Formula 1 is back with the 2018 campaign nearly upon us for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. 

Testing is over. Predictions have been made. But now it’s time for the racing to begin with Melbourne again acting as F1’s curtain raiser. 

Mercedes is aiming to secure a record-equalling fifth consecutive F1 constructors’ title, while 2017 protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel look set to renew their rivalry with the pair going head-to-head for a fifth drivers’ crown in what is being dubbed as the ‘fight for five’. 

With new drivers, a fresh title battle and the prospect of an incredibly tight midfield pack, there is plenty of anticipation heading into the first race of the season. 

Five things to look out for at Albert Park

New faces 

2018 welcomes two new rookie drivers to the F1 grid in the shape of new Sauber recruit Charles Leclerc and Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin. Both drivers will have plenty of eyes on them in Melbourne, with pressure on them for different reasons.

Ferrari protege Leclerc will be desperate to impress the Scuderia in his maiden F1 campaign, with the reigning Formula 2 champion surely eyeing up a potential seat with the Italian outfit in 2019 if Kimi Raikkonen does not continue with the team. 

Meanwhile fellow rookie Sirotkin will make his F1 race debut with Williams alongside Lance Stroll in 2018. The 22-year-old Russian beat popular Pole Robert Kubica to a race seat for the upcoming campaign and needs to perform to justify Williams’ inexperienced driver line-up and prevent the team slipping down F1’s pecking order. 

Tyres and strategy 

Testing saw some seriously fast lap times being set, as Vettel posted the quickest ever lap to be set around Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Pirelli’s new-for-2018 Hypersoft compound, a time almost two seconds quicker than Hamilton’s pole-position effort from last year. 

While Pirelli will not be bringing the Hypersoft to Australia, we could still see a drop in lap times around Albert Park, given that F1’s 2018 machines appear faster than their 2017 predecessors, with Mercedes technical chief James Allison claiming Mercedes’ W09 would “blow away” the team’s 2017 title winner. 

Pirelli has added two new compounds to its range in an attempt to move away from one-stop strategies and spice up the action, which will be another factor to watch out for in Melbourne. A number of drivers including Force India’s Sergio Perez have already suggested that a quick understanding of Pirelli’s 2018 tyres could lead to teams gaining advantages in the opening races of the season.

Halo race debut

We may have already seen Halo in F1 action - and perhaps even got used to it by now - but the controversial cockpit protection device will appear on F1 cars for the first time in race-trim this weekend. 

Most drivers have backed the device and reported no issues visibility-wise during testing, but it will be fascinating to see whether drivers have a different opinion once all 20 cars are sharing the tarmac at the same time. 

One concern highlighted over pre-season testing was whether Halo would obstruct a driver’s view of the start lights, though Valtteri Bottas does not believe it will prove to be an issue.

“We’ve done some testing examples inside the simulator where the halo is identical on many different circuits and it was no problem on any circuit for [seeing] the start lights,” Bottas explained. “You can always see them with one eye and that’s enough.”

Tight fight to lead the midfield

The battle for midfield supremacy promises to be one of the tightest in recent years. Renault, McLaren, Haas and Toro Rosso all looked to have made improvements in winter testing, which could lead to an intense scrap in the battle for ‘best of the rest’ behind F1’s leading three teams. 

Force India are the current occupiers of that position, though the Silverstone-backed squad was below-the-radar in testing with regards to both lap times and in the mileage charts. However, Force India is set to boosted by a big upgrade package for Melbourne, which should put the team firmly in the midfield equation. 

If testing performance was anything to go by, arguably Renault looks best placed to be leading the midfield pack, having enjoyed a strong pre-season test, while McLaren showed flashes of promising pace under Renault power, despite suffering number of niggling reliability gremlins. More shall be revealed in Australia. 

Mercedes ahead of the game?

Having completed the most mileage of any team (1040 laps) without any reliability concerns, Mercedes looks well-placed heading to Australia. The reigning world champions did not show its hand with Pirelli’s fastest tyre, after electing not to take the Hypersofts to testing, but the early signs from its long-run pace looks to paint an alarming picture for its rivals. 

Ferrari has already questioned Mercedes’ long run pace, particularly after the Brackley squad opted to conduct race simulations solely on the medium tyre. Despite topping the testing timesheets more often than any other team this year, Ferrari could face an added threat in the shape of Red Bull, with the quadruple world champions confident it is in a stronger position than at the beginning of 2017. 

The 2018 Australian Grand Prix is being shown LIVE on Sky Sports F1 (UK only).

Where can I watch it? (All times stated GMT)

Friday 23rd March:

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP FP1 – 01:00

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP FP2 – 05:00

Saturday 24th March:

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP FP3 – 03:00

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP Qualifying – 06:00

Sunday 25th March: 

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP Track Parade – 04:30

LIVE Sky Sports F1 Australian GP Race – 06:10

WHERE CAN I WATCH F1 IN 2018?

ALL F1 races, qualifying and practice sessions will be shown LIVE on Sky Sports F1 in the UK, with Channel 4 dual-broadcasting a selection of races LIVE on terrestrial television.

25 March Australian Grand Prix

8 April Bahrain Grand Prix

15 April Chinese Grand Prix

29 April Azerbaijan Grand Prix

13 May Spanish Grand Prix

27 May Monaco Grand Prix

10 June Canadian Grand Prix

24 June French Grand Prix

1 July Austrian Grand Prix

8 July British Grand Prix

22 July German Grand Prix

29 July Hungarian Grand Prix

26 August Belgian Grand Prix 

2 September Italian Grand Prix

16 September Singapore Grand Prix

30 September Russian Grand Prix 

7 October Japanese Grand Prix

21 October United States Grand Prix

28 October Mexican Grand Prix

11 November Brazilian Grand Prix

25 November Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Recent Australian GP race winners: 

2017: Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

2016: Nico Rosberg Mercedes

2015: Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

2014: Nico Rosberg Mercedes

2013: Kimi Raikkonen Lotus

2012: Jenson Button McLaren

 

Comments

Loading Comments...