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The F1 2018 Preview Part Two: The Drive For Five

With Qualifying tomorrow, Nigel Chiu looks ahead in the second part of his F1 Pre-Season predictions.

Credit: Sahara Force India

McLaren was where we left off in the last article, so lets pick it up with the team that had the engine that the Woking team used for the last 3 years.

Toro Rosso were one of the biggest surprises of testing. Using only 3-4 engines across the whole of the 7 days of testing is remarkable compared to the Honda engine last year. Their driver line-up of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley is a strange one. I’m not sure what to expect. Whilst Gasly is a GP2 champion and Hartley is a world champion I don’t expect anything special from them. Perhaps this is a good thing because if they get points early on, then I’ll be impressed. On the Honda side, they will be ecstatic. With Toro Rosso being the manufacturer team (effectively) they can decide where the development goes and can work the engine around their package. It’s a development of last year’s engine which is now very reliable and building up in power. It’s very promising. Don’t get to hyped or overwhelmed because Honda is still behind the other engines and still have a lot of work to do. They’re on the up.

Haas were equally as surprising and I thought that they would be battling at the back, but when they got out on track, they stunned everyone including Ferrari. Their car looks very similar to last year’s Ferrari, which we know was arguably the quickest car in the races, and with a decent driver line-up I predict some early points from the American outfit.

Force India have shown nothing special and I’m worried that they will be lacklustre this year. There are not only question marks around the car but also the ownership of the team and where all of the money is going to come from. They will desperately need money to stay in the hectic arms race that will inevitably develop in the midfield and their drivers won’t wait for the car to come good. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez are very quick and can get points consistently. If the car doesn’t deliver, then I think at least one of them will move onto a manufacturer team for 2019. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised if Force India do struggle. They so consistently punch above their weight that our expectations are high, but it could be time to lower those expectations.

Williams went almost unnoticed in testing. It’s Paddy Lowe’s first car and from what we’ve seen so far, it isn’t delivering. Speaking of delivering, the man with the most pressure on his shoulders will have to be Sergey Sirotkin. Nearly everyone wanted to see Robert Kubica in the seat and Kubica was in fact quicker than Sirotkin in testing yet it was the Russian who got the nod. We all know that he’s bringing in a lot of money and he has had some wonderful performances in lower formulae. He won a GP2 race in Hockenheim despite taking a drive through penalty but he has also struggled and made silly errors when the pressure has been high.

We must give Sirotkin a chance but the backlash and the critics will be heard, and heard loud. The question marks around Robert Kubica will ring loud though as soon as Sirotkin struggles, people will voice their own opinion which won’t do the Russian any good. Neither driver has been able to drive around problems that the car has which is what you really need to do. As an F1 driver, you need to be able to get in the car and deliver almost immediately, Sirotkin must do this. Lance Stroll still has his critics as well but does have a front row start and a podium to answer those critics. He has to match what he did last year at the very minimum and get points in a car that doesn’t look like it’s capable of doing that. It could be another tough year for Williams.

Sergey Sirotkin will have a lot to prove in his debut season (Credit: Glenn Dunbar/Williams)

Lastly, lets look a quick look at Sauber. It’s such a new car and even with Alfa Romeo backing, they still look like that they will be bringing up the rear. The drivers say that the car is unpredictable which isn’t a word that you want to hear if you’re a member of the team. Sergio Marchionne will not want to see the Sauber car at the back and he will help them develop their car by giving them the money to help them. The latest Ferrari donkey will naturally help but aerodynamics and a strong chassis is the major problem. Remember the days when Sauber got some surprise results and were in the points regularly? Well don’t expect those days to return anytime soon.

The Formula 2 champion, Charles Leclerc will look to put down some special performances by getting points when the opportunity arises. It will be tough, but if he can do it, then a Ferrari seat won’t be too far away. For Marcus Ericsson, he may start to get named as “the worst driver” on the grid if he doesn’t improve and if he gets beat by his teammate who’s in his first season compared to the Swede’s fifth.

That’s a quick look at all the teams. I could have looked at all of them more closely but I will do that is the season progresses.

Now lets stop with all of the predictions for a moment and look at the facts.

Honda look for a new start with Toro Rosso (Credit: Andy Hone / LAT Images / Honda Racing Media)

The Calendar

The French Grand Prix returns for 2018 as does the German GP at Hockenheim which F1 visits on a 2 year cycle. Malaysia has been dropped which means that 21 Grand Prix are scheduled.

25 March Melbourne, Australia

8 April Sakhir, Bahrain

15 April Shanghai, China

29 April Baku, Azerbaijan

13 May Barcelona, Spain

27 May Monaco, Monaco

10 June Montreal, Canada

24 June Le Castellet, France

1 July Spielberg, Austria

8 July Silverstone, Great Britain

22 July Hockenheim, Germany

29 July Budapest, Hungary

26 August Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

2 September Monza, Italy

16 September Singapore, Singapore

30 September Sochi, Russia

7 October Suzuka, Japan

21 October Austin, USA

28 October Mexico City, Mexico

11 November Sao Paulo, Brazil

25 November Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi

Not many changes have been made for this up and coming F1 season from a sporting regulations point of view. The only major thing is that after a red flag, Charlie Whiting can decide whether to do a normal rolling start or a standing start. Also, in the event that a driver changes a power unit component, drivers will still receive a five or ten-place grid penalty depending on the component being changed; however, should they then replace a second component, they will be moved to the back of the starting grid. Grid girls have gone which is a whole different discussion point and Liberty have introduced a new Formula 1 logo and theme tune. Lets hope they don’t ‘Americanize’ things too much!

While they may not be challenging for wins, the midfield battle can be one of the seasons closest fights (Credit: Sahara Force India)

My Final Prediction

Drivers’ Championship

1. Lewis Hamilton

2. Max Verstappen

3. Daniel Ricciardo

4. Valtteri Bottas

5. Sebastien Vettel

6. Kimi Raikkonen

7. Carlos Sainz

8. Fernando Alonso

9. Nico Hulkenberg

10. Stoffel Vandoorne

11. Esteban Ocon

12. Romain Grosjean

13. Sergio Perez

14. Pierre Gasly

15. Kevin Magnussen

16. Brendon Hartley

17. Lance Stroll

18. Charles Leclerc

19. Marcus Ericsson

20. Sergey Sirotkin

Constructors’ Championship

1. Mercedes

2. Red Bull

3. Ferrari

4. Renault

5. McLaren

6. Force India

7. Haas

8.Toro Rosso

9. Williams

10. Sauber

I hope I’m not completely wrong! 🙂

Ahead of the Australian GP, an extra DRS zone has been implemented. I think that this is a good move, if we’re going to have DRS in F1, because you might as well make the most of it. Overtaking is very hard in Australia so hopefully, this change will help. We don’t need an extra DRS zone at all of the circuits, but at places like Hungary or Singapore were overtaking is equally is hard, this change should be made at those Grand Prix as well.

Credit: Steven Tee / LAT Images / Honda Racing Media

As we build up to the first race of the year, a lot of rain is expected on Saturday with a chance of some on Sunday as well. This will make for a very exciting weekend and I cannot wait. It does mean that the true pecking order won’t be seen but I’d much rather have an exciting race and qualifying because F1 needs some excitement in its first race to get people pumped up for the season.

The cars have been out on track today and soon all of the speculation can stop. However, the off-track talk won’t stop as Liberty Media look to make changes to improve the show and finalising the regulations for the 2021 season which will be pivotal to the direction that F1 goes. This year will be crucial for the new owners.

But, I want to see the on-track action dominate the F1 headlines for once. We deserve a 2012 or 2003 kind of season. The battles and rivalries on the track will improve everything and just getting a fight that goes all the way to Abu Dhabi will put a smile on my face. The drive for five will begin, but it will be a rollercoaster ride that won’t be easy. Bring on the season, and give us something to get animated at!

Over the season, I will be giving driver ratings on the latest races which should be available to you on the Monday or Tuesday after the race. It’s something I did last year and I will be doing it for Motorsport.Radio this season. I hope that I can get most of the ratings right and that you all have something to talk and think about. 

F1 2018 IS GO!

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