F1 in 2018: What to look out for and the new season talking points
Can Mercedes make it five? How long before we stop noticing the Halo? Can McLaren make it back to the big time?
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 20/03/18 11:55am
Mercedes the history makers?
Mercedes still have a long way to travel before they match Ferrari's record of six consecutive Constructors' titles, set between 1999 and 2004, but the Silver Arrrows are already a long way down the road.
Another championship triumph in 2018 would be Mercedes' fifth in succession, eclipsing the four-title run Red Bull enjoyed at the turn of the decade.
Find out more about Sky Sports F1
Watch every race, qualifying and practice session live with Sky Sports F1 in 2018
But that fifth title may prove the hardest of all. Red Bull finished 2017 hot on their heels while Ferrari will be hell-bent on finishing the year as champions. As the clock ticks round to the tenth anniversary of their last F1 title triumph, the 2008 Constructors' Championship, the demand for success this year within Maranello will be at its most intense. Ferrari and Mercedes have become close friends off the track. On it, however, their rivalry in 2018 may never have been so fierce.
Sebastian v Lewis for fifth or Verstappen the First?
In 2017, Lewis Hamilton v Sebastian Vettel was the story of the season. In 2018, their anticipated rematch will go forth with extra resonance - the Australian GP on March 25 will make F1 history as the first season-opener to feature a pair of four-time world champions.
But tempting though it is to bill 2018 as another likely slugfest between Lewis and Sebastian, there are no guarantees it will turn out that way. If he starts where he left off in November, Abu Dhabi victor Valtteri Bottas is certainly a possible contender. So too are Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. What F1 would give for either of them to join the title party.
Rematch or not, F1's 2018 game of thrones has epic potential.
New voices and new start times
The times are indeed changing as F1's ongoing mini-revolution continues.
Races will commence at 10 minutes past the hour while the hour itself will also change for all the European events - as well as the Brazilian GP - with the start time pushed back by a further 60 minutes. Goodbye 1pm in mid-summer, hello 2.10pm.
Sky F1's Australian GP schedule
Set those alarms! When, where and how to follow the first race weekend of 2018 live only on Sky Sports F1
The French GP, meanwhile, will be made to wait for its return just a little bit longer. After a 10-year absence, France's comeback has been delayed by another two hours in order not to clash with England v Panama in football's World Cup.
F1 really is moving with the times.
Fireworks in the paddock
For F1's new owners, Liberty Media, that infamous sporting phenomenon 'the difficult second season' may be fast approaching. As McLaren boss Zak Brown put it in January, "the honeymoon period is over" and 2018 is likely to see "public fireworks" as contracts are renewed, budgets are scrutinised and the rules are recast.
It could be quite a spectacle. Ferrari have already set off an ear-jarring firework by repeating quit threat after quit threat unless Liberty Media rethink their plans for 2021 and beyond.
Many in the paddock believe Ferrari are bluffing. And they probably are. But can Liberty risk the unthinkable?
McLaren back among the big boys?
Well they have to be, don't they? Anything less than a top-five finish in the Constructors' Championship for the fallen superpowers would be a grievous blow to their reputation without the buffer of the Honda blame-game in 2018.
Armed with Renault engines which Red Bull used to race-winning effect last year, anything less than regular podiums for McLaren this season would surely constitute grievous failure - and arguably inflict more damage on the team's reputation than was suffered during the Honda era despite its abject misery.
Fernando Alonso's third-fastest time in testing hinted at intriguing potential, but the five breakdowns indicate early teething problems. Can the 20-time champions deliver?
F1 2018: How to watch on Sky F1
On TV, Online, On Demand and on the go...all the ways you can watch every Formula 1 race weekend on Sky Sports F1 this year.
Grid kids rather than grid girls
You may have heard something about this. From this season onwards, F1 will no longer use grid girls, a decision which returned F1 to the front pages in deepest midwinter and gave the sport more publicity than even the wildest on-track controversy tends to generate.
The big winners, though, will be the kids - or at least the 'grid kids' who will line up alongside 20 of the best drivers in the world ahead of every race this season. That can't be bad.
The unsaintly halo
The 2018 cars haven't changed much from their 2017 predecessors. Well, they haven't if you can drag your eyes away from the ungainly halo device which will be attached to the cockpit of every car this year.
Nobody is denying the halo is a function of safety rather than a triumph of aesthetics. Or that it is almost-universally disliked by the fans.
But the question to be asked through 2018 is just how long the halo will continue to be talked about - and just how long it will be before it's possible to look at an F1 car without noticing there's an unsaintly halo bolted on. Give it two or three races and your vision of F1 may already have moved on.
A big decision from Daniel Ricciardo
While Hamilton is expected to commit to Mercedes imminently and Vettel and Verstappen have stuck their future colours to their existing masts by signing long-term extensions with Ferrari and Red Bull respectively, Ricciardo starts 2018 as an outlier among the elite.
The ever-grinning Australian is out of contract with Red Bull at the end of the season and displaying no inclination to agreeing a new deal.
That may change if Red Bull are quickly out of the blocks in 2018 but, for now at least, Ricciardo's current reluctance to follow Verstappen in committing his future to the team seems telling. Red Bull have set a deadline for the 28-year-old to make up his mind, but a move to Mercedes for 2019 seems Ricciardo's likeliest alternative. We'll see. Either way, F1's smiling assassin could be key to the transfer market over the next 12 months.
The year of youth
In 2018, F1 is turning to youth. When the new season commences, there will be nine drivers aged 25 or younger: Esteban Ocon (21), Stoffel Vandoorne (25), Max Verstappen (20), Carlos Sainz (23), Pierre Gasly (21),
Lance Stroll (19), Kevin Magnussen (25), Sergey Sirotkin (22) and Charles Leclerc (20).
F1's youthful flavour will be found at eight of the ten teams (interesting, isn't it, that it's Ferrari and Mercedes who are the exceptions to the rule), and all-but covers half the grid. Quite how this turn to youth manifests itself during 2018 - more on-track aggression? More crashes? Or more old-head-on-young-shoulders efficiency? - will be one of the fascinations of the year.
Conversely, the season will start with just six 30-plus drivers. Lewis Hamilton? He'll start 2018 as the third-oldest driver on the grid and, given the uncertainty attached to the futures of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, with a decent shout of being the oldest of all in 2019. Now there's a thought.
Honda's year of exposure
And 2018 will also be the year when we learn whether it was really the Honda engine which held McLaren back over the last three years - and, if it did, to what extent.
While 2018 will reveal all for both parties, Honda have made a promising start to life with Toro Rosso - finishing testing with the seventh fastest time and completing the third most amount of laps - and there are whispers that Red Bull are monitoring their junior team's progress closely. Could Honda really jump from McLaren to Red Bull by 2019?
Either way, this season could be the Japanese firm's most important since returning to F1.
How to follow the Australian GP on Sky F1
|Friday March 23||Sky F1 digital live blog||1am: P1 LIVE! (Build-up 12.30am)||5am: P2 LIVE! (Build-up 4.45am)|
|Saturday March 24||Sky F1 digital live blog||3am: P3 LIVE! (Build-up 2.45am)||6am: Qualifying LIVE (Build-up 5am)||7.40am: The F1 Show LIVE!|
|Sunday March 25||Sky F1 digital live blog||4.30am: Pit Lane LIVE||5.30am: On the Grid LIVE!||6.10am: The Australian GP LIVE!|
Sky Sports F1 is the only place to watch every Formula 1 Grand Prix, qualifying and practice session live in 2018. Get Sky Sports F1.
Comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click 'Report'.