Lewis Hamilton (British)
Championships: 3 (2008, 2014, 2015)
After last season’s championship disappointment, Hamilton begins 2017 what something of a point to prove. Seeing Nico Rosberg claim the title from him will have hurt, and with the German leaving the sport, Hamilton will feel he’s been robbed of the chance to prove he is the better driver. However, he has other concerns to look out for, with the challenge of Ferrari looking a much bigger threat this season. Greatness awaits for Hamilton if he can claim the title this season, as he’ll match both Sebastian Vettel and Alain Prost in winning four world championships, with just Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio ahead of him.
Valtteri Bottas (Finnish)
After agreeing to stay with Williams, Bottas finds himself the main benefactor of Rosberg’s retirement as he moves to the reigning champions for 2017. Bottas has proven himself to be a mature driver, but he is yet to show the same cutting edge that is needed to rival Hamilton. He will hope to bag his maiden victory sooner rather than later.
Daniel Ricciardo (Australian)
The likeable Australian looks like he might be starting the season on the back-foot this year, given he doesn’t believe Red Bull are in a position yet to win races. Instead, his battle with teammate Max Verstappen is likely to be one to watch, with the two among the best natural racers on the grid.
Max Verstappen (Netherlands)
Perhaps the most exciting driver on the grid, it’s frightening to realise that Verstappen is yet to complete a full season with Red Bull and this time last year had not even registered a podium finish, let alone a maiden victory and some of the best drives of 2016. More experienced, but not as fast, is what’s expected in the early races of 2017 as Red Bull try to catch up with Mercedes and Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
Championships: 4 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
Three seasons without a championship took its toll on Vettel last season as his frustrations boiled over inside the cockpit numerous times, but 2017 promises to be a much better year for the Prancing Horse. If they can deliver on their pre-season form, there’s no reason why Ferrari can’t take the fight to Mercedes, and expect Vettel to lead that charge.
Kimi Raikkonen (Finnish)
Championships: 1 (2007)
Will need to justify Ferrari’s faith in him after being given a one-year contract extension despite him turning 38 later this year. The oldest driver on the grid can still turn it on if things fall in his favour, and he’s not one to back down from a battle.
Sergio Perez (Mexican)
Perez is one of the more talented drivers in the mid-field pack, and seems able to get the most out of the Pirelli tyres compared to the rest of the grid, as demonstrated by his long runs in recent years. He still believes that he has what it takes to land a drive in a race-winning car, though now is the time to deliver and prove that theory right.
Esteban Ocon (French)
The Mercedes protégé moves up from the now defunct Manor F1 team to replace the departed Nico Hulkenberg, and big things are expected of the young Frenchman after cutting his teeth in F1 last season.
Felipe Massa (Brazilian)
Not quite back from the dead, but back from retirement certainly. The Brazilian left Williams at the end of last season in an emotional farewell, only to return when Bottas made the move to Mercedes. His experience will be valuable for Williams, and could steer his young teammate in the right direction.
Lance Stroll (Canadian)
The 18-year-old rookie has been thrown in at the deep end after graduating from the Euro Formula 3 Championship, and he has already found pre-season testing difficult to negotiate. Many have questioned whether he is good enough to land the drive at Williams, though only time will tell.
Fernando Alonso (Spanish)
Championships: 2 (2005, 2006)
When will it go right for McLaren? At times they looked like they were making progress last season, even if there was a fair few setbacks along the way. But after a management overhaul, a new colour design and change of driver line-up, what’s left will not please double world champion Fernando Alonso one bit. Regular reliability issues in pre-testing, a car that is off the pace and an engine that is not capable of competing in F1, let alone at the front. Expect Alonso to be down near the back of the back.
Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgian)
Starts : 1
Vandoorne makes his second F1 debut – in effect his first full debut after standing in for the injured Alonso in Bahrain last season – and has been tipped to be a star of the future. Just don’t expect too much of him yet, given the McLaren’s struggles that lie ahead.
Daniil Kvyat (Russian)
Kvyat has done well to keep his job at Toro Rosso when it would have been so easy to ditch him after he was dropped from the sister Red Bull outfit. The Russian clearly has talent within him, it’s just about being able to channel that in the right way to maximise his output on race day, If he can start to beat Sainz on a regular basis, it’s a good start.
Carlos Sainz (Spanish)
Sainz has been tipped for big things in the future, but it’s about time for him to make a lasting impression on those inside the team as well as those outside of it. With two full seasons under his belt – like Kvyat – the intra-team battle could well decide who Red Bull back in the future.
Romain Grosjean (French)
Grosjean passed the century mark towards the back end of last season and is now one of the more senior drivers on the grid. He showed plenty of with the Haas had to offer at the start of last year, but the car development stalled and brake issues blighted their second half of the campaign. Grosjean has progressed into a calm, assured driver and his experience will once again help out the American outfit in their second full season.
Kevin Magnussen (Danish)
Having made the move from Renault, Magnussen will hope that his abandonment of a factory-backed team will prove fruitful. Magnussen could yet prove he has what it takes to build a long-lasting career in F1, but at the moment that’s looking like it will be towards the back of the grid.
Nico Hulkenberg (German)
Renault made a major coup in persuading Hulkenberg to leave Force India, but there is a sense that the German is not yet in a team that meets his potential. The German has proven one of the most natural gifted drivers on the grid, mixing a blend of calmness and outright speed, and he could really take Renault on to the next level.
Jolyon Palmer (British)
A strong end to 2016 ensured Palmer kept hold of his seat at Renault, and he can take that momentum to kick on this year and start the season much stronger than 12 months ago. He will need to up his game regardless, given the calibre of his new teammate.
Marcus Ericsson (Swedish)
Ericsson beat off competition from Felipe Nasr to hold onto his seat, but whether Sauber’s fortunes this year are any better remains to be seen. Chances are the cash-strapped Swiss outfit won’t be much better than last season, and with Manor gone, Ericsson may find himself competing to avoid being at the back of the grid.
Pascal Wehrlein (German)
Wehrlein is the second of the Mercedes Young Driver programme on the grid after Ocon, and he will have to put his early setback behind him after suffering a back injury at the Race of Champions exhibition back in January that forced him out of the first Barcelona pre-season test. There’s definitely potential to unlock though, having seen glimpses of his talent at Manor, and it will be interesting to see how he copes against the more experienced Ericsson.