10 fearless predictions for the F1 season

What our crystal ball is telling us about what will happen on four wheels in 2018, with one big asterisk …


Eight days of testing are in the rear-view mirror as the Formula One teams and personnel arrive in Melbourne for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with something of a pecking order emerging after a pre-season held in rain, shine and snow (yes, really) at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya earlier this month.

Which means it’s time to take a brave pill and peer into the crystal ball to see what will happen in 2018. Who shines? Who stumbles? Where will the biggest driver rivalry be? Which grandee team will fall from grace? And is there anyone who can elbow their way into the equation to stop Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes winning both world championships again?

Here’s 10 cast-iron guarantees (well, nine at least) for Albert Park this Sunday and the 20 races to follow in F1’s 69th season.

1. Halo won’t be a talking point for long

No, really. Hear us out. Most drivers won’t say much publicly against the cockpit protection device that makes its race debut in Melbourne (Haas’ Kevin Magnussen aside, who raged against it in testing), and yes, it’s an inelegant solution to a problem that clearly needs addressing. Yes, there are serious visibility concerns for spectators to ascertain which of a team’s two drivers is in a car as it flashes past (expect the sport’s organisers to address that pronto with an edict that car numbers must be bigger to counter the lack of helmet recognition caused by the halo). But like anything new in F1, it’ll be abnormal until it isn’t, and before too long we’ll be talking about Mercedes vs Ferrari, which Red Bull driver rules the roost, how many laps McLaren has managed before breaking down and so on – regular F1 topics.

Is it ugly? Absolutely. Will drivers be harder to identify in Melbourne? Most certainly. Will we stop grouching about it? Daniel Ricciardo has some thoughts. “I think people are going to get used to the halo pretty quickly and we won’t talk about it for too long,” he wrote in his column for redbull.com. “Remember back in 2009, the year that Brawn won the championship, and the cars that year looked so different with the small rear wings, almost like F3 cars? People threw their hands up and talked about it a lot at the start, but then we all got used to it and just moved on.” We reckon he’s right. Even if we don’t like it.

2. Ferrari can’t win the constructors’ title

It’s been 10 years since the Prancing Horse won a teams’ title, and it won’t win this year’s one, either. The reason? You need two drivers capable of scoring big points to unseat Mercedes, and while Red Bull has them in Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, Ferrari simply doesn’t in Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen’s past four years at Ferrari have seen him finish 106 points behind teammate Fernando Alonso in 2014, 128 points adrift of Vettel (2015), 26 points behind Vettel (2016) and 112 points in arrears of the German last year. And, in case you’d forgotten (and you’d be forgiven), it’s five years since he last won a race (Australia 2013 for Lotus). The Finn is wildly popular with the fans, has world champion (2007) pedigree, offers invaluable technical feedback, and doesn’t rock the boat internally at Ferrari. All employable attributes. And none of which mean the Scuderia will be sailing to a constructors’ title this year, no matter how good the SF71H is.

3. Which ‘V’ will have more victories?

Will Vettel at Ferrari, or Verstappen at Red Bull win more races in 2018? Last year was 5-2 in the German’s favour, with Verstappen’s victories in Malaysia and Mexico coming in the latter half of the year when he finally had some luck with reliability. The Dutchman looks set to go up another level this year, and Vettel’s old team may be poised to present him with a two-pronged headache with Verstappen and Ricciardo likely to out-perform Raikkonen. Ferrari will likely be more reliable, but in a head-to-head fight, we’re predicting Verstappen, by a hair.

4. Renault will make podiums, plural

The French team hasn’t sniffed the top three since it returned to the sport as a fully-fledged constructor three years ago, but this has to be the year. A chassis that’s striking for its aerodynamic progress, momentum from late last year and two strong drivers in Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz makes us confident that there’ll be a podium photo or two with a yellow hue this year. For Hulkenberg, who holds the dubious record of most starts without a single top-three finish (135), it’ll be long, long overdue.

5. Force India will fall

The British-run Indian-owned team has been hugely impressive in the past two seasons, finishing fourth and as the unofficial ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. Pound for pound, Force India does the most with the least on the F1 grid, aided by a heady dose of Mercedes engine power. But this year shapes as the one where the team could slide, with Renault surging, McLaren given new life by jettisoning its troublesome Honda engines, and the likes of Toro Rosso and Haas making strides. The latter two teams look to be a step or two away from fourth, but we could see a world where Force India drops behind the bigger and wealthier Renault and McLaren outfits – which would likely mean the Sergio Perez/Esteban Ocon driver ‘partnership’ that produced several flashpoints last year could get really tense …

6. Standing starts after red flags will be dumped

This new rule probably won’t last long. In the event of a red flag stopping a race, the drivers will be led back onto the circuit behind the safety car, at which point they will line up on the grid in the order they were in when the red flag was thrown for a standing re-start. Exciting for TV and spectators trackside, sure, but Romain Grosjean was adamant that safety needs to be considered after the new system was trialled in testing in Barcelona, particularly if drivers are forced to stay on the same worn tyres they were on when the race was stopped. “In my experience I feel like it’s dangerous,” the Haas driver said, adding “it could be carnage” if the rule stayed as is. “Maybe the others don’t feel the same, but I don’t feel confident going with cold tyres,” he said. Expect the drivers to raise this issue well ahead of time this season, and a compromise to be reached.

7. McLaren will get it right, eventually

Yes, we saw the pre-season testing mileage stats that had McLaren last on the ‘laps completed’ board by some distance after problems that ranged from oil and hydraulic leaks, turbo failures and the engine cover being smouldered by the car’s exhaust. Yes, we know that McLaren’s horrendous pre-seasons of the past three years were a sign of what was to follow as a once-great team managed to only beat Sauber in the constructors’ championship last year. But the MCL33 isn’t slow, and when (note use of ‘when’) it runs properly, it can be a serious contender for fourth place in the teams’ title. Renault’s engine, by degrees, will surely be more reliable than the Honda that preceded it, and in Alonso, the team knows it has a driver who, when motivated, will haul a car into places it arguably shouldn’t be in. We’re backing them in to be a strong points finisher by the second half of the season, and Alonso snaffling a podium or two wouldn’t be a shock.

8. Williams’ decline will continue

Renault will rise, Toro Rosso are bullish, McLaren can hardly get worse and Force India will be a consistent presence in the midfield. Not everyone can improve, which leads us to Williams. Only Toro Rosso (with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley) have less experience than Williams pair Lance Stroll (one season) and Sergey Sirotkin (rookie), and while the Russian is better than your average pay driver, you have to question the motivation behind his employment when data suggests he’s slower than the man he replaced, the retiring Felipe Massa (and that’s the 2017 Massa, not the near world champion Massa of a decade previously). The team has Mercedes power again, which is a plus, but after a conservative approach to pre-season testing that came after a fifth-place finish last year with 55 fewer points than the year before, is a slip to the bad old days (ninth in the constructors’ championship in 2013) on the cards?

9. Hamilton will win his fifth title

We’ll give you a minute to come up with an alternative world champion for this season. (Pause) No, we can’t think of one either. Mercedes’ pre-season confidence, Hamilton’s blazing form when it really mattered last year and a teammate in Bottas that doesn’t present the same challenges Nico Rosberg once did all adds up to five for us.

10. Where will Ricciardo be driving in 2019?

Speaking of Bottas, he might have as much to do with point 10 as point nine. Or maybe he won’t. Regardless, that giant asterisk we mentioned earlier? We’re using it here …


Miller Time: Going down the long road

Jack Miller writes about a Qatar GP that produced a top-10 finish on his Ducati debut, but showed there’s plenty more in the pipeline.


Hi everyone,

It’s a long season. It’s a long season. It’s a long season … yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s what I’ve been saying in my head since I got off the bike here in Qatar after the first race on Sunday night. Starting 10th and finishing in the same position after 22 laps isn’t going to get anyone that excited, especially me, and especially after how well the pre-season went for me – I was expecting quite a lot more. But it’s a long … you get the drift.

The whole weekend was one of those ‘nearly, but not quite’ weekends where you feel you can just about touch a good result, but it never quite gets there. Friday, I had some dramas with tyres in practice and it didn’t look good back in 14th, especially seeing as though I’d been six-tenths of a second faster  in the test a couple of weeks back. But I knew I had more pace than that, there was a reason I was back there, and it was nice to show I was right on Saturday in qualifying. I finished top of Q1 and made it through to Q2, and then did a 1:54.449 on my last Q2 lap and managed personal bests in three of the four sectors, so really happy with that. Felt like a lap that could have been on the second row of the grid, to be honest. But the pace was crazy fast and I was back in 10th; not terrible, but could have been better for the first race.

Tyre wear at Losail is always an issue on this surface and being in the middle of the desert like we are, so it wasn’t the first few laps that would set up everyone’s races on Sunday, it was the last seven laps or so. I was in OK shape hanging onto the main group for the first bunch of laps, but got a bit of a warning at the second-last corner eight laps in when I had a decent moment, and you could tell I needed to manage the front tyre life a bit more. That was when my pace dropped off, I never did do a lap of 1min 55secs after that, and the pack got further away from me. I was hardly the only one to drop back; Johann (Zarco) led the race for most of it from pole and fell back massively at the end to finish eighth, while someone like Maverick (Vinales), who started behind me and was a fair way back from me in the early laps, ended up flying through and finishing sixth. How much tyre you had left at the end was the deciding factor, really.

Compared to last year, I finished a tenth of a second (literally 0.108secs, someone told me) further back from first place than here in 2017, which isn’t great. But it’s not all bad, because last year I was pushing like crazy and maxed it out to get to eighth, and this year I know we have way more potential than that and I was still the same 14-ish seconds off the winner. Didn’t feel like I could have done much more last year, but there’s way more to come from me and this Ducati. It’s one race of 19. Long season … The team seemed pretty happy, and for me, it’s natural to be disappointed because us riders always want more, even the guy who wins wishes he could have won by more most of the time. But we’ll be OK in the long run.

Argentina comes next, but that’s three weeks away yet which is a bit frustrating. It’ll be my 50th MotoGP race too, so that’s a bit of a milestone. Should be a better one than it was here too. I’ll catch up with you then.

Cheers, Jack

Where will Daniel sit?

Australia’s F1 star is fast approaching a crossroads, and it’s just one of the intriguing subplots of the new season ahead.


The Formula One driver was at a crossroads as he hit his late 20s. Globally famous, well compensated financially for his talents and a winner of multiple Grands Prix, he was an established star with the only team he’d ever known. Which posed a question: stick with what you know, or take a calculated risk, one with no guarantees, but one that came with potentially greater rewards?

The year and driver? No, not 2018 and Daniel Ricciardo; 2012 and Lewis Hamilton. The Briton, world champion in just his second season in 2008, had been tied to McLaren since the age of 13, but decided it was time to cut the umbilical cord. Then 27, Hamilton shocked the F1 establishment for 2013 by dumping McLaren to head to Mercedes, winners of a solitary Grand Prix in three years since returning to F1 as a constructor in its own right. At the time, it seemed like madness.

Since? Mercedes has become F1’s unstoppable force, winning four drivers’ and constructors’ world championships in a row from 2014, when F1 moved into the 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid era. In the past four years, Hamilton has won three titles, finished runner-up to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016, and taken his career win tally to 62 to trail only Michael Schumacher in the sport’s history books. All from zigging when history, pedigree and common convention suggested he should zag. As a footnote, McLaren hasn’t won a race since he left …

What does this have to do with the 28-year-old Ricciardo, who starts his eighth Formula One season in the Red Bull pen at his home race in Melbourne in March? He’ll tell you. Out of contract at the end of this season and with a chance to explore his options as a free agent for the first time, the Perth-born product knows that his next deal could change the narrative as he approaches the middle-age of his F1 life, and put him on a path where the race wins, hefty bank balance, fame and respect within his sport could be joined by world championships if he plays his cards right.

“I’m 29 (this year) and the next deal will take me into my 30s, so it’s not like I’m the young unproven kid who’ll sign anything just to get on the grid,” he says.

“You look at Lewis and when he did his Mercedes deal, he was the same age if I remember correctly. He was already doing very well where he was, but his career has really taken off since then, hasn’t it?

“So, there’s a lot to consider.”

Red Bull and Ricciardo has been a mutually beneficial marriage; the driver’s ebullient personality aligns with the drink manufacturer’s image, and with five victories in a four-year period of Mercedes turning most Grands Prix into a race for second place, Ricciardo has become Australia’s fourth-most successful F1 driver, behind only world champions Sir Jack Brabham (14 wins) and Alan Jones (12), and the man he succeeded at Red Bull Racing, Mark Webber (nine). But there’s a growing sense that if he’s to become a world champion like Brabham and Jones were, and not fall short when the title window is prised ajar like Webber did, he needs to ‘do a Hamilton’ and back himself to succeed elsewhere. There’s a reason he could, and two more why he arguably should.

Last October, Ricciardo’s teammate, 20-year-old Max Verstappen, extended his tenure with Red Bull until the end of 2020, the announcement of his deal coming weeks after team principal Christian Horner urged the exciting Dutchman to stay long-term and “build a team” around him. Horner moved quickly to mend fences with Ricciardo after the comments raised plenty of eyebrows up and down pit lane, the Australian telling Autosport “that is not what you want to hear” as Verstappen’s long-term signature brought his own future into sharper focus.

Ricciardo is eight years older than Verstappen, who appears, at least in his first two years in the sport, to be a once-in-a-generation talent the likes of which F1 hasn’t seen since Sebastian Vettel burst onto the scene a decade ago. When your teammate is younger, plainly very quick and has a lengthier deal with a team that wants to “build” around him, is Ricciardo destined to become Red Bull’s de facto number two driver, the modern-day Webber to Verstappen’s Vettel?

Another move in the driver market that could have an equally significant impact on Ricciardo’s options is the signing of 2017 F2 champion Charles Leclerc to drive with Sauber, which has a new alignment with Ferrari-owned Alfa Romeo for 2018. At 20, Leclerc represents the future, and almost certainly signals the end of the career of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who turns 39 in October and hasn’t won a race in five years. No Australian has ever driven for Ferrari in F1, and with Leclerc’s forthcoming debut season showing Ferrari envisages a finish line for Raikkonen’s high-speed superannuation tour, the door has likely been closed for the Aussie with the Italian heritage for the time being.

Which brings us to Mercedes. The Silver Arrows were left stunned when Rosberg won the 2016 title and promptly quit, bringing an end to a fractious three-year period where Mercedes’ dominance came against a backdrop of inter-team tension between the German and Hamilton. With its world champion electing to stay home, Mercedes moved quickly to prise Valtteri Bottas out of his Williams contract last season, a financial sweetener on Williams’ Mercedes-supplied engine bill allowing the Finn to wriggle free to become Rosberg’s replacement.

On the surface, Bottas’ debut season at the sport’s benchmark team was perfectly acceptable – three wins, third overall in the championship – but he took victory in just one of the final 11 Grands Prix as Hamilton turned a tense title fight into a rout by winning five of the first six races after F1’s summer break, rising to a level that Bottas (and the rest) simply couldn’t match. Given the car advantage Mercedes had over Ferrari, Bottas’ inability to oust Vettel from the runner-up spot in the championship was a cross on his 2017 report card, and a one-year contract extension for 2018 was a tepid endorsement from his team.

Is the Finn, a junior rival of Ricciardo’s, really the long-term solution at Mercedes? Is Mercedes-backed youngster Esteban Ocon, about to start his second full-season with Force India, up to competing for a top-line team at this stage of his career? And, employing a longer lens, how long will Hamilton, now 33 and himself out of contract at the end of 2018, carry on? After Rosberg walked on a whim, Mercedes will be extra wary of safeguarding its future while looking to capitalise on the present.

All questions we don’t – and simply can’t – know answers to just yet. But what the sport does know is what Ricciardo brings. He’s arguably the most apolitical driver on the grid and, for someone who has become a media go-to for a soundbite, is a leader with deeds as much as words, a consistent presence with no agendas or so much of the bullshit that comes with F1. There’s no entourage, no (forget low) maintenance and a laser-like focus when the visor snaps shut. And then there’s his on-track body of work. For all of the hype about Verstappen, Ricciardo has finished ahead of the Dutchman in the world championship in both seasons they’ve been teammates, and he trounced four-time world champion Vettel when they were at Red Bull together in 2014. And in wheel-to-wheel combat? Ricciardo’s pass of three rivals in one corner in Azerbaijan last year – voted by the sport’s fans on social media as the best overtake of 2017 – was as unsurprising as it was breathtakingly audacious.

Early indications are that F1 2018 will be a familiar tale; Mercedes up front, with Red Bull and Ferrari squabbling for second-best status. Red Bull should be closer than it has been in recent years, but for all of the aerodynamic benefits of designing a slippery chassis, F1, since 2014, is an engine formula first and foremost. And of the options available, there’s only one you’d want.

In the 79 Grands Prix held in the past four years, Mercedes-powered cars have won 63 of them, and a subtle regulation tweak for 2018 will do little to raise hopes of stalling the silver stampede. Each driver now has just three new engines to complete the season in a calendar that has expanded to 21 Grands Prix. Given Ricciardo and Verstappen took multiple grid penalties last year for exceeding their pool of Renault power plants when more (four) could do less (20 races), it doesn’t bode well.

Vettel will keep Ferrari in the fight, but 2018 is likely to come down to Red Bull versus Mercedes as the clock ticks on Ricciardo’s future. Meaning he could be forgiven for applying the simple logic of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” as he ponders his next move.

What do we know about the 2018 F1 season?

Testing is over and Australia is just a week away – here’s five pointers the pre-season has suggested as we count down to lights out in Melbourne.


The phoney war is over – that phoney war being Formula One pre-season testing, where fresh liveries and new faces in new places occupy our attention initially, after which point F1 fans and insiders scratch their heads trying to work out who is fast, who isn’t, and why.

So what did eight days of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya really tell us about the 21-race season that’s to follow? We’ll get back to those eight days later on, but with the season-opening Australian Grand Prix a little over a week away, we can paint something of a picture before the lights go out for 2018.

Here’s some of what we can deduce from testing – and a few pointers of what to look out for when the new season is officially ‘go’ in Melbourne on March 25.

Silver still holds sway

Don’t make any rash predictions on the season ahead based on testing, common convention suggests. You never know what fuel loads teams are running, tyre choice can make a fast car look slow, teams with plenty of spare space for sponsor stickers can be tempted to chase a headline time to squeeze some extra cash out of a potential backer, and so on. Don’t do it …

So we will. Mercedes has dominated F1 since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, and testing presented few signs that anything will change any time soon. How can we tell? Something Mercedes didn’t do, and one thing they did.

Looking purely at the overall lap times, seeing Lewis Hamilton in eighth and teammate Valtteri Bottas 10th is quite a shock, until you consider how the Silver Arrows approached Barcelona. Consider, for sake of comparison, McLaren, who came into 2018 testing off a horror season last year and finished the test with the third-fastest time overall with Fernando Alonso. The devil in the detail? McLaren did 99 laps at the final test on the hypersoft tyre, Pirelli’s quickest rubber for 2018, while Hamilton and Bottas didn’t complete a single lap on the pink-walled tyre, and did more than half of their laps across the two tests on the medium tyre, suggesting there’s pace to burn when they fit the right rubber for qualifying in Melbourne. Pirelli’s estimate of the time gain when switching from mediums to hypersoft? North of two seconds a lap …

Another indication of Mercedes’ confidence came in comments from technical director James Allison, who, while explaining the differences between last year’s car and this one, suggested the 2017 Merc would be “blown away” and “utterly hopeless” compared to its successor. Let’s not forget that the W08, last year’s car, won 12 of the 20 races, took pole position 15 times, finished on the podium 26 times of a maximum 40 and won the constructors’ championship – for the fourth year in a row – by a massive 146 points. Allison’s comments could have barely been scarier if they were accompanied by the theme music from ‘Jaws’ …

The rest of the pack will move forwards – progress in F1 is a constant – but to expect anyone else other than Mercedes to start the year as favourites is foolish.

Asterisks are still alive

Ah, the old game of posting a fast lap time and then adding an asterisk to it as soon as you get out of the car. Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest time of testing (1min 17.182secs, breaking the circuit record), while Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was just 0.039secs slower on the final day, the Prancing Horse pair six-tenths of a second faster than the next-best runner (Alonso’s McLaren). So, Seb, you’d be pretty pumped up about that, then? Er, no. “I think it’s the wrong conclusion to look at the timesheet, there’s more to it than a good lap,” he said with a convincingly furrowed brow in Barcelona. “We still need to work on the performance and the feeling. I think today the track was quite fast, we ran a little bit different program to others. There are some things we still need to get on top of.”

The reality is that Ferrari aren’t Mercedes-level fast – nobody is – but are part of the top three along with Red Bull as they were last year. How good could they be? It’s hard to know, and neither driver is telling …

For feedback purposes, we preferred Max Verstappen’s take as testing came to a close, the Red Bull racer reasonably untroubled by finishing 20th of the 22 drivers who turned a lap in the pre-season. How does the RB14 feel compared to its predecessor, in which he took two wins late in the 2017 season?

“I know it feels faster,” he grinned, clearly playing along.

“The car feels good. Everyone of course wants to know where we think we are in relation to our opposition, but honestly it’s impossible to tell until we get to Australia, as you don’t know what everyone else is doing.

“It’s still all to be discovered.”

Renault to the four

No, that’s not a typo; we mentioned earlier that this year’s quickest trio of teams appears to be the same as last year’s, but the picture of who will be crowned king of F1’s unofficial second division appears to have a yellow hue, with Renault looking to have made giant strides over the off-season to challenge Force India’s recent hold over fourth place in the constructors’ race.

Carlos Sainz (fifth-fastest overall) and Nico Hulkenberg (11th) were relatively happy with Renault’s pace in Barcelona, and while the team suffered with gearbox gremlins on the final day of running to leave some question-marks hanging ahead of Australia, the tighter aerodynamic packaging of the RS18 was notable compared to its predecessor, the team’s chief technical officer Bob Bell admitting that Renault had “pushed like hell” with the new chassis in an attempt to take the next step.

Recent history suggests engine reliability is always a question with Renault, but with arguably the strongest driver line-up of the midfield teams and a renewed focus in year three of its return to F1 as a full factory team, the French outfit could be flying early in the season.

McLaren are out of excuses

You’d have been forgiven for having flashbacks to 2017 (and, to be fair, the two years before that) in Barcelona when testing was regularly stopped for stricken McLarens being brought back to the pits on the back of a flatbed truck, but this year, there’s no Honda for the team to point the finger at, the British squad aligning itself with Renault power for 2018.

A car that has, in the words of team racing director Eric Boullier, an “ambitious design” was plagued by myriad problems across the eight days in Spain, and the team managed just 599 laps in all between Alonso and teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, nearly 100 fewer than the next-worst team, Haas, and 441 less than Mercedes at the top of the tree (remember what we said about that ‘Jaws’ music?)

The MCL33 – when it works – is quick enough, but would you be comfortable predicting both orange cars will last long enough to see the chequered flag in Melbourne, a bumpy, technical street circuit that will undoubtedly be harder on machinery than a resurfaced Barcelona, which resembled a billiard table for pre-season testing? With Honda getting off to a strong start in its new partnership with Toro Rosso (only Mercedes and Ferrari’s drivers managed more laps than STR duo Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley), McLaren only have themselves to blame if things go south this time.

Testing in Europe is useless

Remember the eight days of testing we mentioned earlier? It seems ludicrous that a sport as sophisticated as F1 allows for eight days of what is, effectively, pre-season training (your local park football team probably does more than that), and as preparations for a 21-race season go, eight days seems woefully inadequate. Throw in the weather to hit Barcelona in the first week (track temperatures didn’t hit double-figures on the second day, and the third day was a complete write-off after snow), and you wonder why F1 keeps persisting with scheduling testing solely in countries where weather can scupper the best-laid plans of a billion-dollar business.

Taking a leaf from MotoGP – which ran its pre-season tests in Malaysia, Thailand and Qatar this year – would be a sensible decision. Barcelona doesn’t need to be abandoned, but what about adding, say, Bahrain to the mix? No snow there …

10 fearless predictions for the MotoGP season

Want to know what will happen on two wheels in 2018? We’ve peered into the crystal ball …


Testing? Done. Takeaways from testing? On record. The season start in Qatar? Merely days away. Which means it’s time. Time to stick our neck out and come up with 10 fearless predictions for the coming MotoGP season.

Who wins the title? Who has no chance? Who will spring a surprise for the right or wrong reasons? Which rookie will shine brightest? And is there anyone who can unseat Marc Marquez from his throne as the king of MotoGP?

We’ve dusted off the crystal ball and peered into the future to come up with our cast-iron guarantees (or, if you like, best educated guesses) for 2018. Deep breath, here goes.

1. Pedrosa is a title contender

Yes, we know he’s been in the premier class for 12 years and hasn’t finished third or better for five seasons. Yes, we’re aware three of his teammates (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marquez – four times) have won the championship where he hasn’t managed it once. And yes, he’s 33 years old in September. But Dani Pedrosa’s pre-season pace has been eye-catching, and if you were going to choose someone to give Marquez a run to the title, what about the rider on the same bike on the other side of the same garage? Any Pedrosa predictions have to come, history tells us, with an asterisk for injury, but we’re backing him in.

2. More wins for Jorge, more points for Dovi

Jorge Lorenzo’s first year in Ducati red was underwhelming in the extreme, particularly when compared to that of teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who snared six victories to the Mallorcan’s zero to become Marquez’s major (and unlikely) rival for the title. The metronomic ‘Dovi’ crashes rarely and makes very few mistakes, and we’re predicting it’ll be that rather than outrageous speed that keeps the Italian in the title fight again. Can we see Lorenzo picking up a win or two more than his teammate? Absolutely. Will that be enough to be the highest-scoring Ducati rider over 19 races? We’re saying no.

3. Jack Miller will make podiums, plural

He’s stood on a MotoGP podium before, of course (who can forget Assen 2016 when the Aussie surveyed the view from the top step?), but that was a crazy race in crazy weather that owed itself to opportunism, sublime skill, a smattering of luck and a ‘what the hell’ approach. This year? Jack Miller’s pace in pre-season testing on a Ducati has been fierce and not at all fleeting – he’s been a top-10 constant in Malaysia, Thailand and Qatar – and you sense he can make the top three in races (plural) this year with or without inclement weather aiding his cause.

4. Johann Zarco will lead Yamaha’s charge

This is bold, but the Frenchman who adopts a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to his racing might just fly while the factory Yamaha squad flap about with aerodynamic tweaks, wondering which chassis to use and managing the expectations of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, who often want very different things from the same motorcycle. One thing we know: Zarco won’t want for wondering. What effect, we wonder, will Yamaha’s end-of-year divorce with Tech 3 have on his chances as the season progresses? (We’ll be using that as our asterisk, incidentally, if this one doesn’t come true).

5. Rossi will ride on

OK, so this one isn’t so bold. Indications suggest ‘The Doctor’ will keep making house calls on the MotoGP calendar for the next two seasons, which will take him into his 40s. For anyone else, signing a multi-year deal at that age and stage of a career would seem unlikely and lucky in equal measure – but the biggest drawcard in the sport (still) will be competitive for as long as he’s around. Let’s hope it’s for a good while yet.

6. The silly season won’t be very silly

Rossi likely to re-sign with Yamaha’s factory squad, Marquez already locked in at Repsol Honda, Vinales staying at Yamaha until 2020 … will there be much intrigue over this season as to who rides where next year? Other than what happens to Zarco when the Tech 3/Yamaha alliance ends, we might know more about next season before this one really gets underway, especially at the pointy end of the field.

7. Rins will rise

We never got to see the best of Suzuki rookie Alex Rins last year, one injury after another scuppering his chances of playing himself into the top flight alongside experienced Italian Andrea Iannone. But there were signs the 22-year-old was learning fast towards the end of the season, top 10 results in Japan, Australia and Valencia (where he finished a career-best fourth) giving cause for optimism, and he’s been the pick of Suzuki’s riders in testing, save for Iannone’s first two days at one of his strongest circuits in Qatar. Iannone can blow hot and cold, but the more consistent Rins will end up as the team’s primary charger.

8. Taka takes a turn in the top three

Ten of the riders on this year’s grid have never stood on a MotoGP podium, and based on the above, Rins looks best placed to get there first. But keep an eye on Takaaki Nagakami, the Japanese rookie who has stepped up from Moto2 to partner Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda this season. A surprise in the top 10 at the Thailand test, the 26-year-old has impressed the battle-hardened Crutchlow already, the Briton telling reporters in Buriram that “he’s a good kid and he’s got a big future ahead in MotoGP”. If you’re looking for a smoky to make a top three this year, Taka’s top of the list.

9. Thailand will be the GP of the year

Argentina will be manic, Mugello magic. Assen will be, well, Assen, and Phillip Island will probably produce the race of the year, if recent Australian Grands Prix are any indication. But the event of 2018? Let’s give the ‘trophy’ to Thailand now, shall we? A nation obsessed by bikes, desperate to see the world’s best riders ply their trade and a debut world championship race in Buriram? If the crowds at pre-season testing were any indication, look out in October when MotoGP returns for real.

10. The Marquez masterclass will roll on

Can four titles in five years become five in six? Let’s answer one question with another: who or what stops him?

What do we know about the 2018 MotoGP season?

Testing is over – and with the countdown on to the Qatar season-opener, here’s five pointers about the year to come.


We’ve reached the finish of the start – the end of pre-season testing for MotoGP before the 2018 season roars into life in Qatar on March 18. Over nine days of testing between Sepang in Malaysia, a first look at the Buriram circuit in Thailand and Losail in Qatar, riders and teams have fine-tuned machines, tried and tested (and discarded) new aerodynamic directions, and blown the cobwebs away from the post-season ahead of this year’s 19-race campaign.

So what do we know as the build-up starts to Qatar in less than a fortnight’s time? Do we trust the timesheets? Do we place more stock on history and pedigree than form and momentum? And will the real story only start to emerge after a handful of races on more traditional tracks back in Europe, given Losail counts as neither?

Here’s some of what we can deduce from testing – and a few pointers of what to look out for when the lights go out for real on the season proper.

Qatar won’t tell us everything

Qatar pays a lot (really, a LOT) of money to host MotoGP’s season-opener, held in a desert at night with very few people watching trackside. If you’re looking for atmosphere, this isn’t the race. And if you’re looking for a pointer of what’s to follow, Qatar probably isn’t the race either.

We saw some of that in pre-season testing, where a rider like Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, nowhere in the preceding tests in Malaysia and Thailand, suddenly vaulted to the top three on the timesheets on the first two days at Losail before missing the final day with illness. Is there a world in which Iannone challenges for the podium in Qatar in two weeks’ time? Absolutely. Are there a majority who’ll guarantee he’ll finish ahead of fast-rising teammate Alex Rins in the standings over the course of the season? Not really.

The location, circuit layout, time of day and other peculiarities of the Losail track making drawing conclusions from one race difficult and unwise at the same time. It’s just one chapter in a 19-race story.

Yamaha found more questions than answers

If you’ve made any sense of Yamaha’s pre-season, you’re smarter than us – and possibly Yamaha, after the comments of their riders in Qatar. Consider this sequence of numbers: 14-1-18-11-4-12-1-7-5 – they’re the finishing positions of Maverick Vinales on the timesheets on the nine days of testing across three very different tracks, a steep rollercoaster that left the Spaniard perplexed.

On the final day of the Qatar test, with Vinales commenting that he was riding at “50 per cent” before the last hour because he had no confidence the bike would stay on the track, Yamaha elected to revert back the base setting of the bike he’d tried three days prior – and he immediately leapt into the top five.

“We finished with the same bike that I started with on the first day … (and) I did the lap time without trusting the front,” he told the assembled media afterwards.

“It’s quite strange for me,” he said. “Now it looks like we lost one day, one-and-a-half days to try other things. We have to pay a lot of attention to the things we changed. Because nothing changed on the bike, it’s just the same bike as the first day. The second day we tried other things and we lost the way. So my feeling was that I could not push. Even now I feel like I can push more, I still can’t give my best.”

Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi, who finished the Qatar test strongly, wasn’t getting carried away with his second-fastest time, either.

“There have been too many ups and downs this winter,” Rossi told the Italian press. “This means that from one track to another, the difference between the bikes will change a lot, and we have to avoid that we suffer too much at our worst tracks.”

Johann Zarco, the Tech3 Yamaha rider who narrowly missed shattering Jorge Lorenzo’s decade-old pole record with a 1min 54.029sec lap on the final day, is running Yamaha’s 2016 chassis this year, and his single-lap pace was a massive quarter of a second faster than anyone else. Which is all very well until you consider his race pace, given the Qatar GP is held over 22 laps, was nowhere near as strong. “When I tried to find the race pace, I was a bit slow,” he admitted.

Could we see a Yamaha or two on the podium for the season-opener? Yes. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Rossi, Vinales and Zarco didn’t make the top five in a fortnight’s time. Their guess is only slightly better than yours.

Jack is legit

Jack Miller has almost been counting the days down until the first race in Qatar from the moment he stepped onto a Ducati Desmosedici GP17 for the first time in Valencia last November, and comes into the 2018 campaign in great shape, his confidence sky-high and his expectations for the season needing to be recalibrated.

Remarkably, the first day in Qatar (when he was 12th overall) was the only day he didn’t feature inside the top 10 across nine days of testing, while his long-run pace came relatively easily, leaving him in no doubt that there’s more to come. He’s been right on the pace (and sometimes faster than) Alma Pramac Racing teammate Danilo Petrucci too, remembering that the Italian is on the updated Ducati GP18 that will be campaigned by Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory squad.

Miller’s best qualifying and race results at Losail came last year (started 16th, finished eighth) – and it’ll be a huge disappointment and something of a surprise if he’s not able to eclipse that in two weeks.

‘Dovi’ knows he can do it

There’s a big difference between thinking you can do something big and knowing you can, and that’s why Dovizioso’s pre-season makes for such interesting analysis. After his belated breakout season in 2017, when the 31-year-old won six races in one season where the previous nine years had yielded just two victories, there’s a sense of calm around the Italian these days, and he approaches his craft with a minimum of fuss – no headline times in testing (he never led a day across the nine), few crashes or runs wide into gravel traps or onto tarmac escape roads, and no big proclamations of what’s to follow. Consistent and methodical lap times while understanding why he’s fast (as opposed to just being fast) was the aim, and those boxes were ticked.

After day two in Qatar, ‘Dovi’ pulled back the curtain – ever so slightly – to reveal the inner confidence that will surely see him stay a title contender this year. “My best time I set in a mini long-run of 12 laps which I did this evening, and I have to admit that the times came quite easily …,” he said.

“We are in a better situation then we had last year, so I’m really happy about that.”

Marquez is favourite, but …

Miller gave the media a first-hand insight into Marquez’s brilliance at Qatar, after he followed the reigning world champion on track during the second day of running and watched the Repsol Honda rider push to – and beyond – the limits reserved for mere mortals.

“I watched him lose the front I think six times in the space of two laps,” Miller said, shaking his head.

“I thought ‘he’s down, he’s down’, and then he stood it up and kept going again! But I followed him the lap before through the fast three corners, and he lost the front each time.

“It was amazing to watch from behind, there was smoke and stuff coming off him …”

Marquez’s ability to manhandle a bike that isn’t quite where he wants it in conditions that aren’t quite the optimum means, yet again, the Spaniard will be the man to beat this year. We might not get a repeat of the nine race winners that made the 2016 season one of the more memorable in the sport’s history, but we could see an increase on the number of riders to make the podium this year, if testing is any guide.

It’ll be a tall order for anyone to unseat Marquez, but the number of contenders nipping at his heels looks set to rise – which can only be a good thing.

The Dan Diaries: Back to work

In his first driver column of 2018, Daniel Ricciardo gets set for the first test in Spain, offers his thoughts on the halo, and reveals why Red Bull will be ready to charge from day one.


So how was your break from Formula One? Mine – pretty good. Really good. I was definitely pretty tired when last year ended, so the break was great – maybe I would have just stayed in Oz if I’d already won a world championship and never come back … no, just kidding. Now that I’m back in Europe, there’s some energy back and things are about to get busy. Which I’m looking forward to.

I spent December and most of January between Perth, some time in New Zealand to go to Brendon Hartley’s wedding and see some of the North Island for the first time (go if you haven’t been before, I really enjoyed it over there), and then to what’s becoming my favourite place away from home, California. Did about 10 days in NZ and the US, and then it was back to work, sort of. Being back in Europe after summer in Oz was the usual shock, but I was able to get to Milton Keynes to get into the factory nice and early.

But back to that break, while I’m hanging onto the memories of it … We’re racing until late November now and we have commitments through the early part of December, but I’m able to switch off pretty quickly afterwards as soon as I get on the plane to head back to Perth. The time zone is what makes that work; instantly I’m in a space where when Europe is asleep, I’m awake, and the reverse when Europe is up.

The physical distance is one thing, and the time of day the other. I’m pretty adamant that my phone goes off at night anyway, so I can’t be disturbed even if people want to disturb me. And then not being on a timetable is what makes me relax. Especially on a race weekend – time is so valuable that the day is literally broken down into 10-minute blocks where you’re doing something or being somewhere. So waking up in the morning in Perth and not knowing what you’ll be doing for the rest of the day – and not caring either – is what helps me to recover the energy the travel and everything else takes out of you.

That extends to my training too. For all of December, I’ve found that, for me, it works best that I give myself a break from the training I do all year. There’ll be some incidental exercise when you’re out riding dirt bikes or whatever and being active, but nothing structured. It means I can hit things hard in January when I get back to it and have the enthusiasm to get after it again. Once the calendar flips, it’s time to get into it. So that feeling of being a bit weightless, for lack of a better description, and completely switching off for a few weeks is nice.

There’s always plenty to do before we officially launch the car, and I was able to get ahead of things a bit with some days in the simulator, my seat fit and all of those things. And, of course, getting used to the halo, which of course will be a big talking point when we all rock up for testing, and then even more once we get to Melbourne.

So what’s the initial verdict on the halo? You know, I think it’s going to be alright. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love the look of it, but I think it’ll be fine and we’ll have other things to talk about pretty quickly, especially once the racing starts and we have the championship beginning to take shape. One thing that’s become obvious already is that getting into the car is going to take some getting used to, because it’s very different. I might need to do some yoga or something to become more flexible! But as far as how it looks, I think people are going to get used to the halo pretty quickly and we won’t talk about it for too long. Remember back in 2009, the year that Brawn won the championship, and the cars that year looked so different with the small rear wings, almost like F3 cars? People threw their hands up and talked about it a lot at the start, but then we all got used to it and just moved on. I reckon the 2009 look was more dramatic than the halo and how long it’ll take people to get used to it.

The first pre-season test is coming up in Barcelona in a few days, and from our side, it feels like we’re more ready than we’ve been in the past few years – and there’s a reason for that. This year, the team is consciously making sure the car is ready before we head there and, if you like, not getting too greedy with using every last second we have beforehand to get more and more things on the car, and then get to the track less prepared than we’d like.

We’ve had some pretty slow pre-seasons the past few years where we haven’t got off to great starts, so the focus has been more on making sure the car is ready before we go to the test so we can make sure we know the car is going to run, and that we can tick a lot more boxes before we get out on track. We have a week between our launch of RB14 and the filming day we had at Silverstone on Monday before we get out there in Barcelona, so that’ll help us be even more ready.

The team has made a point of being ready earlier this year, so we can potentially get more out of Barcelona, and then get more out of the first few flyaways. If that gives us a stronger pre-season and we can take that into the first four races and not feel like we’re playing catch-up or chasing ourselves because we left things so late, then that’s a move in the right direction, I think.

It’s always a good feeling to get back into the car for the first time in a long while – I’ve not driven since the test after Abu Dhabi, which was about 12 weeks ago – and so there’s the excitement of being in a new car and that curiosity of how that new car feels, and how your body pulls up after that first day when you’re naturally going to be a bit sore from readjusting. That’s cool, but it’s fleeting – once you’ve done the first day in testing, your eyes and body are back into it, and there’s always a part of me that wishes I could snap my fingers and be on the grid on Sunday in Melbourne … Driving is nice, sure, but I’m ready for some competition pretty quickly.

Before I go, I wanted to say a few words on the passing of Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker last month, and everything he did for the sport back home. Even having the race in Melbourne … everything he did to even make that happen will be one of his many legacies.

Australia opening the calendar as we do, you can’t underestimate how big of a deal that is for our country and our sport to have that, and he’s a huge part of why we have it. He was so well respected by everyone in F1 through all age groups – drivers, managers, team bosses, everyone who comes down to Oz – and was always a presence, someone who’d come over to chat, someone who’d be active with what was happening on race weekend. He helped our sport in Australia massively.