Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2018 Formula One Predictions

Christmas is behind us and we are in the final week of 2017. Soon 2018 will be here and one-by-one each series will commence another new season. Let's run through another set of predictions and this time we will look over Formula One. Lewis Hamilton is coming off his fourth World Drivers' Championship. Mercedes has won four consecutive World Constructors' Championships. Ferrari's challenge ended in Singapore. Renaults dropped like flies and McLaren separated from Honda. Mercedes could become the second manufacture to win five consecutive World Constructors' Championships in 2018. Here are 12 things I think will happen next year.

1. The record for youngest pole-sitter is broken
I think Max Verstappen will win a pole position and he will not be 21 years old until September 30th. The record is currently held by Sebastian Vettel at 21 years and 72 days when he won pole position for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, the race he would ended winning for his first career grand prix victory. Verstappen will be 21 years and 55 days old when the qualifying session for the 2018 season finale at Abu Dhabi takes place. If he doesn't do it this year than he will never be the youngest pole-sitter. We also have Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc who will have all season to break the record while Pierre Gasly will have a few opportunities to do it during the early part of 2018. Verstappen isn't the only one who could break it but he is the best hope.

2. Fernando Alonso gets a podium before his 301st start
The Spaniard is ten starts away from his 301st start so if everything goes right he will have nine races, by Austria, to stand on the podium. I think the Renault engine will give McLaren a shot and that is all Alonso needs. The man is hungry to win races and if he can get the McLaren-Honda to sixth on the grid for last year's Spanish Grand Prix then what can he do with a Renault engine that he doesn't have to worry about? The man will be kicking asses and taking names in 2018.

3. Ferrari does not win the French Grand Prix
No manufacture has won the French Grand Prix more than Ferrari, as the Maranello-based team has won the French Grand Prix 17 times. The next closest manufacture is Williams on eight victories. Ferrari has won three consecutive French Grands Prix with three different drivers (Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa). Ferrari won the most recent time Formula One visited Circuit Paul Ricard with Alain Prost in 1990. However, the team has not won the last six French Grands Prix held on the full course at Circuit Paul Ricard. The last time Ferrari won on the full course was Niki Lauda in 1975.

4. Brendon Hartley ends the 2018 season with the fourth-most points for a New Zealand driver
The 2017 World Endurance Driver champions and 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans winner made four starts at the end of the 2017 season with Toro Rosso. He did not score any points but had two retirements due to Renault engine issues. The team takes on Honda engines and the hope is this will be the year the Japanese manufacture gets it right. He became the ninth New Zealander to start a Formula One race. Four New Zealanders have scored points in Formula One. Denny Hulme leads with 248 points with Bruce McLaren second on 188.5 points and Chris Amon third on 83 points. Howden Ganley scored five points in his Formula One career including a fifth-place finish in the famous 1971 Italian Grand Prix where Ganley finished 0.61 seconds behind race winner Peter Gethin. I think the Honda engine will be good enough for Hartley to score six points. All he needs is a seventh place finish in one race.

5. Williams has its worst finish in the Constructors' Championship with Mercedes engines
The British manufacture has seen a minor boost since it started using Mercedes engines in the 2014 season. Williams finished third in the Constructors' Championship in 2014 and 2015. The last two years the team has finished fifth and the team has scored fewer points the last four seasons. Williams brought on Paddy Lowe before the 2017 season but the team's most experience driver will likely be Lance Stroll going into 2018. The team's other options are Paul di Resta, who prior to his start at Hungary this season for an injured Felipe Massa hadn't been in a car since 2013; Robert Kubica, who has been out of Formula One since 2010; Daniil Kvyat, who was broken by Red Bull over the last two seasons; and Pascal Wehrlein, who scored five points last year and scored a point with Manor. Quieter options are Jolyon Palmer and Oliver Rowland. 

I think the team's best option is Wehrlein but I think McLaren will take a step forward and so could Renault. Williams could be the surprise team if it finds results but I think it be a rough year with the team searching for answers and a lead driver.

6. Mercedes becomes the fifth manufacture to win 100 pole positions
Mercedes has won 88 pole positions from 168 starts. It has won pole position in 52.38% of the races the team has entered. Last year was the team's worst season in terms of pole positions since the start of the hybrid-era in Formula One in 2014 and the team won 15 pole positions. A dozen pole positions seem like a lot but it can't be ruled out. The top four manufactures in pole positions are Ferrari (213), McLaren (155), Williams (128) and Lotus (107). Lotus better look out.

7. Haas F1 moves to sixth all-time in most race starts without a podium finish
Haas F1 has started 41 races over the team's first two seasons. The team's best finish was Romain Grosjean's spectacular fifth-place finish in the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix. I don't think the team will get closer to the podium in 2018. With another 21 races scheduled for 2018, Haas will have started 62 races at the end of next season. The team is currently ninth all-time in most race starts without a podium finish behind Minardi (340), Osella (132), Ensign (98), ATS (89), Marussia (73), HRT (56), Caterham (56) and Zakspeed (54).

8. Force India reaches 1,000 points before winning a race
Thanks in part to the increase in points being awarded since the 2010 season; Force India has scored the most points all-time for a team yet to win a race. Force India has scored 987 points. The next closest team without a race victory is Toyota, which scored 278.5 points from 2002-2009. Force India may score 13 points in the first race but it is hard to see the team on the top step of the podium before reaching 1,000 points. The team will need some rain and a little more help than that.

9. Every team scores at least ten points
This is a stretch because it has never been done. Granted, there are more points being doled out in modern Formula One with 25 points awarded to the victorious driver and everyone to tenth scoring a point. In 2008, nine teams scored more than ten points. Force India failed to score a point and Super Aguri-Honda closed its doors after Barcelona. In 2009, the final season before the points system change, the top nine teams scored over ten points and Toro Rosso finished tenth with eight points and had the points system change come in 2009, Toro Rosso would have had ten points in the first race of the season. I think the grid will be as strong as 2009, ironically the season prior to the introduction of Lotus Racing, HRT and Virgin Racing. It is a stretch but I think it is possible.

10. Stoffel Vandoorne is the top championship finisher out of the last three GP2/Formula Two champions
The Belgian is hoping to have an uptick in results in his sophomore season. McLaren has shed the Honda engine and if the Renault can be reliable than he may be up at the front contending with his teammate. Charles Leclerc heads to Alfa Romeo Sauber and I think he will be respectable but Vandoorne's year of Formula One experience may be the edge he holds over Leclerc. Then you have Pierre Gasly. Toro Rosso was a disaster in its final races with Renault engines. Now the team has Gasly and Brendan Hartley, two drivers yet to score points. Is the team transitioning at the right time when the Honda engine becomes fast and reliable or will it be another trying year? I think the Honda engine is better but still not great. Give me the Renault engine and Vandoorne. 

11. Both Alfa Romeo Sauber drivers have at least two finishes of ninth or better
The last time Alfa Romeo fielded a factory team was in 1985, the team failed to score points because only the top six finishers were awarded points and the best finish for the team was ninth with Riccardo Patrese at Silverstone and Brands Hatch and with Eddie Cheever at Detroit. With Alfa Romeo coming back into Formula One, I think the team is going to improve over the last few seasons. Sauber has had two finishes of ninth or better the last two seasons. Charles Leclerc has been a gem and the Monegasque driver is going to go far. Marcus Ericsson has had two rough seasons and he has not scored points since he finished ninth in the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. I think both drivers will have good seasons.

12. Antonio Giovinazzi makes more starts in sports cars than in Formula One
If Leclerc and Ericsson are both respectable than Giovinazzi will be the odd man out. Unfortunately, his Formula One career may be remembered more for one rough weekend at Shanghai. The good news is he may have a hell of a career in another discipline and become one of those drivers we wished we saw more in Formula One.

Formula One down, NASCAR predictions were completed last week and we will be back tomorrow with another set of predictions looking at a dozen different series.