Lewis Hamilton will be favourite for the Formula One world title again this season and the pressure is on Sebastian Vettel to deliver, says Nico Rosberg.
Briton Hamilton won a fifth championship and fourth in the past five campaigns in 2018, with Ferrari rival Vettel waning after making a strong start.
Rosberg, the last man to deny Hamilton the drivers’ title in 2016, believes his former Mercedes team-mate is once again the driver to beat, while predicting big things from new Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc and Red Bull youngster Max Verstappen in a year he expects will throw up plenty of surprises.
Speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards 2019, the German said: “Lewis is the absolute favourite again because he’s driving incredibly and his team does an incredible job.
“I think the odds are in his favour then Sebastian is the obvious challenger. But I would also, if I was a betting man, say Leclerc or Verstappen because I think both of them can be a big, big surprise this year in an exciting way. I’m looking forward to seeing how they go.
“The important thing is the regulations have changed totally. Every team lost three seconds of car performance as a result of those regulations which they’ve had to catch up again. Three seconds of development is huge.
“If you just manage two and a half seconds and the other team gets 3.1 seconds it changes everything. Therefore there’s a huge opportunity for things to switch around this year.
“Maybe suddenly Red Bull is the team to beat, that’s possible.”
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1)February 18, 2019
Vettel has fallen short in his bid to add to his four world titles, finishing runner-up in the past two seasons.
And with the highly rated Leclerc joining him in the Ferrari paddock this season, Rosberg says Vettel is under pressure.
“The Mercedes car was the best car in all those years, except maybe for the last time where it might have been equal,” Rosberg added.
“In all the years, Sebastian is still one of the best drivers out there, he just had a poor season last year and made a lot of mistakes, but the team also made a lot of mistakes.
“It was a joint effort and they all did bad, that can happen, but they need to turn it around this year.
“But the opportunity is there because they’ve been growing as a team, they’ve been getting stronger and stronger all the time, so I think there’s a great opportunity this year to finally make it happen.
“If Sebastian does a season like last year then Leclerc will end up in front of him at the end of the year. Sebastian needs to nail it this year.”