Perhaps the most surprising facet of the 2017 Formula One season was that the back-and-forth title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel didn’t go down to the wire.
The Briton and his German counterpart had been exchanging blows for much of the campaign, only for a Ferrari collapse in the second half of the season to remove any remaining spice from what had been an all too predictable year.
Going down a familiar road?
As far as the 2018 campaign goes, pre-season testing has only helped to fuel suggestions that 2018 will serve up much of the same. Hamilton and his Mercedes team have already been setting an ominously high standard in testing, while the overriding consensus is that Ferrari - despite posting quick times in Barcelona - haven’t eaten up as much ground as their championship rivals over the winter.
Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner has admitted that last year’s champions are once again favourites this season, and there seems to be a reluctant acceptance that the biggest on-track shake-up might only be the shiny new halo driver head-protection device which has been introduced for 2018.
Despite that, the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have shown signs that they may be ready to muscle their way back in among the leaders, with the former saying that the cars are “there or thereabouts”. McLaren, however, are struggling to leave their reliability issues behind after switching engine supplier from Honda to Renault and, outside of the traditional challengers, there has been little to indicate that Mercedes’ four-year reign could be under significant threat.
There are, though, new title sponsors for Red Bull and Sauber in the form of Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo respectively, while a host of innovative off-season deals suggest that Formula One’s teams are beginning to think outside the box. Renault named Spanish soccer’s La Liga as an official partner, while McLaren became the first team to make light of jokes about the appearance of the new halo devices when they named Gandys as their flip-flop sponsor for the race in Australia, with branding on the new frame. Force India have followed suit through a season-long deal with Havaianas.
The halo device is new for 2018, and has already stirred two teams to sign flip-flop sponsors for the new structure
The digital drive
Off the track could be where the 2018 Formula One season truly takes centre stage. This campaign marks the second year with owner Liberty Media at the helm, and the championship’s new era was somewhat unofficially heralded last November, when the old logo - which had been in use since 1993 - was replaced by a simpler red design.
That move was very much part of Liberty’s intention to revolutionise the way Formula One is presented, and another major step in that journey came at the end of February when the series confirmed plans for F1 TV, its new over-the-top (OTT) digital broadcast service. The new platform will be made available in nearly two dozen markets, but not quite as early as had been anticipated.
It was initially hoped that F1 TV would be launched in time for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, but a Formula One spokesman confirmed earlier this week that the product will be vigorously tested over the curtain-raising weekend in Melbourne, with an aim to start delivery as soon as possible after that.
F1 TV subscriptions will cost between US$8 and US$12 a month, and having to pay to watch Formula One coverage looks increasingly like becoming the norm. Italy represents the championship’s second-biggest TV market in Europe, and the country’s latest rights tender saw national public broadcaster Rai, which has aired the series since 1953, lose is coverage to pay-TV giant Sky Italia.
In the UK, Sky is set to take exclusive rights from 2019, while this year will mark US cable network ESPN’s first year as the majority rights holder in the US. Needless to say, there is a growing concern that Formula One is slowly but surely leaving free-to-air behind, risking falling audiences in the search for boosts in revenue and making more sophisticated ways of serving sponsors essential.
Making the right turn
Elsewhere, Liberty will be keen to offset further financial losses after revealing that Formula One’s revenue reversed by UK£13 million (US$18.3 million) during its first year in the driving seat. Much of that slide was driven by the loss of the German Grand Prix and several sponsors including Allianz and financial services giant UBS, but an inability to sign any new races or sponsorship deals wasn’t a good look for a company that had promised to rev up the business.
Lower revenues have inevitably seen team payments drop, and prize money for 2018 is going down by nearly five per cent. With the contracts that bind the teams to Formula One set to run out in 2020, Liberty will also be hoping to make progress on a number of prickly issues. Ferrari - who currently receive five per cent of Formula One’s total revenues - in particular have voiced their disdain for the proposed redistribution of prize money and the concept of a simpler engine, while Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned earlier this week that a breakaway championship to rival Formula One is a “realistic” possibility and “could happen”.
As far as Liberty is concerned, then, there appears to be plenty that needs to be ironed out before its plans for a more level playing field come to fruition. For the teams, however, much of the graft was done during the close season in the form of fine-tuning, new sponsorship deals and partnership renewals, and all immediate roads now lead to Melbourne. As the new Formula One season prepares to spark into life, SportsPro presents a comprehensive sponsorship guide to every team.
Team principal: Maurizio Arrivabene
Car: Chassis: SF71H Power unit: Ferrari
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) and Kimi Räikkönen (Finland)
Title Sponsor: N/A
Sponsors: Shell, Ray Ban, Alfa Romeo, Kaspersky Lab, UPS, Lenovo, Weichai, Hublot, Mahle, OMR, AMD, Singha, Pirelli, Puma Swisse, Experis, SKF, Magneti Marelli, NGK, Brembo, Riedel, Iveco, Bell, Oz, Honeywell, Veuve Clicquot
Close season deals: Lenovo
Ferrari have voiced their disdain for Liberty's proposed redistribution of prize money and the concept of a simpler engine
Team principal: Vijay Mallya
Car: Chassis: VJM11 Power unit: Mercedes
Drivers: Sergio Perez (Mexico) and Esteban Ocon (France)
Title Sponsor: Sahara
Sponsors: BWT, Claro, Duo Group, Hype Energy, Infinitum, Kingfisher, Magnesium Mineralised Water, NEC Corporation, Pemex, Telcel, Telmex, Vonhaucke, Adaptavist, Alpinestars, Koni, Orange Bus, Pirelli, Ravenol, Univa, 3D Systems, Apsley, Condeco, Branded Designs, Farah, Gtechniq, ITEC, SAS Global, Schuberth, STL, Still, The Roastery, UPS Direct, Voip Unlimited, WyndyMilla
Team principal: Guenther Steiner
Car: Chassis: VF-18 Power unit: Ferrari
Drivers: Romain Grosjean (France) and Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)
Title Sponsor: Haas Automation
Sponsors: Alpinestars, Pirelli, Jack & Jones, Richard Mille, Wind Shear
Close season deals: Jack & Jones
Team principal: Eric Boullier
Car: Chassis: MCL33 Power unit: Renault
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (Spain, pictured right) and Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium)
Title Sponsor: N/A
Sponsors: Dell Technologies, NTT Communications, Petrobras, Logitech, Airgain, Pirelli, SAP, Akebono, Chandon, Richard Mille, Kimoa, Hilton, Norton Rose Fulbright, CNBC, Stratasys, Enkei, Mazak Machine Tools, Kenwood, TechnoGym, Volvo Trucks, Sparco, AkzoNobel-Sikkens, LAT_56, Hookit, Calsonic Kansei
Team principal: Toto Wolff
Car: Chassis: F1 W09 EQ Power unit: Mercedes
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (UK) and Valtteri Bottas (Finland)
Title Sponsor: AMG Petronas
Sponsors: UBS, Qualcomm, Epson, Bose, Tommy Hilfiger, IWC Schaffhausen, Wihuri, Monster Energy, Pure Storage, TIBCO, Starwood, Puma, ebmpapst, Tata Communications, NetJets, DB Schenker, Rubrik, OMP, Spies Hecker, Assos, OZ Racing, Endless, Pirelli,
Close season deals: Tommy Hilfiger
Mercedes are aiming to win their fifth consecutive constructors' championship
Red Bull Racing
Team principal: Christian Horner
Car: Chassis: RB14 Power unit: Tag Heuer
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) and Max Verstappen (Netherlands)
Title Sponsor: Aston Martin
Sponsors: ExxonMobil, Tag Heuer, Puma, Citrix, Rauch, Hisense, AT&T, Siemens, IBM Spectrum, Hexagon, DMG Mori, PWR, Ansys, Pirelli, Sabelt, Flir, OZ Racing, HPE Simplivity, Earin, Mitie
Close season deals: DITA
Renault Sport F1
Team principal: Cyril Abiteboul
Car: Chassis: Renault R.S.18 Power unit: Renault
Drivers: Nico Hülkenberg (Germany) and Carlos Sainz (Spain)
Title Sponsor: Renault
Sponsors: Castrol, Infiniti, RCI Bank and Services, Estrella Galicia, Mapfre, Microsoft, Eurodatacar, Bell & Ross, BP Ultimate, Tmall, LaLiga, Genii, 3D Systems, Alpinestars, Athletic Propulsion Labs, Boeing, Breton, Elysium, GF Machining Solutions, Goodwill Private Jets, Hechter, Ixell, Le Coq Sportif, Matrix, OZ, PerkinElmer, Pirelli, Siemens, YXLON
Renault's partnership with La Liga was one of a host of innovative close season deals signed by the French outfit
Team principal: Frédéric Vasseur
Car: Chassis: C37 Power unit: Ferrari
Drivers: Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) and Charles Leclerc (Monaco)
Title Sponsor: Alfa Romeo
Sponsors: Silanna, Carrera, Claro, Richard Mille, Additive Industries, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Kappa, Mitsubishi Electric, OMP, Pirelli, Walter Meier, Thomann Nutzfahrzeuge, Brütsch/Rüegger, Carbon-Connect, Interroll, MTO, Riedel, Singapore Airlines, Garage Italia
Team principal: Franz Tost
Car: Chassis: STR13 Power unit: Honda
Drivers: Pierre Gasly (France) and Brendon Hartley (New Zealand)
Title Sponsor: Red Bull
Sponsors: Red Bull, Acronis, Edifice Casio, Honda, Pirelli, Siemens, Riedel, Gi Group, Hangar-7, APP Tech
Close season deals: Edifice Casio
Team principal: Frank Williams and Claire Williams
Car: Chassis: FW41 Power unit: Mercedes
Drivers: Lance Stroll (Canada) and Sergey Sirotkin (Russia)
Title Sponsor: Martini
Sponsors: Rexona, JCB, SMP Racing, Oris, BT, Acronis, Financial.org, Bombardier, Canada Life, Pirelli, Symantec, PPG, Alpinestars
Close season deals: Acronis