It looks like business as usual for the sport’s leading team. With Mercedes looking supreme in pre-season testing, they look set to take a fifth consecutive title. Mercedes’ target for testing was to try and iron out the weaknesses that threatened to derail their title push last season and should this season conclude with yet another title win (as expected), they will equal Ferrari’s record of five consecutive drivers’ and constructers’ doubles.
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton & Valtteri Bottas
Juan Manuel Fangio’s five title haul is in sight for Hamilton who now sits on four titles after last season’s hard fought triumph. Hamilton is the favourite for the title again understandably and unless someone can provide a consistent challenge throughout the season, I can’t see him relinquishing his throne. As for Bottas, he still has much to prove. Bottas’ season trailed off quite quickly after a strong start and if he fails to show noticeable improvements I can’t see him holding onto his seat for 2019/20.
The Scuderia still looks well placed to be Mercedes’ best competitor but their pre-season testing hasn’t shown the leaps in improvement that they were hoping for. Ferrari have suggested that mid-season updates could significantly boost performance but by that time the title race could already be put to bed by Mercedes.
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen
Vettel also has the motivation of equalling Fangio’s five titles this season. In fact, this is the first time that there have been two four-time champions on the grid simultaneously. And Vettel is still in with a good shout for a title challenge. Last season’s significant lead was undone by a few moments of weakness from the German driver and if he can show greater composure and mental strength he could close the gap between himself and Hamilton. Unfortunately for the one-time champion and F1 veteran Raikkonen it looks like another season of playing Robin to Vettel’s Batman. Raikkonen can still kick it with the best on a good day but he needs to make those good days less rare this season if he doesn’t want to get left behind by his teammate, Mercedes and Red Bull.
Red Bull finally look to be closing the gap on the top two and some would say they are closer to Mercedes than Ferrari based on pre-season testing. However, the Renault engine looks to be both an enhancing and hindering feature of their car this season. Red Bull have arguably the best driver pairing on the grid but they need a reliable chassis underneath them if they are going to disrupt the Mercedes/Ferrari monopoly.
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo & Max Verstappen
Ricciardo is a popular driver amongst fans and in the paddock and much of this popularity has stemmed from his daring manoeuvres on track. Ricciardo is an old school driver in that respect which can have its benefits. However, the Australian needs to improve his adaptability in order to get the best out of his car. Ricciardo could be a real challenger if he can really nail the technical side of being an F1 driver. Verstappen has all the makings of a future champion and might’ve challenged for the title last season if it wasn’t for severe car unreliability. Verstappen is a brave and fearless talent who is getting better year on year. Expect him to challenge Hamilton and Vettel if his car can keep up.
The best of F1’s packed midfield, Force India have shown that on rare occasions they can challenge the top 3. But unless they can significantly improve the car’s performance, I can’t see them bettering last season’s impressive fourth place finish. However, with upgrades yet to come, it’ll be interesting to see how much they can improve on last season.
Drivers: Sergio Perez & Esteban Ocon
Last season’s most combustible pairing look set to lock horns again this season. Both Perez and Con are at interesting cruxes in their F1 careers. Perez, should he have a good season, may be worth another shot at a big team especially with Bottas and Raikkonen’s futures looking doubtful. And for the young Ocon the situation is quite similar after showing much promise and consistency last season. Unfortunately for Force India, the main hurdle for each driver is their teammate. Whoever emerges the better driver this season will be most likely to claim the vacant seat at a big team should it become available. Expect sparks to fly once more.
With Paddy Lowe heavily redesigning the car for 2018 and the recruitment of the rookie Sergey Sirotkin alongside the inexperienced Canadian teenager Lance Stroll, it’s very hard to call how Williams will fare this season. Even if their new design works well, it might take time to see results with such a green pairing in the cockpit.
Drivers: Lance Stroll & Sergey Sirotkin
Stroll had a solid debut season, with the highlight being a 3rd place finish at Azerbaijan. With Felipe Massa departing the team for good, Stroll may be more relaxed going into his second season. However, with another rookie now in the picture with the acquisition of Sergey Sirotkin, Stroll will face an intriguing challenge for no.1 driver over the course of the season.
Albeit too late for Jolyon Palmer, Renaulut claim to have fixed their woeful unreliability from last season. With the car looking much stronger and more updates due to come throughout the season, Renault look like they could capitalise on Williams’ early jitters and possibly even leapfrog Force India. A strong duo in the cockpit will also boost their hopes for an impressive season too.
Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg & Carlos Sainz Jr
Hulkenberg, perhaps due to the absence of that elusive first podium, is an underrated talent in F1. Now in his seventh season and with a good car underneath him, perhaps 2018 will be the year that he finally gets the taste for silverware. Since taking over from Jolyon Palmer at Austin last season, Sainz has continued to has show that he is a hot prospect in F1. It’ll be an interesting internal battle between the two drivers this season.
Finally! A good news story about Honda engines. Toro Rosso have enjoyed a good preseason, getting in plenty of laps without hindrance from their new Honda engines. Amidst the congested midfield and backend of the grid, reliability is a rare commodity. If Toro Rosso can keep their cars on track and boost their performance, they should pick up some points through default.
Drivers: Pierre Gasly & Brendon Hartley
Any driver that comes with the Red Bull stamp of approval should be looking to disrupt the grid. After being thrown into the melee at the end of last season, 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly settled pretty quickly. In his first full season, Gasly will be confident of building on an impressive start. On the other side of the garage is a polar opposite – the experienced Brendon Hartley. The 28 year old New Zealander is highly decorated having won the World Endurance Championship twice and the Le Mans 24 last year. Toro Rosso’s balance of nascency and experience could prove to be a shrewd move in the long run. Gasly will probably prove to be the quicker, better driver but Hartley could be the team’s Jenson Button, helping to develop and improve the car as the season progresses.
Since their debut in 2016, Haas have shown in bursts that they’re capable of leading the midfield and possibly breaking into the top 3 teams. But they need that consistency and reliability. Preseason has been promising. Haas have shown great pace and good balance in the longer practise sessions and during single lap runs, showing that the car can adjust to both qualifying and race days easily. Haas look good for a fourth place finish in the constructors’ championship.
Drivers: Romain Grosjean & Kevin Magnussen
Haas’ driver duo is an intriguing one. Grosjean is a driver that blows hot and cold, recalling Juan Pablo Montoya’s brilliance and clumsiness. His teammate Kevin Magnussen, another McLaren reject, will be looking to use Haas as a springboard back to the top after producing some moderately impressive returns over the last couple of seasons. With the car’s improvements, it’ll be interesting to see where the drivers can take Haas and how that figures in the head-to-head.
Having established a new engine deal with Renault after the woes of their Honda partnership, McLaren seem confident of returning to the upper echelons of the F1 hierarchy. The chassis looks as good as any on the grid but the question is whether McLaren can well and truly put their reliability issues behind them. 2017/18 will be a huge season for the future of the team. Failure to show noticeable improvements could be detrimental to the team’s future.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso & Stoffel Vandoorne
Buoyed by the reassurance of improved performance and reliability, veteran Fernando Alonso is sticking for at least another season at McLaren. Alonso will be key to McLaren’s quest for redemption. There are few drivers who will be able to get as much out of the wounded McLaren as Alonso. Vandoorne was able to fly under the radar of criticism last season with the car performing so badly but with the car looking visibly better, there is nowhere to hide if Vandoorne doesn’t meet expectations. If he can stay close to Alonso on track, Vandoorne might just make it to the end of the season and beyond.
After finishing last place last season, Sauber have taken on a Ferrari engine and a new Alfa Romeo branding. The new partnership has seen Sauber take on a plethora of new aerodynamic features that have yet to improve the car’s performance. With the car languishing in last, Sauber need to try something new and even though the car still seems to lack grip and pace, the rebuild could lead to improved performance after they’ve ironed out the bugs.
Drivers: Marcus Ericsson & Charles Leclerc
Marcus Ericsson has failed to score a single point in the last two seasons. Ericsson brings finance to the team but Sauber need to start improving their performances if they’re going to start challenging the teams near them. In Leclerc, Ericsson has his biggest challenge yet. Leclerc was supreme in F2 last season, taking the title with seven wins and is being tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari in the near future. Such praise does not come lightly, so expect Leclerc to leave Ericsson in his dust.