By Nicola Kenton
- Melbourne is the host city for the first of 21 races this season
- Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both aiming for fifth World title
- Three-way battle expected between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The Formula 1 season is back with the Australian Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton will be looking to start his campaign off with a win.
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Driver and Rule Changes for 2018
As with every F1 season, there have been some changes both in the cars and in the paddock. In terms of engine partners, McLaren ended their deal with Honda and now have Renault units in their car. Toro Rosso are no longer in partnership with Renault and have Honda units, while Sauber’s engine partnership with Ferrari has continued and are now using current specification engines.
There have been a few changes on the grid too. Felipe Massa retired at the end of last season and his place has been taken by Sergey Sirotkin. After competing at the end of 2017 for Toro Rosso, both Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley were announced as drivers for this season. The other driving change on the grid is the introduction of reigning Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc who replaced Pascal Wehrlein as a Sauber driver.
In terms of technical regulations, there have been a few changes to the 2018 cars and some loopholes have closed. Shark-fin style engine covers, T-wings and suspension systems that can alter the aerodynamic performance have all been outlawed. After several years of development and testing designs the halo is here to stay, as it is now mandatory.
The sporting regulations have also been tweaked with drivers only allowed to have three engines for the season – this is challenging the teams to ensure that reliability is counted with the aim of reducing costs. Moreover, less engines available usually means more grid penalties but now if a driver has a penalty of 15 places, they will automatically start from the back of the grid.
Finally, Pirelli have introduced two new tyre compounds: pink-marked hypersoft and orange-marked superhard. Teams will be able to choose from three dry-weather compounds at each Grand Prix and the colours of the tyre compounds has been tweaked slightly.
How did pre-season testing pan out?
Testing is not the be-all and end-all of the Formula One season but it does give a good idea of how development has gone over the winter months. In recent years, Mercedes have done very well in testing and this year was no different. They supply engines to Williams and Force India, as well as their own cars and as such can collect a lot of data on the power units.
In the second test, the Mercedes drivers completed over 1000 laps ahead of Ferrari and Toro Rosso. Reliability was a major issue for Ferrari last season and for them to complete over 900 laps is a positive sign, they have also shown some speed but they are yet to show that they are the complete package. Whereas, Red Bull had a harder time of things in the first test with some issues but put on an improved performance in the second test.
Overall, the first test was heavily disrupted by the weather. Teams could not do as much running as they wished but were able to see how quick the track could be; in contrast, a full second test proved that the front-runners should be Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull with a big gap back to the midfield teams. Haas have improved significantly, while McLaren have still had the same trouble and Williams do not look to have improved from last year.
Hamilton aiming for fifth World title
Last season Lewis Hamilton won his fourth World title while Mercedes won their fourth Constructors’ championship in-a-row. However, 2017 saw the hardest test that the Brackley-based team have had to deal with thus far. Ferrari proved to be real contenders with Vettel leading the championship for much of the season, before Hamilton returned rejuvenated from the summer break winning five out the six races after the return.
The Brit will be aiming for his fifth World title this year and will be hoping to start his campaign with a win. However, Melbourne has not been the best place for Hamilton who has only won twice on the streets of Australia with the last victory coming in 2015. Since then former team-mate Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel have claimed victories, although Hamilton claimed pole position in each of those years. Can the Brit get his third win Down Under?
Who is the main opposition for the Brit?
Similarly to last year, the championships will be between three teams: Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. In those teams, it would be fair to say that there are four drivers who could win the championship. Vettel will be Ferrari’s threat once again, while Hamilton is leading the attack for Mercedes. Whereas, at Red Bull both drivers have the ability to win races and win a championship; although many would argue that Max Verstappen has the best chance but Daniel Ricciardo cannot be ruled out as his previous wins have proved that he is dangerous.
Hamilton’s form on a Saturday is undeniable with 11 pole positions last season and it will be hard to beat him in a one lap shootout; however, if Ferrari and Red Bull are as close to Mercedes as it seems there is hope that race day will provide more on-track action. Last year there were five different race winners – Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas – and they should all win races again this year, but what might be more important is who is on the podium the most? Who will have the most consistent season? That could be the key. The ability for a driver to keep their reliability issues at bay.
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Qualifying begins at 6am GMT on Saturday with the race starting at 6.10am GMT on Sunday, both races are being shown live on Sky Sports and highlights are available on Channel 4.
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