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2020 F1 Season Preview - Now or Never!

The 2019 F1 Season saw new challengers to the crown. It even produced some stunning races at Germany and Brazil where the title favourites came up short. However at the end of it all,  Mercedes AMG Petronas and Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme..for the sixth time.

The sport celebrates 70 years of racing in 2020. It is the last year before there is an overhaul of technical regulations by the FIA in order to bring more parity to the playing field. 2020 also sees a couple of driver changes - Esteban Ocon comes in to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Renault while Nicolas Latifi, 2019 F2 Championship Runner-up ( a rookie ) replaces Robert Kubica at Rokit Williams F1 Team who took up a reserve driver role at Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team. Sadly Nyck de Vries, the reigning F2 Champion couldn't make a place for himself in the world of F1 and left the McLaren Driver Program to race with Mercedes in Formula E.

The Vietnam GP ( to be held in the capital city of Hanoi ) and the Dutch GP at Zandvoort are the new tracks added to the F1 Calendar. The German Grand Prix, unfortunately, made its exit for 2020.


So what has changed on the Regulations side for 2020?

1) Teams will be allowed to use one more MGU-K unit compared to 2019 to compensate for the increased demands of contesting twenty-two races.

2) Pre-season tests are shortened from 4 days to 3 and the mid-season tests of Bahrain and Spain have been done away with to ease the strain of a longer season.

3) Teams aren't allowed to hide their cars / put up screens during the Test Days.

4) The Hours of Curfew are extended from Eight to Nine, allowing mechanics some more rest on Race Weekends. Teams however are allowed to break the curfew twice in one season without attracting a penalty.

5) The rules surrounding jump-starts and missing the weighbridge procedure ( in-session ) have been softened. This will allow stewards to dish out less severe punishments ( based on steward discretion ). 

6) The "Waving of the Chequered Flag" makes a return. The Chequered Light Panel has been done away with after a glitch caused the Japanese GP to end a lap earlier in 2019. 

7) Drivers will have more control at Race Starts. 90% of the engine’s torque will be controlled directly on the driver’s command with their clutch paddle or paddles ( which the rules now stipulate to be “pull-type” paddles ). Drivers will still have stall prevention and bite point finder functions available to them – but the onus is now even more on them to make sure they get a good getaway.


The pre-season tests are done and dusted. The Season Opener in Australia is next. 

Let us have a look at the report card of each team post testing!


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes AMG Petronas have been the strongest team in the Turbo Era. They have snapped up all the titles on offer since 2014. The pre-season tests in 2020 suggest it might be no different. Mercedes always find novel ways to stay ahead of the competition and the latest addition to their arsenal was the Dual Axis Steering system or DAS. 

So what is DAS? I quote formula1.com "The DAS system works by Bottas and Hamilton pushing and pulling on the steering wheel in the cockpit of their W11, the action effecting a change on the car’s front wheel toe angle – with conjecture remaining about the exact benefits the system brings." They will be using it in Melbourne as the tests revealed the system working brilliantly. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas stay with the team for 2020. They enjoy a really amicable relationship with a fair bit of competitiveness ontrack. Bottas had a better outing in 2019 and will be hoping to mount a bigger challenge for the title. Lewis Hamilton is chasing the dream of equaling Michael Schumacher's record of 7 World Titles! Hamilton had a near perfect 2019 but in 2020 Bottas wont be the only challenger to the title. Max Verstappen and the Ferrari Duo will be gunning for it as well. Hamilton has been there, done that on 6 occasions...so he has an edge.

Mercedes clocked the highest number of laps in the pre-season tests while Bottas was the only driver to go set a 1min 15s lap. The only hiccup came in the form of a breakdown in the power unit during testing ( something they will address before Australia ). Their pace ontrack is also backed up by brilliant strategic calls, something that was a regular feature at races where they weren't the quickest. 

Mercedes are once again the team to beat in 2020. Period.



Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull had a challenging start to 2019.  Max Verstappen brought home a chunk of points, podiums and victories up while Pierre Gasly, the recruit that replaced Daniel Ricciardo found it hard to make things work in the A team. He was eventually demoted ( at Spa, Belgium ) and replaced by Alexander Albon who hit the track running with very strong performances. His finishes in the second half of the season warranted him a seat for 2020, to partner Max Verstappen. If Mercedes boast about their DAS System then Red Bull have some innovations of their own - a clever new steering and double bulkhead arrangement that is seen on their challenger RB 16.

Max Verstappen will be the leader at Red Bull while Albon will provide a solid supporting role. Verstappen's Orange Army will be looking forward to flood the stands for the maiden Dutch GP in Zandvoort. Verstappen even got a few laps on the circuit thanks to a Red Bull event there. It will be interesting to see how the cars cope with the Banking that makes a return after the races at Indianapolis in US.

Red Bull will need Albon to bring home some podiums and possibly wins that will aid them in the Constructors' fight. Honda proved to be the 2nd fastest engine after Mercedes in pre-season testing, so the signs look really promising. They need to ensure that the engines stay reliable though, something that hurt them in the business end of 2019.

Red Bull will be hot on Mercedes' heels. Will they be able to sustain a challenge consistently throughout the season is another question. Unlike 2019, there isn't as much uncertainty about the competitiveness of their drivers and the team can channelize their energies towards reducing the gap at the front.



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, the most successful team in F1 is going through one of the longest droughts in terms of winning a Championship. They have worked really hard to make it back up since the onset of the Turbo Era but their best hasn't been good enough vs the might of the Mercedes. 2019 was going to be their year, with the fastest car and an amazing driver pairing ( mix of experience and youth ). However it all fell apart with strategic howlers, driver errors, ontrack skirmishes and reliability problems. They even went on to admit that there was a fundamental flaw in the design of the car, something that couldn't be undone. There were also questions raised and an investigation launched by the FIA over the legality of their engine with regards to fuel consumption and their sensors. A settlement was done recently, something that didn't go down well with the other teams ( the ones not powered by Ferrari ). Nonetheless they finished P2 in the Constructors' Championship with their drivers finishing 4th and 5th. 

The team already seem to be on the backfoot before the start of 2020. They were consistently lapping half a second slower than the Mercedes on the straights in their effort to improve cornering speeds at the pre-season tests. Some Experts suggest that Ferrari were sandbagging, something that they aren't really good at. Based on the results from the pre-season tests, Ferrari seem to be the 3rd fastest team on the grid. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc renew their partnership. It remains to be seen who will enjoy the number 1 status ( although it fell apart after a few races ). Vettel is aware of the fact that this is his last chance at winning a championship with Ferrari; Leclerc wants to establish himself as the driver to back for the title fight. Ferrari function well with a clear Number 1 and Number 2, they must ensure it stays that way if they wish to mount a challenge of any kind this year. There can be no room for politics or in-fighting within the team. The top brass must ensure that they back their personnel in their respective areas of expertise.



Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point had a mercurial 2019, finishing P7 in the Constructors' Championship. The bulk of the points were scored by Sergio Perez while the new entrant Lance Stroll took some time to find his feet. The team has been on the rebuild ( albeit with new owners ) and there is no doubt that they are here to stay and are serious about taking the fight to the big boys. The 2020 Challenger has striking similarities to the W10, Mercedes' Championship Winning Car from last year, thereby attracting the attention of many in the paddock. It has been setting swift lap times in the pre-season tests and being dubbed the 4th fastest car ( possibly ) by the experts. Perez too admitted that this was the best car he has ever driven in F1. Perez will be the driver to lead the charge according to me. He is well versed with the way the team works and capable of providing precise information for developing the car even further. Its still early days for Stroll but he will need to bring his A game to the table if the team wants to move up the grid. This season will reveal his true abilities and hopefully address all reservations that experts had about him. 

Racing Point have been there, done that. They have a really strong contender for 2020. Hopefully it can deliver consistent performances every race weekend. The unreliable ( for now ) Mercedes Powertrain could be the chink in their armour..time will tell.



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault had a good outing in Barcelona in the pre-season tests. They were the 3rd fastest team ( on one lap pace ), even beating the mighty Scuderia Ferrari. The French based outfit landed the services of the Flying Frenchman Esteban Ocon to partner Daniel Ricciardo for 2020. Cyril Abiteboul, the Team Principal has to start delivering in 2020, specially after the disappointments of 2019 or his place is in peril. The team are also aware of the fact that another mediocre year and they stand to lose their prized asset in Daniel Ricciardo to another team. Esteban Ocon will take sometime in settling into the team so the onus will be on Ricciardo to deliver from the word go. The signs look positive from the results in Barcelona but the real capabilities of the car will be revealed in Bahrain ( a power track ). They have an equally good driver pairing, if not better, in their battle with their immediate rivals in McLaren. Both drivers will be pushing each other all through the season and if they can perform at the level that they are capable of performing, then they can be the best of the rest.

I still believe that getting into the Top 3 won't be possible, even though the deficit has reduced. The Team have the resources, the personnel, the facilities to keep developing their challenger throughout the year. Hopefully 2020 is the Year of Revival!



McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren worked really hard in 2019 and reaped the rewards with their 4th place finish in the Constructors' and a 3rd place finish for Carlos Sainz Jr. in Brazil.. their first podium in 2072 days. However its a known fact that the higher you go up the grid, the tougher it becomes. McLaren will be well aware of the fact that the Renault works team will leave no stone unturned in reclaiming the 4th place that they lost in 2019. Their biggest asset in this battle is their Driver Pairing of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. The latter finished 6th ( best of the rest ) winning what is known as the "B Championship" in the media circles. while Norris had a great year as a rookie. Both are capable of replicating ( if not going better ) their performances in 2020. The Team will look upon Sainz to spearhead the challenge. They should hope to score more podiums in 2020 to really assert themselves as a force to reckon with. Norris has worked hard over the winter break to get fitter and faster. He could be the next best thing for Britain ( after Hamilton ) in racing. 

This year, pre-season tests suggest that its going to be a close contest between the two Renault powered teams. Its really tough to put your money on either. McLaren were slow off the blocks but came into their own after a few rounds in 2019; but as of now, based on the data received, they seem to be the 6th fastest team on the grid. 



Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team ( formerly Scuderia Toro Rosso ) :

Scuderia Alpha Tauri which was formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso had a memorable 2019 with 2 podium finishes for both their drivers, something that other mid-field placed teams weren't able to accomplish. They will be aiming to throw up more surprises in 2020 in their new avatar and livery. They persist with their lineup of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat did a fine job in 2019 and Gasly came into his own after Red Bull decided to demote him down the grid into the B Team. Both the drivers will be hoping to maintain the momentum going into 2020. I really hope both get an opportunity to prove themselves with a top team in the future ( if not Red Bull ).

Toro Rosso have always been in the mix, 2020 is going to be no different.  The biggest positive for them will be the mileage they have clocked in the pre-season tests. The Honda Power Unit ( which is getting faster and more reliable with each passing day ) coupled with a potent chassis will pose a serious challenge to their immediate contenders. Team Principal Franz Tost is bullish about 2020 and believes his team can finish in P5 at the end of 2020. McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr. also stated that Alpha Tauri was one of the two teams he feared most for 2020. They finished P6 in 2019..it will be really tough to go better than that in 2020 but in F1..you never know.



Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo Racing F1 is now known as Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 after Orlen, the Polish based Oil Refinement Company came onboard as a co-title sponsor. Robert Kubica, the ex- Williams Driver joined the team in the reserve driver role while Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi continue their partnership for another year. It was a good decision to persist with the latter; he has had a very strong second half in 2019 and should be able to maintain the momentum in 2020. In Kimi Raikkonen, the team has the wise old head and he will always be a force to reckon with. ( This could be his last year in F1 though ). He is adept at eking out results while Giovinazzi with his revived form could be auditioning for a potential seat in 2021 at Ferrari. Both share a great relationship, the Italian Stallion learning the trade with the Iceman as his mentor.

Alfa Romeo's performances in the pre-season tests have been somewhat of a hit and miss. The low-fuel runs were good but race simulations a disappointment. Both drivers reiterated the need to make changes before the Australian GP and the Hinwil based outfit must ensure that they don't lag behind in the ever-so-tight midfield.  Strategic calls will also be a big make or break in the races, something that the team struggled with in 2019. 

Its early days for a prediction but I do hope to see the team battle hard in the points scoring positions, possibly even for a podium.



Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 had a season to forget in 2019; after the highs of 2018, the team weren't able to break the rut of mediocrity in 2019. Their decision to persist with their current pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2020 came as a big surprise. The only logical reason behind this seems to be their desire for continuity and working with people who are well versed with the functioning of the team. Pre-season tests suggest that the car is nowhere near the level of performance they expect it to be. Infact some experts believe that this will be the slowest car on the grid in 2020. The Ferrari power unit has also been through an overhaul and all isn't well on the powertrain side either. It might end up being a very long season for the team.

Gene Haas, the team owner has made it clear that he will reconsider his decision of continuing in the sport should their results not improve in 2020. Roman and Kevin must ensure that they work together, as one, in propelling the team forward, maximizing results as and when the opportunities arise. This year will decide the fate of both, the drivers and the team. They can't be sparring team-mates, they have to justify their status as F1 drivers.



Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

Williams were the slowest team on the grid in 2019. The team also lost a sponsor ( Orlen ) which left with Robert Kubica who moved to Alfa Romeo ( as a reserve driver )They have roped in the services of F2 Driver and 2019 F2 Runner-up Nicolas Latifi to partner George Russell for 2020. Russell will have his hands full since Latifi isn't a slouch. He will eventually come out on top I feel.

Williams was the first car out ontrack for the pre-season tests.. a big step from not running on the first 2 days last pre-season. They even put in a considerable number of laps albeit with a few hiccups on the powertrain side. They are in the thick of the lower half ( 7th to 9th ) of the field and must work hard throughout the year to ensure they don't lose touch of their immediate rivals There seem to be better days ahead with a slightly faster car, a young and fast driver pairing but the biggest challenge will be finances and their ability to bring in upgrades throughout the year. 

2020 is an important year for the team and its top brass..they can't be stuck in this vicious cycle of staying last every year..something drastic will have to be done then.



The outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus :

The start of the 2020 F1 Season is less than a week away and the entire sporting spectacle is under serious threat due to the global outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus. The virus, whose origins were in China has spread rapidly claiming the lives and infected many globally. 

Moto GP, Formula One's counterpart on 2 wheels, had to cancel their season opener in Qatar and some other GPs also seem to be impacted.

In F1, the Chinese Grand Prix ( 4th Race on the Calendar ) has been postponed due to the outbreak. The Bahrain Grand Prix Organisers have declared the race to be a "Participant - only" event. The Maiden Vietnam GP could also be cancelled if the situation fails to improve. There are logistical hassles as well due to these schedule changes. The Australian GP ( as of now ) proceeds as planned.

Travel Restrictions and Quarantine procedures have been enforced by various countries to control and contain the spread of the virus. Italy is one of the countries badly hit and this will impact the number of personnel that teams like Scuderia Ferrari and Scuderia Alpha-Tauri can deploy for a race weekend. 


Praying for all those affected by the virus and wishing everyone a speedy recovery...



F1 returns ( hopefully ) and so will sanity! This will be Kimi Raikkonen's last year in F1 and I hope he has a great end to an illustrious career. I plan to be at 4 races to support him and Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo Orlen colours! 

Ferrari gets another shot to make it to the top. Are Ferrari sandbagging and trying to hide their cards until the last moment? We shall know soon.. Haas F1 and Rokit Williams F1 need to have a decent season in 2020 to deem it favourable to stay beyond 2020 ( for Haas ) and keep the team alive and potentially grow ( for Williams ). Red Bull need to ensure their challenger gives Mercedes a hard time and keeps Verstappen convinced that this is the team to be in for 2021. Renault Sport F1 Team can't afford to get it wrong again..they have a lot at stake besides holding onto Daniel Ricciardo.

Title Number 7 beckons for both Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes AMG Petronas F1... probably the year of completion of their fruitful partnership. He might look at other pastures post 2020..


A lot will be revealed over the course of the season. It is the year of "Now or Never" for so many!

Bring on F1 2020!

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 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!