With the F1 season starting today in Australia, we look at five drivers who can dethrone defending champion this year
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Much is expected of the one-time baby-faced assassin now that he has followed the trail blazed by mentor Michael Schumacher and joined Ferrari. Just as Schumacher made the move after establishing himself a champion with two titles at previously unsung Benetton, Vettel switched from Red Bull after winning four with an unfancied team that sprung to glory from an industrial suburb of Milton Keynes courtesy of the design genius of Adrian Newey. Last year's new regulations ended that domination and exposed both Renault and Vettel's marginal weaknesses, but that should not detract from the fact that he remains one of the greatest and fastest drivers of his generation.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
The Australian with F1's most dazzling grin and sunniest disposition stunned many observers last year with his speed and race-craft in his first season at Red Bull alongside four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. He did so well, out-performing the German comprehensively with unexpected speed and consistency, that Vettel's glossy reputation lost its luster and he was soon lining up his exit to replace Alonso at Ferrari. This season will be a bigger test for Ricciardo as he has a fast new threatening teammate in Daniil Kvyatt to contend with and carries the responsibility of being team leader at the tender age of 25.
Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
Last year's nearly man and one of the fastest and most exciting spectacles to behold when he has the bit between his teeth, the latest in a line of impressive speedsters from Finland is ready to take the final step and confirm he is a race winner and future champion. But it will need the Williams team, powered by Mercedes, to maintain their upwardly mobile progress and continue to deliver threatening pace if he is to take his first victory. Many believe that his maiden triumph, when it comes, will be the first of many and Hamilton has, already, duly noted that potential.
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Absent for the opening race in Melbourne this weekend, engulfed in rumours and innuendo about his physical and mental health and facing a mountain of pressure and expectation, the 33-year-old has the ability not only to revive McLaren, in their back-to-the-future partnership with Honda, but also to emerge as a title candidate himself. Twice a champion with Renault, Alonso toiled in vain at Ferrari and may see his return to McLaren, where he experienced a torrid year in 2007, as his last opportunity to take a third championship. He obviously has the talent, but will the team give him the car?
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
After missing out on claiming a maiden drivers' title last year when Hamilton's end of season form enabled him to snatch glory from the jaws of a series of setbacks, Rosberg has to lift his game to match the Briton's and not only seize the initiative, but retain it this season without being distracted by any intra-team politicking or his teammate's actions. His commendable cool temperament will help, as will his calm technical approach to his work, but in the heat of on-track battle he may also have to find some fire when required. At 29, and just a few months younger than Hamilton, the German-born son of the original flying Finn Keke Rosberg knows the size of the task better than anyone, having been his karting teammate as a teenager and a friend and close rival ever since. This year, he has to make that knowledge pay by repeating his superb form in qualifying — he outpaced Hamilton last season — and finding a way of outwitting the Englishman in the races.
Did you know?
During the first phase of qualifying (Q1), any driver who fails to set a lap timing within 107 percent of the fastest Q1 time will not be allowed to start the race. However, in exceptional circumstances, the stewards may permit the car to start. This is known as the 107% rule.
Backmarker: A term used to describe a driver at the rear end of the field, often when he is encountered by the race leaders. Blue flags are used to inform the backmarker when he should let a faster car past.
Chicane: A tight sequence of corners in alternate directions. Usually inserted into a circuit to slow the cars, often just before what had been a high-speed corner.
Downforce: The aerodynamic force that is applied in a downwards direction as a car travels forwards. This is harnessed to improve a car's traction and its handling through corners.
DRS: Also known as adjustable rear wings, DRS (Drag Reduction System) rear wings allow the driver to adjust the wing between two pre-determined settings from the cockpit. The system's availability is electronically governed - it can be used at any time in practice and qualifying (unless a driver is on wet-weather tyres), but during the race can only be activated when a driver is less than one second behind another car at pre-determined points on the track. The system is then deactivated once the driver brakes. In combination with KERS, it is designed to boost overtaking. Also like KERS, it isn't compulsory.
ERS: Energy Recovery Systems, or ERS for short, consist of Motor Generator Units that harness waste heat energy (from the turbocharger) and waste kinetic energy (from the braking system). This energy is then stored and subsequently used to propel the car.
G-force: A physical force equivalent to one unit of gravity that is multiplied during rapid changes of direction or velocity. Drivers experience severe G-forces as they corner, accelerate and brake.
Parc ferme: A fenced-off area into which cars are driven after qualifying and the race, where no team members are allowed to touch them except under the supervision of race stewards.
Powertrain: The term used to describe the entire system providing an F1 car's power. The powertrain (or power unit) comprises of the engine, two Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) and an Energy Store.
Lock-up: The term used to describe a driver braking sharply and 'locking' one or more tyres whilst the others continue rotating. Tyre smoke and flat spots are common side effects.