Formula One Is Back.
In the early hours of tomorrow morning, Formula One will burst back into life as the 2019 season kicks off in earnest in Melbourne Park, Australia. The Australian Grand Prix allows us a first tantalising look at just where everybody is and gives the first indications of how the season could play out after months of extensive winter development.
It was just a matter of weeks ago now that the ten teams were releasing their 2019 challengers to the public. Expressing their ambitions to the worlds motorsport press, the offseason is a time of secretive development, the massaging of egos and the beginning of the mind games which all play a part in the world of competitive sport.
After years of Mercedes Benz dominance in the hybrid era with Britains Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, there’s a real sense of change in the Formula One paddock after 8 gruelling days of winter testing at Spains Circuit De Catalunya.
The clear victor of the winter testing war appears to be Ferrari after hitting the ground running in spectacular fashion whilst Mercedes appear to be off the pace. Traditionally preseason has been a Mercedes cakewalk as they run out of the box in a pacey and reliable manner. This year however in the wake of some major aerodynamic rule changes, the team from Brackley seem distant from the ultimate pace. How true this pace is remains to be seen as winter testing is notoriously hard to read. With a range of tyre compounds available, engine modes to take into account and the all important and mysterious fuel levels, it’s hard to get an accurate handle on the competitive order.
What does seem clear however is that the pack has closed up. Red Bull in the debut year of their new partnership with Honda will be a major season-long talking point. After several and very public spats with their former supplier Renault, the Red Bull team need to make hay this year. Honda had a troubled relationship with McLaren and it remains to be seen whether Honda can immediately be on the pace and importantly for any championship ambitions, reliable.
The early indications are good. The sister team Toro Rosso already have a year's worth of Honda experience under their belts and winter testing passed without hitch, certainly from an engine point of view and early rumours are positive. Max Verstappen will be hoping that this is the case as Formula One desperately needs a third team in the championship hunt.
Further down the field, the midfield looks to be even tighter than ever. Whilst Renault continues to pump increasing sums of money and manpower into it’s revised works team, it’s almost certain they have broken ranks to lead the midfield.
Further down the back of the order is not as clear cut. Fresh out of administration the renamed Racing Point team have yet to show their true hand but look solid and reliable with rumoured updates on the way for the early flyaway races. From there it could be anyone's game as Sauber, now Alfa Romeo Racing and McLaren have all seen aggressive developments over the winter and both appear to have made up ground.
A close working relationship with Ferrari puts Haas into the mix too as they look to capitalise on a strong 2018 season. Towards the back of the field it's likely to be Toro Rosso and Williams, however, the former has been somewhat of a dark horse as rookie Alexander Albon discovered an impressive turn of speed in the Barcelona tests whilst the returning Danil Kyvat looks refreshed and strong.
From the latter's point of view, however, it’s very much a story of a team in disarray and turmoil. Off the back of one of the most difficult seasons in the team's history, Williams desperately needs to turn a good result out in 2019. Whilst this is the ambition, early season hopes were dashed as the car was late to testing meaning that the team missed valuable pre-season track time. Subsequently, elements of the car were found to be illegal and in the midst of this their highly respected technical chief took a leave of absence.
From whatever viewpoint you take, 2019 is a major year for both the teams and Formula One itself. Whatever way it plays out, what is certain is that it’s going to thrilling watching the stories of the season play out. At Big Motoring World, we for one, cannot wait for the lights to go out tomorrow morning.
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