Blink and you’ll miss it: the short-lived points battle for 9th

Despite having heard the news that (Racing Point) Force India’s points tally was to be reset to zero, I nonetheless did a double take when first confronted with the updated Constructors’ Championship standings. It might be a little sad to admit, but, while the Force India fan in me shook my head, the Williams fan in me got momentarily excited by the prospect of Williams being not-last for the first time in what felt like an age.

But could Williams hold on to the heady heights of 9th place? Only time would tell (rather quickly, as it turned out).

I would have thought that this surprise jump in the standings might have been a new source of motivation for Williams (except possibly for the presumably temporarily conflicted Lance Stroll, rumoured to be joining his father, Lawrence, at the pink team before the season is out). But, watching FP1, it all seemed to be business as usual, with relative anonymity from both drivers, with the exception of a spin from Sergey Sirotkin. Despite the odd moment when Stroll or Sirotkin leapt briefly up the timesheets, only to topple back down moments later, they ended the session in the now-familiar depths of 16th and 19th respectively. FP2 and FP3 were incident-free but similarly unimpressive for the team. Presumably there’s not much that motivation can do in such a terrible car.

Qualifying made clear that the points battle between Williams and Force India was likely to be over as soon as it began, with both Williams out in Q1, while the Force Indias achieved near-perfection, locking out the second row of the grid, with some excellent wet-weather laps.

Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
Sunday 26 August 2018.
Lance Stroll, Williams FW41, leads Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL33.
Photo: Andy Hone/Williams F1
ref: Digital Image _ONY2925

Come race day, towards the rear of the field Sirotkin and Stroll took advantage of the first lap carnage that collected Alonso, Hulkenberg and Leclerc, with Sirotkin finally completing a lap in a points-paying position, despite receiving a clattering from Bottas amidst the chaos. His race continued on a positive note as he overtook Ericsson shortly after the restart, with the two switching positions multiple times thereafter (none of which, sadly, was shown on screen).

While it was ultimately yet another pointless outing for Williams, their pace seemed a little better than in previous races. It was a particular shame that Sirotkin’s race went under the radar, with his Williams only appearing on screen again when falling victim to the faster-paced Carlos Sainz. As such, we missed out on some feisty driving from Sirotkin, who found himself in close on-track battles throughout the race.

Meanwhile, much further forward, the Force India drivers made the most of their advantageous starting positions, with Esteban Ocon getting an impressive but perhaps slightly over-ambitious start, narrowly missing out on a run for the lead. In usual Sergio Perez style, he immediately seized the opportunity to capitalise on Ocon’s misfortune, slotting neatly into third place behind Vettel and Hamilton. He shone again later, holding a resurgent Bottas off in the closing stages for longer than might reasonably be expected. The Pink Panthers finished the race a solidly impressive 5th and 6th on a day when more would have been impossible, a result that was a world away from the uncertainty surrounding the team as they went into the weekend, when at times it was unclear if they would even make it to the grid.

Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas at the Belgian 2018 GP. Image courtesy of Racing Point Force India

So, that of course brought an end to the short-lived points battle between Williams and Force India, with Perez and Ocon gaining 18 points between them, to put the team comfortably ahead of Williams with their miserable 4 point total.

But with Force India now just one point shy of Sauber, there’s another battle on the horizon for the next race. Will Monza see them climb another rung on the ladder? Once again, time will tell, but expect Sauber to put up a bit more of a fight.

F1 driver market: Who will twist after Mercedes sticks?

Last weekend’s German Grand Prix opened with the unsurprising news that Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas would be remaining with Mercedes for the next year and beyond.

Coming just before the summer break, Mercedes’ announcement is set to kick-start what has so far been a slow-building driver market for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo is expected to remain with Red Bull, while the current paddock word is that Ferrari will hand Kimi Räikkönen another year’s extension.

But with the top teams entering a holding pattern, what does that mean for any potential moves elsewhere on the grid?

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Force India, Renault now key to the midfield

With the grid’s top six seats filling up, all eyes are turning now to Force India, Renault and Esteban Ocon.

Despite Force India holding an option on Ocon’s services, Mercedes has been trying to place their young Frenchman at Renault next year to safeguard his career against the financial and legal troubles plaguing Force India. It’s unclear whether this switch will still go ahead now that Force India is no longer facing a winding up order, but the consensus is that it’s still on the cards at least.

If Ocon does make the move it will be at the expense of Carlos Sainz, even though the Spaniard will be free to commit to Renault long-term once Ricciardo blocks off the final Red Bull seat.

Force India could have another vacancy to fill, with Sergio Pérez on the shopping list for Haas. If there is a seat free at the Silverstone-based team, Lance Stroll will be at the front of the queue to take it with help from his father’s backing. Stroll is also said to be keen on bringing Robert Kubica with him from Williams, to act as his benchmark and mentor, should both Force India seats open up.

Andrew Hone / Williams F1

Williams and McLaren fall into place

With Stroll almost certain to switch to Force India, that leaves an opening at Williams. And despite that seat being arguably the least attractive on the 2019 grid, Williams does still have a few options to fill it.

The first is Kubica (if there’s no room for him at Force India), who would provide Williams with a relatively consistent lineup as they try to escape their downward spiral. Mercedes junior George Russell is also in the frame, and would bring with him a discount on the team’s power units to offset the loss of Williams’ Stroll and Martini funding. (Russell also has the added perk of being Williams’ first full-time British driver since Jenson Button in 2000.)

McLaren will also be keeping an interested eye on the Force India/ Renault situation as they look to finalise their 2019 lineup over the summer break. Fernando Alonso looks likely to stay with the team for another year at least now that their IndyCar talk has cooled, although Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren future is far less certain.

Early season reports had Lando Norris as sure to replace Vandoorne for next year, but a midseason F2 slump has put Norris’ F1 promotion into doubt for now. Sainz’s contractual limbo has moved him into play for the second McLaren seat, arguably the most competitive option open to him if he is forced out of Renault. Kubica has also been touted as an outside contender.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Few options for Red Bull and Ferrari juniors

The deadlock at the top of the grid means that there isn’t much upward movement available for the likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. The latter has been linked to Grosjean’s Haas seat lately, but there seems little sense in Ferrari switching Leclerc from one midfield team to another for the sake of it—given his trajectory, it would be better to see how Leclerc develops in a sophomore year at Sauber.

Leclerc staying put rules out a Ferrari-backed Sauber placement for Antonio Giovinazzi—with one of the Scuderia’s juniors already in the team, Sauber is more likely to either keep Marcus Ericsson for a fifth season or pick up Vandoorne from McLaren.

As for Red Bull’s academy team, the likelihood of seeing a brand new face replacing Brendon Hartley is slim. Red Bull may want F3 protege Dan Ticktum in the car, but his lack of superlicence points is an obstacle the FIA won’t be willing to overlook—so too is the case for Honda juniors Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino.

Featured image by Steve Etherington, courtesy of Mercedes AMG

F1 2018: British Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Looking at the results, you wouldn’t have thought much happened during the British Grand Prix, but some action at the start and a couple of safety car periods spiced the race up. The final race of the triple-header in Europe saw Sebastian Vettel take the win.

The 2018 Formula One British GP winners; (left to right)Lewis 2nd, Seb winner and Kimi 3rd. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel – 9

There were pre-race doubts about Vettel’s fitness – he had tape put on his neck after FP3 – but the adrenaline kicked in and his start was beautiful, waving concerns away. All the action happened behind him. The safety cars late on in the race put him behind on the track but a great dive-bomb up the inside of Bottas sealed the win. Great victory as we head towards Germany next! 

 

Lewis Hamilton – 9

The Brit got a tardy start which he would come to regret, even if he ended the race in a position where he lost minimal amounts of points. There were some very interesting comments from him afterwards suggesting that tactics from Ferrari were what resulted in him being taken out, bringing back memories of Mexico 2017. Hamilton was the last car on track at the end of lap one, but like a knife through butter he carved his way through the field. A disappointing start, but if you look from lap two onwards it was a great race for him.

 

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Raikkonen has finished on the podium at the last three races, but never on the top step. The Finn owned up to his coming-together with Hamilton, saying the incident at turn three was his fault and accepting the penalty handed to him. Team-mate Vettel stormed off into the distance, while Raikkonen couldn’t quite match Hamilton near the end of the race.

 

Valtteri Bottas – 8

The Mercedes team threw away the lead again today, deciding to keep Bottas out after the second safety car. Before that he was faster than Vettel, so on a level playing field Bottas could have beaten the German and taken the flag first. Much like in China and Baku, strategy from his team may have cost him the victory once again, even if it may have been tougher in Silverstone to remain in the lead. A great start made amends for a poor qualifying on Saturday, but he is clearly still playing second fiddle to Hamilton.

 

Daniel Ricciardo – 7

Silverstone turned out to be a track which highlighted the frailties of the Red Bull package. Roughly 80% of the track is spent at full throttle, and power isn’t exactly Red Bull’s strong point. Ricciardo was out qualified once again by Verstappen, with a DRS issue hampering his performance. He was great at defending against Raikkonen during the race but unfortunately the safety car came out at the wrong time for him, as he had already made a pit-stop two laps beforehand. The lack of speed along the straights prevented him from passing Bottas in the closing laps of the race.

 

Nico Hulkenburg – 8

Best of the rest and great haul of points for the German. Renault were the only team to use the hard tyre during the race, having worried about blistering on the other compounds, and the tactic worked brilliantly. Hulkenberg did supremely well to keep the pack behind him at the two safety car restarts.

 

Esteban Ocon – 7

Ocon is showing his worth a lot more this season compared to last, and provided a great result at for Force India at what is essentially the team’s home race, given that their factory is literally just over the road. Ocon made it through to the final part of qualifying, and kept the car in the top ten on Sunday. 

 

Fernando Alonso – 8

Alonso’s McLaren may lack pace on a Saturday but on a Sunday, in the hands of the Spaniard, it is one of the best in the midfield. He took advantage of the safety cars to pit for some fresh rubber, allowing him to get past Kevin Magnussen at the end. He may appear calm on the outside, but it isn’t hard to imagine that deep down all is still not well with the relationship between himself and McLaren.

Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 British GP. Image courtesy of Ferrari

Kevin Magnussen – 7

Hampered by the first lap accident with his team-mate, Magnussen did well to score points considering the clash inflicted some damage to his car, which restricted his speed. He was one of few drivers not to pit under the safety car which pushed him down the order late on, but he managed to hold on to salvage some points.

 

Sergio Perez – 6

Much like Hamilton, Perez saw the field drive past him after contact on the first lap spun him at turn one. He recovered well and found himself in contention for the last point, which was ultimately claimed by Pierre Gasly Chafter a collision between the two near the end of the race. After the race, though, Gasly was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident, meaning Perez inherited P10 and the one point that comes with it.

 

Stoffel Vandoorne – 4

It was a quiet weekend in general for Vandoorne. He was a whopping 0.9 seconds slower than Alonso on Saturday, and with others making the decision to start the race from the pit-lane it meant he was the last on the grid. He finished the race in 12th, meaning he now hasn’t scored since Baku. Lando Norris in currently second in Formula 2 and is hotly tipped for a drive in F1 next year. It could well be this seat that he takes.

 

Lance Stroll – 5

Williams are currently the worst car on the grid, and unfortunately nothing put that more on show than Sunday’s race. Prior to the first safety car they were the only team to have been lapped, and Stroll made a mistake in qualifying which ended up his car being beached in the gravel.

 

Pierre Gasly – 7

Gasly had a good Sunday and initially finished tenth, a welcome result given that Toro Rosso been having a tough time of it recently. The Frenchman collided with Perez with a few laps to go, and a harsh time penalty given to him after the race pushed him down the field. Silverstone was a track which showed Honda’s deficit to the other manufacturers, but there are still promising signs and it was a far better day for Gasly than the results suggested.

 

Sergey Sirotkin – 5

Sirotkin, along with his team-mate, started the race from the pits after taking on new parts. Like Stroll, Sirotkin also made a mistake in qualifying, but managed to keep the car going and set a lap, albeit one that turned out to be the slowest of the session. Seeing the Williams team run plum last is such a shame to see.

 

Max Verstappen – 7

Verstappen may have been classified as a finisher, but a brake-by-wire issue ended his day late into the race. Ever-hungry, he was running in a solid podium position, but with the deficit of his Renault power-unit he was a sitting duck at the restarts. His defending to Raikkonen was brilliant.

 

Carlos Sainz – 5

A poor performance for Sainz both on Saturday and Sunday. A less-than-par qualifying session put him in the thick of the action, and he collided with Romain Grosjean. A weekend to forget for the Spaniard.

 

Romain Grosjean – 5

Will Austria be seen as a peak in Grosjean’s season? Three collisions in one weekend isn’t good enough. The first occurred in practice, with the second being the cardinal sin of hitting his team mate on the first lap. The third, a tangling with Sainz at Copse, ended his race. Grosjean should have lifted off the throttle, but he kept his foot buried, causing instability and ultimately the collision.

 

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Ericsson’s DRS didn’t close as he approached turn one during the race and he crashed heavily, bringing out the first safety car. The crash rounded out an unfortunate weekend for the Swede, after England took his country out of the World Cup the day before. He did, however, have great pace during qualifying and got through to Q2.

 

Charles Leclerc – 8

An unfortunate error in the pits for Sauber resulted in Leclerc’s rear tyre not being fitted properly and the team telling him to stop the car. He had made another Q3 appearance on Saturday and had been running seventh at the time of the error, which meant the loss of a potentially big haul of points.

 

Brendan Hartley – N/A

You can’t really comment on what a horrible weekend the Kiwi has had. The suspension failure on Saturday pretty much ended his weekend. He didn’t see any track action in qualifying, and a last minute problem starting from the pit lane resulted in retirement after one lap. None of it whatsoever was his fault.

Ferrari Media

There is now a two-week break before we head to Hockenheim in Germany, a track that we see appear every so often on the calendar. Vettel won on Hamilton’s home turf this weekend, but can Hamilton strike back with victory in Germany? Vettel hasn’t got a record like Hamilton at his home track, and has only won in Germany once in his Red Bull days. The summer break looms and, for drivers such as Grosjean and Vandoorne, the pressure increases.

Monaco GP: Red Bull out in front on Thursday

Red Bull got their Monaco Grand Prix weekend off to a strong start by locking out the top two positions in both Thursday practice sessions.

Daniel Ricciardo finished marginally ahead of Max Verstappen in each session, and staked his claim as the driver to beat this weekend by lowering the circuit’s unofficial lap record to 1:11.841s in FP2.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG

On lap times alone, neither Mercedes nor Ferrari seemed to have an answer to the RB14 on Thursday. Championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were Red Bull’s closest challengers in FP1 and FP2 respectively, but despite their best efforts on the hypersoft tyres neither came any nearer to the pace than a 1:12.4s.

Last year’s Monaco poleman Kimi Räikkönen could get no higher than fifth fastest in either session, and at best was seven tenths off Ricciardo in FP2, while Valtteri Bottas was the slowest of the top teams’ drivers, finishing seventh in the morning and sixth in the afternoon.

Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull was particularly surprising, given the Scuderia’s control of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix and the expectations that they would be in front again this weekend.

However, this does come with the caveat that Ferrari rarely shows its hand on the opening day of practice, and is likely to turn up the performance of the SF71H on Saturday.

Jerry Andre/Williams F1

Thursday’s running gave a confusing picture of how the midfield teams will line up this weekend.

Force India and Williams were surprising stars in the morning session, with Sergio Pérez and Sergey Sirotkin ending FP1 in eighth and tenth respectively, while Esteban Ocon was just bumped to eleventh in the closing stages.

But in the afternoon, despite all four of their drivers improving on their earlier times, the two Mercedes customer teams were kept out of the top ten by Renault and McLaren.

And although that restored some normality to the midfield order, one team was conspicuously absent from the best-of-the-rest battle: Haas.

Haas F1 Media

Apart from a late charge to ninth for Romain Grosjean in FP1, Haas spent most of Thursday struggling to get off the bottom of the timesheets—in FP2, they were indistinguishable from the Williams’ and Saubers.

In their absence, Toro Rosso quietly impressed. Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly were regular features in the top ten throughout the day—especially during the more representative second session—even if they did get bumped down to a best finish of eleventh by the end of play.

The STR12 also looked like one of the most comfortable cars around the Monte Carlo circuit, and its performance in the opening practice sessions should put Toro Rosso in a good position to pick up some more points if anyone else is caught out in front.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

F1 testing: Raikkonen leads Alonso on final day

Kimi Räikkönen kept Ferrari on top for the final day of 2018 testing, leading by half a second from McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The Finn set his best time during the morning session, using hypersofts to post a 1:17.221s—just 0.039s slower than Sebastian Vettel’s record-breaking lap from Thursday.

Although Räikkönen’s focus turned to long runs in the afternoon as he notched up a total of 153 laps, his time was strong enough to remain fastest even as a flurry of hot laps came late in the session.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

Fernando Alonso made the most ground on the leaderboard during that period, setting a pair of hypersoft-shod 1:17s that brought him within 0.563s of the Ferrari in the final 15 minutes.

The Spaniard did briefly top the leaderboard following that run with a 1:16.720s, but this time came by cutting the final chicane and as such was deleted.

As well as rising to second-quickest, Alonso’s afternoon was also spent recovering from yet another interrupted morning. After teammate Vandoorne logged 151 laps on Thursday, Alonso’s final session with the MCL33 was halted after just seven laps this morning, when a turbo problem prompted a five-hour engine change.

However, once that was completed Alonso had no further issues on track and ended the day with a respectable 93 laps.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Alonso’s P2 was the first in a trio of Renault-powered cars to slot in behind Räikkönen, as the French marque continued to show signs of improvements in its power unit performance.

Carlos Sainz’s works Renault was three tenths down on the McLaren in third. Like Alonso, he too was making up for lost track time in the final hours, following a gearbox problem that halted his RS18 after just four installation laps in the morning.

Fourth was Daniel Ricciardo, who set a supersoft lap of 1:18.327s—only three tenths off the hypersoft lap that put the Australian on top of Tuesday’s session.

LAT Images/Haas F1 Media

Romain Grosjean was fifth, putting in another strong showing of speed for Haas with a 1:18.412s. The Frenchman also posted the most laps of the day at 191.

Valtteri Bottas—who set his best time on the medium tyre—was the highest-placed Mercedes in sixth. Once again, the Silver Arrows split its day between Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with the duo putting in a combined 201 laps on Friday to bring Mercedes’ testing total up to 1,040.

That’s 56 fewer than the team achieved during 2017 testing, but still leaves Mercedes comfortably top of this year’s mileage charts, setting 111 laps more than next-best Ferrari.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Slotting into third on the teams’ lap count was Toro Rosso-Honda, their total of 822 laps including the 156 logged by Brendon Hartley on Friday. The New Zealander was seventh-fastest in the end, one tenth down on Bottas and less than 0.020s quicker than Esteban Ocon’s Force India in eighth.

Charles Leclerc was ninth, and the first driver outside of the 1:18s. The reigning F2 champion’s final day was hampered when he span into the gravel trap in the morning—the delay limited Leclerc to 75 laps, the third-lowest total of the day.

Lewis Hamilton made a rare appearance towards the bottom of the leaderboard, as his 1:19.464s (good enough for fourth in the morning) tumbled down the order while his teammate drove the afternoon session.

The defending champion eventually settled in eleventh place, splitting the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll. During his morning in the FW41, Sirotkin recorded a century of laps to help Williams to fourth in overall testing mileage.

However, his teammate added only 27 laps of his own in the afternoon running, and with a best time of 1:19.954s Stroll made it the sixth time in eight days of testing that a Williams has been slowest.

Andrew Hone/Williams

F1 Season Preview: Make or Break

After 2017, there are several drivers and teams facing a critical 2018—one which could have serious implications for their future in F1. Here we’ll look at those who are under the most pressure for 2018, why they have to perform and the potential consequences if they don’t.

Valtteri Bottas

Wolfgang Wilhelm/Mercedes AMG F1

Replacing the out-going world champion with just three months to go until the start of the season was always going to be a challenge. However, the majority of the F1 paddock expected more from Bottas in 2017. While he seemed able to be around the pace of Hamilton in the first half of the season, his form soon deteriorated with Bottas being cast adrift by both Hamilton and Vettel.

As such, Bottas needs to deliver a stunning performance in 2018 to keep his seat for 2019. We’re not just talking about one race though—he needs to consistently be on the pace of Hamilton throughout the season, which is a hard ask for anyone.

If he doesn’t perform as Mercedes expect, either Ricciardo or Ocon will be quick to snap up his seat—leaving Bottas out of a top drive and potentially out of F1 altogether.

Kimi Raikkonen

Foto Studio Colombo/Ferrari Media

After years and years of the “will Raikkonen be retained” saga, it seems that Ferrari’s patience for the Finn is waning. Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne has stated that 2018 is Raikkonen’s last chance to rediscover his form—if he doesn’t, he will be replaced.

While he was once a world champion and still is a brilliant driver, Raikkonen’s consistency been missing since he returned to F1 in 2012, and even when he’s at the top of his game he’s still no match for Vettel. He’ll have to pull off a miracle to stand any chance at retaining his seat for 2019.

Should Raikkonen not miraculously rediscover his form, Ferrari have a long line of drivers knocking at their door. They’re unlikely to take Grosjean or Perez but instead either Ricciardo or their very promising youngster, Charles Leclerc. Whoever they chose, Ferrari aren’t short of talented replacements if Kimi isn’t up to scratch.

Sergio Perez

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Perez is generally considered to be a midfield driver in a midfield team. He’s undoubtedly talented, but seems to be lacking that extra something that would put him up with the champions. This became more apparent in 2017 when Ocon started consistently beating him throughout the second half of the season.

If, like everyone is anticipating, Ocon takes the next step in 2018, Perez will likely be left far behind and that could seriously compromise his 2019 options. He’s been holding out for a Ferrari drive since who knows when, but with every year that passes, that seems more and more unlikely—if Ferrari wanted him, they’d have taken him by now.

He should be able to keep his seat at Force India for 2019 with his only other serious option being Renault if Sainz were to be called up to Red Bull. Any progression up the grid looks unlikely for the now 28-year-old Mexican.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1 Media

The successes of 2016 with Haas have long been forgotten for Grosjean, and that supposed Ferrari promotion looks further away than ever. Over 2017, the Frenchman gained a reputation for moaning and was often beaten, quite comprehensively, by teammate Magnussen.

With decent performances becoming distance memories, Grosjean hasn’t been having the best of times of it lately. He needs to rediscover his consistency of the later Lotus years to keep his seat at Haas and remain in F1.

Admittedly, Haas don’t have that many options to replace Grosjean. Ferrari may push them into taking one of their junior drivers but really, Haas need experience and that is one thing Grosjean has going for him. Regardless of that, improvement is needed from the Frenchman in 2018.

Nico Hulkenberg

Renault Sport F1 Media

Hulkenberg has been the nearly-man of F1 for years. He holds the record for the most F1 races without a podium but you’ll struggle to find anyone who doubts his talents. With Renault on the rise, that podium could come in the next year or two. However Hulkenberg has a more pressing issue: Carlos Sainz.

The highly-regarded Red Bull junior driver switched to Renault in the closing races of the 2017 season, with Hulkenberg seeming to have the measure of Sainz. The German has to beat or at least strongly challenge Sainz if he’s to maintain his perceived ranking in the F1 paddock.

His F1 career isn’t on the line in 2018 as he has a long-term Renault deal in place. But he still needs to show that he can go up against Sainz to ensure his fundamental place at Renault in years to come.

Marcus Ericsson

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

If anyone’s career is on the line in 2018, its Ericsson’s. He controversially kept his Sauber seat, despite Ferrari pushing for Antonio Giovinazzi to get the drive, by virtue of having lots of money from his backers that are mysteriously linked to the team’s owners…

The funds cannot hide the fact that Ericsson hasn’t scored a point in F1 since 2015 while all his teammates have. With F2 champion Leclerc in the other seat for 2018, Ericsson is going to have to massively up his game if he’s to avoid getting shown up by the promising youngster.

Ferrari want Sauber to become their effective ‘B-team’, so Ericsson will likely lose his seat to one of the Ferrari juniors in 2019—and it will be hard for Ericsson to find a seat at another team, even with all his money.

Williams

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

The season hasn’t even started and Williams are already facing a lot of criticism for hiring Sergey Sirotkin over Robert Kubica, Daniil Kvyat and Pascal Wehrlein with Sirotkin being brandished a ‘pay driver’. This means that for 2018 Williams will have a 19-year old in his second season of F1 and a rookie who’s failed to produce any convincing results in years.

That already sounds like a recipe for disaster—and when you consider the highly competitive nature of the midfield, the outcome doesn’t look good for Williams.

Fifth in the championship isn’t going to happen with McLaren and Renault on the rise and most expect Williams to sink further down the standings. This could put them in danger of losing sponsorship and without a star driver, it’s hard to see who’s going to bring the results in. Maybe basing driver decisions on bank accounts rather than talent wasn’t such a good idea.

McLaren

Andy Hone/McLaren

For McLaren, 2018 will be a test of all that they have said over the last three seasons while they were with Honda. Throughout those years, McLaren claimed to have the best chassis so, on equal footing with Red Bull and Renault, that will be put to the test.

Their last win came in 2012 and last podium in 2014, if there was ever a time that McLaren needed to deliver, for the sake of all involved, it’s in 2018. Alonso may have signed a multi-year deal but he won’t hang around forever, he wants that third title but has interests elsewhere if that fails to materialise in the coming years.

If they’re not winning, or at least on the podium, in 2018 they probably won’t be until the engine regulation change in 2020. It’s paramount that they get the Renault transition right as they need to be frontrunners again—four winless seasons is four too many for a team like McLaren, they better not make it five.