ESPN predicts the 2018 Formula One season

What can we expect for the 2018 F1 season? (2:20)

ESPN's Jennie Gow and Sam Collins discuss what fans can expect from the new season as it kicks off this weekend in Australia. (2:20)

The new Formula One season is here, kicking off with the Australian Grand Prix on March 25.

Our F1 experts -- Laurence Edmondson, Nate Saunders, Jennie Gow, Jake Michaels and Sam Collins -- have put their necks on the line with predictions. Read on to find out how they think the season will play out.

Who will be the drivers' champion?

Laurence Edmondson: Formula One would benefit hugely from a non-Mercedes driver winning the title, but I fear that might be wishful thinking. My money is on Lewis Hamilton to secure his fifth world title this year.

Nate Saunders: Head says Hamilton, but heart says Max Verstappen. So let's be fun and go with heart! Beating Mercedes and Hamilton -- as well as teammate Daniel Ricciardo -- will be difficult, but if Red Bull gives him the car, Verstappen has already proven what a special talent he is.

Jennie Gow: Verstappen. The end of last year showed what he can do, and if Red Bull can start a car that can challenge rather than build up to that halfway through the year, there's a great chance.

Jake Michaels: No matter how you assess the field, it's hard to go past Hamilton, who seems to be raising the bar year on year. Losing his title to Nico Rosberg in 2016 lit a fire inside him, and while he continues to drive a Mercedes, it will take something special for someone else to knock him off.

Sam Collins: I'm afraid it's going to be Hamilton. He's the quickest driver in the quickest car.

Constructors' champion?

LE: Mercedes will not have the fastest car at every race track, but over the course of the season, it is likely to have the best package at the majority of rounds. Look out for Red Bull, as it will start the season in a much stronger position than last year. But over 21 races, reliability is likely to make the difference for Mercedes

NS: With Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari simply does not score enough points to contend, as 2017 sadly demonstrated. Red Bull looks more likely to challenge, but if it comes down to an engine-reliability battle of Mercedes verses Renault, I back the reigning world champions every time.

JG: It's hard to look past Mercedes, isn't it? Valtteri Bottas is a much more effective No. 2 man than Raikkonen, and I think Red Bull will struggle having no clear Nos. 1 and 2 drivers.

JM: Mercedes -- which is searching for five titles in a row -- is the obvious choice. It has been untouchable since 2014, and winter testing suggested it will once again be right at the front. However, don't discount Red Bull, which could certainly be a close challenger.

SC: Mercedes, but -- and it's a big but -- I think it might have pushed that car concept to the limit. Ferrari is bringing a few things to the car that won't work on the Mercedes, so it could improve later in the year. That fight would then become very interesting.

Will Ferrari improve on its five wins from 2017?

LE: I doubt it. I think Red Bull's rise is likely to create more issues for Ferrari than Mercedes, as the RB14 and SF71-H concepts are much more closely aligned with each other than with the W09. Therefore, I think tracks that suited Ferrari last year will now also be targets for Red Bull victories, whereas Mercedes will still have a clear advantage at its regular stomping grounds.

NS: I'm very much expecting a three-way fight, which I think hurts Ferrari's chances more than Mercedes'. I'll say Ferrari can match five wins, purely because of how well Vettel was driving at certain points last year. If a win is on the table, he'll grab it.

JG: I would like to think so, but wins are likely to be harder to come by in 2018 if they have to be split with Red Bull. At the very least, I would predict it matching the five from last year.

JM: I don't expect Raikkonen to win a race in 2018, so Vettel will need to win six times if Ferrari is to improve its win tally from last year. With a slightly longer calendar and a hunger to reach five world titles before his rival Hamilton, I'll back him to do it.

SC: It's going to be a big ask. I think yes, but a lot comes down to power unit and how much grunt the Italian one has compared to Mercedes. Baku will be the first indication of that, so we should know by then.

What will be the most heated in-team rivalry?

LE: I can see Red Bull becoming a frosty place for post-race driver briefings this year. The collision between Verstappen and Ricciardo at Hungary last year hinted at things getting nasty, and if they are in the mix for the championship, the tension is only going to rise.

NS: The stakes will be high at Red Bull this year, and something has got to give between Verstappen and Ricciardo. Honorable mention goes to Force India, as it never seemed to quite solve last year's problems between Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez.

JG: Red Bull seems the popular choice, but I also think Renault, with Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz, has a whole recipe for a very interesting rivalry if that car is competitive.

JM: All eyes were on Force India during the 2017 season, but attention will turn to Red Bull this year. A more competitive car combined with two drivers who believe they are world championship material spells trouble for Christian Horner.

SC: I'm going to say Haas. I feel like Romain Grosjean has been the No. 1 there for a while, but last year, Kevin Magnussen showed he can be quite aggressive at the wheel, which I love. I think that could get quite heated if Haas is as competitive as winter suggested.

Who will be the best of the rest (behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull)?

LE: McLaren should be aiming to be best of the rest, but Renault has made bigger strides over the winter. With more of the team's extensive investment coming online during the year at Enstone, the car is only going to move forward from the solid base it showed in testing.

NS: I was impressed with Renault over the winter, but I think ultimately this will fall to McLaren. Fernando Alonso will be a big reason why. If the team develops well, he is going to be dragging that car to results it probably doesn't deserve all year.

JG: Let's dream a little and say McLaren. I would love to say Sauber, with Alfa Romeo and Charles Leclerc at the helm, but that's obviously too big an ask for one season's work.

JM: Force India appears to have dropped off somewhat since last year which has opened the door in the midfield pack. Much has been spoken about of McLaren, which really should be eyeing that fourth place constructors' championship finish, but I still expect Force India to edge them over the course of a season.

SC: Force India. Winter was quiet, and most people seem to think it's going to be a struggle, but its 2018 car is quite close in conceptual terms to last year's car, which should mean it can come out of the box and just work. That means starting in a good place.

Can McLaren win a race?

LE: Not without a lot of luck. Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari will all have to falter to give McLaren a look in.

NS: Yes, but not until the second half of the season. The Singapore Grand Prix weekend in September would be one I optimistically painted orange in my calendar.

JG: Yes, definitely -- Alonso could win a race for them. I don't think Stoffel Vandoorne can; I think he's good, but winning requires someone who can drive around the problems there would inevitably be.

JM: With Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, it's hard to put a line through McLaren. But, equally, as long as Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are on track, a race win in 2018 seems like a very tall order.

SC: Not a chance! It is are clearly underfunded, and the car looks underdeveloped -- it's lacking some fundamental concepts most other teams have. Plus, the Renault engine isn't going to be fantastic.

Valtteri Bottas: title contender or subservient teammate?

LE: So much will depend on his start to the season. As soon as we get to the final third of the year, Mercedes will focus on Hamilton if there's a threat from Ferrari and Red Bull, so Bottas must give Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda a reason to back him by the time F1 sets off for the final flyaway races.

NS: Bottas showed glimpses of brilliance last year, but, as good as I know he is, I'm not sure he can match Hamilton's intensity over 21 races.

JG: Subservient teammate all the way, Hamilton has his number. But then again, I once said the same about Nico Rosberg, so what do I know ...

JM: Consistency was what let Bottas down in 2017. At times, he looked every bit a match for Hamilton, but then a week later he would be miles off the pace. A longer calendar in 2018 makes his job of sticking with Hamilton even tougher.

SC: There will be team orders applied there, no doubt. The only weak link in the Mercedes chain is if Vettel starts pushing it quite hard, it can't have Hamilton losing points to a single driver, and that's when Bottas becomes the de facto rear-gunner, especially if he still doesn't have a contract for next year.

Who will be the flop of the season?

LE: Williams' steady decline of the past few years could accelerate this season with so many competitive teams in the midfield. Although Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin are both decent drivers, I worry for the team's lack of experience -- especially after the FW41 proved to be a bit of handful during testing.

NS: I have a bad feeling about Williams. It introduced a radical aero concept for this year but has the most inexperienced driver pairing on the grid -- hardly good for a development war. Williams is a team of great history, and I would love to be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I can't see it happening.

JG: Fernando Alonso -- but only because of the circumstances he has put himself under. He's doing so much with his WEC commitments, probably too much, that I can't imagine we will have the best Alonso competing at the end of the season.

JM: He may be a fan favourite, but I feel Kimi Raikkonen will really hold Ferrari back this year so much so that Red Bull could leapfrog it in the standings. With an equally competitive car, he appears to be the weakest of the top six drivers.

SC: Verstappen and Red Bull. There's a lot of hype coming into the season about how good he's going to be, but I don't think the RB14 actually looks that good. Everyone is expecting him to come out and win races straight away, but I can't see it happening. I'd even go as far as to say he will be beaten by Ricciardo over the season.

Who will be the breakout star?

LE: Keep an eye on Leclerc at Sauber. The car isn't up to much, but he should outperform it from time to time this year, especially on tracks he knows from his dominant F2 campaign last year. As a Ferrari-backed driver at an Alfa Romeo-backed team, he's also unlikely to be allowed to fail.

NS: At Renault, Sainz finally has a car competitive enough for him to turn his talent into consistently strong results. I'd back him to beat Hulkenberg over the course of the season.

JG: Charles Leclerc. I've been saying it for a long time. He's a very special guy. He had a very difficult couple of years -- he lost his godfather, Jules Bianchi and his father last year -- but has still had incredible success in junior categories, including a record-breaking Formula 2 season in 2017.

JM: I expect Stoffel Vandoorne to prove his worth and have a strong season alongside the experienced Fernando Alonso and go close to matching his points tally over the course of the season.

SC: Either of the Renault drivers. Sainz seems the obvious one, but this seems like the car Hulkenberg has been waiting for. If he doesn't do it this year, you have to wonder if he ever will.

And finally, what is the one thing you want to see from F1 in 2018?

LE: Unpredictability. For too long there has been only two or three drivers in the running for victory at each grand prix weekend. The 2012 season had seven different winners at the first seven races and a title battle that went down to the final round. Imagine having that again this year

NS: A three-way fight is maybe the obvious one, so I will instead go for Robert Kubica to impress enough in his limited FP1 duties for Williams to earn a 2019 drive race seat.

JG: I don't want to hear "Lewis Hamilton is in the lead at Turn 1!" too often because that often ends up being "Lewis Hamilton wins the race."

JM: A three-way battle at the front of the grid. The thought of Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Verstappen fighting for victories each weekend is enough to get any Formula One fan excited!

SC: The 2021 regulations! They are so overdue, it's ridiculously late and the costs are going to go out of control. We needed them last year, but we don't have chassis regs, aero regs, engine regs. We have to have them in writing by May at the latest.