Formula One is all about narratives. Though new ones will emerge in the new season, there are several topics we know we will be talking about for much of the year -- we've outlined the biggest below.
To say the implementation of the Halo for 2018 has been controversial would be a huge understatement. The device, formed by a titanium structure wrapped in carbon fibre above the driver's head, has been made mandatory after eight years of painstaking research into cockpit protection but continues to divide opinion. Despite the safety advantages, the look of the Halo remains unpopular; Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called the design itself "dreadful", joking that he would saw it off he could. Drivers are also split on the look and whether it is necessary on a modern F1 car.
But, much like with the 'shark-fin' or T-wings which dominated winter testing last season, Halo is very much something fans and drivers alike are just going to have to get used to. The final designs are expected to look much better than the prototypes tested since the start of 2016 as they will be incorporated into the entire concept of the new cars. It is likely to be the biggest area of intrigue when launch season begins in February.
Another issue Halo has raised relates to broadcasting of races themselves. The Halo now blocks much of the traditional over-the-top cockpit camera, which has forced F1 management to consider different ways to broadcast in-car footage for the new season. With F1 already struggling to convey the sheer speeds of cars on TV, the Halo adds another element for F1's producers to consider.
Liberty Media's sophomore season
F1's new owners finished their first year in charge of the sport on the back foot as it encountered its first real political challenge since taking over (see below). It came at the end of a radical period of change behind the scenes as the American media company made a clear break from the Bernie Ecclestone era.
The 2017 campaign finished with the unveiling of a striking new F1 logo, which will be accompanied by a wider rebranding of the sport which will take place at March's opener in Australia. That alone will include new graphic packages and production elements likely to completely change the look of F1's world feed, which also creating a new web platform and introduction of a live and non-live Over The Top offering in certain markets. New initiatives are expected to continue for fans at live events, with high-speed Wifi being considered for grandstands and an official F1 pop-up merchandising store set to travel to each race. There are also set to more city demos following the hugely popular London Live event in 2017, while F1 will continue with the esports series which was introduced so successfully at the tail-end of last season.
With numerous hires made to bolster various departments which never existed under Ecclestone -- marketing, sponsorship and research to name a few -- expect Liberty's aggressive approach to continue in 2018.
Aside from the initiatives outlined above, much of F1 management's attention this year will centre around fighting political fires started at the end of last year. The first blueprint of the post-2020 engine regulations angered Ferrari, who threatened to quit, Mercedes and Renault. That area is shaping up to be the first proper political battleground of Liberty Media's F1 and will be discussed at length this season.
With that in mind, Ferrari's recent moves have been interesting. Its extensive new partnership with Sauber, which includes the return of the Alfa Romeo name to the grid as title sponsor, strengthens company president Sergio Marchionne's hand in any future political battles with F1's leadership. Much attention will be on Marchionne this season and whether he ratchets up the tension and threats or backs down.
The new engine deal was written in a way to appeal to new manufacturers and it will be interesting this year and beyond to see how F1 management tows the line between luring new entrants and keeping existing ones happy, especially when the existing ones have the political clout of Ferrari and Mercedes. With discussions also ongoing about a future $150 million cost cap -- something Liberty hopes will create more parity in performance on the grid -- plenty is going to happen behind the scenes in 2018.
Fernando Alonso will have raced competitively before the season begins, with an appearance already confirmed at the Daytona 24 Hours sports car race at the end of January. The appearance, with McLaren boss Zak Brown's United Autosports team, is widely seen as a precursor to an entry to the Le Mans 24 Hours later this year. Rumours of that were strengthened by Alonso testing Toyota's Le Mans prototype car in November.
Alonso's extra-curricular activities away from F1 continue his assault on motor racing's unofficial Triple Crown, which he started last year with a popular one-off appearance at the Indianapolis 500. The Spaniard's Indy debut caused a huge wave of interest and it's easy to imagine a trip to Le Mans would do the same. A curious sidenote to this year is that McLaren's F1 fortunes may greatly improve with its new Renault deal -- his Indy trip was a response to Honda's dismal start to 2017 -- meaning Alonso could be set for silverware in multiple categories.
A driver shake-up?
The driver market is going to be wide open this year. Several big names are in the final year of their deals: reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton is in discussions with Mercedes about a new deal, but it is the other names on that list which are likely to cause the most intrigue as the year goes on. Ricciardo has delayed on a contract extension so he can assess the competitiveness of Red Bull's 2018 car, though he has also stated a wish to drive alongside Hamilton while the reigning world champion is at his peak. Should Ricciardo leave, it would help elevate Carlos Sainz to Red Bull after his loan year at Renault -- that situation will be fascinating if Ricciardo stays put and continues to block Sainz's path to the senior team.
Despite three wins last year, this season Bottas is likely driving to preserve his chances of ever winning a world championship . Given the nature of F1 and the emergence of the new generation, it is hard to see him landing back at a top team if he is not retained by Mercedes. The world champions will be spoilt for choice, too -- junior driver Esteban Ocon will look to continue his impressive career at Force India and may well join Ricciardo as a genuine contender for the seat. Meanwhile, Ferrari has made it clear Raikkonen must deliver strong performances to earn another year beyond 2018. The success of Ferrari junior and reigning F2 champion Charles Leclerc in his rookie season this year might help influence any decision over the Finn's future.
Whatever happens, if any of those four drivers' circumstances change for 2019, it will prompt a big shake-up of the current grid.