Championship winner, drivers’?

Luke Smith: Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel may have run Hamilton close last year, and Red Bull may have shaped up as a greater threat towards the end of the season, but I can’t look past a fifth world title for the Briton.

Haydn Cobb: Lewis Hamilton. Hard to see past the reigning F1 world champion in his strive for five titles. Mercedes looks to have made a significant jump forward and unless Ferrari or Red Bull can have exceptional seasons and hope Hamilton’s hits some misfortune he’s going to be tough to catch. Oozed confidence at testing.

Lewis Larkam: Lewis Hamilton. Aside from one mistake in Brazil and a couple of ‘off weekends’ in Russia and Monaco, the Briton was stellar in 2017. Hamilton is arguably in the form of his career and at the peak of his powers - stopping him will not prove an easy feat. Title number five beckons. 

Championship winner, constructors’?

LS: Mercedes. It may be difficult to make any concrete conclusions from pre-season testing, but Mercedes looked to have a decent edge over the long runs. Valtteri Bottas will face pressure to keep his seat, but should be able to play his part in another constructors’ title win.

HC: Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas should be considered an F1 title contender but may lack the consistency of his teammate. Regardless, it will bolster the Mercedes points tally beyond anything Ferrari or Red Bull will be able to produce.

LL: Mercedes. While Mercedes hid its true pace over one lap in pre-season testing, the team’s race simulations looked particularly strong. If Mercedes has successfully ironed-out the ‘diva’ qualities that saw its 2017 car’s performance fluctuate, that has to be an ominous sign for rivals Ferrari and Red Bull.

Australian GP pole position and race winner?

LS: Some impressive short-run pace from Ferrari through testing leads me to tip Sebastian Vettel to take pole at Albert Park. But I still think Lewis Hamilton will have the edge come the race.

HC: I have a sneaking suspicion a repeat of 2017 could be possible which promoters must be praying for. Mercedes are yet to show their hand in qualifying but its superior pole position record in the V6 hybrid era looks unlikely to change things. Tyre strategies and the race should throw up some unknowns which could provide Ferrari (and Vettel) some opportunities to strike. The early weather forecast is mixed at best which could also shake things up. If Ferrari get it right, Vettel wins in Australia.

LL: Hard to look past Mercedes at this stage. Yes Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel made the one-lap headlines in pre-season, but when it comes down to it in Q3 I still think Mercedes will have the edge. I’m backing Lewis Hamilton to make the perfect start to his title defence with pole and victory in Melbourne. 

First retirement?

LS: Reliability was certainly an issue for McLaren through pre-season testing. I’ll tip Stoffel Vandoorne to be the first retiree in Melbourne.

HC: Testing woes point the finger at one of the McLaren pair for this unwanted record but given the unpredictability of the first race of the year it’s a tough one to be confident on. Assuming no unlucky DNS’s strike, perhaps an over-eagerness to impress from one of the new faces – Sergey Sirotkin at Williams.

LL: Following a number of issues during pre-season testing, I reckon Fernando Alonso’s bad luck will continue in Australia, though I expect McLaren to resolve its reliability gremlins as the season progresses. 

How will the rookies fare against their teammates? (Leclerc v Ericsson and Sirotkin v Stroll)

LS: I’m going to back both of the rookies to beat their more experience teammates during their debut F1 campaigns. Once Charles Leclerc gets over his early teething troubles in F1, he should lead Sauber’s charge. Sergey Sirotkin has arrived in F1 under a cloud after beating Robert Kubica to the seat, yet has been quick throughout his junior racing career. He should emerge as team leader over Stroll at Williams.

HC: The number of people backing Leclerc to beat Ericsson shows how highly-rated last year’s F2 champion is. Sauber might still be stuck at the back of the grid but ultimately Leclerc’s primary target will be beating his teammate which he should be capable of once he returns to circuits he’s familiar with from his junior category days. Sirotkin and Stroll will be an intriguing battle with both looking fairly well matched already which should see the Russian shade his teammate.

LL: I’m tipping Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc to score his first F1 points by the end of the season and beat Marcus Ericsson in the standings. Equally, I feel Sergey Sirotkin will spring a surprise to somewhat silence his doubters with a more consistent showing across the year than Lance Stroll, therefore pipping his younger teammate in Williams’ intra-team battle. 

McLaren-Renault or Toro Rosso-Honda?

LS: It feels like the entire paddock wants the Toro Rosso-Honda partnership to be a success, and it was certainly an impressive start in pre-season testing. The team may enjoy the early edge over McLaren, but the development war and vast budget McLaren can tap into should give it a comfortable buffer to its former engine partner’s new flame come the end of the season.

HC: With the Italian flair and passion of Toro Rosso supporting Honda’s F1 revival, it’ll be an intriguing and occasionally feisty fight between themselves and the new-look McLaren-Renault set-up. Toro Rosso could pull off some surprises – with particular focus at the slower, tight and twisty circuits – but as the season wears on McLaren with Alonso and Vandoorne should average more points per race. Ultimately, there will probably be more excitement in a war of words between the two parties.

LL: While Toro Rosso trumping McLaren would be quite the story, McLaren should boast stronger pace over both one lap and a race distance. Add to that a strong driver line-up consisting of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, coupled with far greater resources compared to STR, and I’m convinced that McLaren will usurp the Faenza squad in the standings over the course of the season. Toro Rosso may spring an early surprise or two.

Biggest shock of 2018? 

LS: People will stop moaning about the Halo after a couple of races. It’s here, deal with it.

HC: If disaster strikes at Williams, Robert Kubica could be called upon midway through the season to turnaround its waning form. Away from F1, Alonso’s new Toyota partnership will see the Japanese manufacturer secure its highly-sought Le Mans victory after years of heartbreak – but for the Spanish driver it will be the sister Toyota car that clinches the win.

LL: Nico Hulkenberg will finally end his long-awaited search for a podium. Watch this space…

Will McLaren-Renault win a race?

LS: Nope, but McLaren will return to the podium after a four-year absence. It’ll take a bit of luck and some typically impressive driving from Fernando Alonso, but it’ll be a much-needed result after some difficult years.

HC: Very unlikely given its pecking order placing from testing but I expect Alonso and McLaren to excel in Monaco, Hungary and Singapore. Podiums will be targeted there and if luck is on their side a whisper of a win could grow louder.

LL: While I’m certain McLaren will enjoy better fortunes in 2018, I cannot see the team claiming a race win, or even a podium for that matter.  

Who will come out on top in the midfield fight?

LS: I’ll go with Renault, just ahead of McLaren. Both have deep levels of resources to tap into that should put them in good stead for the development battle. A good start should give Renault the momentum to take P4 overall.

HC: Renault with McLaren and Force India pushing them mightily close. McLaren’s projection is only upward given its torrid past three years but developments may take time with its maiden year with Renault. Force India, powered by its Mercedes engine, should fare well again with Perez and Ocon but given its financial limitations compared to the other two the Silverstone-based squad may reach its optimum.

LL: Renault. Barring a gearbox issue on the final day of winter testing, the French manufacturer enjoyed a strong run in pre-season. The team looks to have made impressive gains over the winter, and with a significant pool of resources to tap into, I can see the exciting paring of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz steering Renault to a fourth place finish. There may even be the odd podium along the way to boot. 

Final constructors’ standings?

LS: 1. Mercedes 2. Ferrari 3. Red Bull 4. Renault 5. McLaren 6. Force India 7. Toro Rosso 8. Haas. 9. Williams 10. Sauber 

HC: 1. Mercedes 2. Ferrari 3. Red Bull 4. Renault 5. McLaren 6. Force India 7. Haas 8. Toro Rosso 9. Williams 10. Sauber

LL: 1. Mercedes. 2. Ferrari. 3. Red Bull. 4. Renault. 5. Force India. 6. McLaren. 7. Haas. 8. Toro Rosso. 9. Williams. 10. Sauber. 



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