There is a little bit of a subdued air as the start of the 2018 F1 season draws ever closer. Certainly, we have not seen the technical shifts that caused a stir at the start of the 2017 season, although there is a little bit of buzz around the ‘halo’ head protection in the cockpits.
There have been no significant driver changes, nor has there been any real shake up the rules. In a way, it really resembles the start of the 2017 season. Indeed, look how the bookmakers have priced the Drivers’ Championship odds compared to last season:
All six of the top drivers have very similar odds to the start of last season, with the Constructors’ Championship odds also being very similar to 2017: Mercedes are still odds-on favourites (4/7) McLaren are the only team to shift significantly (down to 16/1) amid good signals filtering out about the MCL33.
So, how much will this season really resemble last season? Here are three things that could stay the same and three things that could be really different in 2018.
Staying the same: Hamilton wins the Drivers’ Championship
There really does seem to be an inevitability about Hamilton winning a fifth Drivers’ Championship: the best car and arguably the best driver should team up once again prove a formidable combination. While the odds will put some punters off, any other driver should be backed with a free bet, as only a big upset will mean Hamilton not winning this season.
Could be different: McLaren’s podium-less streak
McLaren last won a Grand Prix at Brazil in 2012, back at a time when Jenson Button and Hamilton were the team behind the wheel. In the 119 Grand Prix races since that day, McLaren drivers have finished on the podium twice. The Honda engines never worked out – much more is expected from the new Renault engines in the MCL33.
Staying the same: Red Bull’s reliability issues
Daniel Ricciardo reportedly crashed the new Red Bull RB 14 car in its first test for the new season. That does not bode well for a team who failed to finish races on a combined 13 occasions last season. That cost them dearly in the Constructors Championship – have enough improvements been made?
Could be different: Ferrari drift even further away from Mercedes
There are questions over Ferrari’s future in F1 but they have plenty of issues to deal with as of right now. While Vettel will give them 100%, there are questions over how much Kimi Raikkonen is truly motivated for the season. They need to start with a bang, otherwise you could see the season slipping away from them.
Staying the same: Fans continue to be disillusioned
While Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 has prompted lots of intrigue over its future direction, the biggest issue they will face is the disconnect felt by large swathes of the fans. Drivers and teams are not idolised by the casual fan as they were in the past. That does not look like changing any time soon.
Could be different: Stoffel Vandoorne becomes a main man
While most think that Fernando Alonso will benefit from a McLaren resurgence in 2018, his team-mate Vandoorne could steal the limelight. Just 14 points last season shows the 25-year-old has much to learn, but he has the quality to challenge for those podium places.