F1 2017: Season Preview | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

F1 2017: Season Preview

After two weeks of testing in Barcelona, Nicola Kenton and George Lilley-Moncrieff, preview the F1 regulation changes and who to look out for this season

It's that time of year again. On the same week that Barcelona saw some remarkable things on the football field, earlier in the day the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya had played host to the second week of F1 testing. It was a chance for the teams to showcase their mechanical beasts but without revealing too much, of course. Here is Redbrick Sport's preview to the 2017 Formula One season:

2016 Recap

So, to start off with let's look at last year! Mercedes continued their success on track; although it was not without a fierce intra-team battle, where it was reported that Lewis Hamilton threatened to leave the team after the incident with Nico Rosberg in Spain. This incident resulted in a future World Champion being born. Max Verstappen was promoted to the Red Bull team from Toro Rosso, after a mixture of bad luck and poor form for Daniil Kvyat, and the Dutchman made the most of Mercedes misfortune as he won his first F1 race at the Spanish Grand Prix. Moreover, a new World Champion was crowned as Nico Rosberg took his maiden title in Abu Dhabi and decided to retire after achieving the greatest feat, 34 years after his own father became World Champion. Further down the field, McLaren's problems continued, Haas had a solid debut season and Mercedes junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon showed their worth in the Manor. Jenson Button announced that he would be taking a different role with McLaren for 2017 being their ambassador, with an option to drive again in 2018 but this currently look unlikely. Finally, after Nico Rosberg's surprise retirement announcement there was a bit of shuffling around the F1 paddock. Felipe Massa had already announced his retirement and received an amazing send-off at the Brazilian Grand Prix but this was all in vain, as he will be driving for Williams in 2017 due to Valtteri Bottas moving to Mercedes.

Regulation Changes and Updates

The last regulation overhaul saw Mercedes dominate the sport for three years in both the Drivers' and Constructors' Championship. 2017 sees the aesthetics change with the cars being wider and lower:

  • Tyres - they are approximately 25% wider than previously
  • Front wing - it has been lengthened from 1650mm to 1800mm
  • Rear wing - the height has decreased from 950mm to 800mm
  • Diffuser - this is now more powerful as the height has increased from 125mm to 175mm
  • Bodywork - the sidepods are wider, allowing up to 1600mm and the overall width is now a maximum of 2000mm
  • Weight - the cars will be heavier with the maximum weight increasing from 702 to 722kg
  • Power units - the rules have been changed to stop drivers from stockpiling elements of spare power units, now if any one element of a unit is introduced it will be subject to a penalty. There are also no tokens for engines and the price of customer engines has been reduced.
  • Helmets - drivers have to use the same design for all races apart from one e.g. their home race

2017 Testing

The first week of testing saw Mercedes return to the top of the leader boards. Although, they were not the fastest in every session the shear amount of laps completed showcased that their reliability will once again help them to succeed. Ferrari had a good first test, they kept up with Mercedes in terms of lap times while Red Bull didn't show their hand. The team from Milton Keynes went about their business and focussed on the reliability of the car. Williams lost out on testing time in the first week with new driver Lance Stroll crashing. McLaren continued their nightmare - it seems orange does not mean a brighter future. There were issues with the power units and each driver had limited running in the first week.

Räikkönen was the only man to complete a lap time below one minute and nineteen seconds - for reference this is three seconds faster than the 2016 pole lap

In the second four days of testing, some teams showed more promise than the first few days. Williams had a much better second week with Massa recording the fastest time on day 1 and both drivers were in the top 5 on day 2; the next two days saw the team focus on reliability. Mercedes showed their speed once again as Bottas topped the standings of day 2 but they were outdone by Ferrari who saw Vettel and Räikkönen at the top on days 3 and 4. Räikkönen was the only man to complete a lap time below one minute and nineteen seconds - for reference this is three seconds faster than the 2016 pole lap. McLaren's bad run continued with their second test being very stop-start after electrical difficulties and Haas also had a few incidents but managed to gain some mileage across the week. Toro Rosso and Force India managed to get some solid testing long-runs under their belts, while Renault and Sauber had stoppages but when running managed to collect some useful data.

Who to watch

  • Lance Stroll

While Max Verstappen has been the fresh face of Formula 1 since 2014, as of this season he is no longer the youngest, or freshest face on the grid. 18-year old Canadian driver, Lance Stroll, will be making the jump from the European Formula 3 Championship to Formula 1, after being signed by Williams Martini Racing in November 2016. Son of billionaire Lawrence Stroll, Lance has seen a quick rise through the ranks of motorsport. With just three years of professional single-seater experience, the Oxfordshire based team will be taking a risk on the Canadian; albeit a risk that has reportedly cost the Stroll family $35-million. Stroll has a history of reckless driving in Formula 3. After being involved in multiple large crashes in quick succession, he received a one race ban just three races into the 2015 season. No doubt keen to prove that he is not just another pay driver in the ever more expensive world of Formula 1, Lance will be hoping to put that phase behind him. However, after crashing twice in pre-season testing, his introduction to the new formula hasn’t exactly been plain sailing. Whether Stroll is simply adjusting to the new car, or if this is his inexperience showing, we will have to wait and see. A lot will be resting on Stroll’s performance in Melbourne; perhaps we have another Pastor Maldonado in our midst.

  • Valtteri Bottas

Following World Champion Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement at the end of last season, Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas was the lucky driver to be selected for the now-empty seat at Mercedes. With a reputation for having a cool head under pressure, Toto Wolff will be hoping that this translates to a less toxic atmosphere at Mercedes than what the team have experienced for the past three years. Mercedes will no doubt be bringing a strong package to Melbourne, after being able to turn their money and attention to the new 2017 regulations early into last season with the 2016 Constructors’ title largely wrapped up. Therefore, while Mercedes may no longer be two-seconds clear by the end of the first lap, this is a prime opportunity for the Finn to prove himself against 3x WDC Lewis Hamilton, and potentially fight for a championship himself.

  • Ferrari

“Next year is Ferrari’s year!” – Every Ferrari fan, every year

Despite Ferrari spending the past decade in the shadow of the Italian team’s glory years, they may finally have a realistic title shot… well, sort of. Early signs in testing have shown that Ferrari have made great advances in closing the gap to Mercedes, with Haas, a team using a Ferrari engine, describing this progress as “amazing”. Where “amazing” compares to Mercedes’ self-proclaimed “unprecedented” development is yet to be seen. Having been matching or sometimes even beating Mercedes’ lap times during testing, it appears that at last Vettel and Räikkönen are able to give the Mercedes drivers a realistic challenge. However, have Ferrari shown their hand too early? With a habit of overpromising and under-delivering (see every season from 2005-onwards) Ferrari will be under close watch from fans who will be desperately hoping to see the prancing horse leading the pack once again.

  • Red Bull

If there’s one thing that Red Bull fans love (other than four consecutive Constructors’ Championships) it's new aerodynamic regulations. Having traditionally been a team that prioritise aerodynamics over outright power, Red Bull have always been quick to adapt to new aero changes. With the 2017 season introducing the biggest shake-up of the aerodynamic rules since 2009, all eyes are on resident aero wizard Adrian Newey, to find the crucial loophole that will put the Milton Keynes-based team at the front of the grid.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso stated in an interview that even after the first week of testing, out of all the teams it was Red Bull that he feared the most. Red Bull spent the week comfortably setting steady lap-times and showing good long-stint pace, rather than driving all-out and going for fastest lap-times. Alonso argues that it takes a lot of confidence in the car to be able to hide their cards in this way. The Spaniard also predicts that the Red Bull contender that arrives in Australia will look very different to what is currently in Barcelona. Keen to not give away their aerodynamic tricks, the team have a history of keeping the fine details of their cars hidden until race day.

With the regulations leaning in their team’s favour, both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will undoubtedly be eagerly anticipating the coming season. For either one of them it could mark maiden world championship wins.

Best of the Liveries

  • Toro Rosso

Since joining Formula 1 in 2013, the hand-painted bull that has graced the engine cover of all Toro Rosso cars has become a staple of the team. Their cars have never been ugly, yet arguably, they have always been a bit plain. They rarely stood out from the rest of the grid. Moreover, if you didn’t know to look for the subtle gold hints, neither did they stand out from the cars of their sister team, Red Bull. However, that will all be changing when the 2017 season gets underway.

While Red Bull have seemingly had a matte revolution with their (matte cars, matte helmets, matte pit equipment - yes, really), Toro Rosso have also decided to drastically move away from their traditional look. Ditching the hand-painted bull, the Italian team have based their newest livery on Red Bull’s new ‘Simply Cola’ drink. Opting for a combination of dark blue, bright red, and chrome, the team have created a livery that is widely regarded as one of the best looking of the past decade. Red Bull and Toro Rosso have also announced that this livery will be used for future Red Bull development drivers competing in GP2 and GP3, giving us even more opportunities to admire it in all its beauty.

  • Sauber

Being a back-marker team, the unveiling of Sauber’s 2017 car was looked forward to more for the dark cape of the off-season being lifted, than for the car itself. The past few seasons have seen Sauber racing with fairly plain liveries. The same Sauber blue with a splash of yellow, in order to please driver Felipe Nasr’s financial backers Banco do Brasil. However, after Nasr pushed Sauber up to 10th in the 2016 Constructors’ Championships with a points scoring finish in, coincidentally, Brazil, he effectively sealed his own fate at the team. The extra prize money earned from the 10th place finish gave Sauber the option to pursue Mercedes junior driver Pascal Wehrlein, who would pair up with Marcus Ericsson for the 2017 season.

With Nasr out of the equation, Banco do Brasil also withdrew from the team. No longer with the need to use the blue / yellow colour scheme, Sauber took the opportunity to design something that makes them stand out from the rest of the pack, even if the car itself is relatively lacking in pace. Taking a retro approach, Sauber’s 2017 car features a primarily white and blue design with a gold trim to commemorate the team’s 25 years in the sport. When originally unveiled, the design featured a large seemingly blank space toward the rear of the car; it has since been announced that this will be used to prominently display the driver number, making it easier to distinguish between the team’s two cars. Sauber’s and Toro Rosso’s unique takes on the new designs go to show just how innovative an underdog team can be.

Drivers' ChampionDaniel RicciardoLewis HamiltonLewis Hamilton
Constructors' ChampionRed BullMercedesMercedes
Most Pole PositionsLewis HamiltonLewis HamiltonLewis Hamilton
Best Young DriverMax VerstappenMax VerstappenMax Verstappen
Best Intra-Team BattleRed BullRed BullRed Bull
Most Improved (Driver)Jolyon PalmerEsteban OconCarlos Sainz Jr
Most Improved (Team)WilliamsToro RossoRenault
Most AggressiveLance StrollKimi Räikkönen Max Verstappen
Most OvertakesSebastian VettelMax VerstappenSergio Perez

The season begins next weekend when the first of twenty races takes place in Australia. From what has been seen in testing, it is clear that the front-runners are Mercedes and Ferrari but don't rule out Red Bull they always unveil their full car in the first race. Hopefully, these regulation changes will mean that this is the closest year in terms of lap time and that there will be six drivers fighting for the Championship instead of just two.


17th March 2017 at 1:25 pm

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