So this being the first weekend and the first year of the new 2017 regulations, I thought it would be apt to talk about a few stand out things that would become talking points for this year, and potentially for years to come too.
- The pecking order of the top teams
The 2016/17 off season has been one of shock, and massive change, the major change was that of Valterri Bottas, moving from Williams to Mercedes in place of the retired Nico Rosberg. Given the huge opportunity to move to a top tier works team, I feel like his adjustment to the Brackley based team has been a smooth transition, given the fact that the Williams is powered by Mercedes power units and Williams is a team of stature within the world of F1. The second of the major changes has been Stoffel Vandoorne to McLaren in place of the also retired Jenson Button. This has also been nothing short of a seamless transition because Stoffel, for many years has been a development and third driver for McLaren and has plenty of talent to offer the team. Given the fact that Stoffel was racing a SuperFormula car in Japan last year, the switch to full-time F1 was nothing new for the young Belgian. Of the three practice sessions that have taken place, it’s clear that the more established drivers of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have the upper hand, but given the speed and talent of their younger team mates, it won’t be long before there is an inter-team rivalry. Respective to that, the way the time sheets have looked, the status quo with the dominance of Mercedes hasn’t changed. However, having said that, the car speed and the overall look of the form of the Ferrari and Red Bulls has improved dramatically since the likes of 2015 and 2016, can we see a more than one horse race and some unpredictability with the continuation of the season?
- How long will we keep hearing about the relationship between power unit supplier and constructor?
This is a touchy subject for some (namely McLaren and Honda) but they always said that the glass isn’t half empty, its always half full. I think there will be improvement in the coming races, most notably when the first of the European races at the Spanish GP. Historically, this is the race where most, if not all the teams make major changes to the cars in terms of the aerodynamic features of the cars (I will talk about this a little later) and the power unit changes, in recent years, the FIA had a ‘token’ system that limited the development of the power unit as a whole within the year, having to give suppliers very tight tolerances within the spending of these tokens. This year however, that token system has been lifted, giving more of a leniency to teams like McLaren Honda and Red Bull Tag Heuer (Tag Heuer being the re-branded Renault) to bring upgrades and updates to specific areas, thus bringing the racing closer and giving the fans more for their money.
- The new aerodynamic package. Who will crack the formula and who will be left chasing the pack?
Among the many changes to this years F1 cars, the most notable is the aerodynamic performance of the new cars. The changes were put into place to make the cars more fierce looking and give the impression of aggressive aesthetics. as for who has got it right so far? It’s really hard to say, in FP1 and FP2, the Mercedes looked to be the dominant force as per usual, but Red Bull hit back and were only a half a second off on the hardest compound of tyre available (the weekends tyre choices are US (ultra-soft), SS (super-soft) and S (soft)). This begs the question as we go into qualifying today, and for the rest of the season, how much of a margin will there be between the teams? If there is, how much will it be, and if not how spooked will Mercedes be going into the rest of the season, taking into account that Paddy Lowe, the former technical director of Mercedes has been poached by Williams and the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg has thrown everything up in the air. My guess is that Mercedes will once again obliterate the time sheets, but as the season wears on and the progression of the cars of 2017, it will be a very tight fight up the front.