Formula One returns next weekend with the first race of 2018 at Albert Park in Melbourne! The period of off-season that was quite dreaded by us F1 fans has finally passed.
After what happened in the pre-season test, we have quite a lot of talking points about this season.
Finally a three-way battle in 2018
While Mercedes once again looked ominous with their reliability in pre-season testing, they didn’t show their hand on the softer compounds, as they did a majority of their running on medium tyres. They were the only team to breach the 1000-lap mark in testing, despite interrupted running in the first test. The W09 is an evolution of the W08, and has looked pretty steady and easy to drive on track. An analysis image showed Bottas taking a wider line into a corner and going full throttle. Something which Ferrari and Red Bull cars were unable to do so.
This year’s Ferrari SF71-H is a departure from last year’s car. It has a longer wheelbase, was spotted testing a Red Bull style diffuser and is devoid of Santander branding; it’s blood-red in color which makes it quite a sight to see on track.
However, as mentioned above, it hasn’t looked as confident as the Mercedes in the corners. It was also observed to be giving off plumes of smoke after it was fired up in the garage – something which is the characteristic of the engine. However, Ferrari set the ultimate pace of the pre-season test on hypersoft tyres. Their lap was almost a second faster than Daniel Ricciardo’s lap in Red Bull on the same compound. Still, there’s belief in the paddock that Ferrari may have slipped behind Red Bull in the pecking order. However. they have a habit to prove the media wrong. In 2016, after they set the pace in pre-season test, they were expected to provide a stern challenge to Mercedes, but it resulted in a win-less season. In 2017, not much was expected from their SF70-H, but that season was the closest season of the hybrid era, and the SF70-H won 5 races; Vettel finished runner-up.
Red Bull launched their RB14 ahead of schedule, thus reversing the trend of previous years. It seems to have paid off. They were on par with Mercedes’ and Ferrari’s pace on the medium tyres, but slower on the hypersofts. However, they look quite confident. The Renault engine is running reliably, while the Adrian Newey designed car certainly brings high expectations with it. A three way battle surely is game on!
A packed mid-field
The works Renault team was the surprise package of pre-season testing when it ran without any major issues, and set lap times comparable with the top three. It could be the team to have made the biggest progress over the winter. Last year was all about restructuring the management after its buyout of Lotus, and this year might well be when they push towards the ultimate goal of the world championship.
McLaren switched to Renault engines this year. While a switch won’t guarantee a race win, it will offer a litmus test for the Woking-based team after it endured three torrid years with Honda. Pre-season testing provided a glimpse. The engine at the back of the car is different, but the car beached in the gravel and being recovered by a crane was a familiar sight. It suffered from basic issues, like the bodywork not being able to withstand the heat, a suspension failure occurring, among others. Such issues were ultimately resolved by changing the engine, which cost them a lot of time. The least that they could have done to prepare for the season would be to get some solid running under their belts. However, on the last day, they surprised everyone when Alonso set the third fastest time of the test on hypersoft tyres. It was only 0.4 seconds slower than Ferrari! Genuine pace, or just an attempt to ward off the negative attention from the media surrounding their reliability concerns? Surely, Alonso and Eric Boullier, the team’s technical chief sound pretty confident.
Honda. who are supplying Toro Rosso this season, proved to be the biggest surprise of them all, with their engine running reliably throughout the test. Toro Rosso also surpassed the 100-lap mark on most days, and Toro Rosso even made cheeky remarks at McLaren after seeing the issues that the team was facing. Honda might have got it right this time around.
Haas impressed with their pace and set the fourth fastest time in the latter stages of testing, which surprised everybody. They will be in the hunt as well.
Rounding off the grid
Williams endured a quiet test, and frequently remained in the latter half of the grid in terms of lap times. They have an inexperienced driver lineup. Paddy Lowe may have made a difference in designing philosophy of the car, but the inexperience of the drivers may hurt the team. Robert Kubica, the team’s development driver was often the fastest of the two.
Sauber got Alfa-Romeo branding last year, and will be running the latest spec Ferrari engines this year. With Charles Leclerc, the current F2 champion and Marcus Ericsson as the drivers, they will look to move up the field and score points regularly. However, the car has proved to be a handful and spun numerous times at the exact same places in the hands of both Leclerc, and Ericsson.
Uncharacteristically, Force India had a quiet test with no flashes of speed whatsoever. They were flying under the radar. However, testing only gives so much of a picture and the real order will be revealed in Australia in 5 days’ time.
All things said, it will prove to be a cracker of a season.