With barely two weeks now remaining until the F1 2010 World Championship campaign revs into life with the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir, tensions are rising and the pace is inexorably picking up – but who will be crowned drivers' world champion come season's end?
On paper, as many as eight competitors could feasibly lay claim to the laurels, with McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari, Mercedes Grand Prix and Red Bull Racing all expected to feature up at the sharp end of the action. But who will wind up on top once the final chequered flag has fallen in Abu Dhabi in nine months' time..?
Will either defending F1 World Champion Jenson Button or his title-winning predecessor Lewis Hamilton keep the trophy in Britain for a third consecutive campaign – for the first time in more than four decades? Will Button not see his team-mate for dust or will Hamilton's more aggressive, hard-charging style behind the wheel be penalised by the heavier fuel loads now necessitated by the refuelling ban?
Will Fernando Alonso rediscover his title-challenging form now that he has a competitive car at his disposal for the first time since 2007 at Ferrari, or will the Spaniard receive a nasty shock by being shown up by giant-killing team-mate Felipe Massa, who has coped admirably with the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen alongside him in recent years – and beaten them both..?
On the subject of returning F1 legend 'Schumi', indeed, what can the record-breaking, seven-time title-winner do as he makes what has been described in some quarters as the greatest comeback in sporting history? Can the German still hack it at 41, or will he find that the challenge of younger, fitter drivers like Hamilton, Button, Alonso, Massa and his own Mercedes team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg is too much for a man now incredibly into his fifth decade..?
And what, finally, of Red Bull? Having ended 2009 as incontrovertibly the team to beat, much is expected of the energy drinks-backed outfit this year, and in Sebastian Vettel the Milton Keynes-based squad has on its hands a champion of the future without a doubt. Whether the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner will find himself too heavily compromised by his internecine scrap with the fiercely-determined Mark Webber remains to be seen, but one thing at least looks certain...
...F1 fans are in for a cracking season ahead!
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