Fuel & Tires: Will Ferrari stage comeback in Formula One this season?
The 2017 Formula One season kicks off Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix, held on the streets of Melbourne around Albert Park Lake. The series will hold 20 races on five continents before concluding in Abu Dhabi on November 26.
This is the first season in 40 years that won't see Bernie Ecclestone as the chief executive of F1, the series having been acquired by American mass media company Liberty Media. It is rumored that Ecclestone was pressured into leaving his position, though at 86 years old, it's probably for the best.
The cars themselves have undergone a radical redesign, appearing sleeker with wider tires that will improve lap times by up to five seconds.
Following the collapse of Manor Racing MRT, the field will shrink to ten teams, each with two drivers. Here's a full-field run-down of who will be behind the wheel this season:
MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS MOTORSPORT
A Mercedes driver has won the championship the last three seasons, along with 51 of 59 races. Many hope the technical changes will lead to a changing of the guard and end the Mercedes domination.
—Three-time series champion Lewis Hamilton came up just short of winning a fourth title (and third in a row) last season. The Brit, who is the winningest active driver in the series with 53 victories, will certainly hope his team's domination is not at an end.
—Valtteri Bottas will fill the empty seat left by last year's champion Nico Rosberg, who shocked everybody by announcing his retirement following last season. Finland's Bottas has nine podiums in four previous seasons driving for Williams.
RED BULL RACING
The last team to dominate prior to Mercedes won a couple races last season and finished runner-up to Mercedes in the constructors' championship.
—Daniel Ricciardo always seems like the happiest guy in the F1 paddock and could have a breakthrough season if his team did their homework. The Australian had only one win last season, but that was one better than the previous year.
—Max Verstappen was the guy everybody was talking about last season. At only 18 years old, Verstappen won his first race to become F1's youngest-ever winner. The Dutchman backed up his win with six podiums and will almost certainly become an F1 champion one day.
As noted by NBC Sports Network's F1 reporter Will Buxton, this could be Ferrari's year. The team seemed to have it all together following preseason testing, so coming back from a winless season to grab it's first title since 2007 would be the ultimate outcome.
—Sebastian Vettel won four championships in a row driving for Red Bull, so if Ferrari were to have a championship season, Vettel would likely be the one to do it for them. At 29 years old, he's by no means over the hill, but he needs to return to his winning ways.
—Kimi Raikkonen gave Ferrari its last title, and the team's only title in the post-Michael Schumacher era. Since then, he left F1 only then came back in 2012 with Lotus before re-joining Ferrari in 2014. The Finn's last win came in Australia in 2013.
SAHARA FORCE INDIA F1 TEAM
The Force India team enters its tenth season after finishing fourth in the constructors' standings last year, an all-time high for the team.
—Sergio Perez is back for his third year with the team and fifth overall in the series. The only Mexican driver in the series took two podiums last season and finished seventh in points.
—Esteban Ocon drove for the now-defunct Manor team for nine races last season. The Frenchman won the Formula 3 championship in 2014 and the GP3 Series championship in 2015.
WILLIAMS MARTINI RACING
The Williams team won five championships in the 1990s, the last coming with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. The team has won only a single race since 2005, but has shown flashes of brilliance over the last few seasons.
—Felipe Massa was set to retire following last season until Rosberg's retirement took Bottas away from the team. Massa returns for his 16th season in F1, his fourth with Williams. The Brazilian had two podiums last year but has not won a race since driving for Ferrari in 2008.
—Lance Stroll enters his rookie season after winning the 2016 Formula 3 championship. The Canadian also served as a development driver for Ferrari in 2015 and for Williams last season.
MCLAREN HONDA FORMULA 1 TEAM
How can you sum up the McLaren team in one word? Disappointing. The former series powerhouse has fallen so far from its glory days and hasn't won a race since 2012. Even worse, the team has secured only two podiums since then.
—Fernando Alonso has likely wasted some of his best years driving for under performing teams. Since his back-to-back championships with Renault in 2005-2006, Alonso has finished runner-up three times. Over the last two seasons with McLaren, the Spaniard has only three top-five finishes.
—Stoffel Vandoorne joins McLaren following the retirement of Jenson Button. Vandoorne has one F1 start, finishing tenth in place of the injured Alonso last season. The Belgian won the GP2 Series championship in 2015.
SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO
The junior Red Bull team has only one victory, courtesy of Vettel in 2008, and has never finished higher than seventh in the constructors' championship.
—Daniil Kvyat returns to the team to which he was demoted early last season from Red Bull following some high-profile dust-ups (which looked avoidable) with other drivers. The Russian has two career podiums, both coming during his time with Red Bull.
—Carlos Sainz Jr. is back for his third year with the team, having won the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship in 2014. The native of Spain finished a career-high sixth three times last season.
HAAS F1 TEAM
The American team enters its sophomore season after a successful rookie campaign that saw the team score 29 points and finish eighth in the constructors' championship.
—Roman Grosjean, who scored the team all its points last season with five top-ten finishes, returns for his sixth season in F1. The Frenchman has yet to win, but does have ten career podium finishes.
—Kevin Magnussen joins the team after scoring two top-ten finishes driving for Renault last season. The Dane, whose father is former F1 driver Jan, also drove for McLaren in 2014.
RENAULT SPORT FORMULA ONE TEAM
Renault had a forgettable season last year, finishing in the top ten only three times as it returned to F1 after a four year absence.
—Jolyon Palmer, the 2014 GP2 Series champion, is back for his second year with the team. The Brit will hope to improve on his single top-ten finish of last season.
—Nico Hulkenberg makes a backwards move after spending the last six years driving for Force India, finishing a career-high ninth in points last season. The German was also part of the winning LMP1 team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.
SAUBER F1 TEAM
Every racing series has a team that can't crawl out of the cellar, and in F1 that team is currently Sauber. The team has one race victory, coming in 2008, but scored only two points last season and is unlikely to improve much on that.
—Marcus Ericsson finished no higher than eleventh last season, so any points scored this season would be an improvement for the Swede.
—Sauber rescued Pascal Wehrlein after driving for Manor last season. If nothing else, the German will be known as the driver who scored the only point for Manor Racing when he finished tenth last season in Austria.
Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix starts at midnight Sunday on NBC Sports Network. The broadcast team will once again consist of David Hobbs, Steve Matchett and Leigh Diffey with Will Buxton as the pit reporter.
Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator for The Gazette and an auto racing fan. Follow him on Twitter at @achtungvon or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.