As the start of a new Formula One season is right around the corner, it’s time for another chapter in the battle between Mercedes AMG Petronas and Red Bull Racing. Mercedes has won the last three Constructors Championships with Red Bull’s last title coming in 2013. The last three years have also seen a Mercedes driver win the Formula One Championship as Lewis Hamilton took home the title in 2014 and 2015, while Nico Rosberg literally took the title home in 2016 as he surprisingly announced his retirement from the sport last year at the age of 25. Albeit that Hamilton and Rosberg were teammates, they engaged in a fierce battle on the track as Rosberg was tired of playing second fiddle to Hamilton who is a three-time champion. But even as good as Hamilton and Rosberg have been for Mercedes, it didn’t prevent Red Bull from surging towards the end of the 2016 Formula One season.
Daniel Ricciardo has been driving for Red Bull since 2014 and he has four victories to his credit. In 2014 and 2016, Ricciardo finished third in the driver standings to Hamilton and Rosberg, while he had eight trips to the podium last year. Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate is Max Verstappen who made his debut with the team last year at the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen was only 18-years old at the time and he would go on to win the race as he was totally unfazed by racing on the big stage. Verstappen would not win anymore races last season, but he would podium seven times in all to finish fifth in the standings as the future looks bright for he and Ricciardo at Red Bull.
Like the entire racing world, Mercedes would be thrown for a loop with Rosberg’s shocking retirement. However Mercedes would scramble to find Rosberg’s replacement as they signed Finland’s Valtteri Bottas who raced for Williams Martini Racing last year. But aside from Rosberg’s departure, technical director Paddy Lowe also left Mercedes to join the Williams Martini team. And could the departure’s of Rosberg and Lowe be just the opening that Red Bull need to overtake Mercedes here in 2017?
But in spite of the upheaval at Mercedes, they still have Toto Wolff who is the minority owner and executive director, along with Hamilton who is arguably the best driver on the circuit. Over the last three years Hamilton has taken home the checkered flag 31 times with his stiffest competition typically being Rosberg. The rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton reached a boiling a point last year which at times left mangled cars on the track. And as something had to give, Rosberg walked away from the sport after winning his title.
To me I expect Hamilton to drive with a much clearer head this season as he won’t have to answer as many questions about Rosberg and I don’t anticipate any animosity between he and Bottas. Bottas will be out to prove that he deserves to drive for Mercedes, while also providing protection for Hamilton. And it will be important for Bottas to have a good showing in order to hold off the charges of Ricciardo and Verstappen who like Hamilton will be the favorites to claim the Formula One Title. But even if Ricciardo and Verstappen are unable to overtake Hamilton, a strong season on their part could see Red Bull top Mercedes for the Constructors Championship which in itself would be an accomplishment.
The action is set begin tomorrow at the Australian Grand Prix where there will be plenty of pomp and pageantry to commence a new season. But after Hamilton barely missed a third consecutive title by just five points last year, he could be extra motivated this time around which would be good for him and Mercedes, while being devastating for everyone else on the circuit.