Is F1 more about the car? Or is it the driver that makes the difference? A never-ending debate, but one thing is certain: F1 drivers are stars, all.
But who are the stars that will shine brightest? The statesman.com takes a look at the seven drivers who will leave an indelible mark in the upcoming season:
Lewis Hamilton: The Favourite
Hamilton’s dominance of the sport came to an end last year, when then-teammate Nico Rosberg stormed to the 2016 title and then, in a stunning statement, announced his immediate retirement. So while Hamilton may not admit it, he will certainly miss having the German pushing him to the limit in every race. His new teammate Valterri Bottas is nowhere near Rosberg’s calibre yet, and with a car that has not set the track on fire in testing, can we see Hamilton (And Mercedes’) dominance come to an end in 2017?
While we most certainly won’t see him coasting to the title, he remains the No. 1 contender and will surely be among the top three in the leaderboard at the end of the season.
Sebastian Vettel: The Contender
Ferrari have been the standout team in testing, with a car finally worthy of their rich history. In Vettel they have the perfect driver to win their first championship since 2007 (Coincidentally won by current teammate Kimi Raikkonen). The four-time world champion is hungry again after a testing period in which success eluded him. So will Ferrari’s rise from the ashes coincide with Vettel’s?
Pre-season strongly suggests that the Prancing Horse may be back in business and Vettel is the favourite to lead the charge.
Daniel Ricciardo: Dark Horse
The first-part of the strongest driver line-up in F1 this year, Ricciardo has to continue where he left off last year. Finishing behind the Mercedes duo of Hamilton-Rosberg, the Australian driver will be looking to make a strong start at the season-opener in Albert Park. He will be tested by the up-and-coming Verstappen and their personal battles against the backdrop of the driver’s ranking will be intriguing to watch. A car that Chrsitan Horner himself has given a thumbs up to, there can be no excuses for Ricciardo this year.
Max Verstappen: Unbridled Talent
F1 rising star, Verstappen took full advantage of a surprising mid-season promotion from Red Bull’s feeder team Toro Rosso, last year. He repaid his employers faith in him with some sterling drivers, not least a win on his debut (Spanish GP). So at 19, is he ready to become first-ever teenage F1 champion?
Well, that may be just beyond his reach for the moment, but expect him to consistently push the front-runners in every race. He will be wary of Daniil Kvyat's (the man he replaced at Red Bull) example that over-aggression can backfire in the premier motorsport competition that is F1.
Sergio Perez: Forgotten Prodigy
Big things were predicted for Sergio Perez when he made the shift from Sauber to McLaren. But things haven't gone exactly as planned since then for F1’s sole Mexican driver. At Force India, he looks settled and was comfortably ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg in the 2016 drivers rankings. Force India’s car for 2017, however, does seem to be having a few issues so it would be safe to expect Perez to start shining somewhere around the European leg of the 2017 season and not before.
Fernando Alonso: Deposed Emperor
The vast majority of F1 pundits and ex-driver have written of McLaren and Alonso before the season has already begun. It is difficult to blame them after reliability issues dogged them and the talented Spaniard throughout the 2016 season, when most felt that if Alonso and Button (his 2016 teammate) finished the race, it would be an achievement in itself.
The Honda engine is notoriously fickle and a painful 2017 season seems to be on horizon for the double world champion.
Daniil Kvyat: Dangerous Castaway
Most drivers would have crumbled after being unceremoniously being shunted by the parent to the feeder team, but Daniil Kvyat is no ordinary driver. He arguably performed even better with Toro Rosso than he had been with Red Bull.
So with an eye on winning his seat with them back, expect Kvyat to break into the top-10 without breaking much of a sweat in 2017. His individual battles with teammate Carlos Sainz will bear watching as the season progresses, as both Red Bull proteges will be looking to outscore the other week in-week out.