Bob McMurray: Keep your enemies closer . . .
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With a dramatic, even melodramatic, New Zealand Grand Prix 2018 now an entry in the history books, thoughts turn to the other Grands Prix of the season.
As at the NZGP, there will be battles between team-mates and teams that will bring victory to some and leave others in despair.
Kiwi Marcus Armstrong had the twin crowns of being a New Zealand Grand Prix winner and Castrol Toyota Racing Series champion in his grasp for more than 30 minutes of racing before both were cruelly taken away from him with a minute left in the race. Both titles went to his team-mates.
The international TRS drivers are back in their respective domiciles and preparing for their own battles within whatever formulae they are racing in the 2018 season.
Their new career paths will, they hope, take them to Formula 1 at some point and they will be part of a new generation trying to displace the “older” drivers in the teams.
At Mercedes, the pecking order is well established with four-time world drivers’ champion Lewis Hamilton dominating his clear No. 2 in Valtteri Bottas.
At Ferrari, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel is almost subjugating teammate and one-time world champion Kimi Raikkonen — with ex-TRS driver Daniil Kvyat on standby.
In other teams, driver dominance is far from clear-cut.
The battle for supremacy between Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo — 28, with 129 GPs — and Max Verstappen — 20, 60 GPs — is not so much one of age but of simple speed, with both drivers capable of easily winning a race.
At Force India young Esteban Ocon, 21, is proving a tough customer to control for Sergio Perez, 28.
Ocon, with 29 GPs experience, and Perez, with 134, have crashed into each other more than once and nobody sees that situation changing despite the team issuing a strong “cease and desist” order. Nicholas Latifi, the team’s reserve driver, waits to pick up the pieces.
At Williams, 2015 TRS champion Lance Stroll, 19, a rookie with just one season behind him, will be joined by 22-year-old Sergey Olegovich Sirotkin, 22, no GPs.
At Renault, neither 30-year-old Nicolas Hulkenberg, 135 GPs, and 23-year-old Carlos Sainz Vazquez de Castro with 60 GPs has shown dominance in the short time they have been together but Hulkenberg needs to step up to lead.
Brendon Hartley, 28, 4 GPs experience and Pierre Gasly, 22, and 5 GPs experience will be the least experienced combination on the grid, driving for the Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda team.
To say Hartley, Le Mans winner and double World Endurance champion, is inexperienced seems strange but by his own admission Formula 1 is a different world.
The Haas F1 team has a very fast driver in Romain Grosjean, a 31-year-old with 122 GPs behind him, but team-mate Kevin Magnusse — 25 with 60 GPs — is proving difficult to conquer.
Alfa Romeo Sauber has new recruit 20-year-old Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc. I expect him to quickly dominate his 27-year-old Swedish team-mate Marcus Ericsson, who after 76 GPs has a best result of 8th.
Finally we come to McLaren.
Fernando Alonso Diaz — 36 with 290 GPs — is still recognised as one of the best drivers on the grid. But with two world titles to his name, the last in 2006, and making headlines for his driving outside of Formula 1, Alonso needs a great 2018 F1 season.
He has had four frustrating years at Ferrari followed by three disastrous years at McLaren-Honda.
Current team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne — 25, with 20 GPs — has not threatened Alonso’s supreme position in the team.
However, time marches on and in the wings, quietly working away developing both his own skills and the new McLaren F1 car, is 2016 Toyota Racing Series champion 18-year-old Lando Norris.
Alonso seems to be preparing for life after F1 and has signed to drive a Toyota at this year’s Le Mans 24 hour race.
For Vandoorne, one of the new generation three years ago, time may be running out before he has a chance to prove himself.