The 2017 Formula One season gets underway this weekend, with Mercedes and Ferrari looking like the two teams best-placed to fight for victory at the Australian Grand Prix (Race: 6am BST Sunday, live on Sky Sports).
Nico Rosberg elected to retire from the sport after beating his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to last year’s drivers’ championship and this season will therefore represent the first time since 1994 that the previous year’s champion is not part of the grid.
This year also sees the introduction of a number of new regulations that will increase the speed of the cars and also place greater emphasis on aerodynamics. The cars certainly look more aggressive (although the shark fins that extend towards the rear wings have split opinion) but it remains to be seen how these changes will play out on the track.
Ferrari and Mercedes were the two teams who set the pace during the two pre-season tests in Barcelona and while Red Bull are expected to bring a number of aerodynamic updates to Australia, barring mishaps it is most likely that Ferrari and Mercedes will fill the podium.
Ferrari set the single lap pace in Barcelona and also matched or bettered Mercedes on longer runs. They have taken an aggressive approach to the new regulations, particularly in relation to aerodynamics, and appear to have produced a quick and well-balanced package. Mercedes are, however, the three-time reigning constructors’ champions and showed good pace while completing more laps than any other team over the course of the two tests.
Hamilton’s new teammate Valtteri Bottas (pictured) showed himself to be a quick and consistent performer at Williams and can be expected to provide strong back up to the three-time world champion this weekend. So while Ferrari could very well take victory on Sunday, Mercedes should still be fancied to secure two of the three spots on the podium.
Force India enjoyed their best-ever season last time out, finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship on the back of 12 double points finishes over the course of the campaign. Nico Hulkenberg left for Renault at the end of the season but they have retained the excellent Sergio Perez (scorer of two podium finishes in 2016) to partner Esteban Ocon, a highly promising young driver who showed solid pace in his nine races for Manor last year.
The Silverstone-based outfit looked more or less on pace with Williams during the pre-season tests in Barcelona, positioning them as the fourth or fifth fastest team. They recovered from a patchy first test to complete the third-highest number of laps during the second test, suggesting that reliability is unlikely to be a problem for them in Melbourne.
Force India have secured double points finishes in three of the last four Australian Grand Prix and have a very solid chance of doing so once again this weekend.
McLaren endured a disastrous pre-season, completing over a hundred laps less than any other team over the course of the two tests and less than half as many as Ferrari or Mercedes. Their redesigned Honda power unit proved extremely unreliable, and what running they did complete was achieved at some distance from peak performance.
Indeed, so disappointed were the team by their showing at the tests that there have even been reports that they have sounded out Mercedes over the possibility of switching power units mid-season. Such a radical measure seems unlikely, but it would be fair to say that all is not well between McLaren and Honda as they enter the third year of their partnership.
Team principal Eric Bouiller admitted last week that the team is now very much behind where they wanted to be at this stage and that he is unsure whether they will be capable of finishing the race in Australia. At least one of their drivers has failed to finish in each of the last two races in Melbourne and it looks likely to be another frustrating weekend for lead driver Fernando Alonso and the team this time around.
This preview’s F1 Australian Grand Prix Betting Tips
So in light of the Australian Grand Prix preview above, here are our suggested betting tips for the first race of the new F1 season: