Ferrari bids to win its first constructors’ title since 2008, and it looked strong in preseason testing. Picture: REUTERS
Ferrari bids to win its first constructors’ title since 2008, and it looked strong in preseason testing. Picture: REUTERS

Lewis Hamilton is braced for his biggest challenge as he chases a sixth Formula One title and Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari sense this could be the year they finally turn the tables on Mercedes.

The 21-race championship, which starts with this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, is already showing the hallmarks of a classic.

Hamilton has won 51 of the past 100 grands prix for Mercedes and four of the past five championships. While he can expect to add to his tally of 73 race wins, 18 behind Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91, the balance of power may be shifting away from Mercedes to Ferrari.

“This is going to be the toughest battle yet … their pace is very good at the moment,” the Briton said after suggesting in preseason testing that Ferrari could be as much as half a second ahead.

Mercedes, seeking to become the first Formula One team to take six successive title doubles, will throw everything at Ferrari, who can afford none of the mistakes of 2018.

There are plenty of alluring storylines, from familiar faces in different overalls to youngsters stepping out into the spotlight and those, such as Poland’s Robert Kubica with Williams, returning after fearing their Formula One careers were over.

A new Honda-Red Bull alliance could reward a more mature Max Verstappen, now in his fifth season but still only 21, while former partners Renault have taken smiling Australian Daniel Ricciardo with them.

Monaco’s Charles Leclerc, 21, is Ferrari's youngest race driver since 1961 and replaces Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who has moved to the Alfa Romeo team previously known as Sauber.

Ferrari have a new boss in Mattia Binotto, replacing Maurizio Arrivabene in a move that has lifted what many saw as a climate of fear hanging over the team.

Formula One is changing its scoring system to award a point to the driver who sets the fastest race lap. The driver, whose team will also score an extra point for the constructors’ championship, must finish in the top 10.

The new regulations have changed the front and rear wings, aimed at making it easier for cars to get closer and overtake.


Dovizioso wins MotoGP thriller

Italian Andrea Dovizioso fended off Honda’s MotoGP champion Marc Marquez at the last corner to win a dramatic season-opening Qatar Grand Prix for Ducati on Sunday, repeating 2018’s success.

Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso beat Honda’s Marc Marquez by just 0.023 seconds in a thrilling MotoGP season opener. Picture: REUTERS
Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso beat Honda’s Marc Marquez by just 0.023 seconds in a thrilling MotoGP season opener. Picture: REUTERS

Dovizioso, who also battled Marquez down to the line a year ago under the Losail circuit floodlights, beat his Spanish rival by a mere 0.023 seconds.

Britain’s Cal Crutchlow finished third for LCR Honda, after Suzuki’s Alex Rins made a late mistake and opened the door to the podium.

Italian veteran Valentino Rossi, now 40 years old, completed the top five — just 0.6 adrift of Dovizioso — after starting 14th for Yamaha.


Ogier triumphs in Mexican rally

World champion Sebastien Ogier won the Rally of Mexico on Sunday to send the Frenchman up to second in the overall standings.

Sebastian Ogier flies his Citroen to victory in Mexico. Picture: REUTERS
Sebastian Ogier flies his Citroen to victory in Mexico. Picture: REUTERS

After three rounds of the season, the six-times world champion Citroen driver has won two and now trails Toyota’s Estonian Ott Tanak by four points.

Tanak has 65 points, Ogier 61 and Hyundai’s Belgian Thierry Neuville 55. Toyota stays on top in the manufacturers’ championship.

The victory near the host city of Leon, in the central state of Guanajuato, was Ogier’s fifth in Mexico as he finished 30.2 seconds clear of Toyota’s Tanak.

Britain’s Elfyn Evans had started the day second but ended up third for M-Sport Ford after Tanak overhauled him with two morning stage wins.

The next rally is in Corsica from March 28 to 31.