Sunday, February 25, 2018

Formula 1 Fires Up Monday

1st Place! (in a video game anyway)

Starting Monday February 26th, the Formula 1 teams will all be testing at the Circuit de Barcelona, so let's just go ahead and celebrate the start of the 2018 season! Heck, the MLB baseball teams are already playing Spring Training games, NASCAR has started, so why not F1 too!

The past week or so has given us the unveiling of 9 of the 10 team's cars, so we'll also get our first look at the Force India car on Monday too. Then for four days the teams have time to test their cars on track, swap out drivers and various parts to get a good baseline on their newly designed cars for this year. Guess what happens after the four days of testing? Well, there will be another four days of testing later in March too, and then the first race on March 25th

Here's a quick run-down of what we hope to find out from each of the teams in pre-season testing.

--The big question is who will win, which means "will Mercedes win for a 5th year in a row, or will we finally get someone else to win!" If Mercedes wins, it would likely be 4 time champ Lewis Hamilton, but just maybe Valtteri Bottas can get ahead of his team mate. 

--If Mercedes doesn't win, can Ferrari take their place, and improve on last year's close-but-no-cigar car that was competitive as long as the drivers weren't crashing. Hey why not, they have their own four time champ in Sebastian Vettel, as well as one time champ Kimi Raikkonen. Both these guys can do it, but they have to have a car that's on pace with Mercedes. I'm rooting for Ferrari, just in case there is any doubt!

--Could the Renault engines get a bit faster? If so, that will put Red Bull up with the top two teams, and might even let the Renault factory team and/or McLaren fight at the front of the pack. Hmmm, this would be the best thing since sliced bread, and possibly give us 5 teams fairly even and just maybe lots of great racing. That sounds more fun than the last 4 years of mostly Mercedes winning easily!

--Last year's 4th place team Force India has been on a roll for the last two years, but can they close the gap to be in the fight for race wins? I think they have the drivers with the experienced Checo Perez and no-longer-a-rookie Esteban Ocon. Like the Ferrari guys, these gentlemen need to avoid hitting each other (like last year). Not hitting your team mate is rule #1, so if they do that then we could make it the top 6 teams in the fight.

--Will the youngest pair of drivers give Williams better results? This is one of the longest racing teams in F1, but they seem to have fallen into the middle of the pack the last few years. The big news for 2018 is the retirement of veteran Felipe Massa and the rookie season of Sergei Sirotkin. Paired with 2nd year driver Lance Stroll, we might see Williams fall even farther in the standings, but on the positive side they will still have Mercedes power driving the wheels. Could go either way this year, but I'd have to guess that Williams drops a few places from last year's 5th. 

--The Renault factory team will likely be improved this year, thanks to the team being more established and that they've been busy expanding their work force and facilities. With drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz, they're likely to get the best out of the Renault engine, so if the chassis and aerodynamics and reliability are there, Renault could score a surprise podium finish this year. 

Easy to be the world champion on a computer game!

--Is there any way that the Toro Rosso team can avoid last place? This question has to be asked because the team will be switching to Honda power this year, and after three terrible campaigns powering McLaren, hopes for a reliable Honda engine are dim at best. While every other team seems to have a good reason to be positive, the Honda engines seems to be a dark cloud over the future of Toro Rosso. 

--Can the US based Haas team improve on 8th place in both of their first two seasons? Given all the other possible 2018 potential up and down the grid, this is going to be tough! While they've scored way above what most people thought possible for a brand new American team, now that they're heading into season three, I think the battle gets even tougher. With Grosjean and Magnussen returning, the drivers have a good shot at moving up IF the team can provide better reliability on the mechanical side. At a minimum, they need to score more points that in 2017. 

--Last year's 9th place (sounds  better than next-to-last) McLaren team is another big question mark. They have tons of room to improve on the upside, a new Renault engine deal, and they return both drivers, two time driver champ Fernando Alonso and youngster Stoffel Vandoorne, so like the Renault team, I think that McLaren just might be fighting for podiums this year. That would be a great thing to see, and as an Alonso fan, I'd be more than happy to see him fighting at the front of the pack instead of retiring with engine issues like the last three years!

--Swiss based Sauber should have a HUGE improvement this year, since they will be powered by the latest Ferrari engines, which has to give them a big boost. Last year they were using year old Ferrari power, so the real question is, will Sauber's improvement move them out of LAST place, or will the other teams improve an equal amount and keep Sauber down? Another thing that may not make them faster, but make them cooler, is the new sponsorship from Alfa Romeo, so we'll be cheering for the Alfa Romeo Sauber team no matter what!

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