It’s that time of the F1 season where hopes and dreams still exist, with no serious on-track running in place to determine a pecking order or title favourite.

What better time to make some predictions ready for the year of racing ahead?

Each member of the Badger GP team had 17 questions to answer in the build-up to Melbourne, to be published and reviewed after the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where we can all laugh about how optimistic/pessimistic/foolish/clairvoyant we all were.

Drivers champion?

Charlie Eustice; writer, pun master general: I think it has to be Hamilton, doesn’t it?

Rob Cureton; Rumble Strips head honcho: Hamilton.

Laura Leslie; writer, stat queen: Sebastian Vettel. I’ve got to get it right some year!

Rob Watts; writer, analyser: Kimi Raikkonen, I think the Ferrari looks very good and the characteristics of these new cars may just suit Kimi’s style.

Sarah Merritt; writer, bobble hat: Lewis. Gut feeling. I do feel that Valtteri will make him work for it, though.

Ben Briscoe; Fantasy GP top pundit: I can’t see past Lewis Hamilton and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t hit the ground running this year.

Adam Le Feuvre; Badger founder, coffee connoisseur: Lewis Hamilton

Craig Norman; content editor, optimistic pessimist: This is the year of Lewis Hamilton striking back.

Constructors Champion?

CE: Mercedes, but I think (hope) the gap will be smaller than 297pts this year! RC: Mercedes. LL: Mercedes. Raikkonen will let Ferrari down. RW: Mercedes. They know what it takes having won it three years on the trot. SM: Mercedes. I thought long and hard about this, and whilst Ferrari have shown themselves to be impressive at testing, I still think Merc have more in the bag. BB: Mercedes again, at a canter, although I believe the gap will close on some circuits and Ferrari and Red Bull can make life less comfortable. ALF: Mercedes CN: You’d be a fool not to bet on Mercedes for this.

Where will Valtteri Bottas score his maiden race win?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: He’s had a couple of podiums in Canada, so… China! RC: Russia. LL: China after Hamilton gets a penalty of some sort. RW: Canada. He’s been superb there every year, so I think this might be his race to lose. SM: Russia. BB: Bahrain, which will be followed by mass hysteria about a two-horse race, which won’t happen. I hope I’m wrong. ALF: Australia. CN: It won’t come until Hungary. I see a company man in Bottas and his chance won’t come until it presents itself.

Will Ferrari implode?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: No, they’ll win races. Surely – SURELY – they can’t make any more bad decisions than they did last year. RC: No they’ll actually have a decent season this year and probably stay in contention for the Constructor’s Championship until fairly late on. LL: Not this year. They meant business in testing. RW: No, I’ll stick my head on the block and say this will be Ferrari’s year. You’ll laugh at me in November when you read this back! SM: I don’t think so… BB: No, I think they’ll make progress this year. It’d be nice to see a chirpy Vettel again. ALF: No, they’ll surprise everyone including themselves and win 2 races. CN: I honestly think there’ll be another meltdown mid-season. All it takes is for a few off strategy calls and trigger happy management for all the winter hard work to come undone.

Who will come out on top – Ricciardo or Verstappen?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: almost too close to call! I think Honey Badger could JUST clinch it, though. RC: It’ll be a great battle between the two but ultimately Ricciardo will come out on top. LL: Ricciardo for me. Verstappen is into his ‘difficult third album’… RW: Ricciardo. I think we’ll see some outstanding performances from Verstappen again this year, but Ricciardo is really maturing into a world class driver – he will outscore Max over the course of the year. SM: Well that’s a tough one. Max is a talent, he’s fast, he’s got balls, and Brazil 2016 showed us some amazing skill. However, Dan is also fast, and perhaps his experience and being more measured might lead to fewer mistakes. Therefore, I’ll go for the shoey-meister to come out on top. BB: Verstappen – he’ll get under Ricciardo’s skin and the Aussie just find he is slight second for Horner’s outfit! ALF: Ricciardo will have the edge overall but Max will be driver of the day more often and probably be the centre of more controversy, with some daring video-game inspired moves. CN: Experience wins out for me here. Ricciardo to take it due to Max still being a bit too rough around the edges as a driver.

Best rookie? (from Vandoorne, Ocon or Stroll)

CE: Ocon. RC: Ocon will come out on top. Vandoorne will be held back with a poor car. Stroll will struggle with inexperience early on. LL: Ocon, if McLaren Honda fail Vandoorne. Stroll will crash too often. RW: Vandoorne will put in one or two eye-catching drives this year, but over the course of the season, Ocon will probably outscore the other two. SM: That is hard to judge on paper; I’d not quibble that Stoffel is the strongest. However, I think the car will let him down if this is measured purely on results. So I’ll go for Ocon. BB: Ocon from a points perspective as I think Force India will pip Williams on the track. Stroll and Vandoorne will both show more promise for the long-term, though. ALF: Vandoorne, although he’ll look a bit naff on paper if Honda can’t sort themselves out. CN: Bit controversial but I’ll go with Stroll. He’s the real deal and has had a stellar junior career, and Vandoorne will be hampered by Honda, and Ocon will wilt under the pressure of Perez.

Most welcome surprise?

CE: Jenson Button re-appears for a two-race stint in the mid-season as Alonso is injured by a gust of wind. RC: Azerbaijan will be a fantastic race… #WellDoneBaku LL: Won’t top Bernie resigning on my birthday! RW: Qualifying sessions will become a real spectacle once again this year. SM: The pink car on the podium – I would love to see Force India grab that result. (Secretly inside, I wanted to write “Jenson Button returns to drive in F1”) BB: Ferrari and Red Bull being genuinely competitive with Mercedes, albeit not consistently enough to take top honours. ALF: A McLaren podium. CN: Liberty Media actually turning Formula One into a marketable and popular sport for the masses through social media.

Who will come out on top – Vettel or Raikkonen?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: Vettel. RC: Vettel will consistently beat Kimi who will lose interest after announcing his retirement mid-season LL: Vettel. RW: Raikkonen. Kimi was much improved last season while Seb kind of imploded. Just a hunch, but I think this is Seb’s last year in red. SM: Raikkonen. He just gets on with the job. Mr Blue Flag tends to be bothered by everything around him. BB: ******* Vettel, ******* easily. How Raikkonen is still there is beyond me… ALF: Vettel, but only just. Kimi will have the up to begin with. CN: Vettel will come out on top of a competitive battle with Raikkonen. The new regs suit Kimi and Seb will up his game to beat him.

Will a midfield team (Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas or Sauber) win a Grand Prix?

CE: Doubt it. RC: Doubtful. A couple of podiums each for Williams and Force India but nothing more. LL: No. The battle between the big three will lock them all out this year. RW: I’d love to say yes, but my feeling is no. Although Williams and Force India will score podiums. SM: Alas, no. I think the top three have pulled away from the rest of the pack. BB: Do McLaren not even get a mention? Sad times. But no, I can’t see it, unfortunately, those front six will be too good and reliability is also a big factor. ALF: No. CN: Nope. The big three will lock out all the podiums this year and the rest will fight over 4th place down every Sunday.

Will Renault finish in the top 5 constructors?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: Yes! P5 should absolutely be their goal. RC: Not this year. They’ll lose out to Williams in a tight battle between them and Toro Rosso. LL: Nope, Force India will. RW: No, but they’ll be quick in the second half of the year. A slow start to the season will hurt them. SM: Not this year. BB: Tricky one…I’ll say no. ALF: No, they’ll finish 6th place after a season long close battle with Williams and Force India. CN: Yes. There’s a nice little rivalry that brewing between them and Force India, and the latter seem to have more underlying issues with their car, which could cost them.

Which team will pick up the wooden spoon?

CE: The one that does the most baking, and from the amount of smoke they produce that’s probably McLaren. RC: It’ll be a close fight for this prestigious honour between Sauber and McLaren but I think Sauber will win the wooden spoon this year. LL: Sauber thanks to year old Ferrari engines. RW: Sauber. As the year goes on, I think the lack of development on their 2016 engine will see them fall behind. SM: Sauber. Love their livery this season, love Marcus and his ever-present smile, but think last year’s  Ferrari engine will leave them at a disadvantage this year. BB: Sauber, Haas will pick up a few points. ALF: Sauber, sorry to say. CN: Year old engine and a limited aero budget? Sorry Sauber, your 25th season in F1 is going to be a rough one.

Biggest controversy?

CE: Alonso something something Honda something something contract. RC: Something something shark fins.  LL: Something aero related, probably on the Red Bull. RW: Bernie will probably cause some trouble from behind the scenes – there’ll be something he’ll reveal that will raise a few eyebrows. SM: I think there will be some kind of rule change that will be in response to something from this year’s regulation changes. Until we get to Australia, who knows what we might see – I am convinced that somebody is going to turn up with something we haven’t seen yet! BB: A bit of animosity starting to appear between Verstappen and Ricciardo – most likely after an early season collision. ALF: Max Verstappen isn’t driver of the day for just one race. CN: The shark fins being a non-story so much that they become a story and are banned because people are petty.

Will both McLarens make the chequered flag in Australia?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: Hahahaha. RC: Neither will. One will have an engine failure and they’ll retire the other as a precaution. LL: No chance as it stands. RW: No. Having not even completed a race distance in testing, that seems unlikely. SM: I hope so, for all of the hard work that the team members are putting in, it will be such a shame if not. I think the second half of the season will be better for McLaren. BB: No, sadly not. Testing has not been a happy time. ALF: Yes, but a lap down. CN: Yes, but three and four laps down respectively.

Who will withdraw from F1 first – Fernando Alonso or Honda?

CE: Alonso will bugger off to WEC eventually if he doesn’t drive a Mercedes. RC: Alonso will retire at the end of the season, probably a year too early as Honda get their act together for 2018. LL: Alonso. Mid-year. RW: Err, that’s a tough one, but I have a feeling Honda might walk. SM: Neither. Alonso might move teams next season but I don’t think he’s ready to leave yet, and I don’t think Honda will be leaving F1 of their own accord (get it?!) BB: Fernando will be taking that deckchair into the sunset I imagine, I’m not sure his heart is in it anymore. ALF: Alonso, easier for a driver to walk than an engine. If things are as bad as some fear, Alonso will cause a stir and walk. Hope it’s not that bad though! CN: Alonso will be out of F1 and testing a Le Mans car by Christmas.

Will Nico Hulkenberg stand on the podium?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: I bloody hope so (probably not) RC: No. He’ll continue to under-perform his potential as always. LL: Nah. RW: Yes, but not until the second half of the season. He’ll inherit Sutil’s unwanted record first. SM: Not this year. BB: No, fourth will be his best this season, if he even achieves that. ALF: No, but he’ll come close in a freak race result. CN: Yes, but in some bizarre twist he’ll be ushered out of the podium room due to a track infringement and time penalty for one of F1’s most heartbreaking moments.

Who will come out on top – Williams or Force India?

Image: Octane Photography

CE: Williams. RC: Force India will remain fourth at the end of the season. LL: On testing form, Williams, on sheer determination Force India could squeeze it. RW: I think Williams will surprise a few people this year. I have a feeling Force India may have peaked. SM: I’m going with Force India. They squeeze every bit of performance they can from their cars, and I think with Perez and Ocon, we’ll see drivers who will do exactly the same. BB: Force India, but only just. Williams to show some encouraging progress, albeit having to accept the error that is retaining Massa. ALF: Head says Williams, heart says Force India, only just because Force India are more an underdog story. Gut says Force India will nail it again. Force India. CN: Williams will regain fourth spot and Renault will get between both.

Will we get a GP with under 10 cars finishing?

CE:  Let’s go with yes. RC: Not a chance. LL: Nope. RW: Yes, we’ll probably have one crazy rain affected race. SM: No. BB: I’ll say no – reliability and a lack of bad weather will be excitement’s downfall! ALF: No, but we’ll have one with just 12 finishers. CN: Nope. And boo to modern reliability, just for good measure.

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