The season begins in Melbourne this weekend

Since we haven’t seen any of the engines in competitive action yet this year, Australian Grand Prix odds should be taken with some reservation.

It’s not surprising to see last year’s F1 champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) on top, but given that Bet365 is offering around even money on his victory, it seems the odds makers are a bit conservative at the moment.

Hamilton is a two-time winner of the Australian Grand Prix (last time in 2015), but his victory is far from a done deal considering how fierce the competition is. His performance in this race could be a barometer of his ability to defend the title in 2018, while the final standings will provide some indication on the early form of other drivers and teams.

A recap of some of the major changes going into this season:

Engines

In a bid to make F1 power units even more reliable, and further reduce costs, this season each driver must make do with just three engines for the 21-race campaign. That compares with four engines last year (when, incidentally, the calendar featured one less Grand Prix).

The exact impact this has remains to be seen, though treading the fine line between performance and durability will certainly be tougher than ever: go too conservative and you’ll fall off the pace; go too aggressive and you risk costly failures and grid penalties, though those too have been changed for 2018 (see below).

One less engine per season will also mean one less chance per season for teams to introduce significant power unit upgrades ‘” meaning those who best manage their development programme over the course of the year could stand to reap even bigger rewards…

Grid Penalties

One less engine per driver could mean more grid penalties in 2018. However, there will be far less confusion for fans over how those penalties impact the starting order. Under the previous system, drivers changing multiple power unit elements could rack up multiple grid drops, often in excess of the number of cars at the event.

Now, any driver who earns a grid penalty of 15 places or more will have to start from the back of the grid. If more than one driver receives such a penalty they will be arranged at the back of the grid in the order in which they changed elements. That should mean less headaches for fans – and those at the FIA tasked with deciding the grid!
Tyres

As in 2017, official F1 tyre suppliers Pirelli will make three dry-weather compounds available to teams at each Grand Prix. However, for 2018 those three will be selected from a broader range of compounds, which now includes the new, pink-marked hypersoft at one end of the spectrum and the orange-marked superhard at the other.

It means in total there will be seven, rather than the previous five, slick tyre compounds, all of which are a step softer than in 2017, making them the fastest tyres in Formula 1 history. Reports based on initial data suggest they could immediately mean cars going a second per lap quicker.

Also new for 2018 is the ice blue colour of the hard compound. This frees up orange to be used on the aforementioned superhard, denoting it as the very hardest choice available in Pirelli’s range. The 2018 range in full is: hypersoft (pink), ultrasoft (purple), supersoft (red), soft (yellow), medium (white), hard (blue), superhard (orange).

Depending on how Pirelli choose to select compounds, the general move towards softer rubber should make 2018’s racing even more exciting, with more pit stops and fewer one-stop Grands Prix.

T-Wing & Shark Fin

When the teams considered the 2017 regulation changes, as always they were looking for what wasn’t written in the rules ‘” ie the loopholes ‘” as well as what was. The emergence of the extended, shark-finned engine covers, combined with the rather ungainly looking T-wings, was the result of one such loophole, but one that has been closed for 2018.

With the shark fins and T-wings outlawed for 2018, we can expect the rear of this season’s new cars to look more like that tested by Sauber in Austin back in October of last year, illustrated below. The engine cover still features a fin of sorts, but nothing like the huge swathes of carbon fibre we saw in 2017.

Halo

The one change every F1 fan will immediately notice in 2018 is the introduction of the halo, the cockpit protection device designed to further improve driver safety in the event of an accident, and in particular to deflect debris away from the head.

The design of the halo, which we have seen teams trialling in practice and test sessions over the past two seasons, is not dissimilar to the original study carried out by Mercedes at the FIA’s request in 2015, with a central pillar supporting a ‘loop’ around the driver’s head.

Though the halo is mandatory, with its core design dictated by the rules, there will be some scope for teams to modify its surface, so don’t be surprised to see a variety of small aero devices adorning this new addition.

Weight of Vehicle

The overall minimum weight of cars has gone up by 6kg to 734kg to compensate for the introduction of the halo, but it’s estimated that the actual impact of the device plus the mountings could be as much as 14kg, which will leave teams with less room to play with when it comes to performance ballast – and also put heavier drivers at a potential disadvantage…

Suspension

Another small, but potentially important directive issued by the FIA ahead of the 2018 season relates to trick suspension systems which could be used to improve a car’s aerodynamic performance.

Last year teams including Red Bull (above) and Ferrari (below) tried set-ups with a small link in the front suspension connected to the upright, believed to cleverly allow the ride height of the car – a key factor in aero performance – to be varied over the course of a lap depending on steering angle. The FIA has since decreed such systems will not be allowed.

So what of Pre-season? Well if you take the form / practice literally then we are really in for a close season with Ferrari looking potentially as quick if not quicker than the Mercedes, but it would be no surprise to see the Merc’s turn up to Australia and turn the engine up and find another half a second without too much trouble. It is also worth noting the extra millage that the Redbull’s got through this pre-season having previous years not got that much done and had issues through the season as result. Perhaps a title challenge is in the offering?

Best odds for the race win are

Hamilton 11/10
Vettel 7/2
Verstappen 6/1
Bottas 7/1
Ricciardo 8/1
Raikkonen 25/1
66/1 bar

Each way terms are 1/5 three places and it is Verstappen at 6/1 that appeals on that each way basis