Mercedes won their fourth consecutive constructors championship in 2017, seeing off a sustained challenge from a resurgent Ferrari.© Provided by The Telegraph
Pre-season testing always raises many questions. Can Mercedes make it five in a row? Will Ferrari be strong again? Can McLaren end years of midfield misery after swapping Honda for Renault? Will the Red Bull drivers outperform their car? Is the Haas as quick as it looked in testing? Will Toro Rosso's partnership with Honda be more successful than McLaren's?
Before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 25, we take a look at how the grid is shaping up for the 2018 season with a team-by-team guide.
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (44), Valtteri Bottas (77)
2017 points: 668 (1st)© Provided by The Telegraph
2017 wins: 12
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.400 (ultrasoft tyres)
Four dominant constructors' championship wins in as many years and ominous pre-season testing form (and reliability) points to Mercedes being ahead of their rivals again in 2018. The question is by how much? The W08 of 2017 was their most problematic car in the V6 hybrid era and struggled behind Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari more often than they would have liked.
Hamilton will be favourite for the title but Valtteri Bottas needs to improve if he wants to secure his 2019 drive. Their pre-season reliability was exceptional as they completed over 1,000 laps. If Mercedes have managed to fix the issues that led them to label their 2017 car a "diva" then Ferrari and Red Bull should be worried.
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (5), Kimi Raikkonen (7)
2017 points: 522 (2nd)
2017 wins: 5
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1: 17.182 (hypersoft)
2017 was the year that should have been for Ferrari. Vettel won three of the first six races and went into the summer break with a 14 point lead over Hamilton. Their season then imploded in Asia, as the German disastrously crashed out on the first lap of the Singapore Grand Prix and failed to finish in Japan, handing Hamilton a healthy lead on the way to his fourth world title.
The problem for Ferrari in 2018 is that Mercedes' 2017 troubles might not be repeated this year. If Ferrari can match last year's deserved Melbourne victory, though, expectations for another close title fight will be raised.
Red Bull (Renault)
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo (3), Max Verstappen (33)
2017 points: 368© Provided by The Telegraph
2017 wins: 3
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.047 (hypersoft)© Provided by The Telegraph
You can make a strong case for Red Bull's 2018 driver line-up being the best on the grid, with two exceptional and very evenly-matched drivers. Testing form suggests that Red Bull will be competing with Ferrari for second place but you can only read so much into laps completed on the Catalunya circuit in early March.
Their 2017 chassis was probably the best of any car's but their weaknesses were a Renault (TAG Heuer-branded) power unit and reliability issues that affected them throughout the season. Their relationship with the French manufacturers will be an interesting one to monitor this year.
Force India (Mercedes)
Drivers: Sergio Perez (11), Esteban Ocon (31)
2017 points: 187 (4th)
2017 best race finish: 4th© Provided by The Telegraph © Provided by The Telegraph
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.967 (hypersoft)© Provided by The Telegraph
The consistent pace achieved by Force India in 2017 was impressive. Despite several on-track tangles between their drivers, the team managed 16 double points finishes from 21 races. In Sergio Perez they have a somewhat forgotten man who is showing that he is as quick as everyone thought he was when he signed for McLaren in 2013. Esteban Ocon also only failed to score points twice in his first full year in F1.© Provided by The Telegraph
2018 looks likely to be a more difficult year, with Renault and McLaren potentially closing the gap. Significant upgrades are due for the first round, though. The midfield battle with be a tight one but Force India have the drivers to deliver.
Drivers: Lance Stroll (18), Sergey Sirotkin (35)
2017 points: 83 (5th)
2017 best race finish: 3rd
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:19.189 (soft)
A lot of attention has been paid to Williams since the end of last season, not least because of the return of Robert Kubica to F1 in his role as test and reserve driver. After much deliberation and public scrutiny, Williams decided to go for Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin, as they felt his outright pace was better than Kubica's. Sirotkin finished third in F1's feeder series GP2 in 2015 and 2016 but he also brings valuable sponsorship money to a team who will lose their current title sponsors in 2019.
Whether this inexperienced line-up will be able to get the most out of the FW41 in a crucial season for the team is uncertain. Former Mercedes man Paddy Lowe joined Williams in 2017, but this is his first opportunity to influence the car from the beginning. The team will hope that Lowe's new design approach is enough to arrest a steady slide in performance since 2014.
Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg (27), Carlos Sainz Jr (55)
2017 points: 57 (6th)
2017 best race finish: 6th (x4)
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.092 (hypersoft)
Renault finished 2017 with their 2018 driver line-up, as Carlos Sainz Jr replaced Jolyon Palmer for the final four races. At the end of the season Renault probably had the fourth quickest car on the grid and that is where they will be aiming to start in Australia. For a measure of realism, though, Renault Sport Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul has already started talking about taking "tactical" penalties later in the season.
However, there has been heavy investment in their facilities at Enstone. If their car can fight for the best-of-the-rest places, they have two drivers capable of consistently scoring points.
Toro Rosso (Honda)
Drivers: Pierre Gasly (10), Brendon Hartley (28)
2017 points: 53 (7th)
2017 best race finish: 4th
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.363 (hypersoft)
Given how unreliable and underpowered the performance of Honda's power unit has been in the back of a McLaren the past three years, pre-season expectations of Toro Rosso were limited. But, so far, Toro Rosso's experience of Honda reliability is in complete contrast to McLaren's recent woes, completing 822 laps over the two Barcelona tests. Their relationship with the Japanese firm already appears immeasurably better than McLaren's, though, with a willingness for compromise on both sides.
The overall pace of the car, though, is another matter. On present form, it looks like the Faenza-based team will find itself at the back of the midfield. The usual inexperienced driver pairing is difficult to judge but at the back end of last season they both put in solid performances in a car that lacked pace.
Drivers: Romain Grosejean (8), Kevin Magnussen (20)
2017 points: 47
2017 best race finish: 6th
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:18.360 (supersoft)
2018 will be Haas's third season in Formula 1 and hope is the only certainty. Hope that they will improve on their huge inconsistency in 2016 and 2017.
Last year's drivers have been retained and both are capable of scoring points, but they must do so more frequently. The car was well off top-10 pace too often, no more so than in Mexico where the team qualified 18th and 19th.
The ongoing saga of Romain Grosjean's braking issues needs to be resolved too. However, pre-season testing pace was encouraging for Haas, so Melbourne will be a good measure for whether they have actually taken a big step forward.
Drivers:Fernando Alonso (14), Stoffel Vandoorne (2)
2017 points: 30
2017 best race finish: 6th
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:17.784 (hypersoft)
It is now 98 races since McLaren won a race (Brazil 2012). Excepting a miracle, this will soon pass 100. Their disastrous three-year relationship with Honda had them lacking in both power and reliability. Double world champion Fernando Alonso has spent the last three seasons fighting for points (at best) when his talent warrants wins and championships.
After ditching Honda for 2018, the Woking-based team have made big changes, going for their traditional papaya (or, as a normal person might call it - 'orange') livery and switching to Renault power units. Unfortunately the team still suffered a hugely unreliable pre-season, completing the fewest laps of any team, just 78.5 percent of the total managed by the next best (Haas) and 57.6 percent of what Mercedes managed.© Provided by The Telegraph
Raw lap time in testing was promising, but the running was mostly done on softer compound tyres. McLaren should really be aiming to win the midfield battle, beating Force India, Renault and Williams. The MCL 33 might be the best-looking car on the grid but F1 is not a beauty contest.
Drivers: Marcus Ericsson (9), Charles Leclerc (16)
2017 points: 5
2017 best race finish: 8th
Fastest 2018 testing time: 1:19.118 (hypersoft)
The most promising thing for Sauber in 2018 is that they have a far more secure financial situation than in recent years. A new relationship with Alfa Romeo and the use of brand new Ferrari engines (compared to the year-old ones they were using in 2017) are also positive. Ultimately, though, the car struggled in testing and the Swiss team will go to Melbourne expecting to be at the back of the grid.
If the team can occasionally challenge for points, as it failed to do last season (post summer break their best finish was a solitary 12th), that will represent an improvement. What offers the most interest to F1 fans is the performance of the highly-rated Ferrari Academy driver Charles Leclerc, especially if Kimi Raikkonen fails to impress for Ferrari.
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-gb/sports/formula1/f1-2018-team-by-team-guide-can-red-bull-or-ferrari-stop-mercedes/ar-BBKyiXx