Seven days from now, 20 drivers from ten teams will emerge from their garages at Albert Park in Melbourne, ahead of the first practice session of the Australian Grand Prix and to mark the start of a new season of Formula One.
In what has felt like a long off-season, especially considering the championship was clinched with two races to spare in 2018, the anticipation and desire to see what a new year will bring has truly been high.
It would be easy to just sit and discuss the previous year, whether it is the successes or the shortcomings of our challengers, however there is no time like the present and with a blank canvas.
Anything is possible.
New regulations have also dictated a change in design of front-wings for 2019, with a simplified solution intended to promote drivers to be able to follow cars, better than they have in previous seasons with the far more intricate wings.
Some agree that this will encourage more overtaking and indeed some also disagree. It wouldn’t be Formula One without these debates!
It’s best however, to reserve judgement until the cars are racing and have full tanks of fuel onboard.
Pre-season testing reminded us that the two protagonists in this year’s championship will once again be Mercedes AMG and Ferrari.
The age-old question will once again be asked: will this be the year for the Prancing Horse?
Having finished the pre-season as the fastest team, courtesy of Sebastian Vettel closely edging out Lewis Hamilton by three hundredths of second, Ferrari have the most to lose in 2019 and with a change in team bosses too, there can be no excuses.
Last year’s rookie sensation in Charles Leclerc joins Vettel at the Scuderia, and given the criticism that the German sustained in the past few seasons for complacency, the 21-year-old Ferrari junior may be the spark in the backside that the four-time world champion needs to claim that elusive fifth.
Also needing a spark is Valtteri Bottas, who ended a dismal season without any wins despite the Silver Arrows winning a fifth consecutive constructors’ championship in 2018.
Having himself said during the off-season that he “feels like he hasn’t achieved anything in Formula One,” acknowledging that nothing short of wins and even challenging for the title will be satisfactory.
Knocking on the door at Mercedes AMG whilst sidelined for 2019 is Esteban Ocon, who due to a bizarre set of circumstances was left without a drive at the end of last year. And with team boss Toto Wolff’s burning desire to have Ocon on the grid, Bottas could find himself looking for a new home for 2020.
Behind the top two, it’s anyone’s guess as to how the field looks and how the season will pan out. Red Bull ideally are the outfit to slot into third, boasting a young and exciting line up of Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly.
The question remains though, what their new Honda power-unit will yield? The Japanese manufacturer enjoyed its best pre-season since returning to the sport in 2015 and with the added help from Toro Rosso for development, there is cause for optimism.
Red Bull are known to be savage in their feedback to their engine suppliers if the performance isn’t up to scratch, so for the sake of both the team and the manufacturer, neither should end up going backwards on last year.
Daniel Ricciardo and his new team at Renault on the contrary won’t be under Red Bull’s scrutiny in 2019, though the pressure will be on for the French marque to continue making strides forward. The Aussie has called for tempered expectations, but progress must be visible.
Any exciting adjective could describe what the midfield is going to look like in 2019 and as always next to the championship, the intrigue is over the battles that are yet to come from fifth and below in the constructor’s table.
Alfa Romeo is murmured to be the surprise package amongst the midfield, building upon the strong foundation that was laid by Sauber in 2018. The arrival of Kimi Räikkönen alongside Antonio Giovinazzi could see them push for the odd podium – given their strong technical ties with Ferrari.
Fresh colours for Haas, a new identity for the team formerly Force India and a change of personnel at McLaren all warrant equal footing between these teams before seeing the cars all race for the first time.
The addition of a trio of F2 graduates to the grid, too, brings much excitement – even more so that it is the top three drivers from last year’s championship.
Reigning champion George Russell may not have a great deal to be excited about at Williams, who endured a horror testing period, but runner-up Alexander Albon at Toro Rosso and Lando Norris at McLaren could be scoring points as early as the first race.
So, what will 21 races over the next ten months produce? All the ingredients are there for what could be the best seen in Formula One for a long time.