Formula One: Talking points ahead of the new season, including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen

Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

We look at five key talking points ahead of the Formula One season which begins in Australia on Sunday.

The new Formula One season gets under way in Melbourne on Sunday as Albert Park plays host to the Australian Grand Prix.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton is 4/6 with Sky Bet to become only the third driver in F1 history to win the title more than four times.

Here are the key talking points ahead of the new campaign.

Hamilton on course for history

Much has been made of Lewis Hamilton's desire to carry on competing in a sport which has turned him from an unknown into a multi-million pound superstar. But based on the evidence of recent weeks, the fire burning inside Hamilton is just as strong as it was when he made his debut here for McLaren as an impressionable 22-year-old back in 2007. Eleven years on and the determination to succeed appears fiercer than ever before. Of course it helps that Hamilton is expected to start the campaign with the best car on the grid, and has a team-mate in Valtteri Bottas who is good but not in the same class as the four-time champion. The smart money is on the Briton to win championship number five, and if he does so, who's to bet against him going on to equal Michael Schumacher's remarkable record haul of seven?

Will it be a three-way fight?

Red Bull's resurgence at the back end of last year provided us with enough hope that the former world champions could pose a major threat to Mercedes and Ferrari in 2018. Max Verstappen won two of the last six grands prix and expect the 20-year-old Dutchman to lead their their challenge this season. Red Bull looked strong enough in pre-season testing and are certainly at a better stage of their development than this time last year. But whether that proves strong enough to give the might of Mercedes and Ferrari a consistent run for their money remains to be seen. For the good of the sport, however, let us hope it is.

Time for Vettel to act revenge

For the first time in the sport's history, it is expected that two four-time world champions - Hamilton and Vettel - will go head-to-head for title number five. Vettel and Ferrari posed a major threat to Hamilton's all-conquering Mercedes team last year, but failed to deliver the Prancing Horse's first world championship in a decade following an inexplicable collapse in the second half of the season. Both Ferrari and Vettel, who made significant errors when under pressure (Azerbaijan, Singapore and Mexico all spring to mind) must take lessons from their failures if they are to stand any chance of glory in 2018.

All eyes on McLaren

The divorce from Honda power was supposed to usher in a new era for McLaren, but Britain's most successful team have arrived in Melbourne firmly on the back foot. Despite teaming up with Renault, it was an all-too familiar scene for McLaren during their fortnight of winter testing as they struggled with a host of reliability issues. Senior figures at McLaren now believe that fifth in the constructors' championship will resemble a good season for the Woking marque, but that would surely rank as somewhat underwhelming for an outfit which has delivered a combined 20 team and drivers' titles. Fernando Alonso has a year to run on his McLaren deal but it is unlikely the 36-year-old Spaniard, who won the last of his two titles 12 years ago, will hang around in 2019 if he is fighting for only the menial points-paying places.

Off-track troubles for Liberty Media

American conglomerate Liberty Media is set for its second full season in charge and the jury is out as to whether it has got what it takes to move the sport forward. Ferrari and Mercedes have both spoken negatively of Liberty's vision for F1 post-2020, with the former threatening to quit unless the sport's owners revise their future plans. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff also upped the ante on the eve of the first race after he declared a rival series to F1 "could happen". We have been here before of course, but the threat of anarchy among two of the world's biggest car manufacturers is a test that Liberty is unlikely to have faced before.

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