We won’t really know how the top three teams stack up until Sunday’s first Grand Prix of the season as Formula 1 ascends on Melbourne Australia for the first round of the 2018 season.
I’ve learned never to discount the speculation from the press post-testing as they are sharp cookies when it comes to divining the performance of each team but there is also the case of teams publicly downplaying their performance to keep a shroud of mystery around them until Australia. It is difficult to know just how each team will do when the lights go out down under.
For Lewis Hamilton, he knows that the main competitors have not sat on their hands during the off season and each year, Mercedes has to raise its game.
“Every year we have to take it to another level,” Hamilton said in Melbourne, “because, if you look at last year, for example, Red Bull was a second or so behind at the first race and at the last race they were right there with us. Their rate of development was a little bit steeper than everyone else’s.
“I think at this point in the year, everyone is trying to hype someone up and we are the perfect target because we are the world champions. It’s almost like put all the pressure onto them because it takes the weight off of us.
“But ultimately I think the pressure is divided among all of us. Red Bull seem to have done a great job on their car, it’s got a lot more furniture on it, should be a lot quicker this weekend and they’ve got two great drivers.
“Then you have Ferrari who were there in the real fight last year, it was no walkover that’s for sure, and this year we expect them to be on it too.”
I’m not doubting the press or Lewis when they suggest Red Bull may have pulled ahead of Ferrari or even Mercedes and while I am not quite sure I can get my head around that thought, I would discount the possibility.
What is intriguing for me is that Renault Sport F1 says they are hopeful for mid-season upgrades as they feel they are still somewhat off the pace of Red Bull. If Red Bull have pulled even with Mercedes or ahead of Ferrari, they are doing so with an engine that is down on power versus the competition and that must mean they have an outrageously good chassis and package.
To overcome the sheer amount of power and shove from the back of that Mercedes, you’d have to take a less potent engine, pair it with a far superior chassis in order to make up the deficit. If Red Bull have done that—and they do have a secret weapon in Adrian Newey—then I will be very impressed. Red Bull driver and native Australian, Daniel Ricciardo, says the team needs to send a statement this weekend:
“There’s a lot more confidence within the team,” the Australian said.
“Every year we have worked hard to build a fast car, but come testing we have not really had a lot to show for it, but this winter we had a bit more.
“For us to have a strong weekend, however, would set a statement for the year and show that we would be fighting for the championship. It would be awesome to get off on the right foot.”
I could be completely wrong but I enter this weekend believing that the pecking order will be Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. I will be thrilled if that isn’t the case.