Revved up and ready to go for the new Formula 1 season? Rich Hathway explains everything you need to know ahead of this year’s action.
The first race of the new Formula 1 season takes place in Melbourne, Australia in late March but the work at the factory rarely stops.
You only need to look at the all-new Amazon Prime documentary series, Grand Prix Driver – which follows the McLaren team’s third and final year partnering with Honda – to see the kind of work that goes into the sport away from the track.
All throughout the winter the teams have been designing and building their new cars, hoping to be ready for the first testing sessions from February 26 at the Circuit De Catalunya, 20-odd miles north east of Barcelona.
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The eight days of running in Spain is all the teams get to test the speed and reliability of their new machinery. So, winter testing is the first chance to assess who is likely to be in the title race and which teams have fallen behind in the ever more technical arms race.
But Formula 1 isn’t all about the cars. The drivers and the show are just important. So, ahead of the new Formula 1 season, here are five talking points to argue about in the pub.
Hamilton Vs Vettel
Whilst we don’t know yet how any of the new cars will perform, it’s a good bet to think that the mighty Mercedes team and Ferrari – F1’s longest standing and most successful entrant – will once again produce great cars. If they do, this year’s season may become a fight between Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and Germany’s Sebastian Vettel to see who will be the first of those two to win five world titles. Only two men have done that before them, Fangio and Schumacher (who won the world title a record seven times).
The moment when a thousand years worth of working hours are put to the test. This is the moment that starts everything, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…🔥🔥🔥🔥#W09Countdown @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/5iFJiiaPVR
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) February 5, 2018
There will be others who fancy a crack at the title of course. Hamilton’s team mate, Valtteri Bottas, is quick but underperformed a bit last year. In his second year at Mercedes he will hope to run Hamilton closer though few would bet on it.
Kimi Räikkönen, Vettel’s often monosyllabic team mate, is well loved by fans but doesn’t have the consistent speed he showed in his early career. This new Formula 1 season could be the last for the 2007 world champion, but on his day can still produce.
The Red Bull duo, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, are both quick, consistent and hungry for success. If the team can provide the car and Renault can give them a better power unit than last year, they will be in the hunt.
The Resurgence Of McLaren
The last three years have seen the great McLaren team – winners of eight constructors and twelve driver’s championships in their 51-year history to date – languishing at the back, with the unreliable and under powered Honda engine. Double world champion Fernando Alonso has had no chance to show what he’s capable of and British champion Jenson Button departed at the end of the second year.
(Check out Grand Prix Driver on Amazon Prime to see how the beleaguered team fared during its final year with Honda.)
But McLaren now have Renault power, having somehow offloaded the woeful Honda power unit onto Red Bull’s junior team Torro Rosso. The Renault unit was the third (out of four) most powerful last year, but this year’s engine is expected to be a step forward.
Will it be enough to give the genius of Alonso a chance to shine? Only time will tell.
The New Blood
There are a couple of new drivers on the grid for the new Formula 1 season.
Charles Leclerc hails from F1’s most glamourous location, Monaco. He’s part of the Ferrari young driver programme, so will race this year in the re-branded Alfa Romeo Sauber team. The Sauber team have been at the back of the grid for a few years, and while they will now have Ferrari’s newest engines, they’re likely to still be at the back. But Charles is something special. He blitzed the field in F1’s feeder series, F2, last year, so he’s worth keeping an eye on. If anyone can get an Alfa Romero Sauber into the points, it’s 20-year-old Charles Leclerc.
— Sauber F1 Team (@SauberF1Team) January 18, 2018
Sergey Sirotkin is a different prospect. The last championship won by the 22-year-old Russian was the Formula Arbarth European Series back in 2011. What Sirotkin does bring to the once-great Williams team is money. Given the merit of his results, should he be in this position? Not really, but he’s there and he might surprise everyone and perform brilliantly. If he doesn’t, no amount of money will save him. He has his chance and it’s up to him to make it count. Legendary team owner Frank Williams is not known for suffering fools, nor is deputy team manager, and Frank’s daughter, Claire for that matter.
Netflix has the superb Williams doc available if you want to learn more about the team that holds such a special place in many fans’ hearts.
Goodbye To Grid Girls
Much likes darts has ditched its “walk-on-girls”, Formula 1 is now doing away with “grid girls” in favour of “grid kids”. The kids in question will be picked from the local grassroots motorsport scene in whichever country the Grand Prix is taking place.
In truth, the job of a grid girl was always more involved than merely standing at the front of the car holding a board with a number on it. Most of the women undertook work for sponsors or Formula 1 management that I can’t see child labour laws allowing the kids to do.
Times change though, and the notion of women being employed for looking pretty is thankfully an outdated one. While the grid kids will probably end up being the children of wealthy sponsors, emblazoned with a thousand logos, it’s a small step in the right direction.
A lottery of ticket holders for the event or kids from a local school might have been a better idea though.
Halos, Shark Fins & Coat Hangers
While Formula 1 is an open cockpit formula, all cars this year must feature the new “halo” head protection device fitted around the cockpit. Driver safety is paramount, and the recent deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson made it impossible for the sport’s governing body to do nothing.
The halo, a carbon-fibre structure that looks like someone has stuck a flip-flop on the top of the cockpit, is an ugly, slightly Heath Robinson approach to the problem. But it has been designed to deflect debris away from the driver’s head so it’s hard to argue against the principle.
WATCH: James Allison takes us through why the Halo has been introduced for 2018, how teams have prepared for it and the kind of loads it is designed to withstand 👇https://t.co/wEJQhpGJdO
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) February 8, 2018
Whatever your view on it, it’s here to stay; at least, until something more aesthetically pleasing replaces it. The IndyCar series in the states is using a shield to achieve the same result, a far better solution in my opinion, so maybe the days of the flip-flop are already numbered.
This year the technical regulations have been tightened up regarding the shark fins and T-wings – or “coat hangers” as they’ve been dubbed. The hope is that this will make the cars look slicker and faster, more like the kind of racing car kids draw in their exercise books and less like a Ford Fiesta that some 18-year old has modified within an inch of its life.
A quick look at the new car to be introduced by the Formula E series will tell you that F1 has a way to go on looks yet though.
Ways To Watch
Every session of all 21 races is live on the Sky Sports Formula 1 channel. Channel 4 will show 10 race weekends live and have highlights of the other 11.
If you want to watch everything live but can’t stomach the cost of Sky anymore, you can use the Now TV app. At £11 for a week’s pass to all the sports channels, the whole 21 race season will cost you about £230.
The new season begin with the Australian Grand Prix on March 25.