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Smith: Formula 1’s 2018 New Year’s Wish List

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Ah, New Year’s Day. A time to clean up the bottles left lying around from the celebrations the night before, chill out with your family and look forward to the year that is to come.

The “new year, new me!” posts are flying about Facebook and Twitter. The gym is packed with people after an overindulgent holiday period. The optimism is there.

It’s all a bit cringy, yes. But at its core, there is a desire to be better and do better. We all have it.

Even Formula 1 has it. Ever since Liberty Media completed its takeover of the sport last January, it has been on a drive to leave no stone unturned in a bid to make F1 the very best it can be both on- and off-track.

So what does 2018 hold for F1? Here are some new year’s resolutions the sport may have in mind.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H and Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

A TITLE FIGHT THAT GOES TO THE WIRE

After a promising pre-season from Ferrari, 2017 looked set to be the year that Mercedes would finally be tested in the V6 turbo hybrid era of F1 and face a tough task to defend its titles.

Ferrari came out of the traps well as Sebastian Vettel won the opening race of the season in Australia, and the Italian marque led the constructors’ championship after a dominant one-two finish in Monaco. Finally, Mercedes had a fight on its hands.

But things turned around quickly. Mercedes got its so-called “diva” W08 car under control, allowing Lewis Hamilton to go on a run of six wins in the space of eight races from Silverstone to Austin. Ferrari, meanwhile, collapsed in spectacular fashion across the Asian flyaways, meaning both titles were lost with two races to spare.

The early-season fights between Hamilton and Vettel, two of the finest racers of their generation, was exactly what F1 had craved for years. Mercedes and Ferrari were evenly-matched throughout the year, offering perhaps the closest title fight between two teams since 2010.

The hope for 2018 is that this trend continues, perhaps with Red Bull entering the mix also after showing rapid signs of improvement through the season. Variation and unpredictability are exactly what F1 needs to keep fans interested and coming back for more.

Let’s hope things do go down to the wire in Abu Dhabi this year.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 11: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

MCLAREN TO RESURGE WITH RENAULT POWER

Following a solid 2016 that offered significant strides across the course of the year to get towards the front of the midfield, hopes were high for McLaren and Honda to finally get things right this year and return to the thick of the fight at the top of the order.

Alas, things turned out very differently. An ill-fated decision by Honda to redesign its power unit layout sent it back to square one – i.e. where it was in 2015 – and McLaren to the back of the field, scrimping and scrambling for points wherever it could.

Star driver Fernando Alonso made his frustration known and even got a free pass to skip Monaco so he could enter the Indianapolis 500 as a result, while the highly-rated Stoffel Vandoorne struggled during his first full season in F1.

While improvements came across the course of the year, the partnership could not be saved. An intricate web of deals through the paddock ended with McLaren and Honda going their separate ways, with the British team linking up with Renault from 2018 for its engines.

Renault has by no means been without its problems in F1 recently, suffering a litany of reliability woes late in 2017, but it has proven itself capable of winning races with Red Bull.

McLaren has been bold about the capability of its chassis, with some even dubbing it the best on the grid. Bolt in an engine capable of winning races, and could we see the bright orange cars battling at the sharp end of the order again?

Just as we want to see an open fight at the front of the F1 pack, a strong McLaren joining the fray would be most welcome for the sport this year.

MONTREAL, QC – JUNE 09: Ross Brawn, Managing Director (Sporting) of the Formula One Group and Chase Carey, CEO and Executive Chairman of the Formula One Group in a press conference during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

A CLEAR DEFINITION OF FORMULA 1’S FUTURE

Since Liberty Media’s takeover of F1 last January, there has been a huge amount of talk about what the future holds for the sport and what direction its new ringmasters will lead it in.

For some in the paddock, this talk has not been matched with enough action, but Liberty has made clear it does not want to focus on short-term gains. It is playing the long game, thinking five years ahead instead of five months ahead.

A significant rebrand will be in place for the new campaign, with the new F1 logo being unveiled at the season finale in Abu Dhabi in November that set the tone for what is to follow. A more immersive experience has been promised for fans, but the finer details are still waiting to be made clear just ahead of the new season.

An expansion of the calendar has also been mooted, perhaps rising to as many as 25 events in a season, while a revamp of the engine formula has already been confirmed following a series of meeting this year, the hope being it will draw more major manufacturers to F1 such as Aston Martin.

The main goal for 2018 and Liberty’s sophomore year at the helm will be to make its plans clear for F1. An expanded, wider-reaching sport would be welcomed by all – but there must be a workable, realistic plan to make it happen.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – NOVEMBER 25: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM10 on track during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2017 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

A CHANCE FOR THE MIDFIELD RUNNERS TO IMPRESS

A big unknown when it comes to Liberty’s plans for F1 is what it will do to help balance the field and give more of the sport’s midfield runners a chance to impress and fight at the front.

The likes of Force India have managed to fight admirably on a shoestring budget compared to the manufacturer behemoths, but nicking the odd podium here and there doesn’t make for great headlines. Instead, they need to be given the chance to really take a shock result from time-to-time, a bit like we see in IndyCar.

A revision of the distribution of prize money has been suggested, but naturally, the big players are uneasy about this prospect – namely Ferrari, whose quit threats are growing louder despite most dismissing it as the boy simply crying wolf (again).

For the time being, the midfield fight looks set to be tight once again this year. Force India will look to cling on to its title as the ‘best of the rest’, but with the likes of McLaren and Renault targeting a jump up the field, it will be a tall order for the team.

Williams, Toro Rosso and Haas will also be looking for better years after mixed fortunes through 2017, while even Sauber will hold greater hopes for the new season thanks to an expanded partnership with Ferrari and the arrival of Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc.

It all makes for a massively exciting fight through the field for 2018.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 10. Circuito de Jerez, Jerez, Spain. Saturday 7 October 2017. Charles Leclerc (MCO, PREMA Racing). Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2. ref: Digital Image _56I6609

YOUNG UP-AND-COMERS TO ESTABLISH THEMSELVES

The race to reach Formula 1 is always a tough one, but 2018 looks set to be a year that a number of the sport’s future stars really stand up and impress.

With all but one seat set for this season, there is only one driver – Marcus Ericsson at Sauber – whose position you could question on talent alone. Ericsson was preferred over GP2 runner-up and Ferrari junior Antonio Giovinazzi for 2018, but showed signs of improvement towards the end of last year.

Otherwise, the field is crammed with talent. Ericsson will partner Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc at Sauber this year, whose debut is hotly anticipated after a successful junior career. As a Ferrari junior, the Monegasque racer is already being tipped as a possible successor to Kimi Raikkonen at Maranello.

While Leclerc is the only rookie set to race in F1 this season at the time of writing, there are a number of top junior talents already racing who will want to build on impressive showings through 2017.

Esteban Ocon enjoyed a storming first full season in F1 with Force India, enjoying a tight and tense rivalry against Sergio Perez. A good 2018 could see him enter the fray for a possible Mercedes drive for the following year, with both seats at the German marque in 2019 currently up for grabs.

The likes of Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Stoffel Vandoorne will also want to make good on their impressive junior resumes and prove their worth in F1, having shown signs of pace through 2017.

Also keep an eye on goings-on just outside of F1. McLaren youngster Lando Norris and Mercedes’ George Russell look set to go head-to-head in Formula 2 next year, while Ferrari has a number of impressive juniors under its wing including Callum Ilott, Antonio Fuoco and Marcus Armstrong.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 22: Grid girls hold a USA flag before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

CONTINUED GROWTH IN THE UNITED STATES

One of Liberty Media’s key target markets for F1 moving forward is the United States, with races in so-called “destination cities” such as New York, Las Vegas and Miami being mooted in a bid to try and help crack the traditional ‘problem child’ for F1.

F1’s history in the United States has been patchy. It’s impossible to deny that. But the last five years have offered levels of growth and expansion that have led to a real high point for F1 in America.

The return of the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas was obviously a big factor in helping this growth. Even after a washout in 2015 that put the future of the race in serious doubt, it came roaring back with a successful running in 2016 (helped, believe it or not, by Taylor Swift), and has a good foothold in F1 now.

TV figures have also been growing year-on-year since 2013 when the NBC Sports Group picked up broadcasting rights for F1. Live F1 viewership in the United States has grown by 65 per cent in the last five seasons, elevating the sport to a level of exposure it had never experienced in the market.

All of this momentum bodes very well for the future of F1 in the United States. Let us hope the upward trend continues through 2018 and beyond, and the sport’s American interests grow in strength.

It is no less than the passionate, knowledgeable fanbase deserves.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Barber

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (there’s one final practice plus qualifying on Saturday):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s great…home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately, we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH (Racing) back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here. I think it’s great. We’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon (Pagenaud) looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will (Power) had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner, so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We learned a lot today. We tried to come test here a few weeks ago, but unfortunately Mother Nature had a different plan, so we didn’t get a lot of running in. We came into this weekend with a bit of an evolution from what we tested, still were a little bit off, and over lunch, the Arrow Electronics guys made a couple of great changes. It doesn’t look great on the time sheets because our fast lap was when that red flag came out, so they took it away from us. I think we’re decently inside the top 10, which is a big jump from this morning.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We lost water pressure somewhere in the Lucas Oil car, so we’re playing it safe. No water pressure means no water circulation to the engine, then it overheats and blows up. We’re taking the precautions to keep the engine alive, but unfortunately, we stopped after a couple of laps. It’s an hour free practice and we only did two competitive laps, so we’re just watching everyone else improve their cars and we aren’t able to right now. It’s pretty disappointing.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We’re in the ballpark at the front, which is a good start for the No. 9 PNC Bank team. The Penske cars are up front and I think that’s a result of them doing some additional testing here. We kind of expected that to start. We did a qualifying run and the car was just too loose for some reason. And then we were fighting understeer this morning, so we’ve seen both sides of it. Now it’s up to us to get it right for qualifying tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a difficult end to the day for us. I think after starting well this morning, we struggled in the afternoon. It could have been the heat that affected us, I’m not really sure. Tonight, we’ll have to look at the data and what we learned from the NTT DATA car, talk to Scott (Dixon) and look toward tomorrow. I’m optimistic because we have a good base setup and we just need a little bit more work to get it right.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds (Firestone alternate tires), it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was OK. I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice, but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five-, six-, seven-spot difference. It’s going to be really tight (on the time sheets) there tomorrow, so we’ve got to work on it and get it a little better.” (About whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) “Qualifying will be important, but I think if it’s rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I am not quite sure what to think about the whole day. We are not super happy with the car, but in the meantime, it is decently fast. We made some gains and at least the car is doing one thing, so that’s the good thing. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 is in the ballpark. It seems like all we are doing right now is preparing for qualifying because it is definitely going to rain on Sunday. We are going to have to think very hard on what we are going to do in those conditions. We just have to keep working and see what we get tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We didn’t have a great morning aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car as we struggled a bit with the balance, but the second practice session was a lot better. We ended up P12, but had the potential for a lot more. When we went out on the Firestone red (alternate) tires near the end of the session, a red flag came out and that didn’t help us. I think we definitely could have been in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Overall, it’s encouraging heading into practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition, though, of not getting a lap time on reds (Firestone alternate tires), between traffic and red flags and yellows. We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “That was a really good session. It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black (Firestone primary) tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on, the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately, we had a bit of a spin on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) trying a little too hard, I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits, but I’m very happy with the Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “So far, it’s just been really nice to have experience at this track, which makes it a little easier coming in. We’ve been trying a lot of things today and I think we were a little stronger in the morning than this afternoon. We have a bit to go back and look at, but compared to where I was here last year, it’s night and day difference. I’m just happy to have the opportunity that we do, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “This morning was definitely a struggle for all of us. I think the No. 27 car was the most outside of the window, but we made a lot of improvements over lunch. We have something to be positive about going into this evening and looking forward to tomorrow. I think we need to take one or two steps in a similar direction, but if we can do that, I think the Kerauno car will be good enough for the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made steady progress through the day. We started out with the rear of the car way too exposed, too loose through most corners. We needed to bring it more into the window, which I think we did in the final session, considering we didn’t get a full run on new red tires due to a red flag. I think the DHL car has some good pace in it, so hopefully we can make the next step tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still, we have a little work to be done Saturday. Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat, but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run, so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race). We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop-off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year, so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement, so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of Practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for Practice 3 and qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): “The Kerauno car was decent today, and coming out of Friday in the top 10 is a good place to start the weekend. We have a few things we want to work on overnight that I think will help the car be even better, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Hoping to make it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and challenge for the pole.”