by M.C. – photo: @F1 | There are only a few days… a few hours left… for the start of the 2018 F1 season this coming Sunday (35th of March) in Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix will mark the beginning of the new F1 term. It is time to harvest the fruits form the previous months of preparation; the factory work, the track tests and the shaping-up of pilots. Even though engines and other team details can continue to evolve throughout the season, it is unlikely that any radical change occurs once the competition is underway, making this first race in Australia a good barometer of things to come.
What are Formula 1 fans to expect? The most popular motor-sport in the world is going through a most exciting and intense time. Bookmakers are pointing the finger to current champion Lewis Hamilton as the top favourite. The Briton, on board his powerful Mercedes, has every chance to achieve his fifth victory, matching those of Juan Manuel Fangio and getting closer to Michael Schumacher’s seven titles.
The most prominent candidate to fight for Hamilton’s throne is Ferrari’s German driver, Sebastian Vettel, who is also aspiring to a fifth title himself. His reliability is still his most valuable asset but it remains a mystery weather Ferrari will ever be up to the challenge posed by Mercedes.
Another driver which is sure to stir things up in the grid is the Australian Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull). He has set some good pre-season times and remains a stubborn name at the favourites’ list. We are also eager to see the role that Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s team-mate, is going to play after having demonstrated his great skill at the wheel of his Mercedes. Some polls signal to the potential of young Dutch Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, even though he has yet to rise above his team-mate Ricciardo.
Fernando Alonso, the greatest question
And what about Fernando Alonso? The twice champion remains one of the big hopefuls despite his unfortunate past years and the fact he has not climbed onto a podium since 2014. The Spaniard has a very intense season ahead of him as he combines his participation in F1 with that in WEC. Despite some technical problems during tests, the change of engine from Honda to Renault has brought the passion back to the McLaren box keeping Alonso as a strong candidate to occupy one of the top positions.
More trouble and some top positions are certain to come from Carlos Sainz and his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg with Renault; the veteran Raikkonen (Ferrari); or the Force India boys (Checo Perez and Esteban Ocon); as well as from the Haas F1 team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
- 21 races (one more than in 2017) including a return to Germany and France.
- Two rookies: Charles Leclerc (Monaco) with Sauber and Sergey Sirotkin (Rusia) with Williams.
- A maximum of three engines per car for the whole of the season, one less than past year, meaning an extra challenge for the teams.
- Nine different tyre types, two more than last season.
- Ten competing teams with two vehicles each.
- Greatest change: the introduction of the Halo, the driver cockpit protection system. There will also be other technical changes such as a reduced oil consumption allowance and the loosing of shark fins over the engine, T-Wings, etc.