The long wait is over but at least since the 2016 season ended, we’ve had a fair amount happening off the track to keep us entertained. Just days after winning the drivers’ title, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement and then we had a new guy in charge of F1. Testing proved to be extremely interesting and finally we’re now just days away from the Australian Grand Prix.
The departure of Bernie Ecclestone had been rumoured for a fair while. Now we have who wants a sport in which the underdog can win. Well that’s not going to be easy in a sport where an engine with a lot less power than the others is going to find it difficult to cause an upset. It’s not like the FA Cup, Mercedes are going to field a reserve engine anytime, soon are they? Chase Carey (odds on favourite for any silly moustache competition) also wants to see F1 as 21 Superbowls, does that mean we get an event that has about twenty seconds’ action followed by a long advert break. Perhaps we get 30 laps followed by Lady Gaga bursting out a few songs? It’s certainly going to be interesting to see just how the new owners try to change the sport.
There are many changes in place already for the 2017 season and several of them will hopefully be positive The cars look a bit more “aggressive” this year and the key word we seem to have to use in 2017 is “aesthetics” Wider wings, a lower rear wing, fatter tyres, everything has to be larger this year it seems, no wonder little Bernie has gone. But will the changes see a closer title race and one that’s not just between the two drivers of one team. Last year Mercedes ended with a 297-point lead at the top of the constructor’s championship, that’s a figure that just has to be greatly decreased.
Of course, there have also been a few team changes including at Mercedes. I don’t often make predictions but there will be a new world champion this year. Soon after winning the title, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement. He’s been replaced by Valterri Bottas who raced for Williams last season. Will he get on with Lewis Hamilton, Bottas isn’t there to be the number two to the British driver, he wants that world title.
All those retirement parties for Felipe Massa were a waste of time as he’s agreed to another season with Williams and will be joined by Canadian driver Lance Stroll. Stoffel Vandoorne replaces Jenson Button at McLaren and Kevin Magnusson is now at Haas. Force India have seen Nico Hulkenberg depart for Renault and he’s been replaced by Esteban Ocon.
Let’s take a look at the main contenders for the title and how they got on in the recent testing sessions starting of course with defending champions Mercedes.
With Nico Rosberg gone, Lewis Hamilton is favourite to win the drivers’ title this season. The British driver has been impressed with his new car but doesn’t seem too happy with certain problems caused by the new rules. Cars going up to five seconds a lap faster looks good but Hamilton isn’t too keen on the increased G forces which he believes is making his job “a lot more physical.”
A resurgence by the Italian giants would be welcomed by long-term fans of the sport. It’s just not the same without Ferrari being in title contention. 2017 could well see that happen again and even Lewis Hamilton is going around saying that Ferrari are the favourites this year.
Testing was a huge success for the Italian team and while Sebastian Vettel is confident that “we are doing our best to catch up”, he’s not quite ready to say that Ferrari are going to help make him world champion again. When you look at the Ferrari A to Z now though, C stands for competitiveness not crisis. The first few races of the new season will give us plenty of answers. It’s been known in the past for Ferrari to show promise during testing only to fail to reproduce that when the season begins. Are they the real deal in 2017? Only time will tell.
Last year was a good one for Red Bull with the emergence of teenager Max Verstappen and consistency from Daniel Ricciardo. Testing wasn’t a great time for them though and they were well behind Ferrari let alone trying to close the gap on Mercedes.
It looks like being another difficult season for the team. Testing produced one problem after another restricting the time they had on the track. Engine problems have re-surfaced and it was often a losing battle to have a testing day that didn’t supply their management and drivers with plenty more headaches.
During testing, they had seven engine related failures, compared to one for Ferrari and none for Mercedes, not promising, is it? The dreams of their new Honda engine matching the power Mercedes had last year seem to be just dreams and besides Mercedes have made further strides since then anyway.
It looks like being a fascinating new season, I’ll be back over the weekend with two more blogs looking at testing and qualifying, then previewing the big race on Sunday. See you soon and until then, enjoy your racing.