Team-mate wars: My predictions for who will win each intra-team battle
Who will win the all-important intra-team tussles in 2018?
Apart from the loss of a fin and the addition of the controversial halo, there's not going to be much visible difference to the new F1 cars that are about to be revealed.
Frustratingly little will change until the new 'Ross Brawn era' arrives in 2021, which leaves us to concentrate on the drivers and their crucial intra-team rivalries.
Lined up in 2017 constructor's championship order, this is how I see those battles working out and my qualifying predictions.
(Pic: Sutton Images)
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton v Valtteri Bottas
To be honest, I was surprised that Valtteri out-qualified Lewis as often as he did last year. Lewis is surely the fastest one-lap driver in the field, but he seemed to get himself mired in tyre compound management and had a few of those days when he just didn't seem to be with it.
Valtteri is pretty much the perfect number two. He has plenty of natural talent, works hard to get on the pace when things seem to be going against him, and he's generally ready to pick up the pieces when his superstar teammate has an off day.
Prediction: Hamilton 17 - Bottas 4
Will this be another title-winning campaign for Mercedes? (Pic: Sutton Images)
Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel v Kimi Raikkonen
I honestly believe we're in for a cracking season, with everyone at Ferrari resolved not to end up with their faces as red as their cars - and that should include Vettel making fewer rash moves! I'd put Sebastian right up there with Lewis in the one-lap speed league and once again he's Ferrari's great hope.
He also has a perfect Finnish number two in the form of the Kimster. The 38-year-old must surely be entering his last season, with Ferrari's youngsters queuing up for his seat. One of the sport's great characters, he's loved by pretty much everyone who follows F1 but seems unable to rediscover the blinding speed that took him to the 2007 title. That, of course, was the last time Ferrari enjoyed such a success.
Prediction: Vettel 16 - Raikkonen 5
Kimi rarely beat Seb in qualifying last term – and when he did the advantage didn't last. (Pic: Sutton Images)
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo v Max Verstappen
The biggest frustration of 2017 was that the Renault-powered Red Bulls were still short of the grunt required to take on Mercedes and Ferrari. For the sake of those watching the sport - not to mention McLaren and the Renault squad themselves - we desperately need that gap to be closed, especially in qualifying mode.
What isn't in doubt is that Max continues to blossom into the hottest new talent on the grid and I fear that Daniel's joyous smile is going to be severely tested this year. Beaten 13-7 last term, I think it can only get worse. Daniel may still earn more points by grafting away, but not on raw speed alone.
Prediction: Verstappen 18 - Ricciardo 3
2018 is a crucial year for Ricciardo, who cannot afford to be consistently beaten by Verstappen. (Pic: Sutton Images)
Force India: Sergio Perez v Esteban Ocon
Surely winners of the 'Best Entertainers' award 2017, these two are as closely matched as you can get. I always felt Sergio was harshly treated by McLaren, only beaten 10-9 by Button in qualifying and then dropped at the end of the year while a power struggle raged at the helm of the team.
In Ocon, Perez has a young charger snapping at his heals. While Sergio is now entering his eighth season Esteban is barely into his third - having only contested the final nine races of 2016 - and I feel the Mexican's 13-7 qualifying advantage is about to be reversed as the young Frenchman gains further confidence.
Prediction: Ocon14 - Perez 7
Could we see more fireworks from the Force India drivers this season? (Pic: Sutton Images)
Williams: Lance Stroll v Sergey Sirotkin
Despite being labelled a rent-a-drive choice thanks to his Russian backing, Sergey is no slouch behind the wheel and had GP2 pole positions at circuits like Monaco and Silverstone (where he beat Stoffel Vandoorne to the top spot). He'll probably need a few races to get settled in, but I think he will prove a good choice for Williams both with his much-needed cash and his speed.
But will he outpace Lance Stroll? It's easy to knock young Lance, and I believe a year in F2 would have saved him some of the embarrassment of his early races. There's obviously speed there, but so far only when everything is working just right. Being trounced 17-2 by Felipe Massa didn't help his reputation, especially as Bottas beat the Brazilian 17-4 in 2016.
Prediction: Sirotkin 13 - Stroll 8
Lance Stroll becomes effective team leader at Williams this year. (Pic: Sutton Images)
Renault: Nico Hulkenberg v Carlos Sainz
I suspect these two 'Yellow Perils' will provide the same sort of entertainment as Force India's 'Pink Panthers' and it's going to be fascinating to see who comes out on top. Both drivers probably feel they should by now be in one of the top three teams and both still have the appetite to prove it.
Nico starts his eighth year in F1, Carlos his fourth. The Spaniard is probably still smarting from being out-qualified by Verstappen in 2015, but he was more than a match for Kvyat. Despite that, I remain a Hulkenberg fan and think the German will edge it.
Prediction: Hulkenberg 12 - Sainz 9
The 'Yellow Perils' should provide an exciting battle in 2018. (Pic: Sutton Images)
Toro Rosso: Pierre Gasly v Brendon Hartley
A young charger on his way up versus a still surprisingly young 'veteran' who's been up, come back down and is now on his way up again! These are two of the nicest guys you're likely to meet and hopefully they'll have a Honda engine that can at least give them an occasional chance to shine.
With a more recent single-seater career, I expect Gasly (the 2016 GP2 champion and 2017 Super Formula runner-up) to come out on top. Hartley won't let him have an easy time of it though, even if his last single seater win was in F3 machinery way back in 2009!
Prediction: Gasly 15 - Hartley 6
Toro Rosso will field the least experienced pairing on the grid, with Gasly and Hartley having just 9 starts between them. (Pic: Sutton Images)
Haas: Romain Grosjean v Kevin Magnussen
The two Haas drivers have been lifted up and dropped back down a few more times than they'd like! It's easy to forget that this is the same Grosjean who took the fight to the dominant Red Bulls in 2013, picking up six podiums for his efforts. These days he's better known for parking his Haas off the road or moaning about his brakes. When the car is good he can be great, but when it isn't nor is he.
Kevin is a never-give-up sort of driver whether his car is good or bad. He's now preparing for his four season, though it is his first with the same team as the previous year. The Dane still has to prove himself but, annoyingly for him, Romain is the quicker one-lap man. Hopefully, with a better Ferrari engine and sorted brakes, the team can look to move up the grid a little.
Prediction: Grosjean 13 - Magnussen 8
Grosjean has excellent one-lap pace and made that count against Magnussen last year. (Pic: Sutton Images)
McLaren: Fernando Alonso v Stoffel Vandoorne
With its fragile Honda powerplant, last year's McLaren wasn't exactly the best car on the grid. For the most part it was being sent to the back with penalties, but the team had top quality behind the wheel in Alonso. The veteran Spaniard is still as fast as ever, and we must all hope this year's car will allow him to show it.
Vandoorne was a great GP2 champion and is certainly quick enough to keep Alonso honest. If the new Renault unit doesn't get the car in the top six, I can see Alonso concentrating more on his race-winning WEC duties with Toyota and Stoffel beginning to outqualify him.
Prediction: Alonso 13 - Vandoorne 8
Could Vandoorne take advantage of Alonso's split racing loyalties in 2018? (Pic: Sutton Images)
Sauber: Marcus Ericsson v Charles Leclerc
You have to feel a little sorry for Ericsson. He's written off as being in F1 thanks to the money his backers have invested in the team, yet in his four seasons so far he's pretty much matched whoever was in the other car.
Mercedes protege Wehrlein out-did him 12-7 last year, and this season he has Ferrari's very highly rated junior Charles Leclerc to contend with. I think the Swede is in for a bit of a shock. Having won GP3 and F2 in consecutive years, Leclerc is a driver who looks destined for a great future in F1 - and, most likely, Kimi's Ferrari seat next year!
Prediction Leclerc 15 - Ericsson 6
There are high hopes for Leclerc's debut season. (Pic: Sutton Images)