With testing complete, Formula One is set to come out of winter hibernation as we head Down Under to Melbourne.
Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton enter this season as reigning champions but Ferrari and Red Bull are looking to muscle their way in amongst the silverware.
Down the grid, there are two rookies, engine supplier changes and a tight midfield that is too close to call.
With so much unpredictability as to how this season will play out, get the full lowdown on everything you need to know in this mega preview.
|Team||Race driver||Race driver||Reserve/ Development|
|Mercedes||Lewis Hamilton||Valtteri Bottas||George Russell/ Pascal Wehrlein|
|Ferrari||Sebastian Vettel||Kimi Raikkonen||Antonio Giovinazzi|
|Red Bull||Max Verstappen||Daniel Ricciardo||Sebastian Buemi|
|Force India||Sergio Perez||Esteban Ocon||Nicholas Latifi|
|Williams||Lance Stroll||Sergey Sirotkin||Robert Kubica|
|Renault||Nico Hulkenberg||Carlos Sainz||Jack Aitken|
|Toro Rosso||Pierre Gasly||Brendon Hartley|
|Haas F1||Romain Grosjean||Kevin Magnussen||Santino Ferrucci/Arjun Maini|
|McLaren||Fernando Alonso||Stoffel Vandoorne||Lando Norris|
|Sauber||Charles Leclerc||Marcus Ericsson||Antonio Giovinazzi/Tatiana Calderon|
- 2017 FIA Formula Two champion, Charles Leclerc replaces Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber.
- Wehrlein is sharing Mercedes reserve duties with 2017 GP3 champion, George Russell.
- Jenson Button has left his role as McLaren reserve driver with fellow Briton, Lando Norris replacing him.
- Sergey Sirotkin has left Renault to join Williams, partnering Lance Stroll.
- Robert Kubica makes his F1 return after a long term injury recovery as reserve driver at Williams.
- Jack Aitken replaces Sirotkin as Renault’s reserve driver.
- Toro Rosso retain their new driver pairing of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley from last three races of 2017.
|1||Australia||Melbourne International Circuit||23-25 March|
|2||Bahrain||Bahrain International Circuit||6-8 April|
|3||China||Shanghai International Circuit||13-15 April|
|4||Azerbaijan||Baku City Circuit||27-29 April|
|5||Spain||Circuit de Catalunya||11-13 May|
|6||Monaco||Circuit de Monaco||24-27 May|
|7||Canada||Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve||8-10 June|
|8||France||Circuit Paul Ricard||22-24 June|
|9||Austria||Red Bull Ring||29 June – 1 July|
|13||Belgium||Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps||24-26 August|
|14||Italy||Autodromo Nazionale Monza||31 August-2 September|
|15||Singapore||Marina Bay Street Circuit||14-16 September|
|16||Russia||Sochi Autodrom||28-30 September|
|17||Japan||Suzuka International Racing Course||5-7 October|
|18||USA||Circuit of the Americas||19-21 October|
|19||Mexico||Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez||26-28 October|
|20||Brazil||Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace||9-11 November|
|21||Abu Dhabi||Yas Marina Circuit||23-25 November|
- This year sees the return of French and German Grands Prix, with the former forming the first race of F1’s first ever triple header.
- Azerbaijan Grand Prix this year has been brought forward to the last weekend in April, due to Baku’s centenary events being held in June.
- Russia moves back to its old Autumn slot but this time before Japan rather than after.
- Halo device is mandatory to protect drivers from flying debris and reduce danger in event of an accident.
- No trick suspensions which could alter aerodynamic performance over course of one lap.
- T wings and shark fins are banned
- Only three engines can be used throughout season per driver before penalties are applied if exceed that number.
- Any driver getting a 15 place grid penalty or more will start at the back. In event that more than one driver has to start at back due to power unit change, they will be arranged in order of when changed their power unit.
- There will now be seven dry tyre compounds with addition of hypersoft tyres meaning that there will be a broader availability at races than last year. The tyres will also be one step softer than last year.
Race weekend format:
- Races now will start at ten past the hour, in order for broadcasters who join at start of hour to do sufficient race build up.
- Many European races and Brazilian Grand Prix will commence 70 minutes later this year due to changing viewing patterns meaning that the audience reach is better later in afternoon. (2017 – 1:00pm GMT, 2018 & beyond – 2:10pm GMT)
- All practice and qualifying sessions will commence a hour later than did in 2017.
- Grid girls have been dropped and are being replaced with grid kids.
Can Ferrari and Red Bull mount a title challenge against Mercedes?
Ferrari and Red Bull have both had excellent pre seasons despite a chaotic first test, due to low temperatures and the ‘Beast from the East’.
Although only the teams know what their programmes and fuel level were, Ferrari looked imperious as it topped three of the four days in the second test.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo topped the other day and both teams look stronger in all areas compared to last year.
If look below at the best lap times set by each team, only McLaren has managed to split them despite their own issues.
|Red Bull||Daniel Ricciardo||1:18.047||Hypersofts|
|Toro Rosso||Pierre Gasly||1:18.363||Hypersofts|
|Force India||Esteban Ocon||1:18.967||Hypersofts|
Mercedes altered their driver in morning and afternoons for much of pre season so they could be hiding their cards till Melbourne.
The fact that the German outfit haven’t even tried the hypersofts only makes the picture unclear.
An interesting stat is that in the last four decades where year ends in a 8, there has been a new first time driver champion.
This will only serve to boost confidence at Red Bull that one of their drivers can take the crown away from Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
Either way, Ferrari and Red Bull definitely look well placed for a title challenge against the Silver Arrows, especially if the hypersofts work in their favour.
Will Force India continue their rise?
Force India enter this season as they look to continue their rise up the grid so will be ones to watch.
Pre season testing has been solid if unspectacular but the team are rumoured to be bringing plenty of upgrades to Melbourne, if a comment by Sergio Perez is anything to go by.
Speaking after his final day of pre season action, the Mexican said; “I am confident the upgrades we are bringing to Melbourne will help us.”
Esteban Ocon meanwhile was optimistic after his final test day, saying; “I think we have a good idea of where we are but the real confirmation will come in Melbourne.”
Does this mean that the Pink Panther has plenty of tricks up their sleeve that they are saving for once the season is underway?
Well we will have to wait and see how they fare in the opening few rounds.
Is McLaren set for fortune reversal with Renault power?
McLaren will be hoping for better times now that they swapped Honda for Renault power.
On low fuel runs, the car appears to be a threat towards the front runners but the pecking order isn’t clear yet for various reasons.
Pre season however has been quite difficult with unreliability still present whilst Toro Rosso ran solidly under Honda power.
Main issues concerned hydraulics and electric power but the very first day of testing saw Fernando Alonso lose his right rear wheel, after a wheel nut issue saw it detach itself.
Fernando Alonso meanwhile appears upbeat, speaking after his final day of testing.
Discussing whether the team are all set for Melbourne, Alonso said; “I think there’s more to come from the car in terms of performance and also of course with reliability.”
In summary, if McLaren can sort out their reliability crisis then they could have a good season otherwise expect them to fight Sauber at the back again in constructor championship.
Can Honda improve their power unit as partner to Toro Rosso?
Toro Rosso were the surprise package in pre season, managing 822 laps with a Honda power unit, which is more than what Red Bull and McLaren both managed amongst others.
The team used three engines in testing but there was only one touch of unreliability, which didn’t cause many problems other than lost track time.
Speaking after the final day of testing, Brendon Hartley believed that the car had exceeded expectations.
Believing that expectations had been more than matched, Hartley said: “I think we’ve shown a lot more than what people expected… which is great! It’s been a strong start to the partnership with Honda, so I think everyone’s really positive after these test days…”
If can get on top of that issue before heading to Australia, Toro Rosso could be potential surprises in midfield which will be a pleasing change for Honda after three miserable seasons at rear with McLaren.
Could tyre strategy be key?
Pirelli this year have gone a step softer than last year’s compounds with the addition of the hypersoft tyre.
This therefore means that seven different dry tyre compounds are available so could we see a wide selection of tyre choices per race?
Monaco, Canada and Singapore will definitely take the super, ultra and hyper soft tyres because of their track demands suiting those compounds.
For other races, there is a possibility that Pirelli could bring medium, soft and ultra soft compounds.
That would spice up the racing due to big performance gaps between the former two and ultra softs, therefore possibly forcing more pit stops.
It also opens up the race outcomes a bit because if the track temperature changes, it could favour one team over several others and especially how they warm the tyres up into the working range.
- We are bringing back our ‘Five Things F1 Learned’ series after a successful run last season. First edition will be available on Sunday morning post race.