Following Ferrari’s complete collapse of last season’s Formula 1 world championship loss to both Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, Scuderia is coming into this weekend’s season-opening Grand Prix of Australia with new hope, plus some decent data, after two weeks of pre-season testing.
Sebastian Vettel, who won this race last year, was dominant through the early part of the 2017 season, only to lose all concentration following the summer break, giving the title to Hamilton in October at the Mexican Grand Prix. This season, with modern technologies, including the dreaded Halo, teams will have a brand-new task for 2018.
But fans arenʻt only looking at Mercedes and Ferrari. Red Bull Racing is back for another season in the hunt, though the squad has only until May to decide if it wishes to remain with the Renault-powered Tag Heuer engines or move on to possibly joining Honda for its new engine partner next season. This decision is dependent on how its junior Toro Rosso team performs with its current Japanese power.
Daniel Ricciardo has much to prove this season, as well. The Australian again begins the season on home soil, and many rumors surround him, from replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes to moving on to Ferrari to replace Kimi Raikkonen. Ricciardo has also to deal with teammate Max Verstappen, who has a full contract with the Bulls until 2020.
If the battle for the top three isnʻt exciting enough, the fight for team positions fourth through 10th is equally as good. Both Force India and Williams, who last season finished fourth and fifth respectively in the constructor’s championship, might have some competition in the more improved units of Renault, Toro Rosso, the American Haas F1 Team, a rejuvenated McLaren squad and maybe even an Alfa Romeo-sponsored Swiss Sauber team.
For Force India, the battle between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon could get fierce, as Perez knows he must beat the Frenchman to have any future with this or any other F1 team in the future. Williams has had unwelcome news from the start when Italian liquor sponsor Martini pulled its money for next season, putting the Grove team with two inexperienced drivers, Canadian sophomore Lance Stroll and Russian rookie Sergey Sirokin. It is questionable how this team will do.
Renault is putting much on the line for improvements, not only in its chassis but also in the engine department, which needs to improve since hybrid technology began in 2014. The works team retains both drivers, Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz , and also gains a new partner in McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne returning at the wheel with the French power. Expect those two teams to move up this season.
The American Haas F1 Team needs to improve as well, and it is no secret that CEO Gene Haas wants the team to get close to the Ferrari engine power that is doing well up front. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are in the final season of their contracts, so better results are expected. From the latest tests, they might be the dark horse of the grid. Toro Rosso has a task in front of it, as a works engine will be in the car. It is very simple for this team, which has Pierre Gasly and defending LeMans champion Brendon Hartley in the cars. If the engines are good, expect Red Bull to have them as well next season. If not, both teams might have different engine power.
Sauber kept its team from sinking as Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo pumped money into the Swiss team during the off-season and retains Marcus Ericsson. But Charles Leclerc comes in from a successful Formula 2 championship and could be the future at Ferrari.
This season will have a little bit of change as Malaysia is no longer on the F1 program, but Germany returns for what could be a test for the nation if it wants to host future grand prix. In its last race of a multi-year contract, Hockenheim will host a grand prix round in July. But one month before, the French Grand Prix will return for the first time in over a decade, beginning a multi-year deal in June at not Magny-Cours but at the southern French circuit at Paul Ricard, near Toulon.
Another feat could be achieved as both Vettel and Hamilton are in the frame to tie the great Juan Manuel Fangio if either driver wins a fifth world title.