Formula One blasts back into action this weekend down under in Melbourne. After a twisty winter tale, are we set for a tussle for this year’s championships to the end?
Bernie Ecclestone is no more after being brought out by Liberty Media, so expect to see the sport looking very different by time the flag falls in Abu Dhabi.
World Champion, Nico Rosberg retired just days after sealing his first championship. Valtteri Bottas is his replacement but can he handle the pressure against a resurgent Lewis Hamilton?
Manor folded at the end of January leaving just ten constructors to do battle this year.
There are new regulations making the cars quicker so expect to see times smash those seen in recent years.
With the shark fins proving a major talking point, we could see some mid season revisions concerning the rear designs.
Three horse race?
With pre season testing complete, Mercedes are still the team to beat but others have closed the gap to the Silver Arrows. Could we be set for a three team tussle in the championship?
The reigning champions are looking like they will be the favourites to beat again. Their car has already demonstrated its excellent reliability with just one electrical fault. That fault however occurred on a day of wet weather testing when most teams sat in garage.
As part and course of testing, we don’t know the fuel loads so Mercedes could be sandbagging to hide their true pace.
Valtteri Bottas has settled right in at Brackley and should be right on it come first practice on Friday.
In the past. Mercedes have often played down their performances in testing. Could they fire on all cylinders and pull away once the season is up and running or are their rivals that closer?
A decent pre season saw Red Bull show potential pace but reliability issues could see them end up fending off Williams and Force India for third in the constructors.
Race simulations suggest that their race pace needs a good scrutinising or alarm bells could be ringing by the time we get back to Barcelona in May.
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen should easily outdrive the car through the early flyaway races. Its once F1 returns to Europe that we will see just how good the car is.
The ‘Prancing Horse’ might be prancing no more if their pace in testing is genuine. They topped more sessions than anyone else during the eight days of pre season so could be a real threat for race victories.
In terms of reliability, the Scuderia looks promising bar at the rear. Stability at the back will need improving after Kimi Raikkonen got caught out during the second week of testing.
Sebastian Vettel however is on the pace and looks at home on ultra soft tyres. If he can learn to stop moaning about Charlie Whiting or the car, there is no reason why he can’t do battle with Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
As for Raikkonen, he needs to start delivering quicker than he has done for the last two seasons and on a consistent basis.
Could the dark horses strike?
The three teams above are all set to challenge at the front but could there be two dark horses in the wings to get involved and mix things up?
Pre season has been interesting for a team looking to push on from their fourth place finish in the constructors, last season.
Throughout testing, both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon have been under the radar so its tough to tell how they will perform. With huge upgrades probably lined up, expect the team to either push on or finish firmly in midfield.
The car has been reliable but there isn’t really much to say here.
Williams had a rough fortnight of testing with Lance Stroll clearly struggling to quickly adapt to the new cars. Felipe Massa is however on the pace after doing a retirement U-turn.
The car is reliable so could prove to be a dark horse in qualifying under Massa’s capable hands.
Stroll however has a lot to learn after suffering three separate incidents, one of which saw the team miss a entire day of running as a result.
2017 could be a mixed one for the Martini sponsored team with Massa looking on form in the type of cars that brought him plenty of success a decade ago. Stroll however need to quickly get a grip despite being only 18 years old or a mid season switch with reserve driver, Paul di Resta could be a real possibility.
Best of rest
Manor’s absence makes avoiding last place crucial for several teams. Who will avoid finishing without any prize money in tenth place and be best of the rest?
Pre season was a complete and utter shambles with hardly any running. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne will struggle to bag many points in this car.
Reliability is surely a huge concern after causing several red flags as a result of mechanical problems.
Nothing much can be said due to a lack of long runs. Their single lap pace suggests that Q3 could well be a struggle till later in season unless get wet qualifying sessions.
Frankly they have to be favourites to finish bottom of the constructors table.
Toro Rosso have been solid yet under the radar. This is either a good or bad thing after keeping Carlos Sainz J.r and Daniil Kvyat.
The car’s reliability is unclear after limited running due to drivetrain and engine issues. If they can clear these up before hitting Albert Park, they could be a decent team.
Their engine issues haven’t been as bad as that of Red Bull and Renault’s. Could they cause a surprise and leave Australia as the best Renault powered car?
The American team welcome Kevin Magnussen into the fold to partner Romain Grosjean.
They have been solid in pre season and look set for another mid pack battle.
Brakes need to be seriously sorted out before the car becomes too dangerous to drive because it is still plaguing them.
Race runs have been solid so just need to get on top of the brakes in order to progress forwards.
Pre season has been quiet with signs of potential only surfacing on the final day of testing.
With Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer at the wheel, the Renault should comfortably challenge in midpack.
Reliability however has been a concern throughout the testing fortnight so expect some early issues. The sooner those technical gremlins are ironed out the better because they could realistically push those chasing a top finish that bit extra.
Despite their pre season being disrupted by Pascal Wehrlein’s back injury, Sauber have been stable all rounders but lack the speed of those above them.
The battle to avoid finishing last in the constructors is surely looking like McLaren vs Sauber. Both teams can’t afford to finish at the bottom or risk financial problems due to the prize money only being rewarded down to ninth place.
At Circuit de Catalunya, teams often used the medium to ultra soft compounds. This suggests that we might see hard tyres on very few occasions. The degradation levels and technicality of this year’s cars could be a factor in opting for softer tyres.
Not much reading was gained from wet weather test days after most teams sat it out till the track was dry enough for light intermediate runs.
At the end of January, Ferrari participated in a wet tyre test but had to abandon it after a outlap accident for Vettel. This made the official wet weather tyre test more critical but to little gain.