Max Verstappen

Ricciardo v Verstappen 2.0: who wins?

Two years since they first became F1 teammates, which Red Bull driver really holds the advantage?


Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix doesn’t herald the anniversary of a new season, but it does mark two years since Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen became teammates at Red Bull Racing. And it’s a milestone that Verstappen in particular won’t forget in a hurry, the Dutchman winning at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in 2016 on his Red Bull debut after Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tripped over one another at the front of the field. It happens to even the best of them …

Ricciardo, 28, and Verstappen, 20, are at very different ages and stages of their F1 careers, but their partnership has been regularly successful, sometimes combative and always interesting in their 41 races as stablemates in the Red Bull pen. Sunday’s race in Barcelona comes, of course, a fortnight after their coming-together at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the stewards finding both drivers to blame for the lap 41 shunt that saw the team leave Baku with zero points to its name.

Which driver holds the upper hand over the other in their time together? Let’s look at the tale of the tape …

H2H                 Ricciardo             Verstappen
Wins 3 3
Poles 1 0
Podiums 18 11
Qualifying 20 21
Points 457 377
Starts 41 41
Finishes 33 30
Mechanical DNF 6 4


And recap five of their memorable races as teammates.

Spain, 2016
Verstappen could hardly have made a more impressive start at Red Bull, capitalising on the Mercedes mayhem ahead of him to win on debut for the ‘senior’ Bull team after his time at Toro Rosso. Ricciardo, committed to a three-stop race while his teammate pitted just twice, battled former teammate Sebastian Vettel for third before a puncture on the penultimate lap forced a late fourth stop, and he finished fourth, 43 seconds behind his new teammate.

Malaysia, 2016
When Hamilton retired from the lead with an engine failure with 15 laps left and a virtual safety car was called, Ricciardo and Verstappen pitted for soft tyres and set off on a head-to-head run to the flag for the win, Ricciardo prevailing after the teammates ran wheel-to-wheel through multiple corners before Verstappen was forced to concede.

“It was hard racing and we’re both determined to win and we want to beat each other, but we did it today very fair and with a lot of respect,” Ricciardo said.

“I thank him for that, and I think it goes both ways.” Verstappen finished second, the pair’s only 1-2 result to date.

China, 2017
Verstappen capped a remarkable charge from 16th on the grid to the final place on the podium, just edging Ricciardo by eight-tenths of a second after the Australian tried a last-lap lunge at the hairpin. Verstappen made his moves early, passing nine cars on the opening lap on intermediate tyres as the race started on a drying track. Team boss Christian Horner lauded Verstappen’s “sixth sense” in the wet.

Hungary, 2017
The first in-race flashpoint between Ricciardo and Verstappen. The Australian nabbed his teammate at Turn 1 after Verstappen’s passing attempt of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes went awry, and the Dutchman immediately attacked Ricciardo at the next corner, locking up and spearing into the left-hand side of the sister Red Bull. Ricciardo was out on the spot, and Verstappen given a 10-second penalty for a collision a seething Ricciardo called “amateur”. A contrite Verstappen, who went on to finish fifth, apologised to Ricciardo afterwards.

Azerbaijan, 2018
The second flashpoint, and just Ricciardo’s second non-mechanical DNF as Verstappen’s teammate …


Why Spain is the start of F1’s ‘second season’

Formula One hits Europe for the first time this year in Barcelona – here’s five things to watch for as the season resets after the flyaways.


It’s the great guessing game of any Formula One off-season; the never-ending quest to work out which team is fastest and why before the cars hit the track for pre-season testing and, you know, actually demonstrate that for themselves. And then do some more guessing as to who is holding something back after testing for the season-opener in Australia

Another F1 truism? We spend the opening quartet of flyaways from Albert Park debating the pecking order of teams one through 10 on the grid with one qualifier: wait until they return to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix. Spain, as the first GP much closer to home for the teams after the races in far-flung Melbourne, Sakhir, Shanghai and Baku, marks the start of F1’s unofficial ‘second season’, where teams bring significant aerodynamic and performance updates that have been finessed in factories while the machinery itself stays largely in launch spec, chasing victories far away from base.

What do we know about the season so far? The big three of last year – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – are still the top triumvirate in F1, but the true order of that trio remains to be seen. Mercedes has dominated since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, and a familiar pattern looked set to emerge when Lewis Hamilton demolished the opposition in Australian Grand Prix qualifying in March. But since, Ferrari (Sebastian Vettel) has taken three straight poles, Red Bull (Daniel Ricciardo) has won a race in China, and it was Hamilton who belatedly took Mercedes’ first win of 2018 in fortunate fashion in Azerbaijan last time out, his teammate Valtteri Bottas retiring late with a puncture after the Finn looked set to win a race Vettel had in his keeping until a late race safety car for … well, you know what.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, site of round five of the season this weekend, is one that every driver and team knows like the back of their hands as F1’s pre-season testing track of choice, and it’s one that provides every type of corner (even if we miss the fearsome big-balls right-handers that used to be the final sequence of the lap). Meaning there’s few unknowns about the venue; but what of the cars?

What might a technical shake-up do to that enormously-analysed pecking order we talked about earlier? Will we see technical directors entering the paddock with last-minute go-fast bits in their hand luggage ahead of qualifying on Saturday? (Answer: yes). And what trends might be revealed in Barcelona that set the scene for the races to follow?

Here’s five things to keep an eye on for this weekend.

1. Look for Silver to shine
Azerbaijan has been a tricky track for Mercedes in recent years despite it winning seemingly everywhere else, the propensity of its cars to overheat its rear tyres in the stop-start early part of the lap diluting its overall performance advantage over the rest. Catalunya, therefore, comes at the perfect time for a team that hasn’t yet hit its usual heights this season, Hamilton admitting after Baku that “Ferrari still hold the upper hand”, particularly in qualifying.

Since F1 made its big power-plant shift in 2014, there’s only one time Mercedes hasn’t won in Spain, and that came after Hamilton and Nico Rosberg committed the cardinal sin of crashing into one another (yes, other teams do it too) on the first lap for Max Verstappen to sweep through to win on his Red Bull debut in 2016.

Mercedes spent much of the pre-season running at the same circuit sandbagging so as to not show its superiority over its rivals, and while the team trails Ferrari (by four points) in the constructors’ championship, you’d be shocked if that didn’t change come Sunday night. Should Ferrari be able to hang with Mercedes in Spain, we might just have a title fight that’ll rumble on for the remainder of the year.

2. Running of the Bulls in Spain?
Ricciardo won in China, sure, but Barcelona shapes as Red Bull’s best chance for a strong result in a relatively normal race, not the safety car-generated tyre gamble that was Shanghai last month. Yes, the RB14 might labour down the lengthy front straight, but the sweeping curves that feature across much of the rest of the lap should see Ricciardo and Verstappen in their element, especially in the super-long Turn 3 and the quick right flick of Turn 9 onto the back straight. Passing is notoriously difficult at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and tyre debris off-line tends to shrink the racing line, but the Bulls should be quick enough in clean air to do some damage at a circuit that shapes as one of their most suitable for the season.

3. Making sense of the midfield
The top three teams are clearly the same as last year, but what have the first four races told us about the order of who follows them? Barcelona, as a track everyone is very familiar with, should help in sorting out the midfield minefield, with the identity of who is the next-best team seemingly switching by the race.

McLaren (fourth in the constructors’ championship with 36 points) lead the chase for now, but that’s largely on the back of Fernando Alonso being one of just three drivers in the field to score points at every race (Hamilton and Vettel, first and second in the championship, are the others).

The Spaniard always lifts to another level at home, but can he keep his 2018 form up against the likes of Renault (fifth, 35 points, and who have had both drivers in Q3 in all four races) and Force India (sixth, 16 points, and who had Sergio Perez on the podium in Baku)?

The other team to keep an eye on is Haas (eighth, 12 points), who could have had more points than that from either Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen in Australia alone had both their pit stops not gone awry. Two points finishes from a possible eight (and Grosjean being just one of two drivers yet to score at all, along with Sergey Sirotkin of Williams) isn’t an accurate reflection of the American team’s pace, and Spain could be the start of them finishing where their speed suggests they should.

4. When is 1 worth more than 66?
When it comes to qualifying in Spain, that’s when. Sunday’s race is 66 laps long, but history suggests whoever has ‘1’ next to their name after qualifying 24 hours earlier is in the box seat to take the victory. More races are won from pole in Spain than anywhere (even Monaco), and with the current generation of fast-cornering cars, turbulent air and tyre marbles can turn the Spanish GP into a largely processional affair, one where the field can be strung out quickly. Last year’s one-on-one Battle of Barcelona between Hamilton and Vettel was both highly unusual and completely exhausting for its sheer intensity, but few remember that third-placed Ricciardo was the only other driver on the lead lap by the end, and he was a whopping 75 seconds adrift. We’ll know more about the true pace of all the cars after Sunday, but it’s hard to imagine Spain will serve up a race as compelling chaotic as Baku was, or build to a thrilling finale like Shanghai did.

5. The animals line up in pairs
With Catalunya being a track that rewards car pace more than allows individual drivers to shine, the grid can take on a ‘Noah’s Ark’ feel, the teams often lining up side-by-side based on the optimum performance of their machinery. Which means teammates can often set up next to one another for the long (740 metre) run the right-handed first corner, after which a switchback into Turn 2 always catches a few drivers out. If you’re a team principal, you could be forgiven for watching the first 30 seconds with your hands over your eyes …

What happened at the Australian Grand Prix?

Ferrari gets fortunate, Mercedes makes a mess and Ricciardo nearly nabs that elusive podium – here’s what you need to know about what went down in Melbourne.


The build-up

Mercedes looked to have been saving something in reserve for the opening race of the season after pre-season testing; the only question was how much? Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton answered that emphatically in qualifying by taking pole with the fastest-ever lap around Albert Park (1min 21.164secs), which showed the gains the team has made in 12 months – he smashed his own circuit benchmark from last year by over a second. Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next, but their deficit to the front (six-tenths of a second) was sobering. Max Verstappen (fourth) was the best of the Red Bulls, local hero Daniel Ricciardo copping a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently under red flags in Friday practice (a sanction he summed up as “shithouse”) that turned his fifth in qualifying into an eighth-place start. His predicament was at least better than Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who shunted heavily in qualifying and had to start from the back.

The race in exactly 69 words*

Hamilton had the race under control after bolting from pole, but a mid-race virtual safety car to retrieve the stricken Haas of Romain Grosjean sent his afternoon awry. Vettel made his sole pit stop and emerged ahead of the Briton, Mercedes admitting afterwards it has miscalculated how fast its driver could lap under VSC conditions. The Ferrari held sway to the flag, while teammate Raikkonen rounded out the podium.

(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

What the result means

For the second straight season, Hamilton dominated Albert Park until it really mattered, the four-time world champion’s mastery of Melbourne not reflected in his result. Vettel’s second consecutive success in Australia owed itself to cunning strategy and a smattering of luck, but nobody left the circuit on Sunday night under any illusions as to who has the fastest car on the grid. Given the opportunity to pounce, Vettel grabbed it and didn’t dare let go.

Ricciardo recap

The Australian was seven-tenths of a second behind Raikkonen at the finish for a fourth-place result, one which saw him – ever so narrowly – fail to become the first local driver to make the podium in Melbourne. Ricciardo’s race pace was mighty as the laps ticked down – he set the fastest lap overall with five laps remaining – and while 12 points to kick-start 2018 were nice, he couldn’t help but think of the penalty that so incensed him on Friday night. “I could see and touch (the podium) today and I tried to make something happen,” he said. “But in the end, it would have been nice to have started further up the front …”

For historical purposes …

Hamilton’s seventh Australian pole was a record, eclipsing the previous marker held by his childhood idol, Ayrton Senna. That was the good; what wasn’t was that five poles in as many years in Melbourne have produced just one win, back in 2015.

The number to know

12: the points scored by McLaren duo Fernando Alonso (fifth) and Stoffel Vandoorne (ninth), more than the team scored in any single Grand Prix for all of last year. Related: Melbourne was McLaren’s first race in its new alignment with Renault, its troubled three-year association with Honda engines coming to a conclusion in Abu Dhabi last season.

Under-the-radar winner(s)

Vettel was the big winner at the sharp end of the field, and McLaren’s season couldn’t have begun much better, especially when you consider both cars qualified outside of the top 10. A double-points finish for Renault duo Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz deserves praise too, especially as the latter struggled late in the race with nausea after the water pump in his car failed in the opening 15 laps.

The naughty corner

Eighth for Bottas in a car that had race-winning speed capped off a difficult weekend where he looked nowhere near Hamilton’s pace and was ragged to boot, while Toro Rosso’s start to life with Honda was a rough one, Brendon Hartley finishing 15th and last of the classified runners, and teammate Pierre Gasly retiring with – cough – an engine problem 13 laps in. But the biggest losers – given what they lost – in Melbourne were Haas, with Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen both running in the top five on merit before both retired soon after their pit stops with wheels not attached correctly. A significant haul of points went begging, and the team was fined $10,000 for the pair of unsafe pit releases. Ouch, and double-ouch.

What’s next?

While the pre-season guesswork about Formula One’s pecking order now has some substance, we wait for the next two rounds, a back-to-back set in Bahrain (April 8) and China (April 15). Vettel took the honours at Sakhir last year, while Shanghai has been Mercedes territory, Hamilton winning there three years out of the past four, and a record five times in all.

Hamilton’s good timing stuns pit lane


Right through Formula One’s eight days of winter testing in Spain earlier this month, Mercedes was conspicuous in its absence from the sharp end of the timesheets, world champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas rarely showing the speed most of their rivals figured they had in reserve.

In qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Saturday afternoon, Hamilton let the cat out of the bag – and it was 81 seconds that sent shudders the length of the pit lane as the Briton took his fifth pole in Melbourne in succession, and a record seventh in Australia, surpassing the tally of his childhood idol, Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton’s pole position lap of 1min 21.124secs was staggering 1.064 seconds than his circuit-record lap set at the same stage of last year’s Australian Grand Prix, and more worryingly for his rivals, six-tenths of a second faster than second-placed Kimi Raikkonen, the Finnish veteran surprisingly emerging as the fastest Ferrari qualifier, teammate Sebastian Vettel in third.

Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, consigned to a three-place grid penalty from wherever he qualified after a red flag infringement in Friday practice, will start Sunday’s 58-lap race from eighth place, the 28-year-old continuing a subdued season-opening weekend at home as he finished 0.273secs slower than Red Bull Racing teammate, Max Verstappen.

Persistent rain on Saturday looked to be the one potential spanner in Hamilton’s quest for the Australian pole record, but as the skies cleared enough for qualifying to be held on a dry track, the Briton took provisional pole on his first flying lap of the final 10 minutes of qualifying despite making mistakes at three of the final four corners.

On his second lap as the chequered flag flew, Hamilton unleashed the full power of the W09 that had been kept under wraps, lopping six-tenths of a second off his best time by the halfway point and improving by eight-tenths of a second overall to leave the field in his wake.

“I’m always striving for perfection, and that’s as close as I can get,” a beaming Hamilton said.

“You would think that with the results that we’ve had over the years that this would be the norm, but it was just as intense, my heart is racing.”

While there were smiles on one side of the Mercedes garage, Bottas’ mechanics faced a long night ahead after the Finn crashed heavily at the second corner on his first lap of the top-10 shootout, backing his car into the fence on the inside of the circuit and damaging the chassis so heavily that a five-place penalty for a gearbox change – at the very least – will take him out of contention for Sunday’s race win. The Finn, retained at Mercedes on a one-year deal after an inconsistent 2017, couldn’t have had a worst start to a crucial season in a year where several top-line drivers, Ricciardo included, come off contract at its conclusion.

While Red Bull were no match for Mercedes and Ferrari over one lap in qualifying, the team showed its strategic hand by indicating it will start Sunday’s race on the more durable supersoft Pirelli tyres, which Ricciardo and Verstappen used in the second phase of qualifying. While Hamilton and the Ferrari duo will start on ultrasoft tyres and likely be quicker at the start of the race, the Red Bull pair will elect to run the faster, less durable rubber for the closing stages, banking on taking track position early when their rivals pit and being on the faster rubber at the end on a circuit where passing opportunities against a car on similar tyres are few and far between.

Ricciardo was enraged when his penalty, which came after he was found to be driving too quickly in Friday practice when a timing cable had come loose on the start-finish straight, was handed out, and the normally affable Australian hadn’t cooled down when he arrived at the circuit on Saturday ahead of qualifying.

“I think it’s shithouse, I’m pissed to say the least,” he fumed, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner later commenting that he’d never seen the Australian so angry in his four years with the team.

“Yesterday’s news has been pretty bitter for me. I made a mistake, no doubt about it, but is that mistake worth a grid penalty in a practice session when no car is on track, no-one’s upside down? It was a cable on the track. I didn’t pass the incident … common sense should have prevailed.”

Ricciardo has struggled to match Verstappen’s pace in the sister Red Bull all weekend, and while he should be able to dispatch the likes of Haas pair Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, who were elevated on the grid because of his penalty, with ease, his chances of a maiden podium at his home race appear slim unless Red Bull’s tyre gamble pays big dividends.

Ricciardo hit with grid penalty


Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes of a breakthrough first podium finish at his home Formula One race nosedived late last night, with the Red Bull driver handed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race after a driving infringement in the second practice session at Albert Park.

The Australian was penalised for driving too quickly after the session had been red-flagged for a timing cable that had come loose on the start-finish straight. The red flag came as Ricciardo was completing his qualifying simulation run, his lap halted after two of the three sectors of the Albert Park circuit.

At best, Ricciardo will start Sunday’s race from fourth on the grid, should he take a second career pole in 130 starts in Friday’s qualifying.

Before the penalty it had been a quiet start to the Australian Grand Prix for Ricciardo, who was in sixth place in opening practice before spending a significant amount of time in the garage in the second session as the team changed his car’s suspension. The five-time grand prix winner finished in seventh place.

The Australian’s true pace remains a mystery after he wasn’t able to complete a low-fuel qualifying simulation run Friday afternoon, getting halfway through his best lap of the session when it was red-flagged because of the loose timing cable.

With rain forecast for Saturday’s qualifying, Ricciardo, speaking before being penalised, spied an opportunity to leap up the order.

‘‘We always enjoy some wet weather. I think it just evens everything out,’’ he said.

‘‘Today in the dry we didn’t look too bad, but the wet will give us potentially more of a chance. The last wet qualifying here was 2014 [when he qualified second]. That wasn’t too bad, so we’ll try to do that again.’’

Formula One world champions Mercedes chose to use pre-season testing in Spain this month to build bullet-proof reliability into their new W09 chassis, eschewing the temptation of chasing headline-grabbing times and leaving open the question of whether Formula One’s fastest were faster.

Was that question answered Friday at Albert Park? Yes, and no. Yes, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton picked up where he left off last year by topping both practice sessions, but the chasing pack, led by Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, was much closer than anticipated.

Hamilton’s fastest time, a lap of one minute 23.931 seconds set midway through the 90-minute second session, was 0.127 seconds quicker than Verstappen, with Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas next, a further tenth of a second adrift.

Ferrari teammates Kimi Raikkonen and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top five, the German a deflating half a second slower than Hamilton as the Scuderia’s championship charge started with a splutter.

While Mercedes’ Bottas had several off-track excursions on an occasionally ragged day for the Finnish driver, teammate Hamilton seemed to have plenty in reserve, storming through the final sector on his fastest lap to cement top spot.

The 33-year-old Briton, who will Saturday be chasing his fifth consecutive pole position in Melbourne, went faster than his best time of last year’s first practice session with half an hour remaining Friday afternoon, mildly annoyed that he’d had ‘‘a lot of traffic on that lap’’.

While Mercedes had gone under the radar on the pre-season timesheets, it was a throwaway line by the team’s technical director James Allison after the conclusion of testing that was ominous, Allison suggesting last year’s Mercedes would be ‘‘utterly hopeless’’ compared with the W09.

Bearing in mind that last year’s car, used by Hamilton to win his fourth world title, won 60 per cent of the races and took 75 per cent of pole positions while winning the constructors’ championship in a landslide, it was a bold statement, but one Mercedes looks capable of backing up.

Mercedes looked mighty through Albert Park’s one fearsome corner combination of note, the Turn 11-12 chicane.

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 “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 …

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 …