F1 2017 Season Preview & Predictions

Feature image: Sutton Images

It’s finally here. The most anticipated season of Formula One in recent memory is just around the corner.

The beautiful thing heading into this season is no one knows what to expect. Yes, we’ve had a taster in winter testing, so we have a fair idea who’s on the pace and who’s not but you can’t call what we saw in Barcelona definitive. Teams hold back/run heavier and new parts arrive in between/at the first grand prix. So you can expect some teams to slide up and down the order that we saw in testing when it comes to pace.

Can anyone halt the raging Silver Arrows from taking their fourth consecutive drivers and constructors titles?

Changes

Quite a few changes to note around the F1 paddock.

The most obvious/talked about changes are the regulation changes. In short, cars should fly much faster thanks to fatter tyres, a lower rear wing and a larger diffuser.

Nico Rosberg does not return to defend his crown after announcing his shock retirement just days after winning the title showdown in Abu Dhabi (some say his arse cheeks are still clenched, and I wouldn’t blame him to be fair). Mercedes filled the void he left with Williams’ Valterri Bottas.

Stoffel Vandoorne replaces the outgoing/retiring Jenson Button to partner Fernando Alonso to create what promises to be a very interesting driver lineup at McLaren-Honda. The last time Alonso was paired with a highly rated rookie/young driver (sorry, Nelson Piquet Jr.) was 2007 and we all know what happened then…

Other driver changes include the return of the retiring Felipe Massa, who was called upon as soon as the possibility of Williams losing Bottas to Mercedes was realistic. Massa joins paydriver and rookie Lance Stroll. The Canadian is going to have his hands full and, if winter testing was anything to go by, it could be a long year indeed…

Elsewhere, the Manor team will not be taking to the grid this year (the team went into administration in January) and its drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon were forced to look elsewhere for race seats. Ocon netted the much better gig of the two, landing a seat at Force India seat, vacated by Nico Hulkenburg who joined Renault. Wehrlein, meanwhile, signed for Sauber replacing Felipe Nasr. And, finally, Kevin Magnussen departed Renault and signed a three-year deal with Haas and he replaces Esteban Gutierrez.

Bernie Ecclestone is no longer calling the shots. F1’s new owners, the Liberty Group, are now in charge. Chase Carey is the man now, flanked by marketing guru Sean Bratches and the legendary Ross Brawn, formerly of Mercedes and Ferrari.

There are two changes to the F1 calendar. The German Grand Prix is knocked off the schedule due to financial issues while Baku, Azerbaijan are still hosting a race, however it will be called the Azerbaijan Grand Prix instead of the European Grand Prix as it was last year.

A number of key technical personnel swapped places during the. At Williams, Pat Symonds steps aside and he is replaced by Paddy Lowe, who was ousted from leaves Mercedes and rejoins his first team (1987-1993, his first stint with the team). At Mercedes, former Ferrari technical director James Allison joins the Silver Arrows after having left Ferrari last year.

There’s an interesting new rule brought in regarding wet-weather restarts following a safety car. When a safety car is called upon to begin a race, the fans lose the excitement of a wet-weather start. We all want to see it. Now we will. Once a wet track is deemed safe enough to race on at full speed — and no longer requires the safety car to guide them around — the safety car will peel into the pit lane and the cars will form up on the grid and will prepare for a standing start. We can all agree this is a much happier solution for the fans, who get to see a standing start in the wet no matter what.

There are quite a number of livery changes this season. Some good, some not so good.

McLaren:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sauber:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Renault:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Toro Rosso:

(Who have also switched their engine supplier from Ferrari to Renault)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Haas:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Force India:

(Better late than never)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New regulations, more problems?

A lot of people are excited for the new regulations and hoping that they will create a more competitive race to the silverware. But could they actually reduce the number of overtakes?

To start, with the cars now being able to take more speeds into the corners meaning — in theory — that braking points should be even later than they are, meaning the overtaking car is going to have to use straight line speed — with the help of DRS — to position himself on the inside line in order to overtake into a corner, rather than dive-bomb right as the braking zone approaches. That could be an issue, not to mention that cars actually wider, since the tyres are wider.

The other issue is that no one really knows how well these cars follow each other on the track. In testing, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was trailing a Haas and Hamilton said he found it very difficult to follow the Haas.

I’m very concerned. Overtakes are such an important aspect of this sport. If these cars can’t overtake each other the races are not going to be fun, no matter how many teams are contending. Time will tell.

Predictions

Drivers champion: Lewis Hamilton

I really wanted to tip a Ferrari driver to win the title but I do think Mercedes have been holding back and, as such, still have the best car and I just don’t see Valterri Bottas besting Lewis Hamilton over the course of a season. I just can’t imagine any other driver winning the title other than Hamilton. I would love to be wrong, I really would but I guess we shall see…

Constructors champion: Ferrari

While I think Lewis Hamilton is going to have a great season, I do not predict the same for Valterri Bottas (shades of Heikki Kovalainen come to mind) and I think Ferrari have the better driver lineup to take advantage. If Mercedes are ahead, I do think Ferrari are going to be close and I expect Raikkonen and Vettel to better Bottas over the course of a season and, as such, take the constructors title.

Best driver of the rest: Sebastian Vettel

This is assuming that Ferrari haven’t lost all of their pace by the time the lights go out in Australia. Vettel has had a few frustrating seasons now and it’s easy to forget, in the midst of mediocrity, that he’s four-time champion. I think this is the season that he reminds every one of that fact. Whether he actually wins the championship is another thing, but people will be talking about Sebastian Vettel at the front of the grid this season.

Best team of the rest: Williams

When I say “best of the rest” when it comes to constructors, I’m talking about fourth place behind Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari. Even though Williams don’t have the strongest drive lineup, they showed some good pace in testing and Felipe Massa knows his way around. They may not finish fourth in the standings (on account of Lance Stroll probably crashing out of a few races), but I think they’ll have the fourth fastest car.

Best in-team fight: Daniel Ricciardo vs. Max Verstappen

These two have been pretty friendly toward each other but put them in a car that can compete for championships and it’s going to be a different story. These two have shown they don’t back down for anyone…there’s a fire in both of them and they won’t back down for each other that’s for sure. It would make for a great battle but it won’t happen if the car isn’t competing for titles.

Most one-sided in-team fight: Felipe Massa vs. Lance Stroll

Not much to say here. Massa is going to crush the inexperienced Stroll. The whole paydriver thing, added to a shaky winter testing showing, worries me greatly.

First driver to be replace this mid-season: Daniil Kvyat

If there was a driver who was going to be replaced mid-season, I would guess it would be Daniil Kvyat. When you look around the grid, Lance Stroll won’t be let go, he’s paying Williams too much money. Marcus Ericsson is also paying for his ride and Sauber need that money. The only other driver who could be in contention here if things don’t go well might be Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.

With Kvyat, he’s already on a bit of a slippery slope after last season’s unfortunate collapse and with Red Bull reserve driver, and 2017 GP2 Champion, Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the pressure is going to be on Kvyat all season.

Most improved driver: Jolyon Palmer

Palmer ended the 2016 season with a good set of results: 10th in Malaysia, 12th in Japan, 13th in the US and 14th in Mexico suffering just one retirement in the final seven races.

Some would consider it luck that it was he who Renault retained and I think Palmer will prove critics wrong this season in an improved Renault but he will have his work cut out going up against a much more experienced Nico Hulkenburg.

Most disappointing driver: Valterri Bottas

This isn’t to say Bottas won’t have a good season, but in comparison with Lewis Hamilton and what that Mercedes could achieve, I don’t think Bottas will be able to outperform expectations. In my opinion, it’ll be Bottas mixing it up with the Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s while Lewis Hamilton will be running away at the front. Again, shades of Heikki Kovalainen.

Most improved team: Renault

Having had time to develop their own car, rather than re-paint the 2015 Lotus, and having a bit of cash to inject into the new car you’d imagine that Renault will make a decent leap this season. You’d imagine they’ll be contenting for regular points finishes and with a driver like Nico Hulkenburg, you’d imagine that will come to be.

Most disappointing team: McLaren

We’ve had a glimpse of McLaren’s woefully poor pace in testing and, unless things have changed dramatically since winter testing, you’d imagine that McLaren are still going to be slow in Australia. Fernando Alonso will work his magic and Stoffel Vandoorne will impress a lot of people but it’s not going to be enough to hide McLaren’s disappointment on a season that promised to be full of hope and progress.

F1 2017 Reveal Thoughts

(Feature image source: @MercedesAMGF1)

In what is essentially, in NBA terms, media day for Formula 1 — just spread across a week rather than one day — teams have been unveiling their challengers for the 2017 Formula 1 season. And these haven’t been your standard car unveilings, the massive regulation changes have made each of these unveilings special, as teams hold high hope for a change of fortune under the new regulations. Well, every team except Mercedes that is, who hope to continue their dominance of the sport.

Today, I’m just going to run through each teams’ unveiling and sprinkle in a thought or two — perhaps a few quotes where possible — about each teams’ unveiling. We’ll go in chronological order (in terms of who unveiled/revealed their car first). And, when we’re done with that, we’ll give out a few awards.

Williams

Williams were actually the first team to give the world a glimpse at their 2017 challenger in a mini-reveal on February 17th.

And if you’re too lazy to click/watch the video:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As always with the Martini brand, the car looks fantastic. There’s always a white car in F1, in some capacity, and Williams’ latest car (The FW40) is no exception. It looks gorgeous. However… I’m not a huge fan of shark fins, they just look bad but almost every car is running with them this season so…you can’t really knock any team for that.

There haven’t been any quotes that I can see accompanying this fine machine (officially launched on February 25th). I’m curious to hear what their expectations/goals for this season are, surely unhappy with a fifth place finish in the constructors standing behind Force India.

This sport is better when Williams are good, so I’m hoping that Felipe Massa and rookie Lance Stroll have a great machine underneath them to challenge for podiums.

Sauber

Sauber revealed images for their 2017 challenger, the C36, on February 20th. Sauber hope to re-establish themselves as challengers amongst the top 10, but neutrals will already be satisfied with Sauber’s C36 for one reason: It no longer looks like absolute crap.

Here’s Sauber’s 2016 car, the C35:

This is a flattering angle and it still looks horrible.

Sauber, in honour of its 25th year in F1 — to the relief of many — gave the C36 a livery shakeup:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love it. Love the change of blue, love the added gold and love the replacement of the yellow on the side-pods in favour of white. I won’t mind driving this car in F1 2017 The Game…

Sauber are running with Ferrari’s 2016 power unit and say the car was “redesigned from scratch” and that “there is not a single part that could adopted from its C35 predecessor”.

That has to be encouraging if you’re a Sauber fan. This car can’t be much worse than last year’s car.

To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me whether this car is good or not. I do hope Pascal Wehrlein makes Force India regret choosing Esteban Ocon over him and that’s about all I have to say about Sauber for this season. Great job on the new paint though.

Renault

Renault were the first team to physically reveal their car — the R.S.17 — at a gathering on February 21st. They, just like Sauber, also decided to change their livery (R.I.P. banana car).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Man, this looks absolutely fantastic. Very reminiscent, of course, from Renault’s 2010 car and other Renault cars of the past.

The team have set pretty high expectations too, targeting a rise to fifth in the constructors standings having finished a lowly 9th last season.

“For 2017 our performance targets are clear. We want to take a definite, tangible step forward in performance and results. Fifth position in the Constructors’ Championship is our goal.”

— Jerome Stroll, Renault Sport President

That’s a bold target, basically targeting top 10 finishes almost every weekend. Behind Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer, Renault certainly have the driver talent to make that a reality.

Renault might be a few years away from returning to F1’s pinnacle, but it would be nice for them to be good this season. Maybe Nico Hulkenberg will finally get the podium finish he has been well overdue…

Force India

Perhaps the surprise of last season was how good Force India truly were. They beat Williams — quite comfortably in the end — to fourth place in the constructors standings. Did you ever think you’d see this day when Force India first took to the grid in 2008? That only Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari would be the only other teams to finish above Force India?  If you say yes…you’re a liar! No one saw this coming.

Force India revealed their new car, the VJM10, on February 22nd and they have very high targets, owner Vijay Mallya is targeting third in the constructors this season. In 2016, Force India finished 4th with 173 points. Ferrari, who finished 3rd, totalled 398 points, more than doubling Force India’s total. That’s a very big gap to make up, showing how confident and hopeful Mallya and Force India are for this car.

“We are dreaming big but we’re going to give it all we’ve got. All the data shows this is a cracker of a car.”

“We will always dream big – we have never ever had conversations, even in private, that we are not going to break into the top three.”

“If we did not dream big we would not have finished fourth in the championship last year. To be in the company of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari is a huge accomplishment in itself. That is certainly going to be our objective. We will give it our best shot.”

— Vijay Mallya

His first team driver, Sergio Perez (in what could potentially be his last season with the team), is very expectant too, believing Force India will be the surprise of the season.

“I expect a very big year for the team.”

“In none of the teams that I’ve been with in Formula 1 I’ve seen this level of confidence, organisation, everyone doing their jobs. We have plenty of reasons to be hoping for a great year. I think Force India will give a big surprise this year, I have a feeling we have done a tremendous job over the winter.”

“I think Force India will be the big surprise this year.”

“Last year we finished fourth, so I see no reason why we can’t improve that. As I said before, the base is very solid and there’s plenty of reasons to be hoping for that. That means a massive year for us…”

— Sergio Perez

Unfortunately, Force India have probably taken Sauber’s title of “Worst looking car” of the field with the VJM10. The team had adopted a black and silver base livery to go along with their streaks of green and orange.

Motor Racing - Formula One Testing - Test One - Day 1 -  Barcelona, Spain

Force India’s 2016 car, the VJM09 (Source: F1 Fanatic.com)

With the VJM10, however, the team have taken a, shall we say, different approach to the car’s visuals this season.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A lot more silver and a lot less black and that, added to other changes such as the shark fin (which is sooo much more pronounced here than on any other car on the grid) and this bump in the nose, means that it’s just not an extremely pretty car to look at.

Despite that, I’m hugely excited for this car and what it could achieve (Force India are one of my favourite teams and eveything I hear makes me excited) but I’m not ecstatic about watching it from an aesthetical point of view.

Mercedes

The champions of the last three seasons launched the W08 on February 23rd and it looks absolutely fantastic. One of the best F1 cars I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2016 champion Nico Rosberg was also impressed by the W08.

Part of the reason why this car is so beautiful is that it’s shark fin isn’t nearly as pronounced as other teams’. I guess you could call it baby shark fin. Mercedes are the only team to run a smaller shark fin while everyone else went for the full great white shark scaled fins.

Mercedes have called this machine “a powerful beast”, which I would say is fairly damn accurate. Lewis Hamilton has said that this car “…is undoubtedly the most detailed car we have ever built as a team”. 

“The cars look so much better than they have in the past. I’m really hoping F1 is going to be super exciting this year for the fans and it will be a lot closer between the teams and that us drivers will be able to make more of a difference.”

— Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes are still the favourites to win it all this season and you can understand why. They obviously have huge expectations from themselves but aren’t getting too ahead of themselves. They know how things went in 2009, the last time the sport saw a huge overhaul in the regulations. The top powers the season prior, McLaren and Ferrari, were hopelessly off the pace to begin the year and didn’t accomplish much of anything that season, though the two teams picked up a few race wins.

If this car is as fast as it is beautiful…expect more Mercedes dominance.

Ferrari

Ferrari launched the SF70-H at Fiorano on February 24th, the team targeting a return to winning ways after a winless season in 2016.

It’s a big year for Ferrari. They had a lacklustre 2016 by their own standards, falling from the consensus second best team on the grid to the very clear third best, ousted by Red Bull time after time as the season went on. Makes you wonder if the team decided to just give up on 2016 and got a head start on the 2017 car…

Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have liked what they’ve seen and felt from the SF70-H and feel as though this is a step in the right direction.

“You can see it is a step forward and you can feel it is a step forward.”

“It is fun to drive. The car looks big and strong.”

“…the first impression is the right one. It was a good and a good start.”

— Sebastian Vettel

“It was just a first touch and the main work starts in Barcelona but so far so good.”

— Kimi Raikkonen

The car itself looks fantastic, Ferrari red is always very beautiful, as are the hints of white.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can see that the SF70-H has a strange little wing at the end of the shark fin, no other team boasts a feature quite like this. Are Ferrari onto something with this or has every other team not run with one for a reason?

The sport needs Ferrari to be competitive, hopefully the SF70-H can launch Ferrari into title contention.

McLaren

In what was probably the most anticipated reveal, McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on February 24th. As rumoured and teased, the car featured a whole lot of orange.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was unsure of the black on the sides, but seeing the car in the garage and on the track, I think it looks great.

In terms of performance and what the car could actually achieve, there’s a sense of curiosity about the paddock. McLaren are the only team running Honda powered engines (everyone else runs either Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault engines) and everyone is wondering about McLaren and Honda.

“It’s a big unknown for us what Honda will have done in terms of engine development because I am sure McLaren is capable of producing a very decent car, in particular with such a dramatic change to the aero regulations.”

“Then I think it will be interesting to see the mix. I expect Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, in no particular order – we should be fighting against Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso. The question is McLaren.”

—  Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport Racing Managing Director

You’d imagine that Honda will have put together a power unit that will enable McLaren to compete and run a little more with the likes of those Mercedes and Reanult engines. Will they eclipse those engine suppliers in terms of engine performance? Unlikely, but like Cyril said, no one really knows.

Team boss Eric Boullier is optimistic about the MCL32 and McLaren’s driver lineup:

“It’s the engineering detail on the MCL32 that really impresses me. The chassis is incredibly well realised, the power unit has been significantly developed and, in Fernando and Stoffel [Vandoorne], we have a hugely exciting driver pairing that’s already blending really well.”

“There’s a feeling around the factory that we’re about to turn the corner.”

— Eric Boullier

While Fernando Alonso has described the car as “spectacular”, he is remaining grounded about the team’s chances but believes that as the season progresses McLaren will too:

“We still think the start of the season will be a challenge – we can’t ignore the fact that we’re still coming from a significant step behind the current front-runners.”

“But I’d like to think we can target the second half of the year as a time when we’ll really be able to start making useful performance steps.”

“The aim is to look respectable this year – and I’d like to think we can achieve that.”

— Fernando Alonso

McLaren’s Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale, acknowledges that McLaren aren’t likely to be running around at the front of the grid, but holds optimism that McLaren are headed in the right direction:

“The journey ahead isn’t going to be easy, and I’ve emphasised that to everyone. We’ve made progress in the past 12 months, but we’re not where we need to be and we expect on-track competition to be fierce. “

“Do I believe we’ll be back at the front this year? Realistically, probably not quite yet, no. But do I think we’ll continue to make meaningful improvement as a team? Absolutely.”

“And that’s our aim: to make progress by establishing the proper and correct, if sometimes difficult, changes that are needed to go forward. “

“We can’t predict where that will leave us – particularly on the eve of a new season of regulatory upheaval and uncertainty – but as a team we have many talented and driven individuals and we’re restless about continuing to do whatever is needed to make us competitive.”

— McLaren Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Neale

Hopefully this car can defy expectations. The sport is much better when McLaren are challengers and the sport needs, arguably, the best driver on this entire grid, Fernando Alonso, to be in front running once again.

Red Bull

Red Bull don’t believe in superstition, they’re not afraid of a number.

The RB13 was unveiled on February 26th and many believe that this will be the car who will give Mercedes the best run for their money in 2017. But team principal Christian Horner acknowledges that Mercedes will still be the team to beat:

“We’ve been quite good with regulation changes before, but nothing can be taken for granted. Mercedes will be the favourites, but if we can narrow that gap down and put them under a bit of pressure it would be great for everyone.”

— Christian Horner

c5l87i7xmamkycu

Source: @RedBullRacing

This seems to be the only close up image of the RB13 as of Feb. 26th and it looks as though it’s pretty much the exact same car as last season only with a shark fin. Which is fine, because the RB12 was a very good-looking car and the RB13 is no different.

We’ll see in due time how lucky the RB13 will prove to be…

Haas

Haas are looking to follow-up their impressive debut season with another strong campaign behind their new challenger, the VF-17. A few leaked images suggested that Haas have dipped their car into a lot of grey paint and that was confirmed when they revealed images of their car on February 26th.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The car looks great from the front, but I’m not sure about the grey from other angles… I thought this was all black, with the hints of red, originally and that would’ve been great but I’m not sure about the grey replacing the white of last year.

cyssuf_wqaa98dw

Source: @HaasF1Team

That’s all I have to say about Haas’ car reveal. Missed opportunity to go with a black and red livery and it’s not as nice as last year’s car.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso were the final team to reveal their 2017 car, the STR12, on February 26th. They were believed to have changed their livery too and they certainly did, as it turned out. Quite extensively too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For reference, here is last year’s Toro Rosso, the STR11:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This new design is very distinctive from all other Toro Rosso challengers, and Red Bull for that matter. It’ll probably grow on me as time goes on.

Of course — similar to pretty much all the other cars — the shark fin is present and, as always, it’ll be interesting to see how Toro Rosso stack up against parent team Red Bull, McLaren (Toro Rosso’s main rivals from last season) and Renault.

Awards

Best looking car: Mercedes

Worst looking car: Force India

Best new livery change: McLaren (honourable mention to Renault)

Worst new livery change: Haas

Testing begins in Barcelona on February 27th. Bring. The. New. Season. On.

Singapore Grand Prix: What I’m Looking Forward To

After wrapping up the European season in Monza, the F1 road show now heads to Asia. First stop: The Marina Bay Street Circuit, the Singapore Grand Prix.

This race definitely has the makings of a real thriller, here’s what I’m personally really looking forward to this weekend.

The title race continues

While Nico Rosberg was expected to deal damage to Lewis Hamilton’s 19 point lead at Spa (given all the engine penalties Hamilton took that sent him to the back of the grid), he wasn’t really expected to further dig into Hamilton’s lead at Monza, a track where Hamilton normally does well at. Nico pounced on Hamilton’s poor start and that was all she wrote. Rosberg won the Grand Prix and cut Hamilton’s championship lead to just 2 points. The two recommence battle this weekend.

We’re now reaching a crucial stretch of the season where any slip up from either driver from here on out may ultimately prove to be very costly.

It’s hard to say which driver has the advantage here. In their time as teammates (which is a much fairer comparison), Rosberg finished 4th ahead of Hamilton (5th) in 2013 but that was the last time both of these drivers have both finished the Grand Prix. Rosberg retired in 2014 with an electrical problem as Hamilton went on to win the race, and in 2015 it was Hamilton’s who retired with Rosberg finishing the race in 4th place.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the title cont enders fare in Singapore, because there’s another serious factor at play here…

Read More