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Words: Yohann Setna
Images : Formula 1
It’s that time of year, when optimism for the upcoming season reigns supreme in the world of Formula 1. All the teams are upbeat about their new cars and new drivers (if they have any). New partnerships have been formed over the winter, between teams and engine manufacturers, with new technical partners, new sponsors. It’s the honeymoon period, and everyone, including the media and the fans can’t wait for the teams to turn up in Melbourne and turn a wheel in anger for the first time. Eight days of testing have been concluded in Barcelona, if you count the washed-out days of rain and snow during the first test, and everyone has formed some sort of opinions about the new pecking order of 2018. Let’s try and analyze what we have in store for us over the next 21 races, and the next World Champion Team and Driver are decided.
Most of the teams have turned up with minor to no changes to their liveries. This is a shame. Teams have hundreds of engineers dreaming up new ways to optimize the rule-book and make the cars faster, but they put virtually no effort at all into creating a new visual appeal for their cars as the new season starts. There is, of course, always an exception to any rule, and in 2018 it’s McLaren who are the stand-out performers in their new papaya orange livery, harking back to the days of Bruce McLaren and the teams incredible period of success in the Can-Am championship. The MCL-33 looks quite visually stunning in the new orange hue, but the utter bareness of the livery in terms of sponsors is a worrying situation, and one which I’m sure the team are desperately trying to change.
Apart from that, Ferrari seem to have shed the ugly ‘white-ness’ from their last years car and gone with the traditional red-on-red theme, which looks quite superb. Sauber have a whole new look with their Alfa-Romeo partnership, but the livery hasn’t really evolved since the partnership was announced at the end of 2017, which is a real shame. Force India’s Pink Panthers are a bit darker pink this year, and Renault have a bit more black in their livery, but Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams and Mercedes have not made any noticeable changes to their livery, which shows a real lack of creativity on their part. As a much-quoted current world leader would say, ‘sad… so sad’.
All eyes seem to be on the new Ferrari protégé and Sauber driver Charles Leclerc. He dominated the F2 championship last year and has shown in testing that he is perhaps the one to watch for in the future. Sergey Sirotkin slots into the Williams seat vacated by Massa, and although he arrives with the backing of a serious amount of sponsorship revenue, Williams are absolutely convinced that he does have the pedigree to make his mark in Formula 1. Other ‘newcomers’ will be both the Toro Rosso drivers, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, although they both did a few races at the end of last season, so they’re not technically rookies. Both have great CV’s and a lot will be expected from them by their bosses, but I’m quite sure they will deliver.
We are now into the second year of the current set of rules which govern the design of the cars, and traditionally that brings a lot of changes to the cars, as teams get to grips with their cars and learn how to develop them to optimize the rulebook. Mercedes had obviously got it right last year, so predictably their 2018 car is an evolution of the 2017 car, with a lot of finely detailed tuning done to iron out the temperamental nature of last year’s car, which was known to be a bit of a ‘diva’. Ferrari, Sauber and Toro Rosso’s 2018 cars are quite significantly different to last year’s cars, with considerably changes to the aerodynamic concepts overall. Red Bull also seem to have gone a slightly different aerodynamic route with their new car, emphasizing a low drag design, perhaps to optimize the lack of top-end power of their Renault engines. The factory Renault team have also produced a car which seems to be a highly evolved version of their 2017 car, which is more than can be said for Haas and Force India, whose 2018 chargers aren’t really displaying big changes or great leaps forward in performance. As for McLaren, although their new Renault engine car looks like a huge leap forward from last year’s Honda powered car, their performance in the pre-season tests in Barcelona have been underwhelming, to say the least.
Pre-Season Testing Performance
As expected, Mercedes seem to be leading the field, in terms of overall pace as well as number of laps. Their 2018 engine reputedly develops 1,000 bhp, which would give them a considerable advantage over the other engines in the pit-lane. Although they did not even run on the (new for 2018) hyper-soft Pirelli tyres, and concentrated almost all their time on the medium tyres and long-runs, if you correct for tyre compounds, they are definitely the most impressive team out there. Ferrari and Red Bull seem to be the closest behind Mercedes, and the Red Bull chassis in particularly looks really impressive out on track. Ferrari did some really impressive outright-pace runs on the hyper-soft tyres, and Vettel even broke the unofficial lap record during the second test, but I’m not convinced that they will have the overall performance to challenge the might of the Mercedes.
The mid-field this year seems to promise some intense action. Renault have moved from the back of the mid-field to the sharp-end of that pack, with some impressive lap times from both Sainz & Hulkenberg. The Toro Rosso Honda partnership has got off to a fantastic start. They have been showing strong mid-field pace and have done more laps that McLaren managed with the Honda engine in the pre-season tests of all 3 years of their fruit-less partnership. McLaren have shown some pace, but they seem to be having more of their dreaded reliability issues, which seem to be down to the packaging of the Renault engine with the McLaren chassis. The McLaren has an innovative rear suspension, and many other bits which look very clever on paper, but when it comes to performance on track, they still seem to be a long way behind the other Renault engined teams. Force India seem to have dropped down the pecking order from the front of the mid-field in 2016 and 2017, to the back of it in 2018. They had a pretty steady but unimpressive pre-season test, but they say they have some huge updates coming onto the car at the first race in Melbourne. Williams and Sauber are bringing up the rear of the field, although they don’t seem to be too far off the pace of the mid-field. However, with the lack of experience of their drivers, it will be a huge challenge for them to develop the car over the course of the season.
So, the Winter World Championship is finally over, and the teams have packed up and are headed off down under for the first race in Australia at the end of March. It looks like it’s going to be a tremendous season of racing ahead, and although my heart wants the championship to be decided at the season finale in Abu Dhabi (preferably on the last lap), my head says that it’s going to be title number 5 for Lewis Hamilton in 2018.