The 2018 F1 season is upon us. One of the big changes this year is the addition of the halo safety device and the cars getting heavier yet again.
Once again we start the year with political squabbling, rule changes, and prognostications about how each team and driver will do this year. Liberty Media and the leading teams are on course for a showdown over future engine rules and income distribution – at least that’s the posturing that’s going on – with Ferrari issuing the usual threat to quit F1 if it doesn’t get its way.
Liberty wants to equalize the payments to the teams instead of the current arrangement which pays Ferrari a bonus, and the winning teams more than those who don’t. Naturally, the winning teams are not keen on that. Whatever the eventual outcome, this will surely keep the media busy reporting on each step of the way toward a resolution.
On the technical side, we have the halo structure now mandated and fitted to every car. I don’t know how effective it will be in protecting drivers from errant wheels. But I do know it is ugly as all get out, and was probably rushed through due to the FIA’s usual knee jerk reaction to many a crisis. No one wants to see drivers hurt or killed, but I don’t think the halo is a good solution. IndyCar is taking a more considered approach with evaluation of a windscreen.
And now for matters on the track. Lewis Hamilton handily wrapped up the driver’s world championship last year in the dominant Mercedes with races to spare. Unless the other teams have really advanced or Mercedes screws up this year’s car, they’re probably still the favorites to five-peat or however many titles it is now. It’s quite dull.
Especially since Valtteri Bottas has shown that he’s a solid number two driver and not more. There won’t be an intense intra-team battle like between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg between 2014-2016. As I said last year, Bottas hasn’t shown he has the fire to challenge Hamilton.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are probably the most likely challengers this year – assuming Ferrari is on or near the pace of Mercedes – if they can improve their consistency (especially Raikkonen). My bet is this year’s champion will be a five times champion.
Other drivers to watch are Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull, as always. Hopefully they’ll have better reliability this year. And it seems the team is more behind Verstappen now than Ricciardo. At least while Ricciardo’s contract negotiations are ongoing.
Now that he has a decent engine from Renault, Fernando Alonso will be able to actually race, McLaren having switched from Honda. The podium may be in sight on occasion but I don’t expect much more unless things go horribly wrong for at least four or five other drivers in the same race.
Force India’s (looking forward to the team’s name change) Esteban Ocon will be interesting to watch. He and teammate Sergio Perez collided on more than one occasion last year, and Ocon now has another year’s experience and should be finding his feet. Expect some great performances if the car is decent.
Haas is now equipped with the current Ferrari engine and various other components from Maranello. The cars will probably be quick but we’ll see if the team can develop the car over the course of the year. And if they have solved those baffling and persistent brake problems.
Scuderia Toro Rosso will probably be toward the back of the grid with the Honda engines. If the engines come good by mid-season, it looks likely that the sister Red Bull team will switch from Renault to Honda power for 2019.
There are some other teams but not much seems noteworthy other than Charles LeClerc (have you seen his junior formula record?) is in his debut F1 season for the Sauber team. Now powered by a current spec Ferrari engine (rebadged as Alfa Romeo) and additional sponsorship, we’ll see if Sauber can improve upon being dead last at most races. I suspect LeClerc will be one to watch.
And with that, I’m ready to sit back and tune in on this year’s championship.