As they say, in Formula 1 the first person you need to beat is your team-mate, and some of this year’s intra-team battles promise to be spicier than others.
Daniel Ricciardo v Max Verstappen
Last season Formula 1 fans were given the unexpected gift of Daniel Ricciardo versus Max Verstappen, a battle that will continue through into 2017.
Although this tussle is missing the off-track tension – the two Red Bull drivers seem to get along very well – on paper it appears as if it will offer the best team-mate battle of the season.
In Ricciardo we have a driver with experience and a deep belief that it is his time. And in Verstappen, there’s a young upstart who doesn’t care about the rules or about paying his dues.
Although last season it was the Aussie who emerged victorious in their battle, 256 points to 204, the points are not an accurate representation of how hard Verstappen pushed his team-mate.
The Dutchman also claimed Red Bull’s first win of the season, adding to Ricciardo’s disappointment when he felt robbed by the team in Monaco. He went P1 later in the year, Malaysia, before putting in a strong finish to take the top honours at Red Bull.
This season, though, Verstappen will be a bit more settled at Red Bull with a deeper knowledge of the team and the tracks. The cars are vastly different to last year’s, levelling that playing field as Ricciardo had spent three years in an RB with each year car’s being an evolution of the previous year’s.
Evenly matched in ability, desire and self-belief, Red Bull’s team-mate tussle is set to ignite in 2017.
Fernando Alonso v Stoffel Vandoorne
One is a double World Champion nearing the end of his career while the other is a rookie racer, who bided his time in the junior leagues and excelled in everything he did.
Entering what could be his final season at McLaren, and in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso is determined to leave his legacy on McLaren-Honda – and if he can do it with a few race wins and podiums all the better.
The Spaniard has had a torrid time of late and if he cannot beat those at the sharp end of the grid, his goal will be to beat his rookie team-mate – after all it wouldn’t look at all good on his career stats if he were to lose to him.
Vandoorne, though, won’t be easy mark.
The Belgian racer won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and claimed 16 podiums in 21 races on his way to the 2015 GP2 title. However, instead of stepping up to Formula 1 on the back of that fantastic result, McLaren kept him on as their reserve driver , entering him into Super Formula in order to keep him race-sharp.
He also had the opportunity to compete in the 2016 Bahrain GP where he replaced the injured Alonso – and scored McLaren’s first point of the championship.
Vandoorne knows many of the circuits that F1 will visit this season from his GP2 days while he is already well embedded in the McLaren team. Throw in new aerodynamic regulations, basically a new car given the much-increased downforce, and the 24-year-old could yet push Alonso from start to finish.
Sebastian Vettel v Kimi Raikkonen
2016 saw the pendulum unexpectedly swing in Kimi Raikkonen’s favour as, although the Finn finished behind Sebastian Vettel in the standings, he was the one that kept his head through Ferrari’s troubles.
Their first season as Ferrari team-mates went unequivocally to Vettel with three race wins and 278 points compared to Raikkonen’s none and 150.
However, last season, with strategic errors and a lack of pace costing Ferrari, neither driver claimed a single win with Vettel finishing with 212 points and Raikkonen 186.
It was the Finn, though, who emerged smelling of roses as Vettel made headlines for his sweary rants and reports that Ferrari weren’t too happy with his performances.
This season, the last on Vettel’s contract, the German needs to reassert his dominance over his team-mate and stake his claim as Ferrari’s lead driver. If not, the four-time World Champion may be looking for a new home.
Raikkonen on the other hand has told us often enough that he doesn’t really care where he is if he’s not winning.
“I’d rather be probably out of second and third place so I don’t have to go to the prize-giving,” he said in 2012. “It makes no difference to be second or fifth if you don’t win.”
Lewis Hamilton v Valtteri Bottas
Lewis Hamilton, according to most commentators, has already won the intra-Mercedes battle for 2017 – and in emphatic style, destroying Valtteri Bottas.
But let’s be fair, the Finn stands a fighting chance.
Comparing their junior records, albeit in different seasons of racing in each, Hamilton was first in Formula Renault 2.0 UK, Bottas won Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. Hamilton was fifth in Formula 3 Euro Series, Bottas won it. Hamilton was P14 in the Macau Grand Prix, Bottas reached the podium. Hamilton won the GP2 series, Bottas jumped straight into a Formula 1 test driver role after winning GP3.
And whereas Hamilton’s first F1 drive was with the race winning McLaren team, Bottas’ was with the seemingly-past-their-sell-by-date Williams.
Yes, the 27-year-old has never quite shown than fighting spirit that Hamilton has, or that desire to win no matter the costs, but he’s never been in a position to strive for those.
This season all eyes will be on Bottas with fans, probably even the Hamilton fans, hoping that he can take the fight to the triple World Champion to add some spice to the battle.
And with a future at Mercedes on the line, as well as his reputation, there is plenty to inspire Bottas to greatness.
That’s what he’ll need to beat Hamilton.