Pre-season testing for the 2018 F1 season gets underway at the Circuit de Cataluyna on 26th February. With less than a month to go, here are my top five things to look forward to in the coming season.
1 – Charles Leclerc
Runaway 2017 F2 champion Charles Leclerc will make his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix with the newly rebranded Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. The Monegasque driver has progressed rapidly through the junior formula and has emerged out the other side with a very impressive CV. He is the first driver since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009 to win the F2 championship, or GP2 as it was when Hulkenberg won, in his rookie year, and only the forth ever after the German, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg. Not bad company at all. Add to that a GP3 title, also won in his first year in the series, membership of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and a second place finish at the Macau Grand Prix in 2015, and it’s no wonder that Leclerc is widely tipped to be driving for Ferrari at some point in the near future, possibly as early as 2019 if and when Kimi Raikkonen retires.
2 – Final Year of Live Channel 4 Coverage
— Lee McKenzie (@LeeMcKenzieTV) November 27, 2016
From 2011 to 2015, the rights to F1 television coverage in the UK were jointly held by the Sky Sports and the BBC. The former aired all races live, while the latter broadcast only a few live, with the rest showed via highlights a few hours later. In 2016, Channel 4 took over the BBC’s part of the contract. That same year, it was announced that Sky Sports had signed a deal which will see it solely hold the rights to live F1 coverage from 2019 all the way through to 2024. The only exception is the British Grand Prix, which will continue to be available on a free-to-air channel as yet undisclosed. Despite the deal being made prior to Liberty Media’s takeover of the sport, Management Director Sean Bratches has said that Liberty Media plan to honour it. So it seems that 2018 may well be the last year of free-to-air live coverage in the UK for the foreseeable future.
3 – Return of the French Grand Prix
Having dropped off the calendar in 2008, the French Grand Prix will this year make its return. Magny-Cours was the last circuit to stage the event, but the 2018 race will be held at the Circuit Paul Ricard, also known as Le Castellet, in the south of the country. Several of the circuit’s corners have been modified to accommodate the increased cornering speeds of the new breed of F1 cars, whilst the organisers are also trying to improve the capacity of the access roads for fans travelling to and from the track. The race will take place on 24th June, as part of a triple-header with Silverstone and Hockenheim. With Renault, Romain Grosjean, and Esteban Ocon on the grid, the French fans will surely have a lot to cheer for.
4 – Introduction of the Halo
One of the most controversial debates in Formula 1 over recent years has been surrounding cockpit head protection. Despite large amounts of backlash from fans and from some of the teams and drivers, 2018 will be the first year that the halo will be used in F1, with F2 doing likewise and other junior formulas set to follow suit in the coming years. Click here to read more about it (shameless plug I know).
5 – McLaren and Renault Team Up
It’s safe to say it’s been a pretty miserable few years for McLaren. Their last podium came in 2014 when Kevin Magnussen finished second at the Australian Grand Prix, and their last win came courtesy of Jenson Button at the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, and their partnership with Honda was woefully underwhelming in the three years they were together. For many fans it was a case of good riddance when it was announced that for 2018 McLaren would revert to Renault power. Renault had its fair few reliability issues in 2017, not least in Mexico when, over the weekend, four out of the six Renault-powered cars had engine issues, but McLaren have said that they’re pleased with the early data being produced by the car and powertrain, and are cautiously optimistic about what the coming year could bring.