After (technically) seven days of intense pre-season testing, the pecking order on this year’s Formula 1 grid will finally be revealed when the cars take to the track in anger at Albert Park on Friday afternoon.
Looking at the test times is something of a black art, but here is our form guide for the coming campaign. Who’s hot and who’s not? Read on…
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
|Chassis||F1 W09||Engine||Team Principal||Toto Wolff||Debut||1954 French GP|
|Grands Prix||168||Wins||76||Constructors’ Titles||4||2017 Result||1st overall|
Mercedes stuck with the design philosophy from its championship-winning W08 design and invested their efforts in sorting out that design’s weaknesses. By all accounts the designers have achieved just that and the team’s drivers are firm in their belief that the W09 represents a major step forward.
An early pace-setter in pre-season testing, the Silver Arrows worked on building a phenomenally reliable package and racked up an incredible 1,040 laps – the distance of almost 16 Grands Prix – in an ominously strong performance.
Once again Mercedes appears to be the team to beat and looks on course to equal Ferrari’s record of five consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles that it achieved in the Schumacher era.
|#44 Lewis Hamiton|
|Nationality||Age||33||Debut||2007 Australian GP||Grands Prix||208|
|Wins||62||Poles||72||Titles||4 (2008, 2014, 2015, 2017)||2017 Result||1st overall|
The reigning World Champion enters the 2018 season – the twelfth of his illustrious career – in top form and eager to equal the five World Championship titles achieved by the great Juan Manuel Fangio.
Enmeshed in the Brackley team environment, he continues to improve and it will take a major effort to stop him. He’s ironed out the chinks in his armour – although off-season social media posts and subsequent removal-cum-reinstatement of his profiles shows he remains something of a mercurial figure out of the cockpit.
|#77 Valtteri Bottas|
|Nationality||Age||28||Debut||2013 Australian GP||Grands Prix||97|
|Wins||3||Poles||4||Best Finish||3rd overall (2017)||2017 Result||3rd overall|
Bottas enters his second season with the factory Mercedes team still with much to prove. He started the season strongly and claimed a superb victory under pressure in Russia that prompted the team to swiftly extend his contract by another year.
Thereafter he was comfortably shaded by Hamilton in qualifying and race pace in what became a lengthy run of patchy form. The Finn will have to show consistency race-in, race-out to keep other fancied drivers away from claiming his seat. If he can run close to Hamilton and occasionally put the Briton under pressure, that will be a major step in the right direction.
|Chassis||SF71H||Engine||Team Principal||Maurizio Arrivabene||Debut||1950 Monaco GP|
|Grands Prix||949||Wins||229||Constructors’ Titles||16||2017 Result||2nd overall|
Ferrari launched his SF71H – a high-raked chassis with a number of novel aerodynamic features – amid much fanfare and won the winter World Championship in testing with the fastest pre-season lap times.
While the car appears a step forward, it doesn’t seem to have progressed as much as its Mercedes rivals and that will have the Scuderia worried. The car appears well balanced but it may struggle to hit its true stride until the F1 circus returns to Europe in May.
The team’s richness in talent and finances will make it a serious contender once again, but it has a fundamentally weaker driver pairing and looks likely to extend its Constructors’ Championship drought that stretches over 10 years.
|#5 Sebastian Vettel|
|Nationality||Age||30||Debut||2007 United States GP||Grands Prix||198|
|Wins||47||Poles||50||Titles||4 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)||2017 Result||2nd overall|
Vettel’s 2017 campaign was a mix of sheer brilliance and some utterly mind-blowing moments of madness. The German has had the off-season to reflect on his weaknesses and will emerge a hungrier and hopefully calmer driver.
He’s clearly Ferrari’s No. 1 driver but will have to out-drive the car and handle the pressure early in the season to remain in the title hunt by season’s end.
|#7 Kimi Räikkönen|
|Nationality||Age||38||Debut||2001 Australian GP||Grands Prix||271|
|Wins||20||Poles||17||Titles||1 (2007)||2017 Result||4th overall|
Very much in the twilight of his career, Räikkönen’s second chapter at Ferrari has been nothing to write home about. He bore the brunt of the team’s bad luck – reliability-wise – and slipped into a rather disinterested driver who was rarely able to transcend the capabilities of his car. More critically, he lacked the pace and consistency to take points off Lewis Hamilton when Ferrari desperately needed him to.
The Finn will have to start his 2018 campaign strongly and be consistent to both aide Vettel’s aspirations for a fifth World Championship title and what slim ambitions Ferrari seems to hold in reclaiming the Constructors’ Championship crown. Retaining the Finn seems to suggest Ferrari will prioritize the former at all costs.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
|Chassis||RB14||Engine||Team Principal||Christian Horner||Debut||2005 Australian GP|
|Grands Prix||244||Wins||55||Constructors’ Titles||4||2017 Result||3rd overall|
Pre-season testing has shown the RB14 to be a much more competitive and rather more reliable runner than its predecessor. Hampered by its TAG-badged Renault power units in what will be the final year of that championship-winning partnership, the team’s owners will be keeping a close eye on the progress of sister team Toro Rosso and its Honda motors.
Early season wins look out a bit of a stretch given the unquestionable advantage the Mercedes’ seem to have, but the team should run close to Ferrari – ideally ahead of it.
Its driver pairing is perhaps the strongest in the field but both will be looking for the car to run quickly – and reliably – from the outset of the 2018 season.
|#3 Daniel Ricciardo|
|Nationality||Age||28||Debut||2011 British GP||Grands Prix||129|
|Wins||5||Poles||1||Best Finish||3rd overall (2014, 2016)||2017 Result||5th overall|
While the popular Australian outscored teammate Max Verstappen last year, that frankly came about because of better reliability rather than true all-round performance.
He remains ultra-aggressive and a demon overtaker – his win last year in Baku was superb – and he will have to carry that forward with a strong start to his 2018 season. Off-contract at the end of the year, Ricciardo will be the key mover and shaker in the driver market.
|#33 Max Verstappen|
|Nationality||Age||20||Debut||2015 Australian GP||Grands Prix||60|
|Wins||3||Poles||0||Best Finish||5th overall (2016)||2017 Result||6th overall|
Verstappen’s 2017 was beset with some truly appalling reliability and the Dutch driver showed remarkable maturity as his car repeatedly failed him. When it did hold itself together, Verstappen was mighty and claimed superb victories in Malaysia and Mexico.
He remains a champion in the making but it looks likely he will have to wait another year at least before his ambitions are realised. Being a consistent podium threat, at minimum, has to be the goal for 2018, but it still won’t be enough to satisfy his hunger.
Sahara Force India F1 Team
|Chassis||VJM11||Engine||Team Principal||Vijay Mallya||Debut||2008 Australian GP|
|Grands Prix||191||Wins||0||Constructors’ Titles||0||2017 Result||4th overall|
Force India is consistently, on the scale of its budget, able to punch well above its weight, repeating the fourth place it secured in the 2016 Constructors’ Championship with another solid 2017 campaign. Granted, its points tally should have been higher if its two drivers put their employer ahead of personal ambition but it was nonetheless an impressive performance.
Whether it can stay at the top of a tightening midfield battle remains to be seen. The VJM11 didn’t set the world on fire in pre-season testing amid tyre warm-up troubles on a freezing track – an issue unlikely to be repeated in the season proper – but it is a mechanically solid car. Upgrades are slated for Melbourne, and that will improve matters further.
Whether the team can maintain the rate of development needed will determine its success. What can’t happen is that it gets bogged down in the distraction of a widely expected rebrand which could be confirmed in Melbourne.
|#11 Sergio Pérez|
|Nationality||Age||28||Debut||2011 Australian GP||Grands Prix||134|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||7th overall (2016, 2017)||2017 Result||7th overall|
When not running into his teammate, the Mexican had an ultra-consistent 2017 campaign and was an instrumental in the success of Force India last year.
He remains an untapped talent – his brief stint at McLaren proved it was too early a jump – and he has matured into a well-rounded performer. He still holds ambitions of returning to a front-running team, but in order to do that he will have to soundly beat Ocon. That’s no easy prospect.
|#31 Esteban Ocon|
|Nationality||Age||21||Debut||2016 Belgian GP||Grands Prix||29|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||8th overall (2017)||2017 Result||8th overall (2017)|
The charming Frenchman settled quickly into the more mature environment at Force India and cemented Mercedes’ faith in him with a succession of points-scoring drives. By mid-season he was genuinely threatening the more established Pérez, which created plenty of tension between the two that the off-season has helped to subside.
With Mercedes keeping a close eye on him in case the off-contract Valtteri Bottas underperforms, Ocon will need to up his game even further and deliver a knockout blow to Pérez.
Williams Martini Racing
|Chassis||FW41||Engine||Team Principal||Sir Frank Williams||Debut||1977 Spanish GP|
|Grands Prix||702||Wins||114||Constructors’ Titles||9||2017 Result||5th overall|
Having slipped well into the midfield over the past two seasons, Williams has adopted an aggressive design approach with its FW41 under the technical leadership of Paddy Lowe.
While the concept has potential, the car hasn’t set the world on fire in pre-season testing and its drivers are openly admitting the package is not where it needs to be. There is certainly potential, but its inexperienced (albeit well-heeled) driver pairing will risk the team’s rate of progress.
|#18 Lance Stroll|
|Nationality||Age||19||Debut||2017 Australian GP||Grands Prix||20|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||12th overall (2017)||2017 Result||12th overall|
Although he romped to the European F3 Championship crown in 2016, little was expected of the young Canadian in his rookie season amidst much criticism over him earning a Williams drive by dint of his father’s hefty bank balance.
After a rocky start to his maiden campaign with four successive DNFs, he gradually hit his stride and peaked with a rather fortunate podium in Baku. His wet-weather runs in Monza and Singapore were truly impressive and helped challenge some of the sceptics.
Now that he knows the tracks and the environment, he has nowhere to hide in his sophomore season against a hungry and quick teammate.
|#35 Sergey Sirotkin|
|Nationality||Age||22||Debut||2018 Australian GP||Grands Prix||0|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||N/A||2017 Result||N/A|
Questionable as the sources of his Russian backing may be, the charming Sirotkin is nonetheless a very quick and capable driver. He proved this with a stirring audition drive for Williams in the off-season to secure his seat, and with a degree in race-car engineering, he could be a valuable asset to the team on top of the finances he brings.
He will be under pressure from the outset and has to set an immediate goal of shading teammate Stroll.
Renault Sport Formula One Team
|Chassis||RS.18||Engine||Team Principal||Cyril Abiteboul||Debut||1977 British GP|
|Grands Prix||341||Wins||35||Constructors’ Titles||2||2017 Result||6th overall|
Entering its third year of its long-term plan to return Renault to the ranks of World Champions, the Enstone outfit heads into 2018 with more funding and resources. The RS18 has looked reliable and pretty quick, with a wealth of aerodynamic concepts being trialed in an aggressive pre-season campaign.
Importantly the car and its power units appear reliable, if a little underpowered at the moment. If more horsepower can be unlocked without coming at the expense of durability, then expect the yellow cars to start threatening the midfield and perhaps the odd podium or two later in the season.
|#27 Nico Hülkenberg|
|Nationality||Age||30||Debut||2010 Bahrain GP||Grands Prix||135|
|Wins||0||Poles||1||Best Finish||9th overall (2014, 2016)||2017 Result||10th overall|
Six years of Formula 1 have gone by and somehow ‘The Hulk’ still hasn’t finished on the podium. Balancing ambitions and expectations against the potential of the car will be crucial, but a strong 2018 campaign could help cement the German’s place at Renault. He will have to see off the threat of a highly-rated teammate first…
|#55 Carlos Sainz Jr|
|Nationality||Age||23||Debut||2015 Australian GP||Grands Prix||60|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||9th overall (2017)||2017 Result||9th overall|
The Spaniard’s late-season move to Renault proved a wake-up call to his new teammate and together the pair is one of the strongest line-ups on the grid. Sainz Jr oozes potential and skill; he will be one of the drivers to watch this season.
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
|Chassis||STR13||Engine||Team Principal||Franz Tost||Debut||2006 Australian GP|
|Grands Prix||226||Wins||1||Constructors’ Titles||0||2017 Result||7th overall|
The junior Red Bull team suffered a disastrous run in the back end of its partnership with Renault last year, and a switch to Honda in the off-season would not have lessened many people’s fears given the Japanese motor’s own reliability woes.
Imagine, however, the delight and surprise that the new relationship has kicked off so well. Honda finally seems to have a motor that will hold itself together, allowing the STR13 to post over 800 laps in pre-season . It’s a promising start, but the combination will need to unlock more horsepower for the package – and its inexperienced driver pairing – to regularly challenge for points.
|#22 Pierre Gasly|
|Nationality||Age||22||Debut||2017 Malaysian GP||Grands Prix||5|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||21st overall (2017)||2017 Result||21st overall|
Backed by Red Bull and highly rated given his junior formulae exploits, the likable Frenchman is touted as a driver who could genuinely be France’s next F1 World Champion.
He had a tough baptism after joining Toro Rosso’s race line-up late in the season when reliability was at its worst, but is full of optimism heading into 2018. He is a driver to watch.
|#28 Brendon Hartley|
|Nationality||Age||28||Debut||2017 United States GP||Grands Prix||4|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||23rd overall (2017)||2017 Result||23rd overall|
While it had been a gap of several years between open-wheel outings, the tall New Zealander proved unflappable in a difficult entry to F1 last year. He used all of his endurance racing experience and comes blessed with World Championship titles in the WEC and Le Mans 24 Hours.
Pace-wise, it is suggested that his teammate has the edge, but Hartley is highly-rated for his ability to tweak a car set-up and that could give him the edge.
Haas F1 Team
|Chassis||VF-18||Engine||Team Principal||Guenther Steiner||Debut||2016 Australian GP|
|Grands Prix||41||Wins||0||Constructors’ Titles||0||2017 Result||8th overall|
The VF-18 raised plenty of eyebrows with a stunning lap time late in pre-season testing, suggesting that the Ferrari-powered car could be a surprise package in the American team’s third year of F1 competition.
The team has the potential to upset some of the more established players, particularly early in the season when others are sorting their reliability out, but it will need its car to be truly consistent across all types of circuits. The past two seasons have not alleviated that concern, but its strong showing at the demanding Barcelona circuit gives cause for optimism.
|#8 Romain Grosjean|
|Nationality||Age||31||Debut||2009 European GP||Grands Prix||122|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||7th overall (2013)||2017 Result||13th overall|
Beset by a persistent braking issue that the team couldn’t solve all season, 2017 was a confidence-sapping year for the Frenchman. Pre-season testing this year hasn’t unearther a repeat of the problem, which should give Grosjean confidence.
The senior driver in the team, the Renault refugee will need to put teammate Kevin Magnussen in the shade this year to maintain a long-term place on the F1 grid.
|#20 Kevin Magnussen|
|Nationality||Born||25||Debut||2014 Australian GP||Grands Prix||60|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||11th overall (2014)||2017 Result||14th overall|
Kevin Magnussen has been given a second chance by the Haas F1 Team as his F1 career seemed set to stall. He proved himself a capable – if on occasions extremely defensive – driver last year and will be expected to rise to challenge teammate Grosjean’s position as team leader. Consistent points’ finishes are needed.
McLaren F1 Team
|Chassis||MCL33||Engine||Team Principal||Eric Boullier||Debut||1966 Monaco GP|
|Grands Prix||821||Wins||182||Constructors’ Titles||0||2017 Result||9th overall|
Call it irony or schadenfreude, but McLaren’s much publicised dumping of Honda and switch to Renault power has done little to solve its cars’ reliability. The MCL33 spent far too much time in the garage during pre-season testing and is still well short of the miles it needs to prove they can genuinely threaten the upper midfield.
Having boasted that last year’s chassis was the best in the field, embarrassment will ensue if it can’t beat Red Bull Racing and Renault on an equal power footing. The team is under massive pressure and failure will carry major consequences for the former champions.
|#2 Stoffel Vandoorne|
|Nationality||Age||25||Debut||2016 Bahrain GP||Grands Prix||20|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||16th overall (2017)||2017 Result||16th overall|
The former GP2 Series champion ran under the radar in his first full-time season of F1 competition, largely in part due to the unreliable Honda engines he was saddled with last year. This year the Belgian will have little room to hide and will need to justify his junior formulae credentials to earn a long-term place on the grid. Matching his ultra-experienced teammate is a must, particularly with Lando Norris waiting in the wings.
|#14 Fernando Alonso|
|Nationality||Born||36||Debut||2001 Australian GP||Grands Prix||291|
|Wins||32||Poles||22||Titles||2 (2005, 2006)||2017 Result||15th overall|
The Spaniard still yearns to return to championship-winning glory but time and his patience are fast running out. He re-signed with McLaren on the basis of their switch to Renault power for 2018, but the car has not proven reliable in pre-season testing, leaving him once again on the back foot.
He still extracts more from a poor package than any other driver on the grid, but his participation in a select number of World Endurance Championship events is a clear hint that the generosity of his patience only extends so far. McLaren must deliver.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team
|Chassis||C37||Engine||Team Principal||Frédéric Vasseur||Debut||1993 South African GP|
|Grands Prix||352||Wins||0||Constructors’ Titles||0||2017 Result||10th overall|
The Swiss outfit has outwardly undergone the most dramatic transformation in the off-season with its technical alliance with Alfa Romeo and the signing of the highly-rated Charles Leclerc.
What hasn’t happened is a translation to on-track performance, at least if the stopwatch is anything to go by in pre-season testing. On paper – with its partnerships and the latest-spec Ferrari engine – there is room to improve.
|#9 Marcus Ericsson|
|Nationality||Age||31||Debut||2014 Australian GP||Grands Prix||76|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||18th overall (2015)||2017 Result||20th overall|
The Swede enters his fifth season of Formula 1 competition and while he has never had a truly competitive package there is little to suggest the polite Ericsson has the ability to transcend his car. Paired alongside Leclerc he faces his toughest challenge that few expect him to win.
|#16 Charles Leclerc|
|Nationality||Born||25||Debut||2018 Australian GP||Grands Prix||0|
|Wins||0||Poles||0||Best Finish||N/A||2017 Result||N/A|
After a succession of scintillating drives that helped clinch last year’s Formula 2 Championship title in dominant fashion, the Monegasque driver enters F1 with big expectations.
Tipped as a likely replacement for Kimi Räikkönen, he will need to thrash his more experienced teammate and haul the C37 well above where it deserves to run. However, as a number of his fellow GP2/F2 champions have shown, cutting the grade in F1 is a much tougher prospect.
Images via Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, Haas F1 Team, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, McLaren, Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda, Renault Sport F1, Sahara Force India F1 Team, Scuderia Ferrari, Williams Martini Racing