Marussia “in best shape ever”

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F1 strugglers Marussia believe they can enjoy a better season this year despite a disrupted build-up to their 2013 campaign.

Team principal John Booth said: “Although certain aspects of our winter were quite challenging, the overwhelming feeling we take into the Australian Grand Prix is great optimism,” he said.

“In many ways we are in our best shape ever as a team and everyone is thriving on that and looking forward to what we hope will be a positive 19-race journey ahead. Our new package has performed well in pre-season testing, with encouraging signs in terms of performance and reliability.”

Marussia had to let the experienced Timo Glock go despite having a contract with him. His replacement, Luiz Razia, had his contract terminated after 23 days due to sponsorship problems.

That led the team to hire Jules Bianchi alongside Max Chilton, both of which will start their first F1 races in Australia on Sunday.

“Whilst they are both F1 rookies, their combined depth of experience rising through the ranks in the junior formulae and in F1-supported young driver programs leaves them well-placed for their debut season,” said Booth.

Marussia are the last team on the grid to add a Kinetic Energy Recovery System to their car, which they will run for the first time this year. They hope it will help them narrow the gap to Caterham, who narrowly beat them to the lucrative tenth place in the constructors’ championship last year.

However there remains one problem for the former Virgin team ahead of its fourth F1 season: It is yet to conclude a commercial rights deal with Bernie Ecclestone. The FIA said last week “negotiations over the Concorde Agreement were proceeding positively in order to be concluded in the near future”.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.