The 2018 Formula One season could be one of the most important in the sport’s history. The Liberty Group face an unenviable task of not only promoting the sport to a newer, younger audience, but are also trying to retain their existing fan base, who in the past couple of seasons have struggled to gain access to the ever exclusive world of Formula One. Be it through expensive ticket prices, a move away from the traditional European circuits or by making fans pay exorbitant T.V. subscription rates, there is no denying that Formula One in its current state has not been in best of health for the past couple of years now.
That being said, the sport definitely has made a step in the right direction during 2017. New cars were the quickest in the sport’s history and the drivers themselves no longer had the luxury of relying on expert engineering to aid them through the races. Some of them even went to an extent where they labelled the cars as “difficult” to drive, something that has changed after years of them complaining about how easy it had become to drive them. Max Verstappen’s rise through the ranks has given the sport a breath of fresh air as his daring overtakes and raw talent only serve to bolster his credentials of becoming the sport’s next poster boy. Further Verstappen’s team mate, Daniel Ricciardo and current world champion, Lewis Hamilton, bring an off beat personality to the proceedings with their antics on the podium (shooey anyone?) and Snapchat, while stalwarts such as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen became more and more popular in the modern “meme” culture.
2017 also saw a deal struck between Sauber and Alfa Romeo. This move is sure to strike the right chord with the sport’s purists, as it resonates a brand name that is arguably as synonymous as that of Ferrari in both racing heritage as well as nostalgia. However despite all the aforementioned points, the single biggest reason for 2017 being classified as one of Formula One’s better years would be the reemergence of Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel who were genuine title contenders during the year, albeit until that infamous first corner incident at the Singapore Grand Prix. One of the easiest ways to make 2018 a vintage year would be to see round 2 between Hamilton and Vettel, however for that to happen we first need…
1. Ferrari to mount a serious title challenge:
There can be no denying the fact that Ferrari is very important to Formula One. They are the championship’s oldest team and even the current payment structure highlights their importance with Ferrari being granted a large amount (estimated close to $60 million) of the sport’s revenue just for agreeing to compete in the championship. The “Tifosi” are some of the most passionate fans in Formula One and when you add Ferrari’s history as well their success to the mix it is only natural that the team’s success is directly linked with viewership, numbers don’t lie, fans want Ferrari to do well.
2. Mercedes have to be challenged:
For the past 4 years Mercedes have done the double of securing both the driver’s as well as constructor’s championships. The last team to experience this level of success was Red Bull who between 2010-2013 dominated the sport leading fans to tune out after the race start. Though the intra-team battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton did add a level of edginess to the sport, Rosberg’s subsequent retirement at the end of 2016 ended that particular sub-plot. Valteri Bottas is no doubt a capable racing driver however it remains to be seen if he can get to the level required to beat Hamilton. To go back to the earlier point, it would be better for the sport as a whole if instead of witnessing an intra-team tussle we got to see two drivers from two different teams fighting for the championship especially if one of those drivers drives a car that is red.
3. How quick will Red Bull Racing be?
There is definitely a case to made in saying that Red Bull has the grid’s most talented line-up. Both their drivers have been earmarked as future world champions and both are proven race winners in what has been relatively inferior equipment when compared with what the Mercedes drivers have had these past few years. Also after tumultuous couple of seasons with their engine supplier Renault, things seemed to have settled down with progress being made during the past year. Based on the whispers coming out of pre-season testing, Red Bull seem to have leapfrogged Ferrari as the second best team on the grid. However with Renault now having their own factory team in Formula One, one does wonder if Red Bull needs a new engine partner in order to up their game and truly pose a challenge to Mercedes.
Max Verstappen’s Masterclass at the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix
4. All eyes on Torro-Rosso and Honda:
After ending their relationship with McLaren in what can only be described as a nightmare, the Honda engine has found a new home at the back of the Torro Rosso. The Honda power unit has so far displayed remarkable reliability and both parties seem happy at the initial stages. With Red Bull having the luxury of using Torro Rosso to gain valuable data while evaluating the prospect of having Honda as an engine partner, there is no reason why we couldn’t potentially be looking at a Honda powered Red Bull in 2019.
5. What about McLaren?
Though McLaren faced a barrage of reliability issues during the winter tests, it would be foolish to write them off. The past few years have been some of the worst in the team’s history and after a messy divorce from Honda, 2018 becomes a crucial year for a team that was once synonymous with winning. In Fernando Alonso they have one of the sport’s most accomplished drivers though he has now gone 4 years without a win and enters his 12th season since his last world championship. One has to wonder how much longer he will persist in uncompetitive machinery and his forays into the Indy 500 and WEC this year indicate that he might start looking at a career outside of F1. Alonso’s situation just goes to highlight the importance of being in the right place at the right time especially in Formula 1. Coming back to the team, though their partnership with Renault has gotten off on the wrong foot one only has to look at the reliability of the Red Bull and the Renault factory team as well as their performance to know that they have reasonably capable engine this year. You get the feeling that McLaren are heading in the right direction, if they can challenge for wins and podiums however is a different question altogether.
Much like McLaren, 2018 is a crucial year for Formula One. Though it is still considered the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula E is starting to pose a serious, if not big enough threat to that moniker, as manufactures and consumers become ever more conscious of the environment, electric racing will only continue to gain traction. In order for Formula One to stay relevant through the next decade and beyond the sport must look beyond the legacy left behind by Bernie Ecclestone and the Liberty Group must focus their energy on making the package more interesting to both fans and manufacturers alike. Cover image source.