Roger Diez: What to look for in 2018 Formula One
December 15, 2017
Continuing my look at open-wheel racing for next season, this week I'll take a look at Formula One and what we can expect for 2018. Three months to the day after Christmas, the 2018 F1 season will commence with the Australian Grand Prix. The 21-race season will conclude exactly eight months later on Nov. 25 in Abu Dhabi. Television broadcasts will move from NBC Sports to the ESPN platform, with the bulk of the races to be aired on ESPN2 with two races each on ESPN and ABC. Unfortunately, the as yet unnamed broadcast team probably doesn't include Lee Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett. Diffey I won't miss, but Hobbs and Matchett provided excellent insights from their years in the sport as well as their dry British wit. Whomever takes over the broadcast will have some big shoes to fill.
Meanwhile, the teams are working furiously on new cars for the season. Fortunately, changes to the cars required by the 2018 technical regulations are relatively minor. The biggest visual change we will see is the incorporation of the "halo" device to protect the driver from the intrusion of foreign objects like debris or tires or entire cars into the cockpit. Other noticeable changes will be the elimination of the T-wings and shark fins, both of which are banned for 2018. Personally, I like this change, which will give the cars a much cleaner appearance.
There are changes within some of the teams as well. I'll begin by listing the unchanged teams, first of which is Mercedes. Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas will return for 2018. Why mess with success? Ferrari will also remain intact, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen driving. Red Bull is also unchanged, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen hoping to improve the team's 2017 third place result. However, the Red Bull junior team, Toro Rosso, will undergo major changes. Actually, two of those changes took place late last season, as Carlos Sainz departed for Renault and Daniil Kyvat was benched. Pierre Gasly and Bendon Hartley took over driving duties for the final few races, and both have been confirmed for 2018. But perhaps the biggest change for Toro Rosso is an engine supplier swap from Renault to Honda. After two lackluster seasons with McLaren, Honda has restructured its F1 program, dividing responsibilities between development and track support.
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McLaren will have Renault power for 2018, and will continue with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel VanDoorne as team drivers. The team is banking on Renault solving the reliability problems that plagued the manufacturer in 2017. The Renault team will retain Nico Hulkenberg and Sainz, and is said to be working on a "completely new car" for 2018. With the departure of Felipe Massa (for the second time), Williams will retain Canadian teen Lance Stroll, with Robert Kubica the front-runner for the No. 1 seat. Kubica was a rising star several years ago until he was sidelined by serious injuries suffered in a rally crash. But his tests showed he has good speed.
Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will continue as drivers for Force India, hopefully with less on-track contact and drama between them. Haas, the only American owned team in F1, will try to capitalize on the gains they made in 2017 with both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnusson continuing as drivers. The final team on the grid, Sauber, will operate under the banner of Alfa Romeo Sauber for 2018, having made a multi-year technical and commercial partnership deal with Alfa. Marcus Ericsson will continue driving for the team, and will be joined by Charles Leclerc in the second car.
Finally, in non-F1 open wheel news, one of our local racers has signed with a new team. Minden's Tanner Thorson, 21, will pilot the Dooling Hayward Motorsports/Richard Childress Racing No. 63 midget as well as the Tri-C Motorsports No. 3c winged sprint car for 2018. He will start the season at the famed Chili Bowl Nationals, where he drove from 22nd to 4th place last year. With the Childress connection, might we see him join fellow open-wheel dirt racer Kyle Larson in NASCAR soon?