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F1 Preview: 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

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There’s one race down in the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season, but even though the season-opening Australian Grand Prix answered a couple questions, it posed even more.

As a temporary circuit around Albert Park, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is somewhat of an anomaly on the calendar, so the results from the weekend won’t necessarily indicate who is poised to be strong throughout the season.

Still, as the first race of the season, it did shine some light on how the on-track action might look for the rest of the season, and this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix should shed yet more light on the outlook for 2018.

And as one of two races to run at night – the Singapore Grand Prix is the other – Bahrain is set to be one of the more unique spectacles all year.

Key talking points to keep track of heading into the weekend are below.

Ferrari vs. Mercedes: Who is Top Dog?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari capitalized on a Virtual Safety Car in Australia to take victory over rivals Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas. And they even enter Bahrain as the defending race winners.

Still, Mercedes could easily flip the script, given their dominance in the hybrid power unit era, and their W09 EQ Power+ just might be the fastest car on the grid, evidenced by Hamilton taking pole in Australia by over half a second.

However, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas isn’t so sure that Ferrari is pretty evenly matched with them, despite the pace they showed at the season-opener.

“I think it’s going to be a close season. We’re not miles ahead,” Bottas said in a story posted on Crash.com. “I think Lewis really got everything right in Q3, maybe the other teams’ drivers didn’t get everything perfect. So I think it’s going to be a big battle and it’s going to be a tough season.”

If Ferrari can be in the ballpark with Mercedes, as they were last year when the teams seemingly traded strengths at every track, then 2018 could see yet another duel amongst them in the driver’s and constructor’s championships.

And Bahrain should give a better indication of such.

Where Does Red Bull Fall in the Title Picture?

Daniel Ricciardo during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Not to be outdone by Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull Racing could be a sleeper in the title chase. Daniel Ricciardo was right on Kimi Raikkonen’s gearbox at the end of the Australian Grand Prix and hounded him throughout the second half of the race as they battled for the final spot on the podium, with Ricciardo eventually finish fourth behind Raikkonen.

Teammate Max Verstappen struggled after suffering damage early on that contributed to a spin, though he did ultimately finish sixth.

If they can keep things clean, this is a team that has the potential to mix it up with Ferrari and Mercedes. Both Ricciardo and Verstappen won races in 2017, one for Ricciardo and two for Verstappen, who won two of the final six races.

What’s more, Verstappen’s triumph in last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix came in a straight fight of sorts against Hamilton, as he overtook the Briton early in the race with a daring move up the inside entering Turn 1.

If they build on their Australia pace and can be close to Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull could easily find themselves battling for the win in Bahrain, a race they last won in 2013.

Can McLaren and Haas Maintain Their Early-Season Form?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren F1 Team MCL33 Renault on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

McLaren F1 Team had its best race in years at Australia, with Fernando Alonso finishing at impressive fifth – his best finish since the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix – while Stoffel Vandoore came home in ninth to give McLaren its first double points finish since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Haas F1 Team, too, was fast out of the gates, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running inside the Top 5 before cross threaded wheel nuts on both cars ended their races prematurely.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

If both McLaren and Haas show similar pace to what they showed in Australian, then the top half of the grid could be in for a big shakeup.

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix rolls off at 11:00 a.m. ET.

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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