It’s 1 January 2019, and we are 49 days away from the first F1 winter testing before the first race on Sunday 17 March, so I thought I’d write about what I’m looking forward to this season.

Inter-team battles

I, for one, am really looking forward to the potential inter-team battles at Ferrari and Red Bull. With Leclerc and Gasly, both hungry to win a WDC I don’t think, for one minute, they are going to like, or play along with team orders.

So there could well be fireworks in both teams.

I’m wondering whether we’ll get a repeat of the ‘multi-21’ episode and how Vettel will react when the boot is on the other foot!

It will also be interesting to watch how Verstappen reacts if Gasly gives him a run for his money.

Who's under pressure?

Bottas, has to be the one driver under enormous pressure. He’s only on a one-year contract, he finished a poor fifth place in the WDC having driven the same powered car as Hamilton and even without the team orders in Russia only managed to finish higher than Hamilton on three occasions.

With Ocon signed as Mercedes reserve driver for the season and hungry to get back a full-time drive, the pressure has surely got to be on Bottas.

Another driver, I think will be under pressure, albeit for a different reason, is Lance Stroll. With a drive at Force India finally revealed (it was the worst kept secret in the pitlane for months) he’ll be under pressure to deliver the goods.

After two years of driving the Williams, but making no bones about his actual talent, he’s now got to step up and prove that he deserves this drive.

Finally, I also think Vettel is going to be under pressure. With Kimi winning Ferrari’s last WDC in 2007, Vettel is under double pressure from his new teammate and to become a Ferrari WDC. We saw last season that he made some silly mistakes, was that the pressure of the title fight getting to him? After all, his Red Bull championships all came with Red Bull having the best car on the grid by far and he would romp off into the distance at the start. (And yes, the same can be said for Hamilton’s victories in 2014 and 2015)

Who will surprise?

When they signed Kimi, I said that I would put money on Kimi getting pole in Australia in the Sauber. I think I might stick with that as an early season surprise.

As for other surprises, I think it’s going to be interesting to watch how the new kids on the block fair, and they could cause a few upsets and surprises along the way.

What about those making a return to the grid?

After being ceremoniously dumped from Red Bull down to Toro Rosso following a few crashes (far less than Verstappen has been involved in last season) and then dropped after the US grand prix in 2017, who would have thought that Daniil Kvyatt would be given the Toro Rosso drive in 2019?

Would you have gone back after being treated like that?

He’s certainly got a lot of demons to tackle. Let’s hope he’s less torpedo now.

There’s been mixed reactions to the news that Robert Kubica will be making his return to F1 after an eight year absence. He was clearly a very talented driver back in 2010 and a possible championship contender had his injury not put paid to that.

Will it be a dream return or a nightmare?

He’s certainly still got a lot of speed and drive in him, but he’s another driver also under pressure.

Personally, I think a lot is going to depend on the state of the Williams car this year. If it’s good and Kubica doesn’t do well, compared to Russell, then there will be a lot of negativity. If the car is the same pile of poop it has been for the last couple of years then there’s no real way to see how good he still is, unless Russell does an Alonso and manages to consistently pop the Williams in places it shouldn’t be in.

Will McLaren and Williams emerge from their recent slump?

I really hope, this season, that McLaren and Williams return to some sort of form after a shocking couple of years.

The Renault engine is more than decent and the Mercedes engine, championship winning, so theoretically both teams should have been fighting, if not for podiums, at least for the top of the Formula 1.5 grid instead of consistently languishing at the back of the grid.

Hopefully, some of the issues have been ironed out and we’ll see both teams move off the bottom rung of the ladder in 2019.

What of the other teams?

Much as I would love, along with everyone else, to not have just three teams slugging it out for top honours I think Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will be out front again.

But, I do feel that the gap between them and the rest of the grid will start closing up and we could have a few surprises in qualifying.

Who will shine?

Leclerc is definitely one to keep an eye on, along with Gasly. Both good drivers, now in excellent cars, I think they will definitely be in the mix, stealing points and some of the limelight.

Who will end the year victorious?

Love him or hate him, with Hamilton on another level last season he’s got to be favourite for clinching a sixth title.

Ferrari did have the stronger car last year, yes they made some (OK quite a few) lousy calls and Vettel seemed to buckle under pressure, so you have to admire what Hamilton achieved in a car that was second fastest.

I'm certainly looking forward to the start of the season.

My hotly contested Funniest Tweet Awards Championship will be entering it's fourth season (if you want to enter, get practising now!), F1 Baking Club will be back with another set of F1 Bake Offs and I'm also working on something new, but you'll have to wait until Melbourne to find out what.

On a final note, one thing that’s certain is that whenever Grosjean crashes this year, it can’t be Ericsson’s fault!

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