The 2017 Formula One World Championship will be a vastly different beast from its 2016 predecessor. With numerous major shake ups to teams, drivers and regulations it’s hoped that this season’s racing will be more inclusive, rather than the one team domination of the past three years.
The most notable change is the loss of reigning World Champion, Nico Rosberg, from Mercedes, who elected to retire only days after winning his inaugural world title. His decision did not thrill, Mercedes Team Executive, Niki Lauda, a former world champion himself who said at the time, “It’s December 2, and we have no driver. I am afraid all the top drivers are under contract. He caught us on the wrong foot. But race drivers stop when they want to stop. You can not influence them from the outside,” Lauda said.
Although that news hit the paddock like a missile, many ultimately supported Rosberg’s hastily announced decision. His replacement is the young Finn, Valtteri Bottas, who received a release on his contract from Williams only in January, meaning Bottas has a great deal to catch up on with his new team in only a short time. F1 fans everywhere will be hoping (and praying) that Bottas is up to the Lewis Hamilton challenge.
Hamilton himself comes into 2017, a three time world champion, but after a mostly disappointing 2016, he’ll be out for revenge although Rosberg’s absence is likely disappointing for the Brit. He opens the season as the clear favourite for the 2017 Formula One season.
The last-minute demise of Manor Racing has reduced the field down to ten teams, which is a sad reflection for Formula One’s 2017 grid. In late January, Manor announced they would cease trading, after administrators failed to find a buyer to secure their future. Manor join Caterham and HRT in the ever-growing pile of defunct Formula One franchises.
Bottas’ move to the Silver Arrows subsequently left a vacant seat at Williams. A vacancy that has been filled by Felipe Massa, who returns for a fourth season with Williams, after initially announcing his retirement last year. Massa will be partnered by teenage rookie, Lance Stroll.
The major contenders to the slippery Silver Arrows are expected to be Ferrari and Red Bull Racing. Aerodynamic changes should see the Red Bull’s a consistently quick threat, as opposed to last season’s inconsistency. RBR’s Team Principal, Christian Horner spoke of Red Bull designer, Adrian Newey’s excitement at the rule changes, “I think he’s excited by the regulation change for 2017,” Horner said.
Red Bull possess arguably the strongest driver line up on the grid, in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, but the cars will need to be quicker more consistently for Red Bull to take advantage.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were fastest around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain over the eight days of testing. Whether these times reflect how the grid will look next week in Melbourne remains to be seen. Mercedes appear to be adamant that Ferrari have more speed in the tank, whilst Ferrari still maintain that Mercedes are the favourites.
Ferrari’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne said in a press conference, “We had two goals for the Barcelona tests. Firstly, to be competitive with Red Bull Racing. And secondly, to have a reliable car. For me, Mercedes is still ahead,” Marchionne said.
Only this week, Force India unveiled their startling new livery, a fresh ‘matte pink’ design to coincide with the arrival of their new sponsor, Better Water Technology (BWT). Drivers’ Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon will be wearing pink helmets to complement the cars design according to the Formula One website.
McLaren have also jumped on the fresh new livery bandwagon, with a bright orange scheme that’s partially reminiscent of the old Arrows days. More importantly there have been other substantial changes at McLaren, 2009 world champion, Jenson Button has retired, and Team Principal, Ron Dennis is out too. McLaren desperately need a bounce back season and a fast car for Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Renault, find themselves in a similar situation to McLaren with multiple years of underachieving as they look to regain their glory years of 2005-2006. They have picked up Nico Hulkenberg from Force India and retained, Jolyon Palmer from 2016. Renault are expected to be a top-five/six constructor this season.
Haas Racing had quite an impressive debut season in 2016, finishing in front of Renault, Sauber and the now defunct Manor teams. They have a quick, although not entirely consistent driving pair of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and they will be hoping to take a big step forward in their sophomore season.
Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team, are one of the mid-pack teams jostling for position in a tough environment. Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kyvat are back for Toro Rosso, but will hard pressed to keep pace with an improving McLaren and Renault teams.
Unfortunately, Formula One’s tenth team, Sauber appear to be anchored in last place. The team’s short term survival appears assured right now, but they simply don’t have the budget to compete with Toro Rosso and Haas ahead of them.
The regulation and rule changes are some of the most notable in the last decade and have been explained in detail on the Formula One website:
- Tyres are around 25 percent wider than in 2016.
- Maximum car weight is increased from 702kg to 722kg plus tyres.
- Front wing span is increased from 1650mm to 1800mm. Overall car width is up from 1800 to 2000mm.
The height of the rear wing is reduced to a maximum of 800mm, down from 950 previously. Meanwhile, the diffuser is more powerful thanks to increased height – up from 125mm to 175 – and width – up from 1000mm to 1050.