Happy days it’s March again. Time for Spring weather, longer evenings, March Madness, sundresses (can I still say that? Ok let’s call it shorts) and F1. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of March. For the true F1 fan, it’s a time for optimism and hope. Hope that the engineers of the contenders have got all their sums right and are busy at work producing a car that is worthy of fighting the silver cars from Brackley. Optimism that we are going to witness a fascinating 21 grand prix season with more plot twists and turns than a season of “Falcon Crest.” I’m not going to beat around the bush here, my gut feeling tells me that we are in for a burner of a year. I’m talking 1981 vintage, or maybe more appropriately, 1986, where we had Prost in the McLaren snatch the title in the last round from Mansell in the Williams while Nelson Piquet was only 3 points adrift in the sister Williams. And don’t forget the the 4th player that year, young Ayrton in the difficult Lotus-Renault, who managed to grab 8 poles, 6 podiums and 2 wins out of the 16 rounds that comprised the championship. Sound familiar? The buzzardly winds emanating out of Europe are speaking to me and I like what I’m hearing.
You may be asking why? Why am I so bullish on 2018, with these gently whispering hybrid motors, that dreaded dirty air, and the hideous halos bolted over the drivers heads? How can I make such a claim without even seeing true testing times due to rain and snow rendering Barcelona testing pointless to date? Bottom line, I’m betting big that Renault has made enough gains to allow Red Bull to fight Lewis and Seb from the green light in Melbourne all the way to the giant nightclub finale that is Yas Marina. I witnessed the beginnings of this perfect storm brewing from the grandstand in Texas last fall, where Lewis and Seb were dueling for the win while Max was coming from last to third, and I envision 2018 as the continuation of this battle. Remember, over the last 6 GP’s of 2017, Max and Lewis were level at 100pts each. There are so many factors that are contributing to this perfect convergence of competitiveness, with 3 transcendent drivers leading 3 legendary teams, that I can’t wait to get to Melbourne to see this play out.
THE BIG 3
It’s borderline crazy to publicly state that anyone will touch Mercedes in this turbo V-6 hybrid era, as Mercedes has racked up a remarkable 63 wins out of 79 races, but as we enter year 5 of this engine formula, it’s time for Ferrari and Renault to step up their game.
Mercedes- Everything’s in place for Merc to continue their winning ways. Lewis has nothing left to prove and is now driving for the record books and his love of competition. He’s chasing history with 29 more wins needed to tie the Great Michael Schumacher and seems to be relishing the opportunity to fight with Max and Vettel. Bottas is driving for his career and it will be fun to see which Bottas shows up this year? The 2017 car seemed to have a narrow set-up sweet spot that Lewis could drive around when necessary, but after a solid start, Valteri came back from summer break inexplicably a few tenths slower than Lewis and didn’t regain his form until Lewis had clinched the title. I advise Bottas to pay Nico a visit to learn which buttons need to pressed to get under Lewis’s skin.
Red Bull- As I mentioned above, if the Renault engine only gives away 2 tenths a lap to the Mercedes engine, then Adrian Newey’s chassis in the hands of Max and Ricciardo will be able to take the fight to Lewis. Max is signed long term with the team and is primed to take over the sport. He may already be the best in the business at wheel to wheel racing and both his qualifying and race pace is phenomenal. Ricciardo is driving for a contract and will be desperate to keep up with Max. He’s already been publicly lobbying for a seat at Mercedes so the interteam battle will be fascinating to watch. If he can step up into the Lewis, Seb, Max realm, then we will be in for a battle royal as Danny-Boy (or Rickey Rocket) is the most exciting overtaker in the game.
Ferrari- Seb won 5 races last year and led the championship through much of the summer, but then made a critical error in judgement at the start of the Singapore GP and was further let down by mechanical issues in Japan that derailed his hopes of a 5th title and glory for the Tifosi. It will be very interesting to see how Seb copes with Lewis and Max making life difficult for him. Seb seems to turn into a lunatic in a split second so his therapist may be the secret weapon that gets him back to the top. I’m envisioning the first 3 corners of last years Mexican GP becoming a theme in 2018. And then there’s Kimi. Kimi’s best days are now well behind him and he’s officially a Ferrari employee trying to score constructors points and help Seb win the crown. I hope he proves me wrong and we see the Kimi from Monaco last year on a regular basis, but I’m afraid that 2018 will be Kimi’s last in the sport.
The Next Three
Last year there was a pretty significant gap from the big three to the rest, my hope is this year a next three or B league scrum forms that is swarming 15-20 seconds down the road at the flag from the leaders and making for great tv.
McLaren- McLaren and Alonso, I officially welcome you back to sharper end of the F1 grid. My how we’ve missed you! I have a hard time seeing McLaren returning to their winning ways this year, but I can see Alonso playing the role of pest all season and grabbing a podium or two when the cards fall his way. My feeling is it was such a late switch to the Renault powerplant that they won’t truly be up to speed until next year, but we can count on Alonso constantly starting on row 3 or 4 and going for any and all gaps. Vandoorne had a really low key rookie campaign and has the great misfortune of being teamed with a teammate crusher, but he showed signs of pace and will now be on display for the world to see as he navigates the battles in this fierce Next Three pack. We need competition for Max in the future so let’s hope that he is a star in the making.
Renault- It’s time for Renault to stop making excuses for their lack of competitiveness as they have been building up over the past two seasons and start delivering. This is a factory team with huge resources and I’m sure the company board will start asking questions if they have nothing to show after 2018. In Hulkenberg and Sainz, they possess two drivers in their prime of their careers with much to prove. For Hulkenberg, it’s a trip to the podium! It’s hard to believe that Hulkenberg is the F1 record holder for the most GP’s without a podium. And for Sainz, he’ll be driving to reclaim his seat at Red Bull and another chance to take on Max. The brilliance of Carlos has been hidden a bit at Toro Rosso and he’s still prone to a foolish mistake 1-2 times per year at the start of a race, but beware of the Spaniard as he now has a legit top 8 car to work with. Here’s hoping for some epic Alonso-Sainz battles that spill over into the paddock and Spanish media. “Que estabas pensando idiota!?!?”
Force India- If intersquad battles are your thing, then look no further than Force India as the upstart Ocon looks to gain control of the team over the experienced Sergio Perez in his second full season. At one point last year after a scary coming together on the run down to Eau Rouge at Spa, Ocon tweeted:
Damage limitation today, we were having a good race until Perez tried to kill me 2 times! Anyway he didn’t manage to do so ending up P9!
Ok this might not have the significance of Senna driving Prost into the wall down the straight at Estoril in ‘88, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless. Perez is a consistent, rapid driver who is top notch at managing tires throughout a race, but Ocon seems to have that special something and is on my radar as a future champion. He is the property of Mercedes after all, so I could see him taking
over for a underperforming Bottas or a retiring Hamilton in the next 2 years. In Austin this past year he was on my buzzard radar all weekend and he passed everything that I’m looking for in a driver, including a dirt track moment in the mist where he kept his foot down and fought a massive 4 wheel drift for a few hundred yards. What is it about the French GP driver? Overall, I’m predicting that Force India’s run of 4th place constructor championship points finishes is under threat from McLaren and Renault.
What is one to do with the remaining four teams that compromise The Rest? It seems like a lot of money spent just for the honor of being an F1 backmarker. Miracles can happen though, as Sebastian Vettel demonstrated in the Toro Rosso by winning at Monzo in the wet in 2008. Or how can one forget Fisichella’s win in the wet in Brazil in 2003 in the lowly Jordan-Ford. Fisi’s next best finish that year was a 7th on his way to 12th in the championship, while Jordan finished 9th out of 10 teams. On paper the remaining four teams are all very professional racing outfits well stocked with brilliant engineers and talented drivers, but for various circumstances, are still chasing that elusive 1-2 seconds per lap necessary to be a real player. In other words, sadly, there isn’t an AGS or Andrea Moda to marvel at the incompetency.
Williams- It’s sad to see this iconic, historically great team fall into this category but F1 can be a cruel business. Williams start the year with two inexperienced young pay drivers in Stroll and Sirotkin attempting to extract the maximum out of Paddy Lowe’s first true design after a wildly successful spell at Mercedes. Winning seems to follow Paddy so keep your eye on this package, but we may be left wondering in the coming years just how good the FW41 really was. It’s just disappointing to see a team that has pitted Jones vs Reutemann, Piquet vs Mansell, Hill vs Villeneuve, running drivers with no chance whatsoever. I personally feel that they would have been much better off with an old man lineup of Massa and Kubica, or could have done something really cool like going after Felix Rosenqvist and Josef Newgarden. I think I know what Frank and Patrick Head would have done. In fact, any and all motorsport personnel decisions should be based on the question, well what would Frank and Patrick do?
Haas- For a team to start from scratch and achieve what Haas has in their first two years is nothing short of amazing, but as they embark on year three, I’m still seeing them resigned to the 8th placed constructor. Their partnership with Ferrari has been very beneficial in getting started and in Grosjean and Magnussen they have two drivers capable in getting after it. When Grosjean has a car to his liking he’s a top 10 talent, but his seemingly never ending frustration with the brakes supplied by both Brembo and Carbon Industrie have got to be sorted out immediately. With Magnussen, they have an uncomplicated second generation racer who has a heavy right foot and no problem telling a rival to, “suck my balls” on tv after a race. Let’s see how long Gene Haas is happy to spend billions just to be #8 in this ultra competitive environment.
Toro Rosso- Wouldn’t it be amazing if Honda got it right this year and propelled their little works team into the fight? That would be about par for Alonso as he’s usually in the wrong team at the wrong time. Honda was showing signs of real progress towards the end of last year and I found it very telling when Brendon Hartley stated that his ‘18 Toro-Honda has more power than the Renault powered car that he drove at the end of last year. But this is Scuderia Toro Rosso (formally Minardi) after all, so I expect that they will be relegated to keeping the Williams and Haas cars honest while the drivers fight each other to avoid the dreaded Franz Toast call into the office. Pink slips anyone? Gasly will have a lot of pressure because at 22 years old and the 2016 GP2 champ, his reputation will be at stake if he’s playing second fiddle to Hartley, who at 28 is a dinosaur by F1 rookie standards. Hartley, with years of factory Porsche WEC and F1 simulator work may be an excellent development driver, but it makes me ask the question: Has the Red Bull young driver pipeline gone dry?
Sauber- And last but not least, it looks like it will be Sauber yet again. However, with a new significant Alfa Romeo partnership and access to more Ferrari components, this team should be able to avoid getting lonely out there and set their targets on Toro and Haas. I’ll be very curious to see how Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc fares in his highly anticipated rookie campaign. He looked like a surefire next big thing in GP2 last season, but when I saw him drive in the damp FP1 in Texas, I wasn’t very impressed. He was tender footing around at the bottom of the time sheets and did nothing that says future world champ. Hopefully he proves me wrong. If he routs veteran teammate Marcus Ericcson and scores a handful of points then he very well may be in Kimi’s seat for 2019.
So after unloading that stream of consciousness, here are the official Bulseyeview picks for 2018:
- Hamilton – 7 wins
- Vettel – 5 Wins
- Verstappen – 5 wins
- Bottas – 2 wins
- Ricciardo – 2 wins
Enjoy the Show!