Lewis Hamilton starts the 2017 Formula One season as favourite for a fourth Drivers' crown. File photo: Albert Gea / Reuters

London - This year's Formula One season is about to kick off, with the Melbourne Grand Prix taking place next Sunday, March 26, and there is plenty to talk about this season. Mercedes has a new driver and Ferrari has been on the pace in pre-season testing, but can it finally beat its rival from Germany this year? Alan Baldwin walks us through each team and its likely prospects for the year.

Note: the numbers are those the drivers have selected for the duration of their Grand Prix careers


44: Lewis Hamilton (Britain)

77: Valtteri Bottas (Finland)

Bottas has replaced world champion Nico Rosberg in the big move of the winter. The Finn did most laps in testing (628) and Mercedes the most kilometres (5102). Triple champion Hamilton did 468 laps and was slightly slower. Mercedes has won 51 of the 59 races since the V6 turbo hybrid power units were introduced in 2014. Last season Mercedes was on pole in 20 of 21 races. Maintaining that domination will be tough, and new regulations have given rivals a chance to close the gap. Technical head Paddy Lowe has left and James Allison joined.

Likely outcome: Fourth consecutive Constructors' title or runners-up. Hamilton is favourite for Drivers' crown.


3: Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)

33: Max Verstappen (Netherlands)

The only drivers outside Mercedes to win races in 2016. Will the RB13 car be lucky for Red Bull? The initial signs are that Renault has made a step up with the Tag Heuer-branded power unit, even though there were reliability problems in testing. Red Bull may not have revealed its true pace yet but appears to be behind Mercedes and Ferrari. Verstappen and Ricciardo will be fighting each other as much as rivals.

Likely outcome: Top-three finish. Race wins possible.


5: Sebastian Vettel (Germany)

7: Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

Raikkonen was fastest in pre-season testing and Ferrari, which failed to win a race in 2016 and has kept a low media profile over the winter, appears to have raised its game. If that form translates into race results, and it can develop while avoiding the strategy blunders of old, that will be good news for those eager to see an end to three years of Mercedes domination. The SF70H car and new regulations seem to be much more to the liking of Vettel and Raikkonen.

Likely outcome: Championship contenders. Possible first Constructors' title since 2008. Vettel challenging for his fifth crown. Raikkonen expected to retire at end of the season.


11: Sergio Perez (Mexico)

31: Esteban Ocon (France)

Last season was the team's best ever and it's now looking to crack into the top three with an eye-catching pink car. That looks a tall order for a privately-owned team already punching above its weight, but holding on to fourth is possible. Perez is now the effective team leader and will be hoping to build on two podiums in 2016. Ocon is a rising talent with Mercedes connections and will be pushing the Mexican hard.

Likely outcome: Depends on rivals' form, but fourth again.


19: Felipe Massa (Brazil)

18: Lance Stroll (Canada)

All change over the winter, with Bottas leaving for Mercedes and engineering head Pat Symonds departing among other technical shifts. Paddy Lowe has arrived from Mercedes as chief technical officer. Rookie Stroll is the youngest and least experienced driver on the grid, and has left his mark already with testing crashes. He faces a steep learning curve with the new regulations. The team will need Massa to bank solid points and play a leading role after bringing him back out of a "retirement" that he never wanted in the first place.

Likely outcome: If the car is as good as testing suggests and the drivers avoid trouble, in the mix to regain fourth.


14: Fernando Alonso (Spain)

2: Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium)

Zak Brown is now running the show but the headlines have made depressing reading. Sixth in 2016 after ninth the year before, once-mighty McLaren is in danger of slipping back down the order. Power-unit problems hampered testing, with far fewer laps than rivals, and the car was well down on straight-line speed. Alonso's frustration is growing while the chances of the double champion staying next season are shrinking. Vandoorne is a top talent but will struggle to shine without the car.

Likely outcome: Downward spiral. Honda must act fast.


55: Carlos Sainz (Spain)

26: Daniil Kvyat (Russia)

Targeting a best-ever sixth for the second consecutive year, and now using Renault engines rather than year-old Ferrari ones. Sainz is very highly regarded and in the sights of other teams while Kvyat has something to prove - and a seat to keep - after being demoted by Red Bull in 2016. The car is one of the best-looking and similar in some respects to the Mercedes.

Likely outcome: Capable of pulling off a surprise or two


8: Romain Grosjean (France)

20: Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)

The only US-owned team is now competing in a US-owned sport. The aim is to move up a place in the pecking order in season two and Haas has the drivers and engine (Ferrari) to do that. Magnussen has joined from Renault and will be an improvement on the departed Esteban Gutierrez.

Likely outcome: Moving up the grid.


27: Nico Hulkenberg (Germany)

30: Jolyon Palmer (Britain)

Le Mans winner Hulkenberg arrives from Force India, eager to stand on the podium for the first time. Palmer stays for a second season. The 2016 car was essentially a Lotus in Renault colours but this year's should be a substantially better beast. The target is fifth place overall.

Likely outcome: Fifth at a pinch, but ambitious


9: Marcus Ericsson (Sweden)

94: Pascal Wehrlein (Germany)

Sauber scored points in just one race in 2016 but that was enough to lift it ahead of Manor, for whom 11th place signalled the end of the road. The Swiss team is using year-old Ferrari engines this time. Reliability should be good but they will be down on speed and can expect to be lapped regularly.

Likely outcome: Last, occasional points. 


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