Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel re-takes the lead as Mercedes failed to deliver

This year, the Canadian grand prix had no surprises. It was a quiet Sunday evening for most of the drivers and especially for the top three.

Vettel’s flying lap on Saturday’s qualification session, was enough to give him the pole position and on Sunday, the German, lead the race for 70 consecutive laps. Bottas, who started second, had to defend his place, on the first lap from Max Verstappen.

The Dutch had a very good Q3 session on the previous day and managed to finish third and get a place on the podium in the Canadian Grand Prix. The only moment where he battled Bottas was at lights out, but the Finn defended very well his place and remained second.

Valtteri Bottas, finished second for the fourth time in seven races this season, he is the driver with the most second place finishes. The Finn, shows his skills this season and it won’t be long till he celebrates his first victory in 20018.

I have to admit that the race didn’t meet my expectations, but still some interesting conclusions can be made.

Ferrari dominated in a circuit which suits Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton won six times in ten attempts in Canada. The Silver Arrows won the last three Grand Prix in Montreal, but this time the team was not able to challenge Ferrari and Hamilton was struggling to stay close to Ricciardo for the fourth place. The British champion complained about the low power that the Mercedes’ engine delivered this week and lost the 14-point lead which he had in the drivers’ championship.

‘’There were lots of hesitations, engine dropping in power, so I thought the engine was going to blow.’’ Hamilton said.

Mercedes had to pit, Lewis, earlier that it was planned to remove some bodywork panels and reduce the engine temperature.

A very productive weekend for Renault, the yellows had the pleasure to see both drivers in the top-10 and they collected some crucial points for the team. Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz finished seventh and eighth respectively. Renault, is currently fourth in the constructors’ championship with 56 points, 16 points ahead of McLaren. The team, looks confident and they have a comfortable lead from McLaren, which is currently struggling to follow the pack.

Charles Leclerc, a young and ambitious driver, which many fans wanting him in Ferrari as soon as possible, finished once again in the points. The rookie driver from Monaco, is keep impressing us with his results. The sixth place in Baku, was not a firework, the Monegasque had to fight with Alonso for the tenth place in Canada. Fernando’s retirement allowed him to finish in the top-10 and score another point for Sauber, which has 12 in total and is ahead of Williams. Charles has 10 points in the championship so far and he is fourteenth, ahead of Vandoorne.

Williams, had another bad weekend. Last season, Stroll scored his first points in his home race, but this time the Canadian retired on the first lap, due to a collision with Brendon Hartley. His team-mate, finished seventeenth.

It was Sebastian Vettel’s 50th victory, a great achievement for the German driver.

There are still many races in the 2018 calendar, it is clear that the drivers’ championship will be a battle between Vettel and Hamilton, but Red Bull is a very capable team and will affect the final outcome of the year.

*Twitter @FP_Passion

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

Monaco GP preview: all to prove for rebounding Ferrari

The Monaco Grand Prix—jewel in the crown of the F1 calendar, and the sixth round of the 2018 season.

It’s been a topsy-turvy season so far. Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel had the early advantage, winning the first two races on the trot and taking a firm hold on qualifying. But in the last two rounds in Baku and Barcelona, they have been pegged back by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who now leads the drivers’ championship by 17 points over Vettel.

Ferrari Media

That deficit means Monaco is a must-win race for Vettel. With the next few rounds from Canada through to Germany likely to favour Mercedes, he’ll need to come away with maximum points from Monte Carlo if he is to keep the title from slipping away during the European season as it did last year.

But although Monaco is expected to be another Ferrari track as it was in 2017, Vettel cannot afford to be complacent this weekend. His lost victories in China and Azerbaijan are proof enough that even with the quicker car, nothing is assured.

Perhaps most importantly, Vettel will have to make sure he avoids any more “red mist” moments if events in the race do turn against him. A clumsy attempt to retake the lead, like the one Vettel launched at Valtteri Bottas in Baku, will be much more costly here in Monaco than settling for second.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

With Monaco typically not suiting Mercedes, Vettel’s strongest challenge for the win this weekend is expected to come from Red Bull. The RB14 was quick through the twisting final sector in Barcelona—generally a reliable indicator of Monaco pace—and Hamilton has tipped it rather than the Ferrari as his biggest concern on Sunday:

“If you look at Daniel Ricciardo [in Spain] he was much quicker in the last sector, and the last sector is all about downforce,” the championship leader said. “They’re going to be rapid in Monaco, and very hard to beat.”

If Red Bull is as fast around Monte Carlo as Hamilton fears, then Ricciardo is almost certainly going to be a contender for the win. The Australian’s four Red Bull starts in Monaco have so far yielded three podiums, as well as his infamous pole and near-win in 2016.

The same cannot be said of Max Verstappen, however. The Dutchman has a far-from-stellar record around Monte Carlo, finishing there for the first time only last year after crashing out in 2015 and ’16. Verstappen will need to conquer whatever Monaco issues have been holding him back in the past if he is to stay on Ricciardo’s level this weekend.

Steven Tee/McLaren

Fernando Alonso has been upbeat about returning to race at the principality after missing last year’s event for the Indy 500, and understandably so: Monte Carlo has always been a strong venue for McLaren, and became a trusty source of points during their troubled Honda years.

However, qualifying is key in Monaco and so far in 2018 that has been McLaren’s weakness. The team will need to replicate last year’s Saturday performance, which saw Jenson Button and Stoffel Vandoorne qualify in the top ten, or they may find themselves too far back to challenge for more than a handful of points.

Renault will likely be McLaren’s biggest rival this weekend. The Enstone team overtook McLaren for fourth in the constructors’ standings in Spain and has every chance of increasing that gap come Sunday—especially as Carlos Sainz has finished in the points in every race he’s contested around the Monte Carlo circuit, even dating back to his Formula Renault 3.5 days.

Haas should also be quick enough to pose a threat to both Renault and McLaren, given the mechanical pointers the VF-18 takes from last year’s race-winning Ferrari. But even if the American team qualifies well on Saturday, their race is set to be much harder as Romain Grosjean comes to Monaco weighed down with a three-place grid penalty for his first lap collision in Barcelona.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Outside of the three “Group B” teams, there are a few wildcards who might scrape into the points on Sunday.

Toro Rosso has perhaps the most realistic chance. The Red Bull junior team’s high-downforce designs have served them well around Monaco in recent years, with points finishes in every year since 2015, and the lack of emphasis on engine power will help Honda close up to those in front.

If Toro Rosso is competitive in Monaco, that will please Brendon Hartley enormously, with the Kiwi in need of a good performance as rumours about his future continue to swirl.

Also in the mix with Toro Rosso is Sauber. The C37 has been a surprise points-scorer this season, and with an on-form Charles Leclerc looking to impress on home soil it would be unwise to bet against Sauber adding to their 11 points total in Monte Carlo.

And then there’s Force India and Williams. With Monaco’s downforce demands not suiting either team’s 2018 aero designs, both will be hoping some traditional Monte Carlo madness can bring them into the lower reaches of the top ten.

Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

“We will be on tracks where we could be performing better” – Robert Kubica

Click here to read polish version

Robert Kubica – many fans were waiting for his comeback to F1. The winner of 2008 Canadian Grand Prix is the reserve & development driver for Williams. After qualifications of Azerbejian GP, the polish driver answered some questions asked by Julia Paradowska.

Julia Paradowska: The Chinese GP was much better for Williams than Bahrain and Australia. Do you think it’s possible to get their first points of the season for the team in the upcoming races?
Robert Kubica: Well, Formula 1 is a fantastic sport because it is changing very quickly. Of course we are beginning the season not where we expected. In the initial races we did face more issues than we had hoped so generally we are working on trying to improve areas where we face issues. We will be on tracks where we could be performing better. As I think all of the cars in the paddock have better tracks and worse tracks so there is time for our car. But this doesn’t exclude that generally we have to keep working and keep focusing on as we think we have an issue.

JP: How does a non-race week look for you as the reserve & development driver?
RK: For sure it is completely different to a race driver’s weekend. Nonetheless it’s still very exciting for me to be back in the paddock. Ok, it is a different role than I have been used to but still this gives me an opportunity to stay close in the team, stay close to the sport to which I have a lot of passion. It gives me the opportunity to see a Grand Prix weekend from a different perspective and a different point of view so it is a good opportunity for me. It isn’t easy to see and hear what I was racing but still as I said I am enjoying it and I am trying to help the team as much as I can.

World Copyright: Mark Sutton/Williams F1

JP: What’s your part in solving team problems?
RK: My part as a driver is to try to give the best feel as it is possible when I get to drive a car. As a part of my role I am doing a lot of simulation work so we are trying to improve our simulator, to improve our correlation between the simulator and reality. As part of our development, I am doing a part of our development programme which is involving me doing some internal technical meetings so as you can see I am a bit more than just a reserve driver and this is very nice from the team. I am really keen to play a part and also trying to help the team but also to learn from other people.

JP: Before the 2018 season there was much speculation about your comeback to F1. Did these rumours sometimes get you tired?
RK: Well, it is a part of the game and I think the media got very excited about the possibility for me to comeback as a race driver. I think everybody was trying to get their opinion around. I think this was the normal approach from the media. It looks like during November-December my name appeared and was quite popular and I think media had some speculations to talk so they used it.

World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1

JP: F1 is a sport that is constantly evolving, changing. What do you miss the most when compared to the beginning of your career?
RK: Driving, very simple and being younger. But on the other side I have much more experience so actually experience is helping a lot.
Generally, I think the sound was making F1 races very exciting which we are missing. It is easier for media commitments – in the past it wasn’t as easy, you were travelling to do interviews as well. The Season was running and we can do it (the interview) so there is always pros and negatives.

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 testing: Ricciardo breaks lap record; Renault nears 200 laps

Daniel Ricciardo lowered the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s unofficial lap record during Wednesday’s testing session, setting a time of 1:18.047s on the new hypersoft tyre.

The Australian’s lap was more than three tenths faster than the previous record set by Felipe Massa during testing in 2008, and nearly six tenths below last year’s fastest testing time, set by Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were close behind the Red Bull. Their best flying laps, both set on the ultrasoft tyre, were four and five tenths adrift of Ricciardo respectively, but still comfortably within the 1:18s.

These times came as teams focused on performance runs during the morning session, the result being that many of Wednesday’s laps were among the quickest of 2018 testing so far.

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Fourth fastest was Sebastian Vettel. The German was given an unexpected extra session on Wednesday morning as teammate Kimi Räikkönen was unwell, but opted to concentrate on long runs rather than challenge Red Bull and Mercedes on the hypersoft—however, he did manage to lap within a second of third-placed Bottas despite running on the soft compound tyre at the time.

Three tenths behind Vettel came Brendon Hartley and Fernando Alonso, both setting closely-matched 1:19.8s on the ultrasofts. Alonso had looked set to enjoy McLaren’s first trouble-free day of testing so far when he ran among the pacesetters during the morning and notched up 47 laps early on.

However, an oil leak before midday resulted in an engine change that cost Alonso over six hours of track time—the Spaniard was only able to fit in another 15 minutes of running at the end of the day, bringing his Wednesday lap count up to 57.

Steven Tee/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Carlos Sainz was seventh fastest, being the first driver above 1:20s and the only one of the day to set his time on the medium tyre.

Although Sainz’s best lap was ultimately two seconds off Ricciardo’s benchmark, he did contribute to Renault leading the way in terms of mileage on Wednesday. The Spaniard logged 88 rounds of the Barcelona track during his morning in the RS18, before teammate Nico Hülkenberg added a further 102 after lunch.

Their combined 190 laps puts Renault second so far in the number of testing laps completed per team, with 602 to Mercedes’s 658.

Renault Sport F1 Team

Romain Grosjean was eighth-fastest on a 1:20.237s. Haas ended the session with the second-lowest lap total when an oil leak on Grosjean’s car limited him to 78 laps across the day.

Räikkönen, who recovered to run in the afternoon, and Hülkenberg, were the lowest-placed manufacturer drivers in ninth and eleventh respectively, split by the Williams of Lance Stroll.

Force India, Sauber and Williams occupied the bottom spaces on the leaderboard with Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc and Sergey Sirotkin.

But although the three midfield teams were an average of three seconds off Red Bull’s pace, they were all much higher on the day’s lap charts. Leclerc’s 160 and Ocon’s 130 were beaten only by Ricciardo in terms of laps done by an individual driver, while Stroll and Sirotkin recorded 143 for Williams between them.

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

F1 testing: McLaren troubles continue into second week

McLaren suffered another day of limited mileage on Tuesday as F1 testing resumed in Barcelona, finishing the day bottom of the lap charts and with the second-slowest time.

After minor mechanical faults cost the team valuable track time last week, McLaren was left again on the back foot when Stoffel Vandoorne’s MCL33 broke down twice in the morning with a pair of battery failures shutting down his Renault engine.

And although McLaren seemed to resolve those issues in time for the afternoon, Vandoorne was not out for long before this session was also cut short—this time, owing to a hydraulics problem.

In total, Vandoorne completed just 38 laps across the whole of Tuesday, and finished last-but-one on the timesheets with a best of 1:21.946s.

Ferrari Media

While McLaren struggled, their rivals took advantage of the prime conditions in Barcelona to embark on the long run programmes traditionally seen in the second week.

Sebastian Vettel recorded the most individual mileage of the day with 171 laps, as well as ending the day fastest by two tenths from Valtteri Bottas.

However, Mercedes ran the furthest of any team on Tuesday, surpassing Ferrari by six laps by combining Bottas’s 86 laps in the morning with Lewis Hamilton’s afternoon total of 91.

Max Verstappen—who split Bottas and Hamilton to be third fastest—lost running in the final hour of the afternoon when his Red Bull stopped on track, but nevertheless logged 130 laps to be Vettel’s closest challenger.

Sauber, Renault and Williams also broached the 100-lap mark (the latter two teams splitting running between both of their drivers), while Haas and Force India came close with 96 and 93 laps respectively.

Sahara Force India F1 Team

In an unexpected turn, Toro Rosso and Honda endured the first difficult day of their new partnership on Tuesday. After accomplishing a respectable 53 laps in the morning session with Pierre Gasly at the wheel, an unknown issue kept the STR13 confined to the garage for most of the afternoon, with Gasly adding only a single lap to his total after lunch.

But despite those troubles, Gasly still managed to end the day fifth fastest and best of the rest with a 1:20.973s, putting the Frenchman less than six tenths off Vettel’s benchmark.

Kevin Magnussen was sixth and the last of Tuesday’s drivers to be within a second of the pace. He finished ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz, who were separated by just 0.023s despite setting their laps on different tyre compounds.

Sergey Sirotkin enjoyed more profitable running than his first week of F1 testing, and was the highest-placed Williams in ninth. Two tenths separated the Russian from Sergio Pérez in tenth and Marcus Ericsson—who notched up 120 laps for Sauber—in eleventh.

Lance Stroll was Tuesday’s slowest runner behind McLaren’s Vandoorne, even though his 1:22.937s was set on the hypersoft tyre. However, with the Canadian making it to 86 laps despite sharing his day with Sirotkin, it’s likely Stroll’s programme was focused more on distance than outright pace.

Andy Hone/Williams F1

F1 Season Preview: 5 things to watch

With the start of the F1 season nearly upon us, here are 5 things to watch out for in 2018.

McLaren-Renault

Glenn Dunbar/McLaren

After a dismal three-year marriage, McLaren-Honda finally divorced at the end of 2017 with McLaren going to Renault and Honda going to Toro Rosso.

Throughout the troubled times, McLaren claimed, time and time again, that they have one of the best chassis on the grid. So, with the Renault engine of the rise, McLaren’s word will be put to the test—can they challenge for podiums, wins or even the championship or will Alonso be left disappointed once more?

Alfa Romeo Sauber

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Following the fallout over the short-lived Sauber-Honda deal, the Swiss team strengthened their partnership with Ferrari by becoming their effective ‘B-team’.

This means that, along with up-to-date engines, Sauber will be responsible for looking after some of Ferrari’s junior drivers. For 2018, they’ll have reigning F2 champion Charles Leclerc as a full-time driver and 2016 GP2-runner up Antonio Giovinazzi as their third driver. Mercedes have already said that the alliance could be “dangerous for them” with the Germans hinting that they may follow suit in the coming years.

The ‘Halo’

Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG F1

Controversial as it is, we will see the halo raced for the first time in 2018. The FIA had to do something for this season as they had said a ‘frontal head protection device’ would be in place by 2018.

Some would say that it’s been rushed through the development process. Nevertheless, the FIA have allowed the teams some leeway with winglets and such like on the halo and the structure of it will be blended into the colour scheme of the car, so that it doesn’t stand out quite as much.

Softer tyres

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

Pirelli have admitted that they were too cautious with their tyre compounds in 2017, leading to widespread one-stop races and minimal degradation.

While they’re not going back to the days of super high-degradation tyres, the 2018 tyres will be softer. Along with the introduction of the Hyper-Soft, each compound will be a step softer; the Super-Soft will be like the old Ultra-Soft, the Soft will be like the old Super-Soft and so on. This should increase the variation in strategies, hopefully leading to more exciting and unpredictable racing.

The midfield

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

2017 involved an intense mid-field fight between Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas with the teams finishing within 10 points of each other.

A shake up is on the cards for 2018, however. The newly-powered McLaren and the works Renault team are both expected to rise above the rest of the midfield for fourth and fifth places in the championship which will make the midfield battle for sixth down to tenth. Force India should be as strong as ever and could give McLaren and Renault a run for their money while less is expected of Williams, given the standard of their drivers. The new Toro Rosso-Honda partnership has the potential to be very good, as does Alfa-Romeo Sauber, while Haas remains to be an unknown.

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.

Alonso to Williams: wishful thinking or winning combination?

When Formula One returned to action at the end of the summer break, it looked as though Ferrari’s decision to retain Kimi Räikkönen had brought silly season to an early close.

But during preparation for the Belgian Grand Prix, the driver market was given a second wind when rumours emerged that Williams had offered Fernando Alonso a seat for 2018.

Steven Tee/McLaren

At first glance, it seems like a sensational story—the final, erratic death throes of what’s been a rather damp silly season. The two parties just don’t seem in the slightest bit compatible. Alonso is hunting for his third world title; Williams is currently fighting to hold off Haas and Toro Rosso to fifth in the Constructors’.

Then there is the monetary aspect: while Williams is believed to have only the sixth largest budget of the ten teams, Alonso’s services come with a price tag in the tens of millions.

But on the other hand, there remain several details in the background of this story that suggest an Alonso-Williams tie-up would be a serious consideration for all involved.

Steven Tee/McLaren

For one thing, this is not your average silly season rumour, sparked out of nowhere and fanned into a frenzy overnight—it was first reported in the highly-respected German publication Auto Motor und Sport.

It also goes without saying that (financial questions notwithstanding) Williams would love to have Alonso driving next year’s FW41. In terms of base performance he would represent a marked upgrade on Felipe Massa, and as teammate to the maturing Lance Stroll, Alonso’s experience and ability would prove the ultimate benchmark—as Stoffel Vandoorne can no doubt attest.

Nor is that the only benefit to the team of signing a driver of Alonso’s calibre. When quizzed on the rumours by SkySports in Belgium, Williams’ technical director Paddy Lowe said: “You need great drivers and great cars to win races. With a greater driver in the team, everybody is motivated to work that bit harder for performance because they know it’s going to be exploited and deliver great results.”

Alonso is not a questionable rookie like Pastor Maldonado or Bruno Senna, nor is he a former winner seeing out his twilight years like Massa or Rubens Barrichello—he is a proven champion with both the ability and the drive to win again, whose presence at Williams would lend total credence to their ultimate goal of becoming title contenders once again.

Zak Mauger/LAT Images/Pirelli Media

But would Alonso even entertain an offer from Williams? If a credible shot at the 2018 title is not something Williams can provide him, what makes them any more attractive an option than joining Renault instead, or even remaining at McLaren?

At the very least, Alonso might be tempted into switching to Williams by nothing more than a desire to enjoy racing again. After three years of disappointment at McLaren-Honda, the prospect of driving a package with no horsepower deficit or reliability concerns to hold him back may prove all the enticement Alonso needs to make the move.

There’s also next year’s driver market to consider. With no championship seats available to him now, Alonso’s next best hope is that the final year on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes contract results in a vacancy at the Silver Arrows for 2019.

And if Alonso is planning on just “seeing out” the 2018 season until a better drive becomes available, he will find more freedom to do so at Williams than with McLaren or Renault—either by insisting on certain performance clauses in case the need for an early exit arises, or by negotiating to take a fraction of his usual superstar salary in return for an open one-year deal.

Steven Tee/McLaren

There is also the chance, however slim it might seem at present, that Williams will in fact be the team to join in 2018.

As well as commenting coyly on the merits of signing a “great driver”, Paddy Lowe also told Motorsport following the Belgian Grand Prix weekend that he was overseeing “substantial changes” to Williams’ design philosophy in the process of constructing next year’s FW41.

His words came at the same time as Felipe Massa criticised the team for falling behind in the 2017 development race—the assumption is that Williams is already calling a halt on this year’s programme to allow Lowe a headstart on designing a much more competitive 2018 challenger.

If that is the case, it would mark the next major step in Williams’ painstaking long-term plan to return to its former status as one of F1’s top teams. The first phase came in 2014, with the acquisition of Felipe Massa and a Mercedes engine supply, and a substantial increase in budget supported by new title sponsors Martini.

The result was the rapid FW36, which between Massa and Valtteri Bottas took more than four times the podiums than its predecessor did points finishes (not to mention pole position at the Austrian Grand Prix) and lifted Williams up from ninth to third in the Constructors’ standings.

Andrew Hone/Pirelli Media

Since then, Williams has enjoyed consistent running within the championship top five—its best string of Constructors’ results since its partnership with BMW in the early 2000s—and has created the perfect foundation from which to take its next great leap forward.

In Paddy Lowe, Williams has the talent capable of designing a race-winning FW41; in Martini, Lawrence Stroll and their past seasons’ results, they now have the money needed to make that design a reality.

None of that will be lost on Alonso, who has been on the grid long enough to know the signs of a team making genuine progress.

All that remains in doubt is whether Williams’ promises can sway him more than McLaren-Honda’s.