On the Saturday night of the Australian Grand Prix weekend a fortnight ago, following on from the first qualifying session of the new season, Chase Carey and other big names within the Formula 1 hierarchy could have been forgiven for relinquishing a sigh of disappointment. This is undoubtedly a sport crying out for a competitive constructors title race after the Mercedes team strolled so comprehensively to the last four titles, winning all four drivers championships in the process. But here they had just witnessed current world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes storming to pole position, leaving all other drivers in his wake, and the omens were looking gloomy for the salivating prospect of a “battle royale” between the reigning champions and their closest rivals Ferrari. Yet sport has a funny knack for throwing up surprising outcomes that virtually no pundits or fans could have envisaged. On the race day itself, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, starting from third on the grid, would outduel his adversary Hamilton to take the chequered flag and get “the prancing horse” off to the best possible start they could’ve imagined. It’s important not to forget, however, that there are still 20 races to come in this packed season and Hamilton and Mercedes remain firm favourites to retain their respective crowns. Vettel and Ferrari also enjoyed moments of magic last year that raised hopes among neutrals that they could seriously challenge for the title before ultimately fizzling out in the face of Mercedes’ superior consistency. If they can maintain this start though, then potentially we could be in for an unforgettable title race, the like of which will remind so many of just how thrilling a concept Formula 1 can be.
It may have seemed like just yesterday when Hamilton was crowned driver’s champion for a fourth time as the curtain fell on the 2017 championship in Abu Dhabi, yet here we are again, with 10 teams and 20 drivers having already commenced with a marathon season that will run throughout the next 7 months, finally concluding exactly a month before Christmas day. This year certainly promises to be bigger than ever, with the schedule boasting a record 21 races, which will certainly test the stamina of even the most experienced of drivers and engineers alike. Calendar changes from last year involve a welcome return to one of the spiritual heartlands of motorsport — France, which hasn’t hosted a race in 10 years — while the German Grand Prix is back after a hiatus in 2017. For the first time since 1998 however, the Malaysian Grand Prix is not on the schedule as the country’s Government opted against renewing its contract.
In contrast to recent years there was also fairly limited driver movement over the offseason. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, widely regarded as the three strongest constructors teams, all retained their driver lineup from last year, a move that would certainly aid driver familiarity for the more casual fans of the sport. One notable alteration to the cars has seen the introduction of the “halo concept” designed to deflect debris away from drivers and boost their safety in response to events such as the tragic death of Jules Bianchi in 2015 as a result of injuries sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The concept has gained mixed reviews so far however; with some complaining it inhibits the driver’s experience. Only time will tell if this was a worthwhile innovation. The new season also arrives at a crucial time for the future of Formula 1, with constructors such as Ferrari rumoured to be seriously considering ending their illustrious association with the championship as a result of their dissatisfaction with Liberty Media’s (the owners of the Formula 1 Group) future vision for the sport. On the eve of the season Mercedes’ executive director Toto Wolff conceded the formation of a breakaway championship was “realistic”. Hence, if ever there was a time for Formula 1 to capture the imagination of the sporting world with a truly compelling season, it would appear to be now.