Contenders all set: Melbourne’s F1 ready to roar

By PARTH SONECHA 

With the first race of the 2018 Formula One championship to be held in Melbourne this weekend, teams are gearing up for what will be another exciting and fun-filled season full of surprises.

The second round of testing is over, and we’ve now seen every car on the track, so we have a rough picture of how the field will pan out this season. 

With the Malaysian Grand Prix no longer part of the calendar, the 2018 F1 season will boast 21 races with the return of championship races in France and Germany.

The testing on the new circuit in Barcelona was the world’s first chance to get a look at this season’s playing field.  Now that the pre-season tests have finished, teams are crunching numbers, working out how competitive they are and what they can do to be even faster.

Testing doesn’t reflect a typical weekend of racing, as each team works through different programs and settings, but we can still hazard a guess about the strengths and weaknesses of each group.

THE CONTENDERS

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton during the F1 test this month.

Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas

The Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+ looks a lot like last year’s W08, apart from the addition of a Halo and the removal of the shark fin. It’s no secret that last year’s Mercedes F1 car was fast, but often considered a ‘diva’ when it came to specific tracks. The W08 proved troublesome to set up in the first half of 2017, but the 2018 car attempts to fix most of these problems. They have experimented with longer runs during pre-season, and despite not setting any of the fastest times, they should still be considered a force to be reckoned with.

Predicted finish: Top 2

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Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen testing the car in Barcelona this month.

Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen

The brand-new Ferrari SF71H  looks faster but only time will tell if they’ll be able to mount a serious challenge to Mercedes this season. Vettel and Raikkonen both had the fastest times during preseason but with Mercedes opting not to use the hypersofts that could be a false alarm. Looking for their first championship since 2007, the prancing horse will look to improve on reliability woes and poor decision-making that cost both Vettel and the Scuderia championships.

Predicted finish: Top 2

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Daniel Ricciardo driving the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing car during F1 Winter Testing in Spain this month.

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing – Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen

The addition of Aston Martin, which was announced towards the end of last season along with the new Renault engines, should help Red Bull compete again this season. They should be outsiders for either championship, but the consistency of Daniel Ricciardo gives them a shot at winning more than a couple of races this season. The RB14 is a minor upgrade on their previous cars, but acceleration exiting from the corners could come back to haunt Red Bull.

Predicted finish: Top 3

REST OF THE PACK

http://gty.im/929919452 – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne

The first car of the new McLaren-Renault partnership comes with high expectations because for the last few years McLaren has claimed to have an excellent chassis, but was let down by an underpowered Honda engine. With the Renault engine doing wonders at the back of the Red Bull for the last few seasons, the papaya-coloured McLaren will have to show some improvement this year. With Alonso and Vandoorne, they have a chance at finishing in the top six of the constructors’ championship, which would be a massive improvement.

Predicted finish: Top 6

Sahara Force India – Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez

The exciting pairing remains together at Force India for another season with Perez re-signing late last season. The pair has clashed multiple times, most notably at Spa and the Hungaroring, but better team management this year could see Force India grab the fourth spot again. An odd podium can and should be expected from Perez this season after nearly missing one in Spain last season as Force India will look to hold off Renault among others in the constructors’ championship.

Predicted finish: Top 6

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The F1 testing track in Spain this month.

Renault Sport – Nico Hulkenburg and Carlos Sainz Jr

Renault’s increased investment means that it is banking on its drivers to improve on last season’s performance. They could earn the odd podium this season after narrowly missing out on last season in Singapore. The two gutsy drivers, along with what seems to be a decent engine, should make Renault’s life more comfortable as they aim for the fifth spot in this season’s constructors’ trophy.

Predicted finish: Top 6

Williams Martini Racing – Lance Stroll and Sergei Sirotkin

New technical chief Paddy Lowe has designed a new Williams car with significant similarities to the Ferrari last season, which means reliability might plague their season this time around. Williams’ fastest lap was set by youngster Sirotkin, who in turn leapfrogged the returning Robert Kubica on the soft tyres but was still two seconds behind the lap record by Vettel’s Ferrari, suggesting there might be some problems with straight-line speed for the team this season.

Predicted finish: Bottom 4

Haas F1 – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen

Romain Grosjean’s thundering effort in Barcelona during pre-season might indicate that there is some hope for the team. They continue to use Ferrari’s resources, and with a chassis that is not so great, Hass might be in for a struggle this season as well. Look out for Kevin Magnussen and his consistent performances for the team as anything better than last season’s points tally of 47 will be an improvement for them.

Predicted finish: Bottom 4

Toro-Rosso Honda – Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley

Carlos Sainz’s departure to Renault and Daniil Kyvat’s exit from Red Bull means that Toro-Rosso will have two new drivers starting the season. After dreadful performances with the McLaren powered car, the move to the Honda engine will mark the start of a new era for both and Toro-Rosso. This could be a season of new beginnings for the Red Bull franchise, who will also look to adopt the Honda engines if all goes well.

Predicted finish: Bottom 4

Alfa Romeo Sauber: Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc

Ferrari junior Leclerc replaces Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber with Ericsson coming back for Sauber in what should be exciting times for them. Sauber finished last in last season’s constructor’s table with only five points, so this season should be an improvement for the team. Considering the massive Ferrari involvement in the group with the return of Alfa Romeo, don’t be surprised if Ericsson is replaced mid-season by Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi.

Predicted finish: Bottom 4