With just 70 days left until the F1 season begins, there are many questions to be answered. Here are just a couple of questions and story lines heading into what promises to be a massively exciting and competitive season.
1. Can anyone stop Mercedes?
For a 4th year in succession, Mercedes claimed another Constructor title after battling with Ferrari throughout 2017. Mercedes in the end were able to beat Ferrari to the crown by 146 points. In the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas, Mercedes claimed 12 out of a possible 20 victories.
Although Ferrari seemed to have the overall better car, it was the implosion in the second half of the season were the title fight slipped through their fingers. Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne says he has no doubt that the Prancing Horse will again be fighting at the sharp end in 2018.
Another team who were impressive in the second half of the season claiming 2 victories and are eager for another constructors title is Red Bull. Shocking reliability at the start of the season effectively ended Red Bull’s title hopes very early on. Maybe a better start to this years campaign could end up in a 3 way title fight.
2. How far will McLaren climb with Renault
After 3 tough, disappointing and baffling years, McLaren ended their engine relationship with Honda and instead have signed with Renault for 2018.
Attempts with Mercedes and Ferrari fell flat with Renault the only engine provider left. McLaren believe it is a significant step forward over the Honda engine with estimations around of somewhere in the region of 45-60bhp. Combined with the McLaren chassis, which is believed to be if not one of the best on the grid, McLaren could be close to the top of the pecking order.
McLaren need decent results in 2018 having claimed just 30 points in 2017. Two time World Champion, Fernando Alonso, who has been with McLaren throughout the whole ordeal with Honda, has expressed his disappointment several times. Could the Spaniard taste the champagne for the first time since 2013 and will McLaren win for the first time since 2012?
3. Daniel or Max? Who will win the Red Bull battle
As seen as one of the best driver pairing on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen are both very highly rated drivers. The intra-team rivalry throughout 2017 was fierce with both drivers pushing each other to the limit.
Ricciardo was able to finish higher than Verstappen (5th vs 6th) in the Drivers Championship but it was Verstappen who claimed more wins (2 to 1) and was decisively the quicker of the two in qualifying. If Verstappen hadn’t had such poor reliability at the start of the season, how much closer would they been in the championship?
Looking towards 2018, this will be a very tense battle. Unlike Ricciardo, who is keeping his options open, Verstappen has signed a new Red Bull contract until the end of 2020. Place your bets, this will be a very tight battle.
4. Can Alfa Romeo and Leclerc lift Sauber up?
Once a solid mid-field team, Sauber has had a miserable two years accruing just seven points as they have struggled at the back of the grid.
But things look to be on the up. They have a new technical and commercial partnership with Alfa Romeo and have the latest spec Ferrari engines. By not having latest spec power-units hampered the team massively throughout 2017, just achieving 5 points.
Sauber have also signed F2 Superstar and Ferrari young driver Charles Leclerc alongside Marcus Ericsson for 2018. Leclerc, dominated the F2 championship in his rookie season and is one of motor racing’s brightest talents. With exciting prospects and deals, can Sauber return to the mid-field and challenge more often for points?
5. Can Nico Hulkenberg finally reach the podium?
The German driver has now started 135 races and has come so close to reaching the podium. In fact, Hulkenberg is now the only driver to have started 135 races and not to finish on the podium. The current Renault driver has finished 4th place 3 times during his F1 career so far.
Hulkenberg came close to finishing on the podium, and winning back in 2012 at the Brazilian GP. At the time, driving for Force India, Hulkenberg led for almost 30 laps before a mistake with Lewis Hamilton ended the German’s hopes.
Hulkenberg was also running inside the top 5 during the Azerbaijan GP last year but a lapse of concentration saw him catch the wall, breaking his suspension. Hulkenberg is running out of time and if the opportunity arises a long anticipated and well deserved podium could be on the cards.