The new Formula 1 season is almost upon us! After the long barren winter since Nico Rosberg was crowned World Champion in Abu Dhabi last November, the F1 circus descends on Albert Park in Melbourne this weekend to kick off the 2017 season. With this in mind, what are the main things to look out for this year?
Unlike some years, the grid is relatively unchanged. After Rosberg and Button retired at the end of last season, the only driver to ‘lose his seat’ was Felipe Nasr who, although relatively quick, was dropped by Sauber after losing his main sponsor. Williams’ new boy Lance Stroll is the only rookie in the field although Stoffel Vandoorne only has one race start to his name after he filled in for Fernando Alonso at the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2016 after the Spaniard’s nasty crash in Australia. We are also two cars short on last year’s 22 car grid after Manor collapsed over the winter.
The Pecking Order
Although testing results have to be taken with a pinch of salt, it was clear that both Mercedes and Ferrari are on top of the time sheets. These two also showed great reliability along with Williams. Trying to figure out who will be leading at the start of the season is very difficult as Ferrari insist that Mercedes are ahead of them while Hamilton has said Ferrari have the advantage. Red Bull will surely be up there too with Renault having made improvements to their engine, but Max Verstappen reckons they will not be able to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.
In the very competitive midfield Williams will be battling Force India again for the best of the rest prize. Toro Rosso will be keen to get in on the action too as will the re surging Renault team who face a steep climb to get back to their podium, race and championship winning days. At the back of the pack I expect Haas to have a dull a season as their livery this year while the ever struggling Sauber will be the laughing stock of the field.
2017 sees a wave of new regulation changes all aimed at making the cars faster and tougher to drive. The speed has been found by allowing much more downforce in the form of bigger wings and relaxed aero restrictions. The tyres are also much wider allowing drivers to get more power down onto the track. The purpose of these changes was partly to create a more demanding challenge for drivers but also to shake up the order of the grid and improve racing. However, the order of the pack will probably be the same as last year while Hamilton has said it will be more difficult to follow car with the new designs. Brilliant.
Over the break Liberty Media has acquired Formula 1 for $4.4bn. It used to be owned by a private equity group called CVC Capital Partners. Thus far, Liberty have demoted Bernie Ecclestone who has lost control of how the sport is run. Now a man called Chase Carey who nobody ever heard of is now running the show. Liberty also brought Ross Brawn out of retirement who now has an advisory position and will influence the direction that the sport takes. One of the big changes that viewers will notice is how Liberty Media is trying to make the sport more interactive and attractive for the younger demographic. The social media presence of F1 has already been greatly improved and filming restrictions in the paddock have been eased.
There are now new races of the calendar and it remains greatly unchanged from 2016 with the same 21 events. The second race of the season is now China which has swapped with Bahrain. There is a four week summer break and the season draws to a close in Abu Dhabi on November 26th.
I think we are in for a good season with the top of the grid a little closer packed. Hopefully the 20 drivers and 21 venues can make it a season to remember.