The 2017 Formula 1 season is just around the corner as already three teams have unveiled their respective challengers. For an average F1 follower, the new campaign might seem to be just another Mercedes-AMG’s domination but it is not the case as modifications to technical regulations mean we could be on the cusp of one of the most evenly contested seasons ever and the excitement that creates is not quite often you get used to.
The crazy season met a shocking beginning when one driver change in particular has had a significant impact at the very top. Just days after claiming the championship at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg announced his retirement that surprised pretty much everyone including his own team. It prompted a vast search for a capable replacement.
Mercedes AMG Petronas turned up to a Finn who is none other than the now-former Williams driver Valtteri Bottas. He was expected to lead the Grove-based outfit but only to switch side resulting in Williams waking Massa up from retirement to partner young Canadian Lance Stroll. Ferrari and Red Bull Racing have retained their driver lineups with former world champions Vettel and Raikkonen in red overalls having a whole lot to prove this year.
Some say Ricciardo and Verstappen make the strongest youthful pairing considering their skills and timely knowledge to pounce when the opportunity arises. With Jenson Button hanging his boots at the end of 2016, McLaren Honda had to alter their lineup as well with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne leaving Super Formula to join the veteran Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, who will push hard to get his team back into contention. The Woking-based team could end up being the surprise package of them all.
After a disappointing tenure, Kevin Magnussen quit Renault and moved to Haas pairing Romain Grosjean. His place at the French squad is now occupied by former Force India loyalist Nico Hulkenberg with Jolyon Palmer sharing the garage space. Esteban Ocon, having left the now-defunct Manor Racing, joins Sergio Perez at Force India.
Mercedes protégé Pascal Wehrlein replaces Felipe Nasr at Sauber-Ferrari while Toro Rosso keeps Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. for 2017. As for venues hosting Grands Prix, plans to bring back Imola failed and most importantly there won’t be a race weekend in Germany this year as deals with Hockenheim and Nurburgring did not materialise.
Events in China and Bahrain have swapped places and Baku won’t be clashing dates with Le Mans. Over to the technical changes, F1 will have faster cars this year courtesy of a slew of modifications primarily focussed on improving lap times. Altering the appearance are revised front and lowered rear wings, wider tyres, thumb-tip nose section and shark fin engine cover as they enhance the aggressiveness of the new challengers.
Excitingly, tyre size has been increased from 245mm to 305mm at front and 325mm to 405mm at the rear complemented by an additional track width of 200 mm to 2,000mm.The bodywork can now be up to 1,600mm wide while the front wing’s width is increased by 150mm besides changes to rear wing profile.
The wing endplates, rear diffuser and barge boards have been revised too giving a sleeker overall stance with improved aerodynamic performance. Addition of 20 kilos minimum weight is hardly relevant as the lap times are expected to be three times faster compared to last season.
With improved aerodynamic grip, one might wonder what it would mean for overtaking as drivers could find it a lot tougher to follow closer to each other. However, making cars go faster has long been on the request list of fans and its impact will hopeful be on the positive side without offsetting the wheel-to-wheel battles. With pre-season testing kicking off in Barcelona, we are in for an exciting year ahead as Lewis Hamilton could face strenuous challenges to put Mercedes on top as he often did in recent years from Red Bull and Ferrari.