Fireworks at Ferrari
Ferrari protege Charles Leclerc – impressive in his rookie season for Sauber last year – is cleared to race without team orders against Sebastian Vettel. In testing the 21-year-old Monégasque showed no sign of being intimidated, virtually matching the German’s times, and Vettel is unlikely to react well to being beaten by a junior teammate. Potentially the must‑watch drama of the season.
Ferrari had the edge over Mercedes in testing, while Red Bull look stronger with a quick and reliable Honda engine and though F1’s big three remain alone up front the gap to the midfield has narrowed. That fight will be tighter than ever. Renault and Haas are strong again but Toro Rosso have made a definitive forward move and Alfa Romeo (née Sauber) and McLaren are in the mix as well with Racing Point (rebranded from Force India) expected to step up in Melbourne.
New Britons on the grid
A huge year for two British rookies. Lando Norris has proved himself in junior Formula E but must now cope with the pressure that comes with a seat at McLaren. George Russell, who won the F2 title last year, has a daunting task at Williams, who have the slowest car on the grid. Both are potential heirs to Lewis Hamilton, so how they manage the cauldron of their first season will be fascinating. Special mention, too, to the London-born Alexander Albon, who races under the Thai flag and will absolutely make his mark at Toro Rosso.
Fastest lap bonus
Subject to ratification, for the first time since 1959 an extra point will be awarded for the fastest lap. The driver must finish in the top 10 and, with margins likely to be tight banging out, a hot run late on may become an attractive prospect. For the first 10 years of the world championship the fastest lap earned a point and it did make a difference. In 1958, Mike Hawthorn beat Stirling Moss to the title by a single point as he had posted two fastest laps more than Moss.
Wider, higher and simplified front and rear wings are designed to allow cars to race closer to one another, making overtaking easier – but the jury is out on whether it works. Some teams say it has made no difference, others believe it has. It must also be considered that the issue of thermal degradation of tyres when following in a car’s wake remains. Addressing overtaking is a key aim for F1. Its success or failure will be a major technical theme this season.
Fans who have lost count of the number of types of tyre compounds being used and the myriad of colours employed to define them will take heart in the simplification of the rubber Pirelli takes racing. There will be three compounds at each race, called hard, medium and soft and coloured white, yellow and red. Yet Pirelli will still have five compounds to choose the trio from, designated as C1 (hardest) to C5 (softest), so it is not that straightforward.
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