Friday 22 March 2019

Chasing pack should keep Hamilton on toes

Lewis Hamilton. Photo: Rick Rycroft/AP Photo
Lewis Hamilton. Photo: Rick Rycroft/AP Photo

David Kennedy

The Formula One season got up and running this morning in Melbourne. The problem with winter testing and predictions is they often gave false positives. All sorts of stealth involving fuel loads, tyre testing, mind games and other permutations served to obfuscate true performance.

Mercedes, who were not quickest in Barcelona testing, are nonetheless expected to deliver the goods courtesy of Lewis Hamilton. Will team-mate Valtteri Bottas kick ass or have his ass kicked? Ferrari and Red Bull need to be quick off the blocks should Mercedes become a runaway train.

Don't count your silver arrows just yet as Red Bull and Ferrari plan on giving Mercedes a run for their money. So while Hamilton would like nothing better than to win a fifth world title unencumbered, we hope it won't be a complete walkover either.

So let's take a look at the drivers who will battle it out on the grid this year:

Mercedes F1 WO9

Lewis Hamilton

The leader of the pack has every right to feel proud of his achievements. Hamilton is Britain's most successful F1 driver with four titles. Five would bring him into an even rarer atmosphere occupied by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher who have five titles or more. While he is 33 years old, Hamilton has the car, the power unit, the talent and the motivation. What an enviable combination.

Valtteri Bottas

Living in the shadow of Lewis can't be easy. Bottas has his moments of greatness but he'll need a bit more consistency if he's to beat Hamilton. There is nothing like warring team-mates to spice things up, so bring it on.

Ferrari SF71H

Sebastian Vettel

Undimmed ambition still drives the four-time world champion and he's especially keen to take a fifth with Ferrari. He'll have no shortage of supporters cheering him on in Melbourne, which is like a little Italy.

Kimi Raikkonen

I hope 'the Ice Man' isn't thawing into a big puddle. If he is it's an expensive one. He will have the odd moment of inspiration but that doesn't justify a drive with Ferrari.

Red Bull - Renault RB14

Daniel Riccardo

This is his eighth F1 season. He and his team-mate were the only drivers to upset the Mercedes-Ferrari lock-in last season with one win apiece. He's been on the podium here when second in 2014 but the team was later disqualified for a fuel flow infringement.

Max Verstappen

He's no longer a teenager but he's still a sensation. Let's not forget he's been racing since he was four and a half. The personable youngster is as hungry as ever for victory. One hopes it's driven by his personal ambition and not for his fiery former F1 father Jos, aka the 'Dutch Devil'. His mother, Sophie Kumpen, was a former karting champion who beat amongst others Jenson Button.

Force India - Mercedes VJM11

Esteban Ocon

A Prema-Theodore F3 champion in 2014 and the following year GP3 champion with ART, Ocon has undoubted talent. Force India is a terrific team to hone ones craft so he should do well in his second season with them.

Sergio Perez

He's been knocking on the door of victory for a while now but lacked the machinery to deliver it. Finished seventh in the championship last season.

Williams -Mercedes FW41

Sergey Sirotkin

Sirotkin beat Robert Kubica for the coveted slot to replace Felipe Massa at Williams. His degree in race car engineering should be useful. He was no stranger to podiums in Formula Renault and GP2, although he's a paying driver he's not there to make up the numbers.

Lance Stroll

He won the 2016 F3 championship for Prema-Theodore. Stroll certainly knows how to win races. He finished an impressive third in the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the youngest rookie to grace a podium.

Renault RS18

Nico Hulkenburg

A solid performer, still he needs to step up a gear. He's 30 and still has title ambitions.

Carlos Sainz Jnr

Sainz moved from Toro Rosso and replaced Jolyon Palmer at Renault at the end of last season but he's still under contract to Red Bull. He has moments of greatness but needs more of those.

Toro Rosso - Honda STR13

Brendon Hartley

The Kiwi's career trajectory is the reverse of Fernando Alonso's. Hartley won Le Mans last year and is double WEC champion. He made his debut in the US GP last year. He is a force to be reckoned with and definitely one to watch. He cut his teeth with the tricolour-entered Murphy LMP2 car at Le Mans in 2012/13. Remember how Vettel mapped his career with Toro Rosso, Hartley, 28, could do the same despite starting so late in terms of age.

Pierre Gasly

Gasly was 2016 GP2 champion with Prema-Theodore. He'll be looking to score his first F1 points this season. In Hartley he has an excellent team-mate against which to measure his talent. This pairing is one of the best line-ups on the grid.

Haas - Ferrari VF-18

Romain Grosjean

His F1 results belie his undoubted talent. He finished 13th in the championship last year, the highlight was sixth in Austria.

Kevin Magnussen

Hasn't fulfilled the promise expected of him. Nineteen points last season earned him 14th in the championship.

McLaren - Renault MLC33:

Fernando Alonso

This gargantuan talent embodies fortitude and an aptitude for bad timing. The Spaniard ploughs his own furrow with undiminished belief that he will once again triumph. His prediction is that McLaren will improve as the season progresses. He's not short of ambition, he'll also compete in and wants to win the WEC and Le Mans, so should McLaren fail to deliver, it may not be all doom and gloom.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Won the GP2 series in 2015 with ART. Alonso and he finished 15th and 16th in the championship last season, The Belgian had a couple of seventh places to one sixth from Alonso. Not bad going considering his team-mate is a double world champion.

Alfa Romeo Sauber - Ferrari C37

Charles Leclerc

Prema-Theodore F2 champion in 2017 and GP3 champion with Art the previous year, there are high hopes for the youngster. He's an outstanding talent. If the rookie can cut his teeth with Sauber and move on he will have a very promising career.

Marcus Ericsson

He doesn't have a stellar record to speak of so we'll just have to measure him against his team-mate.

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