Faster cars, no No.1, fresh faces and a Bull battle? Count us in.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
From our vantage point, there’s only one good thing about the end of a Formula One season – it’s that the next one kicks off right here in our backyard, as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is next up in March.
But it’s more than Albert Park’s name at the head of the calendar that has us more pumped than usual for F1, 2017-style. A big regulation reset, some fresh faces set to stand out, and – let’s not forget – a race between 22 drivers to fill the post of world champion vacated when Nico Rosberg said goodbye to F1 earlier this month.
Looking for a reason to get excited about F1 in 2017? Here’s five.
Wider, fatter and faster
‘More aggressive-looking cars’ was the mandate for 2017, and a host of regulatory changes will give the sport a distinctive new look next season. The cars will be wider – by 20cm, looking more like their predecessors from the mid-to-late 1990s – and the tyres fatter – the rear Pirellis next season will be 20 per cent wider than this year’s rubber. Why? More mechanical grip equals more speed, and more speed should lead to a more spectacular spectacle, with lap times expected to tumble by five seconds. From the front, the noses of the cars will be longer (by 20cm) and pointier, while at the back, rear wings will be 15cm lower and 15cm wider.
How significant are the changes? Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz says the new cars look like “another category”, while his team’s technical director James Key told Autosport the changes are “massive”, adding that the amendments to bodywork, suspension and tyres are bigger than anything he’s experienced in close to two decades in the sport.
The cars will be much more physical to drive too, Daniel Ricciardo one driver who knows that his off-season will be more challenging than usual. “I’m actually looking forward to getting back into the training because of the rule changes next year and that the cars are going to be a fair bit quicker in the corners,” he said earlier in December. “We’ll have to change some things up in the preparation … being able to put on some strength and muscle will be more challenging and more rewarding, so I’m up for that.”
Will the changes lead to any increase in overtaking? Don’t hold your breath. Will the cars look more lively, fast and be more difficult to drive? Absolutely yes.
No number one
About the only team with any reason to be less than optimistic about the changes are Mercedes, and after the three-pointed star shone brightest by winning 51 of the 59 races since F1 switched to V6 turbo hybrids in 2014, you can understand why. When you add the departing Rosberg into that equation, the Silver Arrows clearly have the most to lose in 2017, which is great news for everyone else. As the drivers fight their new cars and one another in the chase for number one, bear in mind that 2017 will be the first season since 1994 that there’s no defending world champion on the grid. Sounds like the perfect recipe for someone to step up, doesn’t it?
Out at the end of 2016 went Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, who combined for 555 Grand Prix starts, 26 wins and a world championship (for Button in 2009) since 2000. Replacing the departed veterans are a pair of newbies who’ll attract plenty of attention in 2017. Well, Button’s replacement Stoffel Vandoorne is a nearly-newbie; the Belgian stood in at McLaren in this year’s Bahrain GP after Fernando Alonso’s monster shunt in Melbourne left him sore, and duly scored a point on debut for 10th. ‘The Stoff’ will be Alonso’s teammate this time around, and he’ll start his first full season in Australia on his 25th birthday in late March. Alonso sets a formidable benchmark for any driver in a sister car, but expect Vandoorne to acquit himself well.
The F1 world is less certain what Massa’s replacement at Williams, 18-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll, will do, but the son of Tommy Hilfiger fashion tycoon Lawrence Stroll couldn’t be more ready, spending much of 2016 pounding around circuits in Europe testing a 2014-spec Williams in between his regular schedule in the European F3 championship, which he won with ease. The progress of the new kids on the block will be a story to watch in ’17.
A Bull battle?
Ricciardo’s grin is (other than his shoey celebrations) his Formula One signature. Max Verstappen is generally pretty cool and calculated, and atypically mature beyond his 19 years. The Red Bull teammates have been pretty amicable in their time in the same garage so far, but with the team (and everyone else) consigned to sweeping up any scraps that may fall from the Mercedes table for the past three years, it’s easier to row the boat in the same direction when winning happens only occasionally. Could tensions rise if the rules reset for 2017 brings Red Bull right back into championship contention? Both drivers acknowledge that the stakes will be raised if a title fight materialises, and watching the pair regularly go all-out for victory – which we got a taste for in last season’s Malaysian Grand Prix won by Ricciardo – will be can’t-miss viewing if it eventuates.
A good start
A common bugbear for F1 fans in recent times has been race starts behind the safety car in wet weather, which drag on endlessly as drivers with more to lose moan about the conditions while rivals who want to take a chance express their desperation to get started. All before the head-shaking sight of drivers diving into the pits to change for intermediate or even dry rubber as soon as the safety car releases the field, making a mockery of the decision to delay the start for so long. In a procedural change for next year, cars will now line up on the grid once the race director deems it appropriate for the safety car to peel off the circuit and let the world’s best drivers get on with it, adding the unpredictable element of a standing start in less-than-ideal conditions to the show. That sound you hear? The applause of F1 fans the world over.