Plenty has changed ahead of the Formula One 2018 season. There have been driver changes, switches in engine suppliers and there’s a name change coming for the Force India Team. All of these pale into insignificance, however, compared to the two biggest changes in the sport.

The biggest change has to be the removal of grid girls. Grid girls are part of a long tradition for Formula One, so it is not a surprise that it has caused a mixed reaction within the sport. Liberty Media, F1’s current owner, said: “We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms.”

This stance has been applauded by some within the sport, but has been accused by others of being a decision made by men without taking into account the opinions of the women that make a living from doing the job. In fact, many of the women that do the job have taken to Twitter and the media to complain about losing their jobs.

Mercedes Team Chairman, and F1 legend, Niki Lauda called the move “completely incomprehensible.” He continued by stating that due to the fact that the women who have performed the task had emancipated themselves and do well from it, so it is “a decision against women.” He did also note that he, “would not mind seeing grid boys next to the girls.”

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Williams’ Team Boss, Claire Williams, however, applauded the decision by Formula One stating it was “a decision the sport needed to make.” She is hopeful that Formula One can “attract more females into the many roles available to them in the industry.”

Whether or not you agree with the decision, it will certainly change the ambience of the grid during a race weekend.

Safety First, Use a Thong

Australians call it a thong, we call it a flip-flop. Call it what you will, for 2018 it shall also be used to describe the hideous safety device that is now mandatory for all F1 cars, the Halo.

Now unlike some, I don’t have any issue with the concept of driver safety devices covering the cockpit of open wheeled race cars. Some of the concept cars that have been drawn up look truly amazing, however, the Halo is most certainly not. My issue is that this thing is truly hideous! Surely the drivers can be offered the same amount of protection without completely ruining the look of the cars! Red Bull championed a screen that would offer similar protection, without ruining the aesthetics of the vehicles. Unfortunately, due to the extensive testing that the FIA had already done on the Halo, and the lack of time remaining to test any other solutions thoroughly, we’re now stuck with what appears to be a Havaianas thong haphazardly perched above the drivers’ head.

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At the time of writing, none of the 2018 cars have been revealed to the public. I’m sure when they are the teams will have managed to adjust the Halo from the early versions we saw tested last season. This will, undoubtedly, have a positive impact on the aesthetics, but that will not be the main reason for the changes. Integrating the Halo into the cars will have been a huge task for the designers. Adding 14kg of weight above the cockpit will have had a detrimental effect on the cars centre of gravity, but most of all the aerodynamics. For this reason, I’m certain the designers will have played with the shape of the device to minimise the effect that it will have on the aero-package. This tinkering will invariably improve the look of the Halo, but it’s impossible to make it considerably less intrusive to the eye.

Rant over, time to look forward to Formula One 2018

Despite the changes off track, there’s unlikely to be too many changes at the top of the table for 2018. All the teams will have continued to develop their cars at a similar pace, with just a couple of notable exceptions.

Here’s how the teams line up for 2018:

McLaren-Renault

The biggest change for 2018 sees McLaren move away from its works partnership with Honda to take a customer Renault power unit. McLaren have been saying for a while that they’ve had the best chassis in Formula One; now is their chance to put their money where their mouth is.

McLaren keep the same driver pairing of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne for 2018. But it’s plain to see that Vandoorne will need to prove himself if he wants to keep his ride alongside Alonso, who is widely regarded as one of the most talented drivers on the grid.

Alonso did show signs of brilliance last season, even with a massively underpowered Honda engine, and so there’s every chance the Woking based team will return to being competitive this season.

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Toro Rosso-Honda

Moving away from Renault power to Honda are Toro Rosso, who will change their name to Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda. The engine change may seem like suicide, however, it could offer the perennial mid-to-back of the grid team a chance to make strides forward.

It has been reported that Honda had to compromise on their design to fit the McLaren chassis, so it’s feasible that they could find more this season, if less compromising is required. It is worth noting that they have the most to find and so I’m not expecting fireworks from them at the forthcoming winter testing in Barcelona and beyond.

Toro Rosso retains the services of FIA WEC and 24 Hours of Lemans Champion, Brendon Hartley, and 2016 GP2 Champion, Pierre Gasly, both of which joined the team in the latter part of last season.

Red Bull-Renault

Red Bull Racing had a slow start to last season, as it took them a while to get a handle on the RB13. Max Verstappen had a host of technical issues throughout the year, proving 13 is truly unlucky for some.

The Red Bull Team experienced a difficult pre-season campaign for the past two seasons, having to use older cars for the first of the pre-season tests. This year they have brought forward the release date of the RB14, compared to previous years. The reasoning for this being that they have proven that on-track testing has been more beneficial than additional tinkering time in the factory.

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I expect another strong season from the Milton Keynes based team, who retain the services of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. However, they’ll need another genius design from Chief Technical Officer, Adrian Newey, to bridge the gap to Ferrari this season.

Ferrari

Ferrari have reportedly seen 1000 horsepower from their 2018 power unit on the test bench. To achieve this, they have had to put their engine on a crash diet. This should even up the playing field a little with Mercedes, who have had a weight advantage for the overall package over the past few years.

The Maranello marque pushed the silver arrows all the way in the title race last season. With the Rosso Corsa coloured machine having dropped a few pounds in key areas, they may well be fighting on equal terms with the four-time World Champions, Mercedes.

Kimi Räikkönen once again partners Sebastian Vettel in red, however, the Finn is clearly Ferrari’s second driver. So, don’t be surprised if he’s ordered to make way for Vettel as the season progresses.

Mercedes

The Silver Arrows remain favourites, at , to retain their fifth consecutive Constructors Championship Title. It’s difficult to back against them, even at such a short price, as they’ve completely dominated the ‘power unit era.’

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They retain the services of both World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, and his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Bottas struggled with the setup of the car in the latter half of 2017, as development favoured Hamilton’s driving style. Mercedes have vowed that this will not happen in 2018 and so Bottas could well be a good each way bet for the Championship at (Each Way terms 1/5 1,2,3).

Force India

Force India are expected to formally announce a name change when they reveal their 2018 car. They will, however, retain their driver line-up from last season of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez.

Ocon and Pérez endured a fiery relationship last season, which included a number of on-track collisions, and the team having to employ team orders to ensure they both reached the finishing line.

Despite this, Force India claimed fourth place in the Constructors Championship, with a record 187-point haul. More of the same can be expected for 2018, however, competition for best of the rest behind the big-budget teams does appear to have heated up.

Williams-Mercedes

Williams bring in the well-backed Sergey Sirotkin to replace Felipe Massa, who retired at the end of 2017. Sirotkin will partner the equally well-backed Lance Stroll, making them easily the youngest driver pairing on the grid, with a combined age of just 41 years.

This pairing could be seen as a gamble, or perhaps building for the future. One thing’s for certain, the Williams will be quick in a straight line (it always is) and the additional cash injection that comes from both drivers will assist in the continued development of the car throughout 2018.

Renault

The Renault F1 team recently made the bold claim that they are aiming to take on the top Formula One teams using just “85tle sponsor, Alfa Romeo. It remains to be seen if this is the first step in Alfa, once again, becoming a Formula One constructor.

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Sauber has retained Marcus Ericsson for the 2018 season, with Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc joining him in the driver line-up.

Despite the closer ties with Ferrari, and the new title sponsor, it’s difficult to see the Sauber team anywhere other than the back of the grid again this season.

Pre-Season Testing

The first of the Formula One pre-season tests takes place between the 26th of February and the 1st of March at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, with the second the following week at the same location.

The Circuit de Catalunya has been undergoing a resurfacing project of late, and so there’s likely to be a lot of track evolution in the first couple of days of pre-season testing. For this reason, I’ll be holding off placing any additional ante-post bets until the track conditions have stabilized and we have a better read on where each of the teams stand in relation to each other.

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The 2018 Formula One Calendar

25th March – Australian GP – Melbourne

8th April – Bahrain GP – Sakhir

15th April – Chinese GP – Shanghai

29th April – Azerbaijan GP – Baku

13th May – Spanish GP – Barcelona

27th May – Monaco GP – Monaco

10th June – Canadian GP – Montreal

24th June – French GP – Le Castellet

1st July – Austrian GP – Spielberg

8th July – British GP – Silverstone

22nd July – German GP – Hockenheim

29th July – Hungarian GP – Budapest

26th August – Belgian GP – Spa-Francorchamps

2nd September – Italian GP – Monza

16th September – Singapore GP – Marina Bay

30th September – Russian GP – Sochi

7th October – Japanese GP – Suzuka

21st October – United States GP – Austin

28th October – Mexican GP – Mexico City

11th November – Brazilian GP – Sao Paulo

25th November – Abu Dhabi GP – Yas Marina

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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