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F1: Season to start with no real idea of who's going to be good

Bryan Edwards

The two winter tests are done and dusted. The cars have been back to their factories, dismantled and evaluated. The data has been analysed. We, of course, know nothing at all except the colour of the cars, who will sit in them and what changes in various regulations have done to their look. We've had endless interviews and soundbites from teams and drivers and we've learned nothing of value except that Bottas has had enough of playing second fiddle and plans to shed his Mr Nice Guy image and he's got chiselled features and a bovva-boy haircut to prove it. Does that mean the season opener in Melbourne next weekend is just a prelude to the season proper? Or are the teams actually ready?

The news that Sauber was to be renamed Alfa Romeo for 2019 meant that Kimi Raikkonen spent only hours outside the umbrella of the Ferrari team as both brands are part of the Fiat stable. The car was first seen on a "filming day" all loved up in a Valentine's Day livery - and the PR machine was on maximum attack pumping out a story as to how their number two driver, Antonio Giovinazzi, was hand-carrying components to complete the car. He's not the first one to do it: long ago, sitting in a London airport, travellers were treated to the sight of Arrows team members running through the airport carrying the wings for one of their cars. Actually, all he did was to drive to the airport near the Fiorano Circuit to pick it up. Given that Giovinazzi is a product of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and the car has a Ferarri engine (reportedly a full factory set-up) it's pretty clear that this is the real Ferrari junior team. And it worked: come testing Giovinazzi topped the timesheets for one of the sessions. Test driver Tatiana Calderón got to drive the car on the filming day: it was the first time she had driven the car on a proper race track.

Ferrari itself looks like it's in for a bit of a shake-up and it goes further than the fact that the cars won't be shiny (apparently, the team is saving weight by making them look dull, sorry - matte). Vettel is more relaxed, pre-season, than he's looked in recent years and a lot less frazzled than he was for most of the latter half of last season. He knows he's got a good car. His only concern is whether Charles Leclerc will show him up. Leclerc made the Sauber work well last year. Some think he will be mentally broken by Vettel : the team need to decide whether to let them race or whether to use team orders to keep the youngster in his place. In one press conference, the new(ish) boss, Mattia Binotto, said that they would be free to race but then said that Vettel, with more experience, should be given priority. So that's a bit rubbish. If they give Leclerc room to grow, there is little doubt he is the future of the Ferrari team. Vettel won't like that: expect some choice words when the youngster comes storming up behind him on fresh tyres and he's told to move over. But Ferrari always plays the race card i.e. team orders to let the team leader win even when he patently should not. Yet, F1 is a team sport and it's part of the game. The problem arises when people like Vettel refuse to move over for the benefit of the team. We'll see. The Ferrari looked settled and quick in testing but as there is no data as to weights, fuel loads, combination of aero packages and the like testing is exactly that; trial and error for the bits that can't be fully tested in a factory or on a computer. Hamilton rates it as a serious contender out of the box. Talking of which, when it comes out of the box in Melbourne the sneaky tobacco advertising won't be on the car: it's already been dropped from the official team entry name. The FIA and Australian authorities have been investigating the deal that this writer thinks is super-dodgy: the angled text was reminiscent of the white triangle on the rear wing that Ferrari used to use when actually writing "Marlboro" on the cars was not permitted.


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