Lewis Hamilton is bidding to become the second driver in Formula One history to win six world championships.
The 34-year-old, who last season beat Sebastian Vettel to the title with two rounds to spare, will move to within one of Michael Schumacher’s record if he triumphs again this term.
Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the new season which gets underway in Australia this weekend.
Contrasting times at Mercedes
Hamilton, who will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas again this year, won 11 times in 2018 and looked a class apart from Vettel for large spells of the season.
Ferrari and Vettel may have enjoyed steady progress in pre-season testing, but Hamilton is still the man to beat, especially with his dominance on circuits like Texas, Suzuka, Montreal, Monza, Silverstone and Hungary.
Bottas, meanwhile, was winless last season and is out of contract at the end of 2019. The Finn could only manage fifth in drivers standings last season – in the fastest car – and if he does not secure some race victories this campaign, then expect him to be replaced by Mercedes development driver Esteban Ocon.
Options will be limited for Bottas if he has to relinquish his seat at the end of the year and could even mean a move back to the slow Williams where he’ll just be another passenger in the championship.
Leclerc versus Vettel
The four-time world champion is fighting for his reputation this season, especially given how he crumbled in the title race last year.
And, in new teammate Charles Leclerc, Ferrari possess the most talented young star on the grid. The Monaco man purred with confidence in his first year in F1 with Sauber and has the chance to really put pressure on Vettel.
The 20-year-old said he wants to challenge for the title, but whether he lives up to that in just his second season in the sport, will be fascinating to watch.
With Mattia Binotto replacing Maurizio Arrivabene as the new Ferrari boss, it will be interesting to see how the Italian manages both drivers. Vettel will inevitably be the number one, but will they let Leclerc challenge for race wins? Will he even be good enough in just his second season? Or will the former Sauber man be forced to play a wingman role so Vettel can challenge Hamilton?
Without a constructors championship win since 2008, the pressure is on both drivers to overturn Mercedes’ dominance.
Can Verstappen finally challenge the big two?
The Dutchman has been touted as a future world championship for three years now.
But talent and ambition can only bring you so far. The 21-year-old needs a quick and reliable car to take him to the next level.
In 2017 and 2018 seasons, he was forced to retire four and two times respectively, due to issues with the Renault engine.
After splitting with the French manufacturer, Red Bull looked to have made significant strides with the new Honda engine during pre-season testing and the overall package appears tasty.
Verstappen wants to race at the front, but if Red Bull cannot provide him with a winning car, then expect him to be angling for a move away when his contract expires in 2020. Surely there will be a vacant Mercedes or Ferrari then with both teams hungry for his signature?
If the Red Bull delivers, he should be in the mix for most races against Hamilton and Vettel.
It won’t be plain sailing for Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo emerged as one of the sport’s most likeable figures over the past couple of seasons – but he has looked low on confidence since winning the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
At that point of last season, Mercedes and Ferrari were circling for his signature, but he ended up signing a long-term deal with Renault – a team who have not secured a podium since the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2011.
His move from a championship-contending team like Red Bull to Renault means no guarantee of success, especially with his new teammate Nico Hulkenberg producing some solid performances last season and still unable to threaten a top four finish.
Without a podium since May, it’s highly unlikely Ricciardo will end that drought in the Renault. For all his class, he is stepping into a slower machine, and will definitely be challenged, if not toppled, by Hulkenberg.
The German stormed to 11 top-10s in 2018 and will be licking his lips at the opportunity to tackle a driver with Ricciardo’s reputation. Expect this to be a close battle.
Young guns to shine
Lando Norris (19), George Russell (21) and Alexander Albon (22) will be new names on the grid this season.
Norris will be the youngest British driver in F1 history when the new season kicks off this weekend. The Bristol man, who does not turn 20 until November, joins forces with Carlos Sainz at McLaren in what will be an exciting partnership.
At Williams, Formula 2 champion Russell will link up with Robert Kubica, who returns to the sport after an eight-year absence following his crash at a rally event in Andorra in 2011.
Albon, who was born in London but races under the Thai flag, finished third in the Formula 2 standings last season, behind Norris and Russell, and will partner Daniel Kvyat at Toro Rosso.
Out of the young guns, Norris looks set to make the biggest impact in the McLaren, while Russell, for all his talents, will be hoping to use his opportunity in the Williams to gain experience and put himself in the shop window for an improved switch in the future.
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