Lewis Hamilton Mercedes

The Formula 1 season is almost upon us, but will it be another procession for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

For Formula 1 fans, the last few weeks have undoubtedly brought plenty of anticipation and excitement as the new season looms, with lots of attention on testing as the teams put their new cars through their paces.

The same questions will be asked as ever: will the combination of Lewis Hamilton's freakishly brilliant talent and superb car deliver the drivers' and constructors' championship trophies to the Englishman and Mercedes? Will he be distracted by speculation over his future having not yet signed a contract extension? Can Ferrari or Red Bull produce a better car this year to give the likes of Sebastian Vettel or Max Verstappen a chance? Could this be a breakthrough year for Force India, and exactly what is Pastor Maldonado up to these days if he isn't busy crashing? 

The new car halo on a Ferrari

Even without Maldonado, there will doubtless be plenty of collisions this season and that raises the topic of the most controversial change in this season's cars. If alterations to engines, tyres, or DRS were the most contentious elements of past years, it is the new 'halos' that have caused the most consternation this time.

Quite simply, some drivers thoroughly dislike them and many think they look ugly. But F1 bosses are unmoved: they have been introduced to protect drivers from flying debris during crashes, and regard safety as paramount. The argument has been accepted by many drivers, with Fernando Alonso telling CNN: "I know that from the aesthetic point of view it's a big impact ... but I don't want to have any more fatal injuries." 

Overall, the number of technical changes to the cars is fewer than in 2017. Apart from the halo, the main difference is in what is being taken away, rather than added. This means some of last year's more ugly protrusions - the T-wings and the shark-finned engine covers - have been banned this year, as have trick suspensions.  

Melbourne Grand Prix

Only once the cars are actually out there in practice in Melbourne, followed by the opening race itself, will it start to become apparent who has the most competitive cars. As ever, Mercedes will be expected to produce something hugely impressive. The key question is whether Ferrari can step up to the plate.

Without a constructor's title for a decade, the famous prancing horse has not had much to dance about. If they can, however, we may yet be set for a grand showdown between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, surely the two finest racers out on the circuit. The suspicion remains, however, that Mercedes will stay one step ahead of both Ferrari and Red Bull.

So to Melbourne. The Albert Park circuit is one of the most pleasant around. Rather than being hemmed in by the buildings and paraphernalia of a regular circuit, the strip of tarmac along which the world's finest drivers will race is normally an undistinguished road through a park, winding between the Serpentine lake and a series of ovals used for cricket in summer and Aussie rules football in the winter.

The backdrop of Melbourne's impressive skyline will be a panoramic one, and the opening Grand Prix of the year will be eagerly anticipated by the thousands in the temporary stands along the route. The hope for all the neutral is that this time, someone, somewhere can keep pace with Lewis Hamilton.



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