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Formula 1 2017 season preview: Can anybody halt Lewis Hamilton if Mercedes retain their edge?

Fans, rejoice! In a a few hours from now, the 2017 Formula 1 season will be underway and yes, there’s plenty to look forward to. Here’s a quick round-up of the top eight things to watch out for when the five lights illuminate at the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. Also, if you’re tuning into the sport after a hiatus, this read should also bring you up to speed with this season, pun unintended.

 Formula 1 2017 season preview: Can anybody halt Lewis Hamilton if Mercedes retain their edge?

Formula One drivers (from left) McLaren's Fernando Alonso, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. AFP

1. Lewis Hamilton in attack mode

Thanks to his off-track antics, he is the quintessential bad boy of Formula 1. But on track, Hamilton is next to unstoppable. Hamilton will certainly be looking to increase his tally of three World Championships (and match Sebastian Vettel) while avenging last season’s loss. Assuming that the Mercedes cars retain their supremacy, could this be his easiest title victory ever? Or will he get bored and do ‘a Nico Rosberg’ — that is, leave the sport unceremoniously? David Coulthard thinks he could leave mid-season. Of course, this seems highly improbable as I’m guessing Hamilton, the racer, will always trump Hamilton, the musician/actor/party animal.

2. Valtteri Bottas must prove himself

For once, all eyes will not be on the Mercedes of Hamilton, but the ‘other’ Mercedes of Bottas. A few months ago, we could not have imagined Bottas in a Mercedes, but the F1 circus can spring surprises sometimes. The pressure to perform is high on Bottas, and he simply does not have the luxury of time. He only has a one year contract with Mercedes and the team has given him only four races to prove himself. Having Hamilton as a teammate is only going to complicate the situation — this is a Hamilton who was denied the title last year, and is probably hungrier than ever. If Mercedes continue to dominate in 2017, it becomes even more crucial for Bottas to challenge Lewis — and save fans from being bored out of their minds.

3. Ferrari back in form?

After a rough patch, Ferrari finally seem to have gotten their act together. For a change, they have made less noise off-track (read: endless PR stories) and instead focused on their on-track pace. After a winless season in 2016, this could well be a make-or-break year for the team. They’ve shelled out hundreds of millions, and it looks to be paying off — the car has looked flawless all through pre-season testing and closer to Mercedes than ever before. The big question is whether Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen will be close enough to challenge for wins, and the championship.

4. McLaren-Honda’s troubles

This team’s sorrows never seem to end. For the third year in a row, Honda have failed to deliver for McLaren. Eleven laps is the maximum distance they managed in one go during pre-season testing (no kidding). Worse, they are about 10,000 kilometres behind Mercedes in testing data. Seems like they’ve taken a step backwards while others have moved forward, despite Honda attempting to copy Mercedes’ design philosophy. Amid this all, we are wondering who will leave first, Honda or Fernando Alonso. There has also been speculation about McLaren making a mid-season shift back to Mercedes power (if Mclaren do that, they lose all the points accrued in the season and start over).

5. All eyes on Max Verstappen

If there was one man who set 2016 on fire, it was Verstappen. Pulling off some seemingly impossible moves, he was the rookie everyone on the grid feared. Verstappen has lived up to all the hype surrounding him (in fact, he’s far outdone expectations) but will he continue to rise? His rivalry against Daniel Ricciardo is also evenly matched – we’ll be eager to see which of the ultra talented Red Bull Racing drivers triumphs.

6. The exciting mid-field battle

The mid-field is an exciting space to watch this season, with the delicate pink car of Force India taking on Williams, Renault, Haas, Torro Rosso and Haas. All these teams will be eyeing that coveted fourth place in the Constructors Championship (and the money that goes along with it). We’ll be looking out for Sergio Perez (can he build on last season’s success?) and Esteban Ocon (will he be the rookie of the season?) at Force India. Expect some great drives from Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat — one is hoping for a promotion, and then other, hoping that this season isn’t his last. Lance Stroll, the rookie at Williams has given the team some scary moments in testing. Hopefully, he won’t land up being tagged the ‘Pastor Maldonado’ of 2017.

7. F1’s new owners

This is the first complete season with the sport’s new owners, Liberty Media, at the helm. They’ve already made meaningful changes to the sport (such as relaxing social media usage) so we are keen to keen what else they have lined up. The good news for now is that they are keen to bring back the iconic venues in Europe and re-look at DRS.

8. Last but not the least, the ‘new’ 2017 cars

Thanks to the new regulations, the 2017 cars promise to be bigger, meaner, and yes, faster. The cars will also make drivers work harder, ensuring that driver fitness could be far more critical than in previous seasons. Given the Mercedes dominance in the past several seasons, I am excited to see how the change in regulations could shake up the order (history tells us that rule changes have usually shaken up the prevailing pecking order). Also, if you want to know more about this season’s new regulations, you should check out my previous in-depth post on this topic.

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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2017 13:02:44 IST