Up next:

F1 2018: 6 things we learnt from the Chinese Grand Prix

Published: 16 April 2018

► Our thoughts from the Chinese GP
► How F1 in 2018 is shaping up
► Will 2018 be a vintage year? 

The Chinese Grand Prix had a lot to live up to following the thrills of Bahrain – and despite Mercedes not mounting much of a challenge to Ferrari in qualifying, Shanghai’s largely open-throttle lap looked full of promise.

In the end, thematically at least, it shared a lot with last week’s race – Bottas duelling with a Ferrari at the front, a charge for the podium from behind, and Max Verstappen firing things up - for better or worse. It escalated quickly…

After an opening switcheroo that saw Kimi and Lewis lose a place, the first 20 or so laps looked like a holding-pattern-special for the front of the grid – Sebastian Vettel went about extending his lead over Bottas, and in turn, the top six opened an unassailable lead to everyone else.

Acts two and three however provided much excitement – chess-like pit strategy, collisions, dive-bomb overtakes and an underdog charging to victory. Here’s what we learned from the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix.

1. The emerging vocabulary of pit strategy

Do you know your double stack from your undercut? You’d better read up if not – the Mercedes cars’ early pitstop helped put Bottas in front of the Ferraris, while the minutely orchestrated one-in-one-out from Red Bull lit the fuse for Ricciardo’s run to victory.

2. Patience is king

After that tactical tyre swap behind the pace car the race was Verstappen’s to lose, but he went after first place like a boxer looking for a bout-winning haymaker – ultimately resulting in him running wide around Hamilton and then colliding with Vettel at turn 14. Ricciardo on the other hand timed his assault to perfection, picked his punches, and reeled the podium in one stunning overtake at a time.

3. Bittersweet gain for Lewis

Hamilton reduced the gap to Vettel in Shanghai – just nine points separates the two drivers, and Mercedes has moved to the top of the constructors table. When you look at it like that, not a bad day at all.

Every silver-lining has a cloud though – here’s Lewis’s take on things: ‘Yesterday and today have been a disaster on my side’. The Mercedes driver has promised normal performance mode will resume though.

4. ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to lick the stamp and send it’

Expect to see Ricciardo’s podium quote lined up next to a Neverbeen Nurburgring logo and a Brian O’Connor ‘Dude I almost had you’ sticker on a modified car bumper near you.

5. The shoey is back

It’s a divisive celebration, but we’re delighted to see the shoey celebration hasn’t been outlawed along with all the other changes F1 has undergone since last season.

A bit gross? Yes. Slightly weird? Yes, but when was the last time you hosed someone down with a massive bottle of champagne? The F1 podium is an odd place. Also intriguing was the “six month” illness Martin Brundle claimed to have suffered from after the last time he drank wine from a racing boot. Maybe it was ton-sole-itis (sorry).

6. 2018: a vintage year? 

That’s a decent two out of three races now. With Vettel’s path to victory far from assured, big improvements promised by Lewis Hamilton, and all eyes on Red Bull for exciting twists and turns, this season is shaping up very nicely indeed.

F1 2018: season guide

Race calendar

Round Event Location and date
1 Australian Grand Prix
Melbourne, 23-25 March
2 Bahrain Grand Prix
Sakhir, 6-8 April
3 Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai, 13-15 April
4 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Baku, 27-29 April
5 Spanish Grand Prix
Barcelona, 11-13 May
6 Monaco Grand Prix
Monte Carlo, 24, 26-27 May
7 Canadian Grand Prix
Montreal, 8-10 June
8 French Grand Prix
Le Castellet, 22-24 June
9 Austrian Grand Prix
Spielberg, 29 June-1 July
10 British Grand Prix
Silverstone, 6-8 July
11 German Grand Prix
Hockenheim, 20-22 July
12 Hungarian Grand Prix
Budapest, 27-29 July
13 Belgian Grand Prix
Spa-Francorchamps, 24-26 August
14 Italian Grand Prix
Monza, 31 August-2 September
15 Singapore Grand Prix
Marina Bay, 14-16 September
16 Russian Grand Prix
Sochi, 28-30 September
17 Japanese Grand Prix
Suzuka, 5-7 October
18 United States Grand Prix
Austin, 19-21 October*
19 Mexican Grand Prix
Mexico City, 26-28 October
20 Brazilian Grand Prix
Sao Paulo, 9-11 November
21 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Yas Marina, 23-25 November

The teams

Mercedes-AMG F1 W09

Mercedes is looking to take its fifth straight drivers’ and constructors’ championship and right now it's hard to bet against it. Called the Mercedes-AMG F1 W09 EQ Power+, the new car looks a lot like last year’s W08 – apart from the addition of a Halo and the removal of the shark fin. However, that’s no surprise, as the team has said it's more of an evolution of last year’s car than anything else.

It’s no secret that last year’s Mercedes F1 car was fast, but often considered a ‘diva’ when it came to certain tracks. While it was the fastest car over the whole year, the W08 proved troublesome to set up in the first half of 2017 – and the 2018 car tries to fix most of those problems.

In testing at least, the car has looked impressive over one lap – certainly close to both Red Bull and Ferrari – and its race pace appears to be the class of the field. With Bottas now settled in, though, we're hoping for a little more intra-team rivalry in 2018. 

Ferrari SF71H

Ferrari put up a decent challenge to Mercedes for most of 2017, but towards the end of the year, reliability woes and poor decision-making cost Vettel and the Scuderia both championships.

However, the Ferrari didn’t exactly lack pace – and the 2018 car looks like a menacing step forward. Unveiled on the same day as the Mercedes, the new Ferrari features an evolution of last year’s innovative sidepod layout that has been copied by most teams this year – apart from title rivals Mercedes. In testing, Vettel seemed to grab all the headline times, and the car certainly looked fast – though it may be slightly slower than the Mercedes. While his times were good, Vettel seemed a little less enthiusiastic about his pace than the rest of the paddock – suggesting the team realises it'll need to improve. 

Ferrari are hoping to take a championship for the first time since 2007 – and this new car could still deliver that: ‘We can already see significant signs of change when it comes to the team's production capacity,’ said team president and CEO Sergio Marchionne. ‘The important thing is to start 2018 with all this expertise and experience and to manage this organisation. I have no doubt that we will be competitive.'

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14

Called the RB14, the new Red Bull will be driven by Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and represents one of earliest launches ever from the Milton Keynes-based team. Often, the team would only unveil its car on the morning of Barcelona testing.

In 2018 the Red Bull will run Tag Heuer-branded Renault engines, but will also feature Aston Martin in more prominence too.

As for Red Bull's chances for another world championship? That's hard to say right now. In 2017, the team started off slow, but towards the end of last year, its cars were regularly challenging for race wins. Fast-forward to 2018, and during testing the new RB14 has been a solid fixture in the top three. Whether or not it can bring that pace to the championship itself remains to be seen.  

McLaren-Renault MCL33

The first car of the new McLaren-Renault partnership, the MCL33 carries the hopes of double-world champion Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

The car also comes with great expectations, because for the last few years McLaren have claimed to have a great chassis, but one let down by an underpowered Honda engine. For the last few seasons we’ve seen the Renault do great things in the back of a Red Bull, and that means there’ll be no excuse for McLaren this year. Due to a lack of sponsors, McLaren had the scope to listen to fans and bring back a classic Papaya orange livery – and it looks fantastic. If anything, the new design apes that of Alonso’s Indycar last year, and that’s no bad thing.

Testing hasn't been great for McLaren, with the MCL33 causing several stoppages. However, although reliability may have looked poor compared to the rest of the teams, it's a massive step up from the year before. What's more, the McLaren appears to have pace, for the first time in about five years.

Williams Martini Racing FW41

Williams has unveiled its new car, and it looks pretty special. The first car designed with significant input from new technical officer Paddy Lowe, Williams' 2018 car borrows a lot from both the Ferrari and Mercedes cars we saw last year.

Interestingly, the FW41's livery features a white and black trim, with the darker areas helping to obscure much of the new technology and features on the car. Testing showed that Williams look to be in the thick of the midfield battle. 

Haas F1 VF18

This year the Haas F1 team once again shares resources with Ferrari, and features a driver line-up of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. The new car did look impressive enough to be involved in F1's mega-midfield battle, but now appears to be slightly ahead of the midfield back and the fourth fastest team.

Toro-Rosso Honda

Toro-Rosso have lost two drivers but gained an engine supplier. This year’s all-new line up features Pierre Gasly and endurance-racer Brendon Hartley – but it’s the engine in this car that everyone is talking about.

After three terrible years with McLaren, Honda has moved to supply engines for Toro-Rosso, and in testing nothing has happened. That's right, the Honda in the back of the Toro Rosso has had no problems whatsoever, and new reports suggest it's not that much down on compared to the Honda from last year. In fact, Toro Rosso says its working relationship with Honda is much better than that of Renault, and it'll be looking to use that new relatiosnhip to the fullest in 2019. Either way, the Toro Rosso is once again a neat and tidy car, and could suprise some people in 2018. 

As for its Honda engine? If all goes well, it’s possible the 'A-team' of Red Bull will follow Toro Rosso to Honda, too.

Sahara Force India VJM11

After several clashes last year, Sebastian Ocon and Checo Perez join forces once again, in the new Force India car. 2017 was a relatively good year for the team. And it’d be hoping to do the same, or better, this year. After a huge update with some interesting features, the Sahara Force India may head towards the top of the midfield – especially when you factor in its Mercedes PU. 

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team

Although the new car is powered by a current-year Ferrari engine, the 2018 Sauber cars will take on the Alfa Romeo name. The Sauber will race in a dashing red-and-white livery, but there are other interesting aspects to the car, too. The C37, to use its codename, is one of the first cars that appears to take full advantage of the aerodynamic rules around the Halo device.

This year, teams have a small amount of aerodynamic leeway to reduce the impact of the safety device. Sauber’s C37 features a small gap designed to condition and divert airflow once it leaves the Halo device. The 2018 Sauber will be driven by Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc.

Renault Sport Formula One team

This year Renault hopes to see its increased investment make even more of an impact, and with the impressive Carlos Sainz Jr and Nico Hulkenberg behind the wheel, there’s a good chance it’ll see better results. Like last year, the R.S.18 features a black and yellow livery, and there are several interesting features on teh car – including an exhaust blown rear wing. After poor funding and a medicore driver line-up, Renault is hoping to turn a corner in 2018, and it looks like it has everything in place to do so. 

F1 2018: rule changes

This year’s cars will look pretty much the same as last year’s with the caveat of two small changes: shark fins (the large boards attached to the car’s engine covers) are gone for this year, and the controversial new Halo system will be installed to every racer in 2018, too.

The engine rules aren’t that different to last year’s with the only difference being the amount of engines the teams can use throughout the season. Last year, drivers had an allocation of four power units each per season, and now that’s been reduced to just three.

It’s a move that was originally designed to save money, but according to Mercedes’ engine boss Andy Cowell, it’s meant the development of an all-new engine, and the construction of up to 100 possible test units.

‘It's crazy,' Cowell told Italy's Corriere dello Sport, 'because the manufacturers will have to virtually redo many parts. We will build at least 80 to 100 engines and then test them on the bench and take the three or four that have the best reliability and power characteristics. That's a huge cost that the manufacturers will not be able to recover.’

F1 2018: what is the Halo?

Brought in to reduce the risk of head injuries after incidents involving Jules Bianchi and before that, Felippe Massa, the Halo device is essentially a metal ring that floats above the driver’s head – hopefully protecting them from flying debris after an impact.

Although it’s not been favoured by fans, teams or drivers, the FIA forced the new safety system through late last year, and that means it’ll be present on every car on the grid from the first race of 2018. 

However, despite F1 shooting for a new, fan-friendly image, it’s actually revealed nothing about what the Halo is, how it works and the rules and challenges around it. Instead, Mercedes and its new technical director James Allison have explained everything you need to know about the new Halo system.

According to Allison, the relatively late decision to include the system in 2018 has resulted in a serious challenge for teams, with the weight of the titanium device proving to be an issue. Teams have also had to strengthen the chassis of the car to make sure the Halo can withstand the weight of a double-decker bus.

Finally, Allison explains that the Halo can be modified for aero reasons, with each team using a fairing to reduce the wake of the device, and hopefully stop it interfering with the aero surfaces on the rest of the car – as well as the engine air intake.

By Adam Binnie

Contributor and new cars editor on our sister website Parkers.co.uk