing? Only time will tell.


    Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull had a tough time with Renault since 2014 and decided to switch to Honda Power for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo bid adieu to the team and Pierre Gasly was promoted to partner Max Verstappen. Max had a strong second half in 2018 and will be hoping to maintain the momentum. Gasly isn't expected to be as quick as Max ( the team believes so ) and might have to play second fiddle for the majority of the season. Max is another contender for the crown, the chink in his armour would be the reliability and performance of the Honda power unit. The car put on some decent mileage in the tests and both drivers agreed that there was a performance deficit to the cars in front. The team is capable of overcoming that with a better aerodynamic package and are they sandbagging? We shall know soon.

    Red Bull have always been there when the top two teams slipped up. They know how to win Championships and with 2 drivers hungry for the title, they can make it a reality. They are serious contenders for 2019. 


    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    Renault got the prize catch of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for 2019, that in itself has been a huge morale booster. Nico Hulkenberg is the other driver for the Enstone based outfit while Carlos Sainz Jr left to join McLaren. Renault was P4 in the Championship and will aim to go one better in 2019. They have a race winner in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is a consistent points scorer. Ricciardo knows that he has taken a challenging decision. He is in a place where he has to rear the team back to the top of the pile. Hulkenberg will have a good point of reference and his performances will improve too. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team will be a force to reckon with.

    Renault's goal should be to finish P3 in the Championship. Finishing on the podium will be as good as a win. Their rise to the top is about to get tougher now. They have the funds as a works team and I do hope they accomplish what they set out to achieve.


    Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :

    Sportpesa Racing Point F1, the new name for the Force India F1 team preserves the livery from 2018 ( well almost ). They have relieved Ocon of his services and roped in Lance Stroll to partner Sergio Perez. Stroll's appointment was no surprise since his father spearheaded the acquisition of the team and saved it from going into administration. It wasn't smooth sailing between Ocon and Perez in the last 2 seasons, hopefully things change in 2019 with a new entrant. The team must focus on maximizing finishes in the points if they want to be the best of the rest. The car isn't without flaws but Racing Point is known to come into its fore once the European leg kicks off. Perez will be the better performer according to me. It will be a steep learning curve for Stroll. 

    The team has a considerable number of sponsors ( funding ) and with the Mercedes engine at the back, they can be the fastest  customer team on the grid.


    McLaren F1 Team :

    McLaren a name that is synonymous with wins and titles. The last few years have been anything but that. Life in the Turbo Era has been an uphill struggle for them, first with Honda and then with Renault. The switch to the latter revealed the design flaws in the car and the team had to start afresh for 2019. Thankfully the signs look positive after pre-season testing. I still don't think they will be in the sharp end of the grid but more as a strong midfield team. McLaren sports a completely new driver lineup with Stoffel Vandoorne making way for Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso taking a sabbatical to be replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr. 

    McLaren won't have much in terms of Drivers' experience but with Alonso allowed to participate in some tests, they should get constructive feedback . Norris is the future and hopefully he can showcase his talent in 2019. Sainz Jr has been in the sport for sometime now and will know how to maximize results whenever the opportunity arises. A lot is riding for the team in 2019. They simply can't have another mediocre year.


    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 is the only other team to retain its driver lineup in 2019. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen had a decent 2018, the former still suffered from braking issues. Pre-season tests yielded productive results and Haas should be able to remain the fastest Ferrari customer team. 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 2019 opens up new vistas for them.


    Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :

    Alfa Romeo, the iconic Italian brand makes a return to the sport after a long hiatus. The Sauber F1 Team got officially rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing. They have roped in the services of the Iceman Kimi Raikkonen, who swapped seats with Charles LeClerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Life in F1 has come full circle for Kimi, returning to the team where his journey first began. Kimi will also have the freedom to race and express himself, a freedom he rarely experienced in Ferrari. The Team Factory is also pretty close to his home in Baar, Switzerland, so its a win win for both parties. For Antonio Giovinazzi its a make or break year. This is his chance to showcase his talent and convince the top bosses at Ferrari that he has it in him. He will be well trained under the watchful eyes of Kimi who is also a mentor in the team.

    The team ended 2018 on a good note and will have a strong base going into the 2019 season. There is work to be done but pre-season tests have given us a hint of the car's true potential. Hoping the best for the Iceman, who knows maybe a podium this year!


    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso had a mediocre 2018 and they will be hoping to better things in 2019. Toro Rosso re-hire Daniil Kyvat alongwith rookie Alexander Albon for 2019. There is a lot of inexperience in the lineup but then Toro Rosso have always been the auditioning team for Red Bull. Kvyat has a second shot at F1 and will be hoping to justify his appointment. Albon was an accomplished racer in Formula 2 but F1 is a totally different ball game. However I do see him getting the better of Kvyat over the course of the year.

    Toro Rosso don't have the plethora of resources like their big brother. They will have a potent chassis as always and will be hoping for races of attrition to end up in points scoring positions. I don't see them go better than P9 in 2019.


    Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

    Williams Martini Racing got rechristened to Rokit Williams Racing F1. Rokit, their title sponsor is a global telecommunications company. They also showcased their new livery, a White and Blue combination. The car was launched on schedule but it wasn't ready in time for testing! Their challenger eventually made it to Barcelona on Wednesday, 2 days later than the rest, not to mention the valuable mileage lost. The First couple of days were essentially shakedowns before they actually got down to business. They seem destined to be backmarkers for the start of the season. The team lost a couple of sponsors to Racing Point ( after Lawrence Stroll acquired Racing Point ) A team that has so much history about it, its sad to see them devoid of finances, sponsorships and direction. Will the team be able to turn their fortunes around? I really hope! 

    Reigning Formula 2 Champion George Russell and the veteran Robert Kubica are the drivers hired for 2019. The Latter's selection came as a surprise since he has never been at the same level of racing after his horrific accident. He had to leave the sport and after a lot of hard work and dedication, he has made it back to the grid so kudos to him. He has a loyal fan base from Poland so I am sure that Liberty wouldn't be complaining.  It will be intriguing to see how he copes with the physical and mental strains of a full season. Russell beat Norris with some fabulous performances in F2 and will have an edge in the intra-team battle. 



    Lewis Hamilton faces one of the toughest tests in his F1 career. Sebastian Vettel is thirsty for his 5th Title. Charles LeClerc wants to join the elite club of Drivers to win the Championship in their maiden year with Ferrari ( Kimi Raikkonen was one of them ). Max Verstappen will leave no stone unturned in his challenge. Valtteri Bottas cannot play 2nd fiddle again, his ride is on the line. Ricciardo in a Renault and Raikkonen in an Alfa Romeo will make life tough for the true contenders. 

    F1 has always seen periods of dominance throughout its history. We had the McLarens and the Ferraris in the late 90s and early 2000s, Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 and then throne was usurped by Mercedes AMG F1 who are yet to be beaten. The battle in the front has gotten intense with each passing year but the three pointed star always found a way to prevail at the end. Ferrari seem to be the fastest ( like in 2018 ) but they need to win the smaller contests first to eventually win the war. The competitors must rally their troops and ensure minimal slip-ups else the status quo will remain. 

    2019 will be a spectacle to behold.

    The neutrals want a new king..Will it happen in 2019? Only time will tell.

    2018 F1 Season Review - It's not how you begin, It's how you finish!

    2018 was the equal-longest season in the history of F1. It was also the year when HALO was introduced ( a safety feature added for open cockpit racing ) not just for F1 but also for the feeder series. 2018 also saw a new alliance between McLaren F1 and Renault ( as engine suppliers for the team ). Sergei Sirotkin, Charles LeClerc were the new kids on the block. 

    How did the season pan out? Was a New driver and team crowned Champions at the end of 2018 or was status quo maintained?

    Lets have a quick look.


    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team 

    Mercedes AMG F1 are the best in the business since the Turbo Era. However the competitors are quickly catching up and creating a more level playing field. 2018 was a classic example of the same. Ferrari were the fastest in the Pre-season testing and had the upper hand in the first half of 2018. However uncharacteristic mistakes coupled with strategic errors allowed Mercedes to close in on them and eventually take the lead in both the Drivers' and the Constructors' Titles. The Team in Brackley worked round the clock to reduce the performance deficit over the season and their efforts did pay off. 

    Lewis Hamilton's flawless drives got them the wins, his pole lap in Singapore ( the team's bogey track ) was one of the highlights of the season. Valtteri Bottas was presented with a couple of good opportunities for a victory but luck and team orders didn't go his way as he played 2nd fiddle for the majority of the season. Lewis Hamilton was playing catch up up until Germany, post which he simply moved into another gear. Hamilton won 11 races and 6 podiums on his way to the title. Bottas failed to win a race but finished on the podium in 8 races. Hamilton ended the season on a mammoth 408 points while Bottas finished in 5th with 247. Mercedes took home the Constructors' crown yet again! Lewis Hamilton was now a 5 Time World Champion!


    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    Ferrari was the team to beat in 2018. The year that promised a lot became yet another season of "what could have been". I have begun to think that the team has forgotten the way of winning championships, a drought that continues from 2007 ( Drivers' ) and 2008 ( Constructors' ). Incidents on track, Driver errors, Strategic howlers by the pit wall marred the performances and eventually cost the team top honours. Some updates introduced later in the year were a disaster, points were lost and this turned the tide in the Drivers' Title fight. 2018 revealed that Sebastian Vettel can also buckle under pressure and make mistakes. 

    Vettel won 5 Races and bagged 7 podiums to finish P2 in the standings with 320 points. Kimi Raikkonen had a very strong 2018, as successful as his championship winning year in 2007. He finally won a race since Australia 2013 at the US GP in Austin in fine fashion. His 11 podiums helped him reach 251 points and P3 in the Championship. Scuderia Ferrari finished P2 in the Constructors' with 571 points. 

    If Ferrari wants to pose a serious challenge to Mercedes in 2019 then they must ensure that everyone operates within their designated fields / professions and the decision making process must not be interfered with. The Power struggle within the team didn't help matters either. The passing away of the FCA CEO Mr. Sergio Marchionne was a big loss for the team as well. 

    It was a much better year in terms of performances, however "yet so near..yet so far". Charles LeClerc steps in to partner Vettel in 2019. It will be interesting to see how they get along as team-mates and whether they can bring back the glory days or not.


    Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull Racing finished P3 in the Standings with 419 Points. It was like a lonely season for them with no competitor to challenge for P3 and the Top 2 teams in a league of their own. Red Bull attributed a lot of blame to Renault power for their performance deficit in 2018. Will it change after their switch to Honda in 2019? Lets see. 

    Max Verstappen missed P3 in the Championship by 2 points. The Dutchman was the recipient of a lot of bad luck in the first half of the season but he won in Austria, benefiting from the retirements suffered by the Mercedes duo. He drove flawlessly to win in Mexico the cooler temperatures and higher altitude allowed the Renault to perform better. He also finished on the podium 9 times, a fantastic feat nonetheless. Daniel Ricciardo struggled on the other hand, specially after the announcement of his decision to leave Red Bull for Renault in 2019. The Australian bagged 170 points with wins in China and Monaco, the latter redemption for the Pit Stop fiasco that robbed him victory in 2016. He didn't finish on the podium in the other races, something he will be looking to improve in 2019. P6 in the Standings does not justify the talent of the man.

    Red Bull will be backing Verstappen in 2019 as Gasly ( Ricciardo's replacement ) finds his feet. Hopefully we will have a great contest!


    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    Renault Sport F1 was P4 in the Standings at the mid season break and they maintained their momentum till the end of the year. It wasn't smooth sailing with Haas F1 breathing down their necks but the Enstone based team prevailed.The disparity with the Top 3 Runners was huge but their ability to beat customer teams with faster engines will serve as good encouragement in 2019. 

    Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished P7 and P10 respectively. Hulkenberg finished in the points in 11 races, P5 in Germany being his best result. Sainz finished in the points on 13 occasions with P5 in Baku being his best result. Hulkenberg was the best of the rest or as the media terms it the B Championship. A Podium still eludes him. Sainz switches to McLaren with Renault roping in the services of Ricciardo. Renault has the funding as a works team and are expanding their R&D on war footing. 2019 will be fun. Go Renault!!


    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 once again proved to be the strongest Ferrari customer team. Achieving P5 in the Constructors' standings is a big achievement; a potent chassis coupled with a fantastic powertrain the main reasons. Gene Haas will be hoping to go one better next year. The Team finished on 93 points. The Team also have the FIA to thank who stripped Racing Point of their points up until the Hungarian GP, else they would have been leapfrogged. ( Elaborated later )

    Kevin Magnussen scored the majority of the points for the team, finishing in the points in 11 races with P5 in Bahrain and Austria being his best results. He was P9 in the Championship with 56 points. Romain Grosjean's travails with the braking system didn't seem to end as he suffered from many non - finishes and struggled to find the right setups at most of the races. He only had 7 finishes in the points with P4 being his best effort at the Austrian Grand Prix. The Frenchmen scored a total of 37 points in P14, an underachiever in all honesty. A lot will be expected of him in 2019 considering the amount of experience he has racing in F1. 

    The battle in the midfield is always a case of fine margins, the team has to iron out the issues and ensure both drivers finish well to bridge the gap above.


    McLaren Renault F1 Team :

    McLaren began 2018 with a lot of hope..a hope that their switch to Renault power would address their performance issues and put them on the road to recovery. Sadly it was anything but that. Renault power was the saving grace wherever it could be but the design flaws in the car were magnified on most tracks. McLaren were left red faced on most occasions as the car suffered from reliability and performance issues and failed to bring home the expected results. It became quite evident to the world that it wasn't Honda to blame entirely for McLaren's miseries but their chassis design. 

    Fernando Alonso did what Fernando Alonso does best, extracting every ounce of performance out of the car. His best finish was P5 in the opening round in Australia. He finished in the points at 8 other races and P11 in the Championship with 50 points. The Spaniard made no secret of the criticism of the car over the course of the year. It also led him to the decision of taking a sabbatical from the sport. The Double World Champion had not seen a race victory since 2013 and a podium since 2014. We wish him the best in his future endeavours and hope to see him on the grid again! Stoffel Vandoorne had a mediocre 2018. He was unable to beat his team-mate in Qualifying and finished in the points in only 4 races. P16 with 12 points, a horrendous year for the Belgian

    The team ended the season in P6 on 62 Points, better than where they were in 2017 but not where they hoped to be. 

    They have a lot of work to do in 2019.


    Racing Point Force India F1 Team :

    Racing Point Force India, ( now Racing Point F1 saw a change in ownership over the mid-season break. The Team name changed from Sahara Force India to Racing Point with Vijay Mallya and the Sahara group selling their team assets to a consortium of businessmen lead by Lawrence Stroll, Lance Stroll's father. Perez even sued Force India, sending the team into administration before they were acquired by the investors. The consequence of the acquisition was that the team lost all the points scored up until the mid-season break i.e. up until Hungarian GP and had to enter the season as a new entrant. The team scored a total of 52 points from the Belgian Grand Prix and had their points been retained, they would have finished P5 in the Championship with 111 points ahead of Haas F1. The Drivers were allowed to retain their points. 

    Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon weren't the best of mates and there was a fair bit of rivalry between the two. Incidents between the duo on track also cost the team some valuable points, specially vs McLaren F1. There was even news about Ocon being replaced in season by Lance Stroll from Williams but better sense prevailed and the Frenchman was allowed to continue racing. Sergio Perez was P8 in the Championship with 62 points grabbing a P3 once again at Baku, Racing Point's favourite track. Esteban Ocon had 10 finishes in the Points with P6 being his best finish in Monaco, Austria, Belgium and Italy. He finished P12 in the Championship with 49 points. 

    2019 promises a lot, will the investors be repaid for their efforts? We shall see.



    Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

    Sauber F1 Team was on the rise since the start of 2018. Their results improved with each passing race and they finished on 48 points and P8 in the Constructors' at the end of the year. The Team has also benefited from a faster Ferrari engine in 2018. Charles LeClerc spearheaded their challenge with points finishes in 14 races and P6 was his best finish ( Baku ). He had 39 points to his name at the end of the year. Marcus Ericsson in comparison massively under-performed and finished in the points in only 6 races, P9 being his best finish. Sauber F1 will be thankful for LeClerc and for what he achieved since a better finish means more money to use for next year. 

    Sauber is now Alfa Romeo F1, so hopefully they wont be as cash strapped as they were at the end of 2017.


    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso had a very mediocre 2018. Honda power and its reliability issues are to blame ( to some extent ). The team scored only 33 points in 2018 and finished P9 in the Championship, losing P8 to Sauber post the mid season break. The Red Bull B Team will have to pull up their socks if they want to bring any respectability to their tally in 2019. Pierre Gasly performed well enough to warrant a seat in the A Team for 2019. Brendon Hartley not so. The Frechman scored in 5 races and P4 was his best finish ( Bahrain ). Brendon Hartley struggled all year round with mechanical failures, incidents and setup issues. He only managed 4 points in 2018, 9th in the US GP and 10th in Baku and Germany. 

    Toro Rosso will be hoping for a better outing in 2019.


    Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

    Williams, a name that is well known in the annals of F1. The team is now a mere shadow of its former glory days. Its truly a sad situation within the team, be it the lack of finances, sponsors or direction in terms of development. The progress curve stagnated for the team in 2018. The results were poor, even though a top man like Paddy Lowe was added to the management. The team also said goodbye to Rob Smedley who decided to call it a day on his career and spend time with his young family ( for now at least ). Sergei Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were the drivers hired for 2018 ( pay drivers purely ) and the funding they carried helped the team last the year. 7 points was all they could conjure, best being 8th for Lance Stroll in Baku. 

    Williams need a revamp for 2019. They need to become appealing again and ensure their driver portfolio boasts of that too. We wish them well.



    A lot has happened over the course of 2018.  

    I had the opportunity of attending 3 races - Germany, Belgium and Abu Dhabi and I must say that Liberty Media should be commended for revitalizing F1 as a sport and modernizing it. They also improved Fan interaction and involvement.


    We said goodbye to Fernando Alonso, a legend of the sport, his absence will definitely leave a void. Esteban Ocon, Stoffel Vandoorne, Brendon Hartley, Sergei Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson will not be on the grid in 2019. Charles LeClerc was a revelation and the Tifosi will hope to see a new champion in Scarlet Red in 2019. 

    Kimi Raikkonen finally won a race again and can bow out of Ferrari with his head held high! 


    McLaren started strong hoping the trend would continue into the season..sadly it didn't, Sahara Force India were already in the red ( financially ) and hoped to weather the storm..the management couldn't; Ferrari was the fastest car on the grid and they hoped this would be the year of top honours..sadly it wasn't.


    This season served as a good reminder for us, be it in life or Motorsport..it doesn't matter how you begin, what matters is how you finish! Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton ran the race well and deserved to be on the top step. 

    Other contenders have a lot to learn..still...

    2018 F1 Season Preview - Halo, F1 is back!

    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 ) :


    Technical regulations:

    - 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

    Sporting regulations:


    - 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 )


    Tyres 

    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!