Red Bull Racing

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 …


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 …

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.

Daniel Ricciardo’s 2018 season in a snapshot

The Aussie F1 ace is facing his biggest year yet – so what does the past tell us about his future?


We’re six weeks from the start of the Formula One season in Melbourne, but for Daniel Ricciardo, 2018 can’t come soon enough. There’s a world championship reset to get his teeth into, and bad memories of a spluttering end to last season – he managed just eight points in the final four races to be edged for fourth overall by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen at the year’s last race in Abu Dhabi – to banish.

Out of contract at the end of the year and with a fast and feisty Red Bull Racing teammate in Max Verstappen to contend with, this season shapes as the most crucial of Ricciardo’s eight-year F1 tenure to date.

What did the 28-year-old Australian think of his 2017 campaign? What’s on his mind ahead of 2018? And what does our crystal ball tell us about the 21-race season to come, and where he’ll be at the end of it?

Here’s our preview for the Perth-born pilot.

What happened last year
The afore-mentioned end to last year was a fizzer for Ricciardo, especially compared to what came before it. In a season where Mercedes ran roughshod over the rest (again), the Red Bull ace was always there to extract the maximum possible result out of any situation, and his win in Azerbaijan after qualifying 10th was an opportunistic masterstroke, especially when mixed in with what was undoubtedly the best overtake of the season …

Ricciardo’s fifth career win in Baku was in the middle of a rich run of form, five podiums in a row coming between Spain and Austria, where he memorably held off Lewis Hamilton’s late-race charge for the rostrum. That, and finally breaking his Japan podium duck in October, were the high points, but those three retirements in the final four races (all from mechanical failures) left the season feeling a little flat.

Ricciardo’s past five seasons
2017: 200pts (5th), 2016: 256pts (3rd), 2015: 92pts (8th), 2014: 238pts (3rd), 2013: 20pts (14th).

2017: in his own words
“It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head … and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages. I won a race, I had runs of five and three podiums in a row … there was some good stuff there.”

– Ricciardo, writing for in December.

2017: an expert’s view
“Based purely on his peak results, 2017 was Ricciardo’s best season yet in Formula One, but he will probably be the first to admit 2017 has not been his finest year. Yes, he won a race and fell just five points shy of beating Raikkonen to fourth in the world championship, but this is the first season Ricciardo has been comfortably out-performed by a Red Bull teammate. That will hurt. Ricciardo is a conqueror of
Sebastian Vettel, and has fostered a deserved reputation for being one of F1’s best qualifiers, and classiest racers. But Ricciardo struggled to consistently hit the RB13’s sweet-spot in qualifying this year, and occasionally over-reached trying to make up for that.”

– Ricciardo’s review in Autosport’s Top 50 drivers of 2017 across all four-wheel motorsport categories, where he was ranked seventh.

Home isn’t so sweet …
Brazil (where Ricciardo has managed just 13 points in seven races) is a well-known graveyard for the Aussie, but his home race in Melbourne hasn’t been a lot letter – in six appearances at Albert Park, the home hero has scored just 22 points, retired twice, and been disqualified after finishing on the podium on his Red Bull debut in 2014. A turnaround in fortune is due …

But a second ‘home’ race is
Ricciardo has finished on the podium at 13 of the 21 Grands Prix on this year’s calendar; Singapore (71 points and four podiums in a row) is his strongest track, and not much further away from his home city of Perth than Melbourne is …

Top of the team
Ricciardo has had six F1 teammates (Narain Karthikeyan, Tonio Liuzzi, Jean-Eric Vergne, Vettel, Daniil Kvyat and Verstappen) across his 129-race career, and has only been beaten by two of them at the end of a season (Vergne by six points in 2012, Kvyat by three points in 2015).

The burning question
Forget Verstappen and pegging that qualifying deficit to his teammate from last year, forget ending his home hoodoo and forget any talk of titles; until Ricciardo’s contract for 2019 and beyond is sorted out, he’ll continue to be the focus of the F1 silly season until he decides whether he’s staying or going. With Ferrari looking to have answered the question of whether Raikkonen will be retained after this year by placing 20-year-old Ferrari-backed F2 champion Charles Leclerc at Sauber, Ricciardo is the biggest domino to fall in the driver market, and what he does will dictate other moves up and down the grid. Watch this space.

Ricciardo’s outlook
“I’ll use some people close to me as a sounding board and kick it around with some friends just to have the conversation, but I don’t like to have too many people getting involved. It has to come from me, I’m the one who has to live it. I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box, if you like. Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful – races, championships – that’s the absolute priority.”

– Ricciardo on his future

We’re predicting …
We’ll admit it: we were too optimistic in this space last year when we pegged Ricciardo as our 2017 runner-up; Red Bull’s reliability woes (Ricciardo and Verstappen retired 13 times between them last year compared to Ferrari’s combined five DNF’s and Mercedes’ one) put paid to that. From that base, a title looks a bridge too far, but a top-three title finish is in play. What happens in 2019 and beyond? Your guess is as good as ours …

Six great unknowns about the 2018 F1 season

What are the big questions that need answers as the clock ticks towards Melbourne in March?


It’s merely 10 weeks until the 2018 Formula One season roars into life in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, but there’s plenty we already know about the 21-race calendar for this year.

A starting point? Mercedes will, by virtue of their recent dominance and a relatively stable set of rules between seasons after last year’s dramatic visual overhaul, will start firm favourites again. What else should stay the same? Kimi Raikkonen’s retention by Ferrari should almost guarantee the Prancing Horse’s constructors’ championship drought stretches to a decade by season’s end, while Williams, by virtue of running second-year teenager Lance Stroll with (likely) Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin this season, should ensure what has now become a midfield team has the biggest repair bill on the 2018 grid …

To get all Donald Rumsfeld for a second, they’re all known knowns, but what don’t we know about the season ahead? Gloriously, for those who love the theatre and drama of sport, plenty – so here’s a holiday season six-pack to digest.

1. Can Hamilton keep the hunger?

Lewis Hamilton has always gone to great lengths to have a life outside of F1 (even if we won’t know about it anymore after the recent purging of his social media accounts). Committed to his craft as he is, you always suspect F1 isn’t his sole focus like, say, Michael Schumacher before him, and Sebastian Vettel beside him. Which begs the question: how much winning will Hamilton want to do before he’s had enough?

Leaving McLaren to join Mercedes looked, at the time, to be a mistake for the now 33-year-old given the relative performances of the two teams, but after a so-so 2013 campaign, Hamilton has been mostly masterful since. In the 79 races since F1 changed gears to the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, Hamilton has won 40 of them – more than half – and double the number of victories recorded by the next-most successful driver of those four years, the now-retired Nico Rosberg.

Winning may not define Hamilton, but does it drive him? After losing out to Rosberg in 2016 amid a poisonous atmosphere at Mercedes, you sense the Briton relished the chance to take on Vettel in a true head-to-head contest last year and emerge triumphant. After trailing the Ferrari driver for the first half of the year in the standings, Hamilton rattled off five wins in six races after the mid-year break to stitch up his fourth world title with two Grands Prix remaining, showing the extra gear he has that few in history can match.

Hamilton is out of contract at the end of 2018, but expect him to go nowhere while the current set of regulations stay relatively stable for another three seasons, and while Mercedes should be at or near the top for the foreseeable future. He’s averaged 10 wins a year for four years – and Schumacher’s all-time win total of 91 is 29 away from Hamilton’s 62. Might the chance of being known as the best of all-time extend his F1 tenure before life takes a turn? It’s a very big carrot.

2. Has Ferrari learned its lesson?

Based on its re-signing of the 38-year-old Raikkonen for yet another season, five years and counting after he last won a Grand Prix, it appears not. But Vettel showed enough last year to suggest this one will be a closer fight with Mercedes for the whole season provided he can iron out the occasionally calamitous emotional spikes that can tarnish his otherwise superb driving (think Mexico 2016, Azerbaijan 2017, Singapore last year), and if Ferrari can improve its reliability after the Asian swing of races last year saw its title hopes turn to dust. Both big ifs, we know, but if the past four years of Mercedes dominance have taught us anything, it’s that the Silver Arrows won’t beat themselves – you’ll have to dethrone them.

Vettel’s first half of 2017, Azerbaijan road rage incident aside, was exemplary – and getting 2018 off to a similar start by winning in Australia and putting Mercedes under pressure is a must. Going on with it in the second half of the year when the races come thick and fast in a 21-race campaign that’s equal to the longest in the sport’s history simply has to happen if Ferrari is to snap a drivers’ championship drought that goes back to Raikkonen’s title in 2007, when Hamilton was a rookie at McLaren.

3. Are Renault up to it?

Red Bull Racing finished 2017 in no-man’s land, very rarely a chance to beat Mercedes and Ferrari in a straight fight on pace, and very rarely under pressure from Force India and the rest in the rear-view mirror. While Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo won three races between them, Red Bull finished 154 points behind Ferrari (and a massive 300 behind Mercedes) in third in the constructors’ championship, and nearly 200 points clear of Force India in fourth. ‘Best of the rest’ was a common refrain.

What could change their predicament in 2018? What would add plenty of spice to the championship as a whole would be a Renault power unit that could allow Red Bull, not to mention new client McLaren and even the Renault works team, to take the fight to the top two squads more regularly. Renault’s reliability woes last year were masked somewhat by Honda’s almost comical number of grid penalties for new engine components that left McLaren’s drivers starting at the very back more often than not, and with the number of engines per driver for the season being reduced (from four to three) with one more race than last year’s 20 Grands Prix, it doesn’t bode well.

But what if Renault could find some extra horsepower while improving reliability? You’d have Verstappen and Ricciardo up the front more often, and the tantalising prospect of an inspired Fernando Alonso hauling a strong McLaren chassis into places McLaren used to be in its good old days. Not to mention the likes of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz, Renault’s excellent 2018 combination, scrapping for occasional podiums and giving the top three teams a hard time. Renault rising to the challenge could make the 2018 season an absolute cracker.

4. Is Verstappen ready to win a title?

He’s 20 years old, has already won three races, and is tethered to Red Bull for at least the next three seasons. By almost any measure, Verstappen is the most exciting driver to come into F1 since Hamilton first wowed the sport’s fans from the first corner of his first race in Australia 11 years ago, but does the Dutchman really have what it takes to launch a world title tilt if his machinery is up to the task?

There’s almost no doubt that he does, the one small red flag being his judgement in wheel-to-wheel combat, as his teammate discovered to his fury last year in Budapest. But Verstappen has time on his side, experience to draw upon, a laser-like focus when the visor snaps shut and a lightness out of the car that suggests he’ll handle the ups and downs of an F1 title fight better than most, should he be in position for one.

After last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, where Hamilton secured the 2017 title, the Mercedes driver was already looking ahead to his defence, and who might stand in his way. “Max is an exceptional driver,” Hamilton offered. “I hope (Red Bull) have a better engine next year and they are more in the fight, I think it would be great for the sport. You have a potential world champion in Max, and he is only going to get stronger with age because he has a lot of raw talent.”

5. What will Dan do?

Number five on our list, but perhaps number one in terms of the impact a Ricciardo move could make on the driver market. The Australian, beaten handily by Verstappen in qualifying last year while winning one race (Azerbaijan) to Verstappen’s two (Malaysia and Mexico), is out of contract at the end of the season, a year where two tantalising seats (Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes and Raikkonen at Ferrari) could become available for the following season.

The ever-smiling ‘Honey Badger’ turns 29 in July, and, as he wrote after the 2017 season, there’s a “lot at stake” in his next career move. Leaving the only F1 family he knows, the team he’s won five Grands Prix with and the outfit he’s become an F1 star with would be risky, but we said the same thing about Hamilton and McLaren in 2012, and look how that has ended up?

Ricciardo has repeatedly said performance is more important than his pay packet, and Red Bull’s pre-season testing pace – a real weakness in recent years – will play a big part in determining what impact the team makes on the early races, where his future will surely be a hot topic. Watch this space.

 6. How much will we be talking about the halo?

Oh, boy. We’ve all known the most dramatic aesthetic change to F1 machinery in, well, ever has been coming for some time now, but expect a social media tsunami when the new-for-2018 cars break cover for pre-season testing in Barcelona on February 26.

It’s an inelegant solution to a serious problem, that of cockpit protection for the drivers, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many fans in Melbourne, when the halo-hatted cars will race for the first time, that believe the new look is an upgrade on its predecessor. Engineers will hate it – the halo and all of its various brackets and mounting points add 15 kilograms or thereabouts to the chassis, compromising weight on other areas of the car and the amount of ballast than can be used to aid performance – and the fans will find it harder to spot their favourite driver by their signature helmet design.

How will the halo affect the racing? How will the fans react? Will the heavier drivers be unfairly penalised by the extra weight? All unknows we’ll be seeing answers to very, very soon.

The Dan Diaries: Hitting the reset button

In his final exclusive driver column of the year, Daniel Ricciardo looks back at his 2017 season – and opens the door on his thoughts about his F1 future.


It’d been a while since I’d been back home in Monaco, so the main priorities were to check that the lights still worked and that the heater could be cranked up, because it had got bloody cold since I was here last. Tick and tick. And then it was time to exhale for a bit before getting going one last time for 2017. The back-end of the year is always pretty hectic, and I hadn’t been home much since before Singapore, back in mid-September. Saying that, I could probably use some more driving, because I didn’t get to do a lot of it the longer the year went.

Abu Dhabi wasn’t a great way to end the season for all of us, and I’m not just saying that because I had to retire. After I’d fended off Kimi (Raikkonen) early on, I was driving around and just about hanging on to Seb (Sebastian Vettel) in front of me, but probably didn’t have the pace to follow him in his dirty air and pass him. Fourth looked like the best it could have got, and I was genuinely thinking about the viewers, because it was pretty dull. The combination of the track layout there and how hard it is for these cars to run close to each other, it just didn’t work. Definitely wasn’t much of a spectacle. I don’t 100 per cent know why the track doesn’t produce great racing, but I think that when you have a slow corner leading onto a long straight like we do there in a couple of places, and when the DRS zone starts – in my opinion anyway – too late, then you end up with these static races where not a lot happens. The cars this year – wider, bigger tyres, more disturbed air behind – were always going to make this one tough. It was worse than we feared, most probably. Not getting any points didn’t help my mood, to be fair.

Retiring early again was pretty hard to take, especially after I’d qualified well. I pitted earlier than I wanted to because I thought I had a flat tyre, but because it happened pretty quickly and because I was sure I hadn’t run over any debris or something, I feared it was something more than that. Turns out I was right. I got back out there and then after a few corners, I could feel the steering was getting a bit weird and quite heavy, and that’s when I knew we had a hydraulics problem. The gears start to go, and there’s no coming back from there.

It’s pretty normal to start to feel the energy wearing down towards the end of the season, because we do a lot of travel in a short time and some back-to-backs. After the race in Abu Dhabi, and maybe I was a bit flatter because of how it finished for me, I had no interest in doing much. A few people in the team were going out to celebrate the end of the season and all that, but I knew I was testing at Yas Marina on the Tuesday, and just wasn’t up for it at all. With the way the season ended, there wasn’t heaps to celebrate anyway. Since Japan, a lot happened, but not a lot of it was good. Three DNFs in the last four races and only a sixth in Brazil to show for it – you know things are bad when Brazil is the highlight of the last few races, because I’d never had a strong run there in the past.

It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head over the last week, and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages. I won a race, I had runs of five and three podiums in a row, held off Lewis (Hamilton) to get third in Austria … there was some good stuff there. It was very up and down though, and the DNF’s hurt both Max (Verstappen) and me – we had 13 between us, Mercedes had just one with (Valtteri) Bottas in Spain and Ferrari had five, and the crash at the start in Singapore was a big factor there. Too many for us, really.

There was too much inconsistency for me to call it an amazing season or a bad one. The reliability was inconsistent and for me, in qualifying – I put in some of my standard laps, but there were other times where we were left scratching our heads like Mexico, where I was fastest on Friday and then a second off pole on Saturday. Still doesn’t completely make sense now, that one.

For me, it’s geography rather than time that makes me feel in my mind that I can switch off, and that’s coming. I did the last race, tested for a day, went to Baku to do some promo work for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, flew back to Monaco, and by the time you read this, I’ll be back in the UK for a week for Red Bull’s Christmas party, time in the simulator and some other things. And then I’m done.

There’s something about that last flight back to Oz from London and when you cross the equator – then you’re on your time and you can completely breathe again. The plan is to get back to Western Australia, not get on a plane except for when I go to Brendon Hartley’s wedding in January, and get away for a bit. Some mates of mine have rented a place away from the city and hopefully where there’s some bad mobile reception! That’s what I’m hanging out for. I feel I need to relax and go back recharged more than spending a month or so trying to do too much when I’m back in Perth, because next year is a big one for me. They’re all big, but there’s a bit going on other than just the driving.

By the time we all turn up in Barcelona at the end of February, I’ll probably be answering a million questions about what I’ll be doing after 2018 when my contract runs out. Which I’m completely prepared for, I get it. I’m actually a bit surprised how much it has been discussed already – not like it was new news that I’m up at the end of ’18 – but I guess Max re-signing with the team took the focus off him and sent it in my direction. It hasn’t been a distraction yet, but the longer it takes, the more people will ask the same questions 200 different ways – and I’ll need to come up with different ways to answer them the same way!

So where do things stand? The short answer is that there’s absolutely no rush, and things can take as long as they take – I’m not setting a deadline for anyone else’s sake, or just to get it done for me. I’m not just going to settle on something because I want it to be off my mind, because there’s a lot at stake. It’s a big decision for me, so if I need to take time to make it, I will. I’m planning on being in the sport for a long while yet, but in saying that, if I was to sign, say, a three-year deal, that’s a big chunk of the next part of my career. I need to get it right, so it’s a big call – the most important one for me yet, I think. I’ll take as much time as I need to. It’s not going to be a distraction.

I’m 29 next 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, or at the other end of my career when I’m hanging on and doing things year by year (I don’t ever want to get to that stage, I can’t see myself being that guy). You look at Lewis and when he did his Mercedes deal, he was the same age as I am now if I remember correctly. He was already doing very well where he was, but his career has really taken off since then. So, there’s a lot to consider.

You can get caught up in too many opinions with this, so I’ll use some people close to me as a sounding board and kick it around with some friends just to have the conversation, but I don’t like to have too many people getting involved. It has to come from me, I’m the one who has to live it. I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box, if you like. Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful – races, championships – that’s the absolute priority. It’s not even close.

Being in the position to make the decision is something cool, something unusual, and something where I feel like I’ll probably learn a lot. No matter what happens, it’ll be a growing experience for me because it’s something I’ve not been through. It’ll be nice to stand on my own two feet and make some grown-up decisions. Maybe even act like an adult! It’s all part of the evolution, I’m told …