With the Formula One season about to get underway, we preview the ten teams competing in the 2017 World Championship.
Who are you backing to win the title this year?
Lewis Hamilton – GBR
Valtteri Bottas – FIN
The general consensus is that once more Mercedes will begin the season as the front-runners on the grid although with the gap closer than it has been for some time.
There may have been something of an upheaval since Nico Rosberg’s title triumph in Abu Dhabi – for one Rosberg has retired but more damaging, the team have lost Paddy Lowe to Williams.
Despite that, its 2017 car has proved to be incredibly consistent in winter testing and the team are confident Hamilton can drive his way to a fourth world title with new signing Bottas snapping at his heels.
Ominously for their rivals, both drivers say they have not yet got the best out of the car – Hamilton talking about being “yet to find the sweet spot”, Bottas bemoaning his failure, as yet, to “unlock the car’s full potential”.
Daniel Ricciardo – AUS
Max Verstappen – NED
The team began the week with Verstappen claiming it was not quick enough to win races at the Australian GP nor for that matter in the early part of the season. How much that is a pre-season bluff remains to be seen.
Much rests on the Renault engine, which appears to have settled after early gremlins, and how successfully the team follows through its usually aggressive in-season development.
But in Verstappen and Ricciardo, team principal Christian Horner believes he has the best driver pairing on the grid, which might well be a reality.
Red Bull have gone for a very different approach to rivals with regards to the design of the car – an extreme nose-down attitude, a concept the team believes drastically improves driving the airflow.
Red Bull look likely to be the kings of consistency once more – they finished in the top three of 14 of last season’s races.
Sebastian Vettel – GER
Kimi Raikkonen – FIN
Ferrari have been the ultimate poker players in the build-up to the season, Vettel setting tongues wagging as he eased off on the home straights on his hot laps at the final pre-season test in Barcelona.
It understandably got rivals concerned about the true pace of the car over a single lap. There is a good feeling coming from the Prancing Horse but the same could have been said a year ago in winter testing only for them to slip down the pecking order and go from the closest challengers to third place in the constructors’ championship and ending the year winless.
Vettel has not been one to hide his frustrations at the team and it is telling that all the right noises have been coming from the German’s mouth, waxing lyrical about how the team has grown and how the struggles of 2016 were a thing of the past.
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Sergio Perez – MEX
Esteban Ocon – FRA
This season has the ability for the team to take a potential step back after the best season in their history to date. They leapfrogged Williams to be best of the rest behind the top three by a reasonable margin.
Perez got the edge over team-mate Nico Hulkenberg with his podium finishes in Monaco and Azerbaijan while Hulkenberg was no slouch with 14 podium finishes. But the German has jumped ship to join Renault and, in his place, comes debutant Ocon.
He has piled on the pounds – 5kg in all – in order to be prepared for the greater physicality but the team have high hopes for the F3 and GP3 champion.
Arguably the most eye catching thing about Force India going into Melbourne is the car’s new pink, magenta and silver livery along with a bizarre chink in its nose connecting to the chassis.
Felipe Massa – BRA
Lance Stroll – CAN
Williams will be marking its 40th season in Formula 1 this season, whether it proves a cause for celebration is quite another matter.
There are reasons for promise, Paddy Lowe’s career having come full circle by rejoining the team in which he started in F1 as chief technical officer.
Lowe clearly sees the potential having left a similar post at championship winners Mercedes to buy a stake in Williams and a place on the board, and the car looks quick.
But there is no denying the team have been dented by Bottas going in the other direction, but Massa, who had driven into the F1 sunset, coming out of a retirement to give the team much-needed stability.
The addition of Stroll looks like it might be a gamble following his two spins and a crash as he struggled to get to grips with the car in pre-season testing.
Fernando Alonso – ESP
Stoffel Vandoorne – BEL
How the mighty have fallen. You have to go back five years for a last victory for McLaren, for so long a dominant force of the sport, while there has not even been a podium finish since the 2014 season.
Honda has been making all the right noises, saying it is 100 per cent committed to McLaren and F1 but yet still a company of its size has not been able to make an engine that works and his powerful enough.
So bad is the current situation that McLaren bosses have held talks behind the scenes about potentially coming to agreement on an engine supply by their former partners Mercedes.
The concern is that this will force Alonso out of the team, disgruntled at the ongoing malaise, while the car in its current state gives exciting newcomer Vandoorne little opportunity to prove himself.
Daniil Kvyat – RUS
Carlos Sainz Jr – ESP
Have ambitious plans to finish in the top five this season. On pre-season testing form alone, it is hard to ascertain entirely whether that will be possible.
Having switched from year-old Ferrari engines to new Renault ones, there have understandably been a litany of gremlins but, come the end of the final Barcelona test, the suggestion was that increasingly such problems are being ironed out.
Sainz Jr made the point that the problems were not solely Renault-inflicted and that Toro Rosso needed to carry the can for such setbacks too.
Quite whether that remains a rallying cry to those at the team’s Faenza headquarters is another matter but there is no denying Sainz Jr is quick if given the car at his disposal, likewise Kvyat, who has recovered well from being unceremoniously ditched by Red Bull early last season.
Romain Grosjean – FRA
Kevin Magnussen – DEN
The American team have quite literally put the brakes on their 2017 ambitions with their ongoing issues with the Brembo brakes currently supplied.
It is hoped a potential switch to Carbone Industrie ones will cure their current ills, something Grosjean has been pushing for repeatedly.
While the brake issues are clearly a major gripe, the vibe from the team is that they have made a massive step forward and Magnussen looks a good addition alongside Grosjean, who on his day is one of the quickest drivers on the grid.
Much of the positivity comes from the Ferrari power unit, which has been devoid of the reliability issues of the past and appears to have the required grunt to match the other teams on the straights.
As things stand, the team appears to be in the midfield, quite where is unclear.
Nico Hulkenberg – GER
Jolyon Palmer – GBR
Compliant and drivable were the words Palmer first used to describe Renault’s 2017 challenger, hardly words to throw fear into opposition drivers.
Similarly, new addition Nico Hulkenberg has hardly been glowing with his praise, saying “I don’t think we matched our expectations” with regards to the preseason tests at the Circuit de Catalunya in the lead-up to the Australian Grand Prix.
Hulkenberg has a point in that there were more issues with the engine recovery system than expected but the Renault power unit looks a big step forward on last year’s in terms of pace.
A driver of his calibre is a major boost after the team managed just three top-10 finishes last season but the car manufacturer is serious about making a success on its re-entry to F1 and, as previous world champions, they are confident of getting up to speed with their in-season development.
Marcus Ericsson – SWE
Pascal Wehrlein – GER
It is no small achievement that Sauber have made it to the starting grid for Australia. The team has made no secret of its financial struggles and there were concerns at one stage it might even be forced to fold.
Sauber may have been the first team to unveil its challenger on February 20 but, as much because of their finances, they look likely to be the ones propping up the back of the grid along with McLaren.
Technical director Jorg Zander, however, has promised “a clear improvement compared to last year” as the car is once again driven by Ericsson alongside Wehrlein, who at one point had been tipped for the vacant race seat at Mercedes.
This season marks quarter of a century for Peter Sauber’s eponymous team in F1 and, with the finances now seemingly sorted, the hope is the team can again climb up the grid.