Nico Rosberg backs Lewis Hamilton to defend F1 title despite challenges
Sebastian Vettel leads in early testing by Formula One teams barring Williams at Barcelona
Nico Rosberg has tipped former Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to scoop a sixth Formula One world title this year - although he believes some subtle regulation changes could lead to a few surprises.
Hamilton won eight of the final 11 races as he collected his fifth world crown last year, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio's haul and moving to within two of Michael Schumacher's record.
Rosberg, the last driver to get the better of Hamilton in 2016 before promptly retiring, expects the likes of Sebastian Vettel and new Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen to be strong contenders.
But speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, the German suspects his old rival, who began pre-season testing at Barcelona on Monday, will reign supreme once more.
"Lewis is the absolute favourite again because he's driving incredibly lately and his team does an incredible job," Rosberg said. "He's one of the most successful F1 drivers of all time, one of the most successful sportsmen of all time."
There has been some technical tweaks in the off-season, which includes teams having a new front wing design that F1 bosses hope will lead to tighter races.
"There's a huge opportunity for things to switch around this year," Rosberg said. "Maybe suddenly Red Bull is the team to beat, that's possible.
"It's really put everything back in time and everybody has to start from scratch again, it's really exciting because nobody knows where the teams are going to be."
Rosberg thinks the pressure may be on compatriot Vettel this season after finishing runner-up to Hamilton for a second successive year.
Vettel has been the undisputed main man at Ferrari since switching to the Italian marque four years ago but he has failed to add to the four world titles he won at Red Bull.
A series of uncharacteristic errors undermined his efforts last year and, with highly-rated Leclerc now his teammate, Rosberg believes his former rival needs to deliver.
Rosberg added: "The Mercedes car was the best car in all those years, except maybe for the last time where it might have been equal.
"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.
"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.
Another setback for Williams
Williams have suffered another major setback after it was confirmed they will now miss the second day of winter testing.
With their car not ready for activity, the British team were the only outfit absent from the first meaningful action of pre-season at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya on Monday.
And deputy team principal, Claire Williams has revealed that Williams - which finished rooted to the foot of the constructors' championship last year - will not be on track until at least day three of this week's four-day first test.
"It is looking more likely than not that we will now not be in a position to run on track until Wednesday at the earliest," Williams said. "This is obviously extremely disappointing, but it is unfortunately the situation we are in."
British rookie George Russell, who celebrated his 21st birthday last week, and the returning Robert Kubica were already playing catch-up for a team bidding to bounce back from last season's miserable campaign.
Following this week's test, there will be just four further days of running before the new season starts in Melbourne on March 17.
Out on track, Vettel was the fastest out of the blocks on Monday. The four-time world champion posted a time 1.7 seconds quicker than the best lap set on the opening day of testing last year.
Updated: February 18, 2019 10:53 PM