The new F1 campaign has roared out of the starters’ blocks – and the battle to be on top of the podium after the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix looks set to be hotter than ever.
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton was already crowned as champion by the time the F1 roadshow rolled into the capital last November, but he has a huge fight on his hands if he is to retain the prestigious title in 2018.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be celebrating its milestone tenth anniversary this year and judging by the thrills, spills and twists and turns we have already seen in the formative weeks of the season, it might well be the best one yet and see the title race go down to the wire (and maybe even the final corner).
Preparations are already well underway for the UAE’s biggest sporting spectacle – hip-hop icon The Weeknd was the first headline act announced for the after-race concerts and another will have been revealed by the time you read this – so there’s no better time to look ahead to the high-octane fun to come.
The 2018 season has seen a number of changes come into force, most notably to the calendar. The French Grand Prix is back on the grid for the first time in a decade, while the German Grand Prix also makes a welcome return after a one-year hiatus. The Malaysian Grand Prix – a fixture since 1999 – has been removed from the revamped schedule.
On the track, there hasn’t been the rules revolution introduced last year – which saw F1 cars become wider and faster – but key changes have been implemented.
Most significant of all is the introduction of the Halo cockpit system, a protection device designed to bolster driver safety in the event of an accident and, in particular, to divert debris away from the head.
After the 2017 season turned into a procession for Mercedes maestro Hamilton, the resurgence of the floundering Ferrari has proved welcome.
Sebastian Vettel, like Hamilton a four-time champion, made a bright start.
The gifted German secured a confidence-boosting victory in the opening race of the season in Australia, leaving a disgruntled Hamilton trailing in his wake in second place after a technical failure.
Flying Finn Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium places, rounding off a hugely encouraging day for the legendary Italian team.
Vettel made it two wins out of two in Bahrain, pipping Valtteri Bottas to victory and stretching his lead over Hamilton in third.
Hamilton managed to claw back some of the early deficit – reducing Vettel’s lead from seventeen points to nine – in the third race of the year in China.
Vettel started on pole position but a collision with Max Verstappen wrecked his chances of victory as he eventually limped home in eighth.
Hamilton improved his title chances with a fourth-place finish as Daniel Ricciardo romped home and, after a difficult start to the campaign, the Brit clinched a vital first win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The win moved him to the top of the driver standings, a fine fillip for a man who has been operating a level below his best.
All roads are leading to Abu Dhabi – and we can’t wait to get under starters orders.
Sun Nov 25, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com and through the Yas Marina Circuit Call Centre (800 927) or (02 659 9800), as well as through all Etihad Shops and Virgin Megastores, Yas Central Express stand at Yas Mall.