The 2016 Formula One season was a two-man race between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes drivers fought tooth-and-nail up until the very last Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, with Rosberg emerging as champion. What was even more surprising than seeing the German win his first title over three-time champ Hamilton was the retirement announcement that followed shortly after.
Rosberg’s retirement was met with shock and disbelief, and some believed he would eventually reconsider his decision to quit. But with the 2017 season starting this Sunday (March 26th) at the Australian Grand Prix, it’s clear that the champ will not be defending his title.
That’s great news for Lewis Hamilton, who faced little competition from anyone other than Rosberg last season. Of the 21 Grands Prix last year, only two were won by drivers other than Hamilton and Rosberg.
There’s some promising young blood entering the mix, like McLaren-Honda rookie Stoffel Vandoorne, who was signed to replace Jenson Button. But as far as the favorites go, the old guard still reigns supreme. The top finishers of 2016 — Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen — are once again the favorites for this season. The last four names on that list will likely find themselves competing for silver, of course. And they’ll have to contend with Hamilton’s new teammate, Valtteri Bottas. The Finnish driver came in eighth last year with Team Williams. He’s expected to do a lot better this time round, given the car he’ll be driving.
With Rosberg on the sidelines, it’s hard to see anyone holding a torch to Hamilton this season. Mercedes is expected to have the best ride, and Hamilton is the clear lead of the team now. Sure, Vettel is a four-time champion, but he failed to make much of an impact last year in his Ferrari. Same goes for 2007 champ Raikkonen, who finished 2016 in a disappointing sixth place.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were the only drivers other than Hamilton and Rosberg to win a Grand Prix in 2016, but both wins occurred under unusual circumstances. Verstappen won the Spanish Grand Prix, where Rosberg and Hamilton both failed to finish after colliding with one another. Ricciardo won in Malaysia, where Rosberg was hindered by an early collision and Hamilton was forced to abandon after his engine caught fire.
The Constructors’ Cup is not a guarantee for Mercedes now that Rosberg is out. Ferrari stands a decent chance with Vettel and Raikkonen, and Red Bull have a shot with Verstappen and Ricciardo. But despite picking up a lesser driver in Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes are still expected to win once again. Their machine is just that good these days.
2017 Formula One Drivers’ Championship Odds
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport): 13/7
Sebastian Vettel (Scuderia Ferrari): 4/1
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport): 17/3
Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing): 8/1
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing): 9/1
Kimi Raikkonen (Scuderia Ferrari): 12/1
The Field: 100/1
2017 Formula One Constructors’ Cup Odds
Red Bull: 87/13
The Field: 50/1
Photo credit: Jake Archibald (flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0].