Going into the weekend, there was suspicion that Red Bull would be the quickest team around the principality. It would be a claim both Mercedes and Ferrari took seriously and come Thursday, the Oxfordshire-based outfit proved the hype was not based off nothing.
They finished 1-2 for both practice sessions with Daniel Ricciardo putting in a new lap record during his quest to be the fastest man during practice 2. The Australian had already topped the morning adventure, becoming the first driver to break the 1min 12sec barrier.
In the morning, third place Hamilton had been the onlt man to challenge the Bull's finishing 0.354 seconds down, with Sebastian Vettel 0.915. The Ferrari hit back in the afternoon going quicker than Hamilton's best, but this was now not good enough to get within half a second of his former teammate.
Holding back potential is still a likely option and Mercedes have experience of stealing a Monaco win off the Red Bull's (see Ricciardo 2016), but if Saturday materialises in the same vein as Thursday, we could be set for an all-blue front row.
Verstappen will be no slouch and remained just over a tenth behind Daniel in the Thursday practice sessions, pole is certainly within his mindset.
As we know though, track position is everything around Monaco. There is an argument to say that it doesn't matter what Quali throws up, the race is what gives you the points, but providing there isn't heavy drama during a safety car or pitstop phase, the race will be largely shaped by Saturday.
So far, Mercedes have not provided the raw pace. We know their car struggles in the tailwind of the machine in front and in Monaco, you'll likely spend much of the race behind someone. Should Hamilton or Bottas make a rocket start, we could be in for an upset, but anything lower than third by the first corner could spell an end to Hamilton's run of wins and potential championship lead.
The Red Bull drivers will be aware of the threat from Vettel, but for the German his best strategy might simply to sit back and wait for the action to unfold, preserving his tyres for a dash towards the end of the race, hopefully after a safety car (there is usually at least one).
Whatever happens with the Mercedes and Ferrari, all eyes will be on Red Bull as they hope not to repeat their result from the last time the F1 circus visited a street circuit.
After the opening FIA Formula 2 round from Bahrain last weekend, Lando Norris left the desert with 39 points and a nine point lead in the championship. It could have been more, but a technical gremlin halfway through the second race saw him lose ten seconds to teammate Sergio Sette Camara and thus a podium place.
Even ignoring this though, Norris had the weekend to himself early on. A win in the opening race seemed relatively easy for the Carlin driver. Having taken pole, he simply drove away from the field before even the first corner, eventually taking the flag by 8 seconds to Camara.
In a recent interview Norris claimed to be aiming for the title, saying; "[I'm] Focusing on this season, I just want us to do as well as we can, hopefully win."
He isn't going to have it all his own way though, most notable will be the man he's leading in the championship, Artem Markelov. Now entering his fifth season, the Renault Reserve Driver is the veteran of the series. While this may make his future questionable, it's undeniable that Markelov's ability in preserving tyres and daring overtakes make him a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, while he may have finished third in the opening race, 9 seconds behind Norris, that was from the pitlane and only after Camara held him up in the closing stages.
Camara himself will certainly be one to watch out for throughout the season. While Norris appears to have the edge in qualifying, the Brazilian was prepared to put it on the line in the reverse grid race, holding Norris to account in the closing stages as tyres faded and Macau last year proved this was no fluke.
Along with these three, it'd be easy to forget Nyck De Vries and George Russell. Russell had a shocking weekend, but his F3 and GP3 title pace prove he's one to watch as the season develops. As for De Vries, his McLaren support could rest on him beating Norris. He could have taken the honours in Sunday's event only for a risky pitstop strategy. He lost 25 seconds, but still finished ten seconds behind winner Markelov.
With a number of other competitors showing promise at Sakhir, can Norris hold onto his lead all season...
Jamie Sharp in partnership with the family owned Sharp Motorsport has officially announced his return to the F4 British Championship. The young driver will be hoping to move up the grid this season, having finished the inaugural test at Brands Hatch in fourth last week.
Sharp Motorsport have ambitions of their own, with the outfit hoping to expand to two cars for 2018 with the support of Pure Pace Performance Management, in a move similar to Richardson Racing in previous years.
Last year during his rookie campaign, Sharp recorded seven top ten finishes, resulting in fifteenth overall in the standings. Since then, the team has remained committed to the series, becoming one of the few teams to continue testing over the winter in preparation for the current season.
Jamie Sharp said about the announcement.
“I’m really looking forward to this season. We’ve been working hard over the winter and I’m confident heading into the first race on the back of all the training I have done."
“I feel prepared for a more successful year, but we need to see how the rest of testing goes to get a more accurate picture of how competitive we are. I hope to be running at the front from the very early stages and I’m excited to see how much the team and I progress throughout the year.”
He becomes the seventh name to officially announce plans for British F4 with TRS Arden and Fortec Motorsports the only other teams to confirm drivers.
Team Boss Joe Sharp adding;
“We’ve worked incredibly hard over the winter to give Jamie the best possible chance this year.”
“Jamie’s got new management so 2018 should be a good year for us. We’re doing lots of things differently – we’ve had a year of learning now.”
New sponsors in the form of J Davidson and Kelsa Truck Products will join Sharp Motorsport with their existing supporters; Roydon Group, UK Truck Sale, Universal Bodies, The Vehicle Wrapping Centre in Leeds staying on board.
British F4 confirmed entries so far
|Double R Racing||Kiern Jewiss|
|Double R Racing||Paavo Tonteri|
|Double R Racing||Sebastian Alvarez|
|Fortec Motorsports||Hampus Ericsson|
|Fortec Motorsports||Johnathan Hoggard|
|Fortec Motorsports||Lucca Allen|
|JHR Developments||Ayrton Simmons|
|JHR Developments||Manuel Sulaimán|
|JHR Developments||Josh Skelton|
|Sharp Motorsport||Jamie Sharp|
|TRS Arden Junior||Dennis Hauger|
|TRS Arden Junior||Jack Doohan|
|TRS Arden Junior||Seb Priaulx|
15-year-old Luca Allen will make a return to the F4 British Championship in 2018 after a part-campaign last year. The Irish driver was too young at the start of 2017, but made the most of the final five rounds last year to build experience.
This season, he moves from Falcon Motorsport to the more established Fortec Motorsports. Allen will hope the move can coincide with an upturn in results after failing to score in any of his appearances last season.
Prior to his British debut, he had raced nationally, picking up the 2015 Irish Race of Champions' Trophy a year after securing the National Irish Karting Championship.
Last year, Fortec ran up to four different drivers, with Oliver York, their most successful, picking up two overall wins and seven further podiums on his way to sixth in the standings, while Hampus Ericsson secured the Ford F4 Challenge Cup in the final race.
Lucca Allen said: "It’s a great honour to drive for one of the top teams in British F4. My tests with Fortec last year went really well and I am very grateful for them taking me on and for giving me this opportunity to drive in a car that is capable of taking the championship. I’m really excited for this season!”
Fortec’s F4 team manager Oliver Dutton also commented; “We are very excited to have Lucca join the Fortec family and race in red, white and black livery for the 2018 [British F4] Championship. Lucca impressed during winter testing, showing us he had the pace and determination to fight at the front of the pack.
“Lucca absorbs all knowledge thrown at him and is able to translate it onto the track. I have great belief that Lucca will continue to improve and develop and I look forward to watching him have a successful campaign with us this year.”