The first free practice sessions got under way early this morning in Melbourne and with it ushers in the new Formula One season. Many enthusiasts were waiting for this day ever since the checkered flag was waved in Abu Dhabi last year, I was one of them. While some were a bit disappointed by the dominance of the Mercedes team last year, I thought the drivers battle for the championship between Lewis and Nico was pretty intense and made for fascinating viewing. Both drivers had their own style and brought 110% to every race, and while there was no love lost for most of the season, in the end even when the German managed to pip his team mate, they both displayed great sportsmanship. That for me is what racing is all about.
There is a reason F1 is one of the most richest sports in the world, the glamour attached to it will never fade, it is the rock-star in the sporting world and will remain so in the foreseeable future even with the sale of it late last year which saw long time CEO of the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone relinquish his title. Even though he was loathed by many, Bernie was the man that put F1 back on the map and gave it the prestige it deserved and while there were many controversial moments in his tenure, and boy were there a lot, there is no denying he played a pivotal role in the sport.
Getting back to the action this year, one still feels that the rest of the teams have a lot catch up to play to the Silver Arrows, but while some teams may still be just shy off the pace, it doesn't mean they won't play a major role in being deciders this year. Ferrari is one of the teams that invested a lot of time during the off season to get their car ready for the start of this one, unlike last year where they were left scratching their heads and went back to the drawing board after the first few races. With the hungry German, Sebastian Vettel still unofficially leading the way for the Italian team, you can be sure that the fight is very well on with the leaders. The ever charismatic Kimi Raikkonen doesn't really care what number driver he is, he just gets the job done and prefers not to be disturbed while doing it. It's a solid partnership that should collect a handy amount of points for Scuderia Ferrari.
The next real team I see challenging has to be Red Bull Racing, for so long they were the leaders in recent season with Vettel leading the way to back to back championships for the team you can't help feel that their bubble of bad luck is waiting to pop. With the Aussie driver Daniel Ricciardo leading from the front, he will want to make a mark at his home GP this weekend. His co driver Max Verstappen isn't too shabby either with him taking his first win last season and showing he has what it takes to handle the pressure and get the results. So far in the free practice it was RBR that showed the most resilience against Mercedes so this weekend will be interesting.
While the other teams are a lot to discuss, they aren't there to merely make up the numbers. There's been some good improvements in most of the teams and some great drivers that are making their mark with them as well as some experienced drivers. Williams see's Felipe Massa return in what must be the shortest retirement ever recorded and Fernando Alonso is back to try and propel Mclaren Honda back to the top where they once were so used to being. With new aerodynamics and engine changes to the cars, as well as bigger tyres, this should make for more over takings and closer racing for the lower lying teams which will have a major impact this years championship. So you can be sure that the pink Force India car isn't the most exciting thing on the track.
Coming back to the title favourites, while I want to believe Ferrari and RedBull have managed to close the gap, early indications still say that the Germans are quite ahead of the pack and with Lewis Hamilton bitter for losing out on his 4th title last year, he will be ready for it this year. They have a strong team and with their new driver Valterri Bottas on board, he should be the perfect number two man to assist Lewis in his quest this year. While I say they are favourites, the first race of the season has always been tricky for them with a surprise winner most of the time. So I'm going again with that scenario and hoping Lewis is right and backing Ferrari to take home the first win of the 2017 Formula One race calendar.