(Photo credit: sportnieuws.nl)
After a long cold winter, Formula One is back on our screens and we couldn't be happier. As usual, the season starts Down Under on the narrow streets of Albert Park in Melbourne. The results of winter testing have RealSport HQ buzzing with anticipation, but before the teams unpack the trucks and set up the garages, we look at a few scenarios that could spice up 2018.
End of Mercedes’ dominance
People loved Michael Schumacher, until he won too much. People loved Red Bull, until they won too much. And people loved Mercedes, until they won too much. Being top dog will always bring resentment. And watching one team relentlessly racking up world championships is no fun for the wider audience. Mercedes have been dominant in the hybrid era of F1, winning 63 of 79 races including a ridiculous 71 pole positions and 42 fastest laps
In three of the last four seasons, Lewis Hamilton was runaway Drivers' World Champion, with the fourth lost to teammate Nico Rosberg on the final race. At least Sebastian Vettel was pushed close by Fernando Alonso for two of his four championships.
The relentless winning was fun to watch at first, but has turned too many races into a procession. In 2017, Ferrari put up an early fight and Red Bull got involved once or twice, but overall it was another easy ride for Mercedes, whose in-season development and reliability were far superior to Ferrari and Red Bull. In 2018, many fans will hope that someone steps up with a serious challenge for the Silver Arrows, and maybe even knocks them off their perch.
The McLaren revival
McLaren have won an incredible 182 Formula One races. Their first entry was way back in 1966 and they have produced some of the most iconic vehicles in racing history. However, their last win came back in 2012 at Interlagos. In 2015, to get back to the top, they partnered with Honda but suffered their worst finish in the Constructors' Championship since 1980.
That relationship lasted three unhappy seasons before McLaren forced a divorce and hooked up with Renault for this season. There were teething problems and reliability gremlins in testing, but Red Bull have been competing at the sharp of the grid with Renault power since 2007 and that should steady the nerves of McLaren fans..
With their new livery and talented driver lineup of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, there is a feeling of a new beginning for the Woking team. And it would be great for the sport to see them challenge again.
The race between middling teams is often more dramatic than the one at the front. Renault vs. Toro Rosso, Force India vs. Williams - the battles have been tight and unpredictable over the last few years. But 2017 saw something of a stretching of the midfield. Force India cemented their place as the fourth team, stranded somewhere between Red Bull and the rest of the field. Haas dropped away and Williams were adrift in fifth..
This season has seen enough change to suggest that the midfield battle will be closer than ever. Toro Rosso have brought in two new drivers (Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley), while Renault added a quality second pilot (Carlos Sainz Jr), freeing them from the anchor that was Jolyon Palmer. In contrast, Williams are without the steadying presence of Felipe Massa for the first time since 2013. One thing’s for sure, F1 fans will hope for some serious wheel-to-wheel racing behind the leaders in 2018
New faces, new chances
Paid drives and younger debuts have seen some less-than-brilliant names get seats in Formula One. The aforementioned Palmer was a massive flop, Lance Stroll was less than impressive in his rookie season but remains at Williams, and while Marcus Ericsson also remains, he is at least partnered by a strong young talent.
Pierre Gasly, the 2016 GP2 champion, takes up a permanent seat with Toro Rosso, while 2017 F2 champion Charles Leclerc will partner Ericsson at Sauber. Both drivers are potential stars of the future. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne and Carlos Sainz find themselves in improved positions (at McLaren and Renault respectively) where they should be able to showcase their talents..
While the top of the F1 standings is clogged up with established names, only Nico Rosberg’s retirement forcing a change in recent years, the midfield is seeing enough turnover of drivers to keep the field exciting. Leclerc and Gasly (in particular) bring a lot of intrigue for the season ahead.
Halo? Who cares!
F1 fans have a tendency to fixate on the tiny details. Not that surprising since the sport is all about who can master the minutiae of the rule book, but the furore that introducing the halo has created has been unlike anything else.
For many fans, the problem is aesthetic. For others, it is about the maintaining the spirit of single-seater, open-wheel racing. But while coverage in the build-up to the Australian Grand Prix will undoubtedly be fixated on the halo, the outrage can be expected to die down once those five red lights go out on Sunday morning.
What would you most like to see happen in F1 this season? Let us know in the comments below.