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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!

2017 F1 Season Preview - Changes, Changes Everywhere!

F1 starts a new chapter in 2017. The Ownership changes hands from Bernie Ecclestone to Liberty Media and Chase Carey, there is an overhaul of regulations and the winter break was full of speculations and theories about who would replace the Retiring Reigning World Champion Nico Rosberg.

The calendar is truncated to 20 Races after Germany hosts no race this year. Manor unfortunately won't feature on the grid after the team folded up and had to withdraw their official entry for the season. As always, there is a lot of excitement about the season. The F1 Faithful have a lot of expectations from the new owners be it Fan interactions, Fan Access, Ticket Pricing and Race Weekend Events but first there is a season to look forward to!


A Quick Look at the Regulation Changes for the season :

1) Teams are restricted to 4 power units per season regardless of the number of Grands Prix in the season. Engines and power unit supply costs will be reduced by 1m Euros in 2017 and by a further 3m Euros in 2018. There will be a lot of unpredictability and unreliability might play a big role in the title fight. More importantly F1 are moving towards cost cutting, the very reason for the switch to smaller power units.

2) The engine token system will be scrapped from 2017 onwards and a boost pressure constraint will be introduced.

3) Any outfit who could not agree a power unit deal must be supplied by the manufacturer which supplies the least amount of teams, which is currently Honda, at a stipulated rate. Everyone have their suppliers locked down, so doesn't apply to anyone.

4) Tyres are around 25 percent wider than in 2016, with rear width up from 325mm to 405, and front width raised from 245 to 305. Tyre diameter has also increased very slightly, though wheel rim size remains unchanged at 13 inches. ( Source : www.formula1.com ). This would mean better grip levels, extra downforce translating to faster lap times.

5) In the event that a race is declared wet and must start behind the safety car, the grid will follow normal starting procedures and once conditions are declared satisfactory for racing, drivers will line up on the grid for a standing start once the safety car pulls into pit lane, although any laps completed behind the safety car will count towards the total race distance. Finally we can have a proper start in the wets. Just like the good old days!

6) From 2017, teams will only be able to use one new component over their quota per race, with any additional components incurring further penalties. This change will prevent teams from "stockpiling" spare power unit components. Quite an interesting move considering the fact that everyone - from Mercedes to Honda took advantage of serving a combined penalty of all components in a single race.

My understanding of the rule is this : The team can only replace one component on a weekend..should they choose multiple, the incurring penalties will have to be served in the following rounds. So the Teams have to choose what to replace and when.

I am pretty intrigued to see how the FIA is going to enforce this rule ( specifically near the business end of the season )

7)The minimum weight of the car including the driver being raised by 20 kg to 722 kg, with teams allowed to use 105 kg of fuel to account for the increase in minimum weight. More Fuel means less fuel saving periods and a greater chance for drivers to push at the races but knowing F1, most would take the cautious approach.

8) There are multiple changes to the looks, dimensions of the cars. We have also seen Shark Fins, T Fins, New Barge Board designs at the tests. I choose not to get into the technicalities of it, but for those who do, here is a table which explains the transformation of the cars from 2016. ( Source : www.skysports.com/f1 )


Proposed bodywork changes for 2017



2016 2017
Tyres Front 245mm wide thread 305mm wide thread

Rear 325mm wide thread 405mm wide thread
Suspension Track 1800mm 2000mm

Legs +/- 5 degrees profile incidence +/- 10 degrees profile incidence
Front Wing Wing 1650mm span 1800mm span, swept plan view shape

Endplates
Simplified endplate legality
Rear Wing Top wing 750mm wide, 950mm high 950mm wide, 800mm high

Endplates Rectangular endplate Swept endplate in side view and tucked in front view
Floor Steep plane 1400 max width; 1300mm min width; Edge radii <50mm constant 1600 max width; 1400mm min width; Edge radii <100mm variable

Reference plane Starts 330mm behind front axle Starts 430mm behind front axle

Plank Homogeneous Plank Pocketed plank for weight saving

Diffuser 125mm high, 1000mm wide, starts at rear axle 175mm high, 1050 mm wide, starts 175mm ahead of rear axle
Bodywork Width 1400mm max width 1600mm max width

Sidepods No constraint Swept leading edge in top view

Bardgeboards Big exclusion zone behind front wheels Reduced exclusions zone allowing for larger bargeboards
Weight
702kg max weight 722kg max weight + tyres (est 5kg)


The FIA claim substantial gains of over three seconds are expected in 2017 through the "aerodynamic rules evolution, wider tires and reduction of car weight". The 2017 cars are more difficult to drive and the drivers will need to be at their fittest to handle these machines. Overtaking might still be a concern ( according to Hamilton and Massa ) but we shall know once we get to the high speed circuits.


So how have the teams fared at the tests? What are their prospects for the season? Time to find out!

Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

Mercedes, the undisputed kings of the Turbo Era marched to another title in 2016. Nico Rosberg came out on top to win his maiden Drivers' World Championship only to shock the world with his decision to retire a week later. Rosberg stated that he had achieved his dream and it was time to move on to more important things in life. The decision led to a big contest to grab the best seat in the sport for 2017. Alonso, Wehrlein, Bottas, Ricciardo were the contenders. Alonso would have been an interesting choice. He is the best driver on the grid according to me and we all know what conspired in 2007 between Lewis and Nando. Did Lewis have a say in this? Maybe. Bottas, the experts' favourite got the job, his close association to Toto Wolff ( his manager ) giving him the edge. The Team had to part ways with Paddy Lowe who went to Williams F1, a fair trade for both parties. James Allison who left Ferrari midseason following the death of his wife joins Mercedes as their Technical Director for 2017, a fantastic addition to the squad. Mercedes remain favourites to retain the crown in 2017 although Testing suggests that Ferrari will make it a very close affair. The Team is known to mask their true pace so the competition should be wary.

Bottas is a very calm and composed racer under pressure. Lewis Hamilton will look to reclaim his lost crown and I believe his competition will come from another team. Bottas will be strong but not capable to fight Lewis for the title. Nonetheless both will have to be the top of their game to ensure competition is kept at bay.


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari have played second fiddle long enough. They have flattered to deceive in the Turbo Era. 2014 was a fiasco. 2015 saw some improvement. 2016 started off well only for Ferrari to lose the plot towards the end. 2017 Pre-season Tests portray an encouraging story - Ferrari are right up there with the best and might be able to beat the best in the business this year. Ferrari's pace at the Tests have been a revelation. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel scorched the Circuit of Catalunya with record laptimes on supersofts which suggests the team has something in reserve. Kimi and Seb praised the efforts of the personnel at Maranello and both believe that the SF70H is much better than its predecessor. Neither chose to comment on the possibility of race wins but the initial vibes coming out of the camp are extremely positive. The Team looks ready and raring to go. Kimi Raikkonen beat Sebastian Vettel in the Qualifying faceoffs in 2016 and would look to better him in the Championship as well. Both the drivers will push each other to the limits and that will augur well for the team who know that the battle at the sharp end of the grid is no cakewalk. Ferrari did lose out on the services of James Allison but if this car brings about a change of fortunes, then they've done well without him.

Ferrari needs to return to that winning mentality again. The aggression is there, the talent is there. They only need to plan and execute it well. They need to have confidence in their tactics and not react to what others around them are doing. As a Fan, I want to see Kimi Raikkonen have an exceptional season. 



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull one of the most successful teams in F1 made a strong resurgence in 2016 and snapped up 2 wins and P2 in the Constructors' Championship. They were pretty close to Mercedes AMG F1 at the end of the season. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen made for a fantastic pairing and retaining them for 2017 was absolutely paramount for the team. Ricciardo had the temptation of switching to Mercedes but the Australian chose to stick with the boys from Milton Keynes. Max and Dan are the best pairing in F1 according to me and their positive approach at the races will definitely throw up many surprises in 2017. Red Bull might not be at the level of Mercedes or Ferrari based on whats been seen at the Tests but wasn't the start of 2016 the same? I really believe they are hiding their true pace and even if they aren't, they have all the resources and the personnel to upgrade and field an aerodynamically efficient and quick RB13 at the races. Would they be able to beat Mercedes while keeping Ferrari at bay? I highly doubt it. One thing is for certain though..P3 is the least that Red Bull should manage at the Constructors.



Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams had a poor 2016. Massa retired at the end of the season only to return for another year after Valtteri Bottas moved up to Mercedes AMG F1 to replace Rosberg. Lance Stroll, the 18 year old F3 Champion joins Massa making him the newest entrant into the world of F1. Williams finished P5 in 2016 and they lost their way in their battle against Force India. However with the New Regulations and Changes in place, its status quo for everyone but will Williams be able to mount a strong challenge? There is a lot of uncertainty about them from the pre-season tests. I quote Formula1.com "The FW40 shouted ‘hidden potential’ to many seasoned observers. The big question is whether their testing pace was for real, and if so, will it put them at the head of the midfield pack or make them true podium contenders? Only Melbourne will tell."

Massa's experience will be invaluable in the fight this year. Stroll has been raking up the miles but his inexperience could be the weak-link this year. Williams boast of a glorious history in F1 and their personnel are capable of turning things around. Financially, they are secure too. I would like to see them fighting at the sharp end of the grid in 2017.

Paddy Lowe joins Williams F1 for 2017 as Chief Technical Director, a move that was on the cards if the Bottas switch to Mercedes came through. Williams will be more than happy to have a man with Paddy Lowe's experience. He has all the expertise of improving the car and if the drivers can deliver the expected results, then they are back in contention.



Force India F1 Team :

Force India were a revelation in 2016. Finishing P4 in the Championship the team underlined the fact if one works hard, then the sky is the limit. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg delivered consistently strong finishes to keep competitors at bay. Esteban Ocon is the new member of the team replacing Hulkenberg who switched to Renault. Force India also sport a new livery..some like it, some don't. Its a Strawberry coloured VJM10 for 2017 and I am sure its gonna stand out amongst the field. Initial impressions show that the car is fairly quick and most importantly reliable. Perez will go from strength to strength..maybe auditioning for a seat higher up. Ocon showed a lot of promise in Manor. This is his "Baptism by Fire". His finishes will be pivotal in deciding Force India's fortunes for 2017.

Force India will find it hard to better what they achieved in 2016. The likes of Renault, Williams will be vying for P4 so its going to be an uphill battle for the Silverstone based outfit. Lets hope they handle the pressure with aplomb. 



McLaren Honda F1 Team :

McLaren and Honda...Prost and Senna...the Golden era..The Partnership was renewed in 2016 and the alliance has been a massive embarrassment. Honda's powertrains have been highly unreliable and the story might not change if one looks towards the pre-season tests. The MCL32 struggled to post a decent mileage..both drivers drove out of the pits only to stop at random times of their runs. Alonso, assessing the situation has reiterated that this might be the only chance that Honda has to turn things around..maybe hinting at greener pastures in WEC with Porsche ( an option hes been eyeing for sometime ). Stoeffel Vandoorne finally got a drive after Jenson Button left the sport ( to take on the role of a "mentor" for McLaren). Mika Hakkinen also joined them as an ambassador but would they be influential in bringing in more sponsorship for a team that is bound to struggle on the field? Tough ask this. Vandoorne and Alonso seem to have a long and arduous season ahead of them. Alonso will eek out every bit of performance. Vandoorne must follow suit.

McLaren will be fortunate to finish in the points at Australia but a team of their stature have to turn things around asap. Honda claims that all their troubles will be addressed before the start of the full season. Applaud their optimism but lets hope they silence a critic like me. The latest news coming out of the UK is that McLaren are considering their "options" with Honda. Could a shock switch to another engine supplier be on the cards? Time will tell..


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault, in its 2nd year as a Works Team would look to improve their performances and results from last year. The team ( after a lot of debate ) persisted with Jolyon Palmer while Kevin Magnussen was released to join Haas F1. The team bagged the services of Nico Hulkenberg from Force India and both will look to benefit from the other - Hulkenberg being with a works team and Renault having the luxury of a consistent finisher / performer in their ranks. For Jolyon Palmer, its a make or break year. His performances must improve to justify the team's decision to retain him..else it won't be difficult to find a replacement. Hulkenberg would be hoping for a reliably fast car for 2017 and if they do manage this for the first half, a podium finish shouldn't be a long shot.

The Team aims to finish P5 in this championship ( based on the "roadmap to success" charted out by Renault ). Testing results suggest a positive outcome for the season. Issues remain to be resolved but the team can gain confidence from all that they learned from testing. I do hope to see them return to success and hopefully to the top step..after all I consider them as family!


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 had a decent debut year. Romain Grosjean scored all the points for the team while Gutierrez had a torrid return to F1. He was close to scoring points on a few occasions but his performances didn't warrant him a place in 2017. Subsequently he switched to Formula E while Kevin Magnussen took up his vacant seat. Haas has a capable driver in Romain Grosjean, his experience being helpful in the development and improvement of the car. Magnussen is a quick driver but will need time to settle.

Pre-season tests show that the car is fairly quick and should be a regularly feature in the midfield battle. Haas' close association with Ferrari might turn out to be helpful. Their main challenge will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1.



Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso renew their partnership with Renault for 2017. I must say they have the best livery for 2017. It should be a lot easier to differentiate between the A Team and the B Team. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. keep their seats for 2017. However Kvyat must perform as the extremely talented Pierre Gasly is waiting in the wings. Carlos had a strong 2016 but I believe he should leave Red Bull's Driver Program for 2018 if he wishes to move up the grid. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo might not leave the A Team if they have a successful 2017. Toro Rosso return to Renault power for 2017 and the initial impressions are a bit mixed. Reliability was an issue but the team seemed to find some pace near the end of the Pre-Season Tests.

Toro Rosso, under the leadership of Mr. Franz Tost will continue to be a strong midfield team in 2017 and it won't be surprising if they spring up a few surprise results at certain tracks. Lets hope they have a good outing..



Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber finished 9th in the Constructors' thanks to an eventful Brazilian Grand Prix. The cash-strapped team had been pushing for a takeover over the business end of last year and the winter. However with nothing concrete coming their way, the best way forward was to have drivers with strong financial backing. Felipe Nasr was relieved of his services while Mercedes bagged the seat for Pascal Wehrlein. This was quite an interesting move since Sauber run the Ferrari powertrains...but then Sauber operate independent of Ferrari. It will be interesting to see how the new team-mates pair up. My money is on Wehrlein. The German through his performances at Manor proved there was little to stop him from coming out on top. Ericsson has a long season ahead of him. The time is ticking for him too.

Sauber must score points whenever the opportunity arises. It would be difficult for them to keep upgrading the car throughout the season but they must ensure that they don't finish last in the Constructors' to keep their F1 legacy alive.



The Demise of Manor :

2017 began with some grim news. Manor F1 Team went into administration after they failed to get an investor. Eventually the team had to shut down and withdraw their name from the 2017 Official Entry List. This explains the logic of moving both Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon to Sauber and Force India respectively; as I had mentioned earlier, Mercedes knew about this well before time and ensured that their protegees don't go without a drive in 2017.


The Season is less than a week away. Albert Park is ready to kickstart the 2017 season. I would love to repeat my favourite line : F1 Returns and so does Sanity!

God willing, I hope to attend the Spanish, Belgian and the Abu Dhabi GP.

Can Mercedes win it all again? Can Red Bull and Ferrari dethrone Mercedes? Will Force India be as good as 2016? Can Renault meet their expectations for 2017? Can McLaren and Honda sort out their issues and move up the pecking order?

All these questions will be answered over the course of the season.

Who has the fastest car? I believe we shall know by the Bahrain GP.

Kimi Raikkonen
was amazing at the Tests. I hope to see him do the same in-season! Kimi has all my support for the title!

I wish all teams and all drivers the best for 2017. May the Best Man and the Best Team win!


Once again thank you all for your support for this blog and I apologize for being away for 3 months from the blog. God Bless you all!









2016 F1 Season Preview - Battle Royale Beckons

2016 has begun and the days were counting down for the season opener in Australia. We are less than 24 hours away from Free Practice 1 and the 2016 season already promises loads of excitement.

Teams have come to terms with the new Turbo era now and focus should shift more towards performance.

There are new entrants vying for the Constructors' crown, new drivers in some teams and yes another revision in some regulations.

The season will be the longest in F1's history, having a total of 21 races with Baku, Azerbaijan being the latest entry under the guise of the European Grand Prix.


A quick look at some rule changes : ( Source : www.fia.com )

1) Tyre supplier Pirelli will introduce a 5th tyre compound known as "ultrasoft",with the manufacturer stating that they would only be available on street circuits.Pirelli will change their approach to tyre supply in 2016, bringing three dry compounds to races instead of two. The compounds will be made public two weeks before each event. Pirelli will assign two "choice" compounds, and a third set (the softest available regardless of Pirelli's selection) will be given to teams reaching Q3. Drivers will select their remaining ten tyre sets for the event between the three compounds and must use at least any two dry compounds of their choosing during the race, so long as at least one set is of the two Pirelli "choice" sets.

Video Link explaining the new tyre rules by Chain Bear F1 :

A Very Complex Rule change but it will definitely spice things up in both Inter and Intra Team battles as drivers mix their tyre strategies in order to find the right balance between pace and longevity.

2) The FIA has opted to increase the number of tokens available for power unit development starting in 2016. While the initial plans would have given manufacturers 15 tokens for the season, the number was raised to 32, the same number as 2014, in order to allow struggling manufacturers such as Renault and Honda to improve their development. This decision also allows further development on parts that were initially planned to be closed off, including the upper and lower crankcase, valve drive, crankshaft, air-valve system and ancillaries drive.

A Welcome Change to bring more parity in the field ( in Honda's case ) and hopefully an opportunity for Renault to catch up.


3) Any driver who causes the start of the race to be aborted will be required to start the race from pit lane at the restart.

Quite Harsh on the driver in case of a Technical Failure.


4) The procedure for issuing gearbox penalties will be amended so that penalties are applied in the order that they are awarded, bringing the system in line with the wider grid penalty system.

The Penalty System has become interesting and clarity will come when it comes into effect during a race weekend.


5) The Virtual Safety Car system will be used in practice sessions as well to avoid the unnecessary use of red flags and session stoppages.

An Important change in the sessions and will allow continuity in the case of minor incidents like stoppages on track.

DRS which is deactivated when under Virtual Safety Car periods and full-course yellow flags, will be available as soon as a Virtual Safety Car period has ended allowing drivers to start racing immediately after green flag conditions are restored.


6) The process new drivers go through in order to qualify for F1 for a super license has changed.


7) Qualifying has seen a big change.

The qualifying process was heavily revised two weeks before the season opener. The Q1, Q2, and Q3 format that has been in place since 2006 will be retained, but with a progressive "knock-out" style of elimination. Drivers conducting a lap at the end of each session will still be allowed to complete their lap, though this does not apply to mid-session eliminations.

a) Q1 will last 16 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 7 minutes until 15 cars remain.

b) Q2 will last 15 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 6 minutes until 8 cars remain.

c) Q3 will last 14 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 5 minutes until pole position is determined.

This means that no driver will have a respite and everyone has to be on the limit to stay afloat. Its going to be a lot of fun. I am reminded of the now defunct A1 GP Series which ran a similar qualifying format.


As Stated earlier, Baku is the new entrant making this the longest season in F1. The Calendar has gone through some revisions as well. Malaysia has been pushed back to October while Russia moves up into May becoming Round 4. Germany will be the last race before the Mid Season break in July.

On the Teams side, Lotus F1 Team has been rechristened as Renault Sport F1 Team, Haas F1 make their debut and Red Bull Racing will sport a Tag Heuer Branded Renault Engine after Renault and Red Bull parted ways ( sort of ) at the end of 2015. Manor Racing is the new name for Marussia for 2016.


2016 will not feature the reckless Maldonado, Roberto Merhi, Will Stevens & Alexander Rossi.

So who drives for who? How did the teams fare in pre-season tests? Who are the contenders for the crown? I hope what follows does justice and addresses these questions.


Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

Favourites to win it all this year again, Mercedes have flexed their muscles, although not completely in the pre-season tests. The Team has the most number of laps to its name and reliability doesn't seem to be an issue for now. The team does have something in reserve and maybe masked their true pace. Their pace advantage, if any will come to the fore in China and Bahrain.

Hamilton and Rosberg will be at it this year and both have worked hard in the pre-season tests. Its a very close call between the two for 2016 again. Hamilton does have an edge when it comes to statistics but Rosberg had the momentum at the end of last season. Can the German recreate that form? Its a tough ask but he is capable. On his day the German is unbeatable. Will those days outnumber Hamilton's? I have my doubts.

The Mercedes duo
don't just have to contend with each other...



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari
had a strong 2015. "Strong" is a word not good enough at Ferrari. You have to win it all and you don't rest until your goal is reached. 2016 should be that year. Ferrari have played second fiddle long enough. Pre-season results promise a fantastic 2016. The SF-16H is more than just a strong contender. Vettel and Raikkonen have been fastest on their respective days ( albeit on Ultra-softs ), Raikkonen being the fastest overall but just. Ferrari didn't clock the same number of laps as the Mercedes but they will be the only worthy contender according to me. The Car is also kinder on its tyres so the team could adopt more aggressive strategies and match the Mercs on pace.

Vettel had an edge over Raikkonen in 2015, the Finn being riddled by misfortune and reliability problems. 2016 should be a more even battle between the two. As a Raikkonen Fan I am confident that he will justify Ferrari's decision of retaining him in 2016 and will be a strong contender for the Drivers' crown.
Vettel has been on the pedestal 4 times so he is no stranger to winning it all. Vettel will be on the limit right from day 1 and has the knack of getting under the skin of the Mercedes duo.
Both drivers have to be consistent throughout the season to maintain pressure and I am confident that the Prancing Horse will shine again.



Williams F1 Team :

Williams
were the best of the rest ( excluding Mercedes and Ferrari ) in 2015 and the strongest Mercedes Customer Team. Pre-season Tests suggest that challenging the Works teams would be difficult and Williams would have to be wary of other customer teams breathing down their necks. Both drivers haven't been particularly quick on the softer compounds but could Williams be holding back? Only time will tell.

Massa and Bottas
stay with the team for 2016. It was a well contested battle for supremacy between the two, Bottas getting the better of his team-mate. Massa had a not so memorable second half of 2015 and has to step up his performances to not lose his seat to younger drivers. Bottas on the other hand has to optimize results if he garners hopes of making it into a Works Team in the future. Bottas should have the edge in this year's team-mate battle according to me and if Williams can bring him close to the Mercs and the Ferraris, he will be more than a handful.



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull
had an eventful 2015. Reliability issues and a misfiring power unit bogged the team down. The boss Christian Horner was extremely critical of Renault which led to their eventual fall-out at the end of the season. The search for a new engine supplier never materialized after talks stagnated with Mercedes and an understanding could never be reached with Ferrari. Finally it was agreed that the team will run a Tag Heuer branded Renault engine for 2016. Aston Martin has also joined the long list of sponsors for the team. Something brewing? Maybe. Red Bull will be strong at street circuits but making it to the top 10 could be quite challenging elsewhere. Aerodynamically Red Bull are brilliant but the Power Differential is too big to bridge the gap with the Mercs or the Ferraris. They could spoil the party though with aggressive tyre choices.

Kvyat and Ricciardo finished 2015 with just 3 points between their respective tallies, new graduate Kvyat outshining the Honey Badger. Red Bull would be really pleased with their driver choices as the duo were instrumental in holding off Force India's challenge with consistent finishes. 2016 will see a close quarter battle but Ricciardo should pull this off this time. I eagerly wait to see Red Bull return to the sharp end of the grid and this duo is capable of capitalizing when the opportunity comes knocking at the door.



Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India
a team that came close to beating the mighty Red Bull in 2015 will hope to carry the momentum into 2016. However the bosses have dominated headlines in News Dailies for all the wrong reasons. There is a Management Reshuffle on the cards and how it will affect the team remains to be seen. That said, Force India have been flying in Pre-Season Testing as the 3rd Fastest Team on the timesheets. Powered by Mercedes again, 4th place in the Constructors' should be achievable but Force India have to maintain a steep development curve and stay in touch with the bigger spending teams. Do they have that Financial Prowess? I hope they do.

Perez and Hulkenberg continue their partnership and both are quick and reliable. My Money is on Hulkenberg although Perez pipped him to 9th place in the Championship last year. Mr. Consistent Hulkenberg is on the shortlist of bigger teams but his height and lack of sponsorship works against him. Perez on the other hand is pretty mercurial in his performances but on his day is unbeatable. I can't wait to watch the 2 battle it out on track.



Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso
the sister concern/B Team of Red Bull Racing had an exciting 2015. 2 youngsters who jumped the ranks to land themselves a F1 Seat bowled over fans and experts alike with their amazing performances in 2015. Toro Rosso switch to Ferrari power for 2016 and this year should be no different. Toro Rosso had a very potent chassis in the rain and caused a lot of upsets last year. Ferrari power should help them make a few more places in 2016. Toro Rosso were the 4th Fastest team in Pre-Season Tests ( Albeit on ultrasofts )

Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. have learned a lot about the sport in 2015. Both have to raise the bar in 2016 as this year will test their maturity and guile in F1. Both have the desire, the fire, the passion and the pace. Now to bring home the results. I am sure either one could get a call to move up within the next couple of years. Verstappen won the team-mate battle last year and might do the same again but I promise you this will be a hotly contested and well followed battle. Bringing home strong finishes should help the team fight for 5th place in the Constructors, probably with the Mother Red Bull team.



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault
parted ways with Red Bull Racing at the end of 2015. Renault then took over Lotus F1 Team to ensure not just their presence in the sport but also save the team from certain bankruptcy. Renault have a roadmap for making their way back up the grid and its no secret that they are here to stay. A Little Birdie told me Renault's plan for the coming years : 2016 will be a struggle, 2017 aim for 7th place, 2018 aim for 5th, 2019th 3rd and 2020 be a Championship Winning team.

Lotus on the other hand had a decent outing in 2015 with Mercedes Power and had to terminate its contract with Mercedes due to the takeover. Renault's 2016 Challenger is the 2015 Car with loads of upgrades. It was too late to build a new car due to the delayed process of the takeover.

Renault
hired Kevin Magnussen to join 2015's reserve driver & 2014 GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer. Magnussen was released by McLaren midway through 2015. Palmer on the other hand might only remain with the team for one year but you never know what conspires over the duration of a season. Magnussen with his past experience of F1 should fare better than Palmer. He was quicker during the pre-season tests as well. 2016 will be a tough year for the team according to me due to the under-powered Renault unit but I would be overjoyed if the team ( the  I love so much ) grabs some podium finishes.



McLaren Honda F1 Team :

McLaren
had a horrendous 2015. Honda struggled to come to terms in their first year of the New Turbo era. Reliability problems bogged the team down all season long. 2016 Pre-Season did see them clock a considerable number of kilometres but the latest challenger isn't flawless. Both drivers had their fair share of breakdowns. The power disparity might cost the team valuable points as reliability remains priority in 2016. The team is addressing every gremlin one at a time and when they finally iron out these issues, they would be right up there with the high-fliers.

Alonso and Button form a formidable partnership. Their vast experience will help the team optimize points scoring. Button outscored Alonso but only just in 2015. 2016 will be an even contest. Alonso is a driver who can extract everything from a car so beating him consistently will be tough. Alonso has backed his decision of switching to McLaren this year, hope the stance doesn't change at the end of 2016. The increase in the number of tokens should help Honda improve their power units throughout the season.



Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber
had a torrid 2014 & 15. The Lack of Funding hasn't helped their cause either. However Sauber keeps soldiering on and a big salute to their indomitable spirit. Sauber retained the services of Nasr and Ericsson for 2016. Nasr was faster of the duo in the pre-season tests and agonizingly close to McLaren's fastest time on a slower tyre. Initial reports suggest that Sauber should be the 8th fastest team on the grid. Nasr will be the stronger of the two ( personal opinion ). I do hope Sauber brings in efficient upgrades throughout the season to help propel them up the grid and maximize their point scoring chances. It won't be easy sailing in 2016 either.



Manor Racing F1 Team :

Manor, formerly Marussia
sport a brand new lineup of drivers in GP2 graduate Rio Haryanto ( First Indonesian in F1 ) and DTM Champion / Mercedes Protegee Pascal Wehrlein. Manor switch to Mercedes power for 2016 and have undergone a huge management reshuffle. Scoring points and finishing races are of paramount importance for the team. Both drivers are well funded and should help the team stay above water. For Pascal this is like an internship, for Rio his hope to move up the grid. Pascal might just pip Haryanto as the lead driver.



Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 garnered a lot of interest even before their formal entry into the sport. The New Kids on the block have hired the services of 2 experienced drivers in Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez. Grosjean left Lotus ( now Renault ) at the end of 2015 wanting a new challenge. Gutierrez, ex-Sauber and Reserve Driver for Ferrari will be auditioning for the prancing horse seat with Haas it seems. Both are intelligent drivers and will provide valuable feedback for the team. Its going to be a steep learning curve for the team ( as Pre-Season results suggest ). Reliability first, performance later should be the approach. I do hope Haas finish some races in the points, which for now seems a long shot.




To sum it all up, Tyres are going to dictate play over a race weekend. Aggressive Tyre Strategies will throw the cat amongst the pigeons at many races. I am sure we shall see drivers out of position more often trying to make right the wrongs done during qualifying.


There isn't much to choose in terms of pace between the Williams, Force India & Renault. Can McLaren return to the sharper end of the grid this year? Haas F1 would hope for a strong start to the season. Renault likewise.

God willing, I would like to attend 3 races - Barcelona, Hungary and Abu Dhabi again ( if Kimi does leave at the end of 2016 ) this year.


Ferrari is closer to Mercedes than ever. Battle Royale Beckons!

I can't wait for the season to being. F1 returns and so does sanity.

We have waited long enough! Its time for the 2016 Formula 1 Season!!!

C'mon KIMI!!