“Yes, the championship is Lewis Hamilton’s to lose, but I would point out three things,” he says. “First, Ferrari had the best car for most of last season. In fact, I’d say there were only four races where Mercedes were clearly better. I don’t actually think there was much between them on strategy, either. It’s just that Ferrari and Vettel kept making mistakes. If they can sort that out, the title fight could be very interesting.
“Second, with its Red Bull partnership and for the first time since it returned to F1, Honda now has its engine in a car that can win races. Do not underestimate how that will motivate a company already on an upwards trajectory in F1.
“Third, no one knows how Charles Leclerc is going to affect Vettel. Kimi Räikkönen never pushed Seb, but Leclerc really could. I expect him to be on the pace from the outset. What will be the consequences of that? We saw last year that Seb is vulnerable to pressure, in which case how will Ferrari handle that? Or he could just raise his game and deliver Ferrari their first title since they won the Constructors’ in 2008.”
It should be fun watching.
Jolyon Palmer on…
Mercedes-AMG: “Lewis should be on anyone’s ‘greatest driver of all time’ shortlist, and he just seems to get better. Last year, he generally had the slower car yet took the title with space to spare. I feel sorry for Bottas because I expect his performances accurately reflect the true pace of the car, but he’s got the best in the world as his team-mate. He needs to produce something extraordinary or accept his role as wingman.”
Ferrari: “Ferrari will tell Leclerc to hold back and learn from Vettel, but he’ll be thinking ‘I want to win the title’. He’s a good choice for Ferrari, who usually prioritise experience. Seb is still really quick but he could find himself in the same situation with Ricciardo at Red Bull. He’d had it easy with Webber, then in 2014 Danny came in and beat him straight away. There’s probably no one with greater pressure on their shoulders going into the first round.”
Red Bull: “I hope Red Bull can fight from the start. Honda engines will be a huge change but it’s a good move. Toro Rosso did well with Honda last year, and Honda is on an upwards trajectory now. Verstappen, who was driving as well as Lewis towards the end of 2018, has the motivation of a car that could be a regular winner. Gasly is harder to judge. He had a good season last year but we only have Hartley to judge him against.”
McLaren: “McLaren was the biggest disappointment of last year, and now they’ve lost Alonso, who got the car more points than it deserved. Even so, they should make a big step just because last year’s car was so bad and they’ve got the money. Also Sainz on his day can be very strong and I expect Lando Norris to push him all the way.”