F1: Five changes for the 2018 season | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 22.03.2018
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F1: Five changes for the 2018 season

The 2018 Formula One motor-racing season begins in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend. The scrapping of the controversial "grid girls" isn't the only change that drivers and fans will have to get used to.

It's that time of year again. The Formula One season is set to get underway with the Australian Grand Prix. This season is expected to see a two-way race for the drivers' championship between the title holder, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, and Sebastian Vettel, who will be out to deliver Ferrari's first trophy since 2007.  

"We have every reason to be optimistic," the 30-year-old German said in the days leading up to the start of the season. "The master plan is in my room, but it's top secret."

Vettel looked good in his Ferrari in preseason testing, but Mercedes, who have won four consecutive championships, are still seen as the onee to beat. But Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing is also in the running and he could make it an exciting three-way battle tor the title. 

This year, both drivers and fans will have to get used to a few new developments. DW looks at five of the most important changes for 2018:

1. Teams and drivers

First, the good news: The same 10 teams will take to the track as last season – albeit with Sauber now competing under the name Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team due to a new cooperation agreement with Alfa Romeo. However, there will be no place in the newly named team for German driver Pascal Wehrlein who has made way for Charles Leclerc of Monaco.

For the first time since 1996, there will be only two German drivers competing on the circuit: Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg. Back in the mid-1990s, Germany's representatives were Michael Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Deutschland Formel-1 Großer Preis von Deutschland (Imago/LAT Photographic)

Formula One returns to the Hockenheimring for the German Grand Prix

2. New circuits

This season will see the drivers compete in a total of 21 races – a record high for F1! After a one-year absence, the German Grand Prix returns to Hockenheim while there will also be a French Grand Prix for the first time since 2008 when the championship heads to Le Castellet. Dropped, however, was the Malaysian Grand Prix which doesn't feature on the F1 calendar for the first time since 1998.

3. New start times and TV rights

Following F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone's retirement last year, there are some new changes to where F1 races are broadcast. For the previous 40 years, Ecclestone had held the marketing rights to F1 and generally sold them to national television stations. Now, the new F1 owners, Liberty Media are rolling out their own tailored steaming service known as F1 TV.

F1 fans can subscribe to the service for €64.99 ($80) per year or €7.99 per month and it enables viewers to configure their own viewing preferences.

The race start times have also changed. Instead of the usual 14:00 starts local time, this season's races are to start at 15:10. Training and qualifying are also to start an hour later.

4. Technical changes

"If you gave me a chainsaw, I'd saw the thing off!" Clearly, Toto Wolff, executive director of the Mercedes team, isn't a fan of the new "halo" cockpit protection device – a wishbone-shaped frame designed to protect drivers from flying debris. With fatal accidents having occurred in the past, there is good reason for its introduction, but the halo has nevertheless been the subject of criticism from drivers and constructors alike, specifically due to added weight and restricted sightlines.

Spanien Formel 1 Vettel Ferrari (picture alliance/HOCH ZWEI)

The controversial new "halo' system protecting Sebastian Vettel during testing in Barcelona

Another change comes courtesy of tire-manufacturer Pirelli, who have developed two new types of tires and they have also made all of the tire compounds softer. The aim of the changes is to achieve faster lap times and more pit stops in order to give the teams more opportunities to influence a race through their pit strategy.

Despite the increase in the number of races, teams will only be able to use three engines per car – meaning each engine has to last for an average of seven races. Furthermore, the minimum weight has been increased from 728 kilograms to 733 kilograms (1,616 pounds) – a new high. In comparison, the minimum weight when restrictions were first introduced in 1961 was only  450 kilograms.

5. Goodbye grid girls

Deutschland Gridgirls vor dem Start (picture-alliance/dpa/U. Deck)

Grid Girls will be replaced by Grid Kids this season

There has also been a symbolic change on the grid. In response to the #MeToo debate, F1 has followed the example of darts and scrapped "Grid Girls," replacing the ladies with Grid Kids, a change which hasn't gone down well with everyone.

Read more: Formula One to stop using grid girls amid #MeToo movement

"What was that?" Sebastian Vettel asked in the post-race press conference after last season's Monaco Grand Prix where male models were used instead. "You get there and park behind George or Dave, what’s the point?"

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