LONDON, United Kingdom, July 1 – The Formula One season finally gets under way at the Red Bull Ring in Austria this weekend and Lewis Hamilton will begin as the favourite to defend his crown.
Here, we take a closer look at Hamilton and four other drivers who could challenge the Briton.
The Englishman has been Formula One’s class act in recent times, winning five of the last six world championships. Indeed, Hamilton will match Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven titles if he triumphs again this term. Although Hamilton is approaching the twilight of his career – he is 36 in January – his partnership with Mercedes has proven almost unbeatable and it will take a seismic shift in the sport’s form book to stop him from taking top honours once again.
Bottas, driving the sister Mercedes car, could prove Hamilton’s closest challenger. The 30-year-old Finn, now in his fourth season with the sport’s all-conquering team, finished runner-up to Hamilton last year. But Bottas won just four races compared to Hamilton’s 11, and although he is a steady peddler, Bottas does not have the tools to match Hamilton over the stretch.
The Red Bull driver is the sport’s most exciting talent – and one that many feel could not only match, but better Hamilton if they were paired in identical machinery. In recent seasons, Verstappen has out-performed his Red Bull car to pick up a number of wins. He excelled in Austria last year to take the chequered flag and, with the opening two rounds of the rejigged season taking place there, it is not beyond the realms that the Dutchman could get an early championship jump on Hamilton to set up a fascinating title fight between the sport’s top two heavy hitters.
Leclerc, 22, scored more wins (two) and pole positions (seven) than team-mate Sebastian Vettel in his maiden year in red and was rewarded with a bumper new contract last winter. Ferrari now view the young Monegasque as the man who can end a drivers’ championship drought which stretches back to 2007 for the famous Italian team. However, the Scuderia looked out of sorts in pre-season testing and could struggle to match the speed of Mercedes and Red Bull.
Vettel could be entering his final season in Formula One after Ferrari chose not to renew his contract. The 32-year-old has been blown away by Hamilton in recent seasons, and he lost his number one status within Ferrari to Leclerc last term before effectively being ditched last month. But the German’s record of four world championships and 53 wins – third only to Schumacher and Hamilton on the all-time list – speaks for itself and he should not be overlooked if Ferrari can solve their pre-season woes.