Formula One is back with a new look in 2017, with new cars, new line ups and new regulations. Over the coming week, teams will be preparing for the first race of the season which starts on Friday with free practice for the Australian Grand Prix. It’s been a turbulent winter, we had a world champion retire, Berxit (the removal of Bernie Ecclestone) and the collapse of Manor.
That’s even before you mention the biggest change in technical regulations in almost a decade.
This season sees the biggest changes in aero since 2009. This season cars have wider tyres, bigger front and rear wings which should create more downforce. We know that this will be the ideal opportunity for other teams to try to catch them, but Mercedes have a great technical team.
Rear diffusers are to be wider and taller, which means there will be more downforce on the cars. Tyres are increasing in size front is now 305mm and the rear 405mm, also Pirelli have changed their ethos with these tyres. Since 2011, they have fallen away very quickly, we shouldn’t expect that this season.
Physical effects of changes
Throughout the winter nearly all the drivers have spoken about, posted about or mentioned the physical prep they have been undergoing this winter. Carlos Sainz said in January, “Formula 1 cars, even if they were slower in recent years, they’ve never been easy in terms of the physical strain they place on drivers.”
“They have different demands and it could be easy one year and a bit more difficult the next. You always need to be at a very high fitness level.” He added that probably its taking us to another extreme level and he expects his neck to be gone after a few laps in testing.
The areas drivers are expected to suffer is the neck. An observation I’ve seen in recent years after the Grand Prix’s (expect Singapore and the really humid races) that drivers don’t look hot and sweaty. I expect the physical demands mean we should see more of that, we want to see drivers pushing to the limits on the track.
Mercedes have held much of the power in recent years being the triple world champions on track. But, last season they were beginning to be under a lot more pressure on track from Red Bull. With the aero changes, this means while Mercedes may still have the advantage from their power unit.
Mercedes know what they did when they were Brawn, so this could be to their advantage. They have lost Paddy Lowe; however much of the work I think would have been done by the time he left in January. James Allison, who is replacing him, will need time to bed in when he arrives in April.
The team may appear to be on the back foot because of the up heval within the team, but they still have momentum on track. We will be of course watching them closely because I still feel the power unit will give them the edge,
Red Bull will look to be returning to the top step and being the main challengers to the Mercedes, especially with what they did under the last regulations. Red Bull won four titles with Sebastian Vettel, in an Adrian Newey car. We know that Newey had taken ‘time out’ of the sport and hasn’t been as ‘hands on’ in recent years.
But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said last August, Newey was full motivated by the changes to the F1 technical regulations for 2017 and is making a major contribution to the development of the team’s new car.
Horner told Motorsport.com “The senior technical team have taken a step up and are doing a great job, as you can see with the current car. But Adrian’s influence and guidance is still very much there, and is very present with the 2017 car.”
Red Bull this season has a great line up in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who should be able to challenge the Mercedes. I believe it will be Verstappen who we will be talking about more than Ricciardo, he is just nineteen and already in his third season of Formula One – Hard to believe that.
Ferrari looks to be in the top group from pre-season testing. We said in 2015 and 2016, they appear as if they could be fighting for the championship. This time I think and hope their pace is genuine. Ten years since they last won the title, they could be in with a serious chance this season.
They can’t be as confident as they were going into last year, and I imagine from what you read in the press they are cautiously optimistic. We know Maurizio Arrivabene last year made that bold statement “it’s going to be the championship. At least we would like to fight until the end for the championship.”
That didn’t happen. But this year he hasn’t been that bold, Arrivabene has been more cautious and so has Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The coming races should give answers!
What we learned from testing
During testing, we learnt that the gap between Ferrari and Mercedes is not much. However, you can never count Red Bull out. We have said before and throughout testing, you need to be cautious because the cars we saw in testing are not the ones we will see in Melbourne.
I still believe the pecking order is currently, Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, McLaren, Renault, Haas and then Sauber. But, that mid-field is a bit unknown, as is the top end. One thing I can say I honestly believe that there will be a fight this season.
This season as with every season, we have new drivers join the grid this year we have the eighteen-year-old Lance Stroll, while McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne prepares for his first season following that impressive debut last year in Bahrain.
Stroll had a shaky start to his career, but he has rebuffed his critics in the press. But, I think he needs a good start to the season to prove himself as a driver. He is young and has followed the same route as Max Verstappen and while we were concerned when he came into the sport, lets hope Stroll proves us all wrong.
Vandoorne last season scored McLaren’s first points and had a brilliant debut in Bahrain. He can deliver but the question is consistency with the car, which following testing maybe difficult. Remember the relationship Alonso and Hamilton had in 2007, I think if Vandoorne is beating him tension could flare.
You can read more on the driver pairings here.
Right, where do we start? We I feel we have been optimistic of McLaren being back in the fight this season. However, testing was an utter shambles with the Honda power unit they were unable to get good running and tension appears to be high between the two.
I really hope that Honda’s upgrade for the start of the season really solves the reliability issues for them. If the team want to keep Fernando Alonso after this season, they need to give a decent car this season. I honestly feel if they aren’t at least where they were last season, he could walk away from the team and the sport.
Tomorrow lunchtime we will have our preview for the Australian Grand Prix and build up all week in F1 Today.