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|Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen will race alongside Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari. (Photo: AFP/Lluis Gene)|
Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari again loom as the major threat to Lewis Hamilton-led Mercedes's bid for a fifth-straight constructors' title.
The Italian giants, who last won the teams crown in 2008, were quickest in pre-season testing, with Vettel declaring Ferrari was heading to Melbourne in as good a shape as their main rivals. "We're starting from a good base with our SF71H car," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in our team, and I can't wait to be in Australia, because once we get on track there, we will all be driving and racing under the same conditions."
There have been plenty of unflattering comments over F1's new halo head protection device for drivers, with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff declaring he would take a chainsaw to the safety system if he could because of its weight. FIA chief Jean Todt fired back, saying it had been introduced to save lives and at the request of drivers' body the GPDA. The halo has been under development in recent years, and has emerged in testing as the most effective of the designs at protecting the driver's head from impact with large external objects. Its introduction follows the death of Jules Bianchi following a collision at a wet Japanese Grand Prix in 2014 - F1's first fatality since Ayrton Senna in 1994.
Liberty Media, the sport's American owners, have done away with the practice of using scantily-clad "grid girls" before races. Liberty, embarking on their second season in charge following the long era of British impresario Bernie Ecclestone, said the practice of having the women in the grid area before races was "clearly at odds with modern day societal norms". Among other changes is the installation of 360-degree cameras on all cars to create a better experience for TV viewers.
World champion Lewis Hamilton may see Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen as his main rivals this season, but what about the threat from within Mercedes: his team-mate Valtteri Bottas? In his first season with Mercedes, Bottas had three wins, but for the Finn to retain the seat in 2019 he may need to be closer to his team-mate Hamilton in the final standings - or even beat him. "I know someone who did," quips Nico Rosberg, who beat Hamilton to the 2016 title before immediately retiring.
Toro Rosso has complained that it's "crazy" that F1 has stuck with the three-engine limit for the demanding 21 grand prix season. F1 teams are bracing themselves for a tough time in managing engine life in 2018, with new rules limiting them to just three power units. "Last year manufacturers tried with four engines and less races, and this year we have more races and less engines," team principal Franz Tost said. "I must only say they are totally crazy with this regulation." Tost thinks as a consequence it will be inevitable that Honda will discuss tactical engine change penalties with his team during the season.