Hello everyone, its good to be back. We are just over a month out and it is time for me to dust off the keyboard and get to whacking those little black squares. I’m going to ease into it, no disrespecting Ferrari (well at least not just yet), no calling anyone out for poor behavior, and no chastising one engine manufacturer for totally wreaking a certain Spaniard’s last three years. I promise to not even engage in any pot-stirring for my entry into the 2018 Formula 1 season.
That being said, wow, the racing has not even started yet and so much to talk about already. Not one tire has turned in anger and let’s see, Lewis Hamilton deleted his entire social media account on instagram (i think), grid girls exited the grid for the last time, well actually they didn’t even get to enter the grid, thus there was no exit. They are just gone, rats, I kinda liked that part of the show but whatever, I like the racing much more so c’est la vie grid girls. What else? Drivers are up in arms about re-scheduling, I’ll remain comment-less on that one per my promise and over in the engine department, oh yeah somehow F1 thinks it is a good idea to only allow each driver three PU’s (that’s engines if you’re old school) this year WTH??? (what the hell)…
There are many other stories percolating such as how will the halo actually work in the races, shark fins are gone to the angst of all the teams minus Mclaren. Drivers are always a story and there is two new pilots this year on the grid if I’m correct, I could go on, but I shall not.
In my opinion all of the above is a distraction to the real storylines and what will eventually be the prevailing stories in F1 sucking up all the air in the room, or better yet cause most fans, most pundits, most bloggers such as myself, most journo’s and all the teams to be talking about either out in the open to the press or amongst each other.
So without further ado lets get the carbon fiber ball rolling shall we? In order of, not importance but of interest, and by that I mean, what will be the burning question on everyone’s mind as the season gets underway? The number one storyline this year has to be (drum roll please) will Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari deliver the goods? It was no secret and you won’t get much of a disagreement to say that at the beginning of last year Ferrari had the fastest car. In fact it was on form up until the summer break and then, it just wasn’t. Mistakes aside, and I’ll get to those, how far was Ferrari off the Merc’s pace in Monza and how far was Hamilton in front of the red cars in the season finale in Abu Dhabi? Enough said…
Can Ferrari develop a car that will be consistent throughout the season as opposed to a very fast car with the highs and lows that were a problem in the second half of 2017? This has to be solved if Ferrari are to take home any trophies. Furthermore, Ferrari need to make sure there is no repeat of the reliability issue that plagued them at the exact moment when they needed to be bulletproof. I will not dwell on this point, but in this day and age of F1, and now with only three PU’s per driver, lack of reliability really can have a truly devastating effect on a team and driver’s campaign. I hope for Ferrari’s and several other team’s sake this issue is sorted.
Lastly, you can’t speak about Ferrari’s complete meltdown without also mentioning Sebastian Vettel. Will he calm down and sustain a level of consistency that will be required to win a championship against Hamilton and Mercedes? One really has to admit that Vettel, while at times super fast and in a league of his own, made some gross driving errors last year and at times when the results where devastating. No need to re-hash them, but many pundits and fans I think saw Vettel in a different light and the simple fact of the matter is if you can’t contain your emotions and stay focused an F1 championship will be a checkered flag too far despite having the machinery to get there.
Story line number two is a two-parter. The first part has to do with Max Verstappen and the second part has to do with Renault. Lets take the second part first – will the Red Bull with Renault power provide Verstappen the chance to either win more races, be the spoiler between Hamilton and Vettel, or actually fight for the championship? There is no doubt that the RB chassis will be up to snuff, if not right out of the box shortly thereafter. So will Renault get some grunt and the all important qualy mods that are so critical on Saturday? I think the prevailing feeling is they are just not there yet – that is mine anyways, so at this point the next question becomes how close can they get and can they take wins off Merc and Ferrari when possible and make their lives a bit more difficult? To that answer I say, yes most definitely.
The other part of this storyline is Max Verstappen, he is driving, if not a bit beyond the limit, extremely well and extremely fast. When his car was not parked on the side of the road he was outshining his teammate, Hamilton and Vettel, driving in a manner that harkens back to the Senna/Mansel/Piquet days and a bit later those of Schumacher – aggressive while both attacking and defending and that has been a bit of fresh air for both the casual and die-hard F1 fan. I for one love his driving and feel anytime he gets into the car the chances of something magical happening increase by a large percentage. (I think I have said that before but no shame in saying it again and again, it is true). Will Verstappen take his driving, win count and the Red Bull to the next level this year? I hope so. What do you think???
Moving right along. The next story line number is that of Liberty Media and their ever evolving approach to this great sport. I have read countless articles suggesting the honeymoon is over to use a worn out expression. They have now owned the rights to F1 for a season and a half and while there were some changes here and there I don’t think anyone on the outside looking in has any real idea where they are taking the sport aside from the fact that they want really develop it in the US market and the Disney blueprint is surely to figure into that somehow which means promoting the family angle a bit more. You could argue this could be the reason the grid girls got their pink slips as opposed to the climate here in the States in regards to the #metoo movement, or maybe they want to appeal to the youth of America and what better way to do that then get the kiddos involved?
I just read that F1 will have top drivers a la the Hamilton-Usain Bolt event taking fans around the the track on race weekend. That is great and I am all for it but similar to the over-the-top Vegas boxing style driver entrance in Austin (which I liked btw) and the aforementioned grid kids, these are all changes on the surface of F1. What does LM have in store for the true architecture going forward? That is the question that you and I are wanting to suss out.
We shall wait and see how the fans of F1 respond to these small tweaks and to an ever growing list of issues that Liberty Media and the teams will be working through as the year progresses, not least of which is the showdown with Ferrari and their historic clout and their premier manufacturer status.
Lastly I feel pretty confident that the other burning question on everyone’s mind (especially mine) is where will McLaren end up this year, with, as Negative Camber likes to say, a new “lump” in the back? If there is any true anticipation to the first day of testing it will not be for the Mercedes or Ferrari, or even Red Bull, more than likely all eyes will be on the newly liveried (rumors have the McLaren sporting the team’s original papaya orange color this year) MCL33 at the hands of Fernando Alonso.
This year’s car will be most likely be an evolution of last year’s chassis and as was reported, an emphasis on easy set-up and consistency throughout track configurations of the season will be the primary goal race to race. Translation: a chassis that will be a bit slower at some tracks however overall a faster chassis in general at every track.
I happen to believe that McLaren did have a chassis to challenge the top three last year, so this year with more horsepower we should see that translate to consistent top five’s and a few podiums with a doubt. What is in doubt is that bad bout of reliability that happened both to Red Bull and Torro Rosso and if McLaren are to have a chance at any step on the podium this has to be a concern. That being said, no matter what Renault brings to the table, reliability should be a vast improvement over last year.
I would be remiss to not have an Honorable Mentions category as well so here goes.
-Will Daniel Ricciardo let Verstappen outshine him again?
-Will Valterri Bottas drive well enough to hold his seat from Ricciardo?
-Is this Raikkonen’s last year, finally (and who is going to drive alongside Vettel) – I know I’m going to get blowback on this one.
-Will Lance Stroll improve enough to stay in F1?
-What is in store for Haas, are they the next Sauber?
-Ferrari quitting threats – who will blink first, Chase Carey or Sergio Marchionne (this really is the fifth story line of the year and we will surely get back to it).
And there you have it folks, not even one pot stir, well maybe there was a couple that I disguised. These are just my opinions and I welcome any and all points of view. Personally I think this year will be a true fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, and I think we are going to see some of the best racing that we have seen in a while. I am predicting that come the summer break there will be no clear favorite similar to 2010 and reliability notwithstanding, the championship will go down to the final race again for the umpteenth time in the umpteenth year…
What do you think with be the top story lines of 2018 and/or the most headline grabbing and do you agree or disagree with my predictions???