Insight: Thoughts as we board the plane to Melbourne for a new F1 season
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F1 Australia 2016
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Mar 2017   |  2:45 pm GMT  |  186 comments

There are so many fascinating talking points as we board the planes taking us to Australia for the first Grand Prix, but this year we have the double whammy of a new set of regulations on the car designs and new owners of the sport, who will start to take F1 in a new direction.

I guess that shows the rate of change in the world today, that not one massive change, but two are happening at the same time. Many will hope that this also leads to a change in the competitive picture in F1 with more than one team able to win races and fight for the championship.

We’ve done some detailed work on what the F1 testing revealed and we’ve looked at a few characters and what their 2017 might look like, but here are some of my thoughts as I stare out of the window of the Etihad plane taking me to Australia.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s approach to 2017
We start with F1’s front runner. On paper he is already the world champion elect in the eyes of many. This is because of the level of domination Mercedes has enjoyed since 2014, but also the fact that Valtteri Bottas is not (yet) at the same performance level as Nico Rosberg, as testing demonstrated. If Bottas turns out to be a team mate more like Heikki Kovalainen was to Hamilton at McLaren in 2008, then that will be a major disappointment.

What will it do to Hamilton’s mindset? Well, he has his way of doing things and that works for him. He realised after Singapore and Japan last year that he could not to all the extra-curricular stuff he enjoys in LA and on the fashion and party scene and still hope to match Rosberg. If he has Bottas and other rivals pressurising him every week, then he might well carry the approach and performance through from the end of 2016.

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari’s ability to develop a good car and to manage expectations inside the team
We’ve not heard much from Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne over the winter about his expectations for 2017. By his own admission it didn’t help last year when he said the team needed to win from the start. The new car looks really fast and works well with the new Pirelli wide tyres, but neither Marchionne nor anyone else at Ferrari is making any predictions about the season. Even if Mercedes was masking 0.6s of performance in testing through a turned-down engine and some extra weight in the car, as some team insiders believe, that still puts Ferrari very close on pace and able to challenge. If Mercedes was masking just 0.3s of pace, then they are evenly matched.

Ferrari didn’t cover themselves in glory on some strategy decisions last year and it’s a big season for Inaki Rueda, who runs the strategy side. He was a key James Allison guy, so he will need to feel strongly supported by the team as he makes the big calls in races. The signs are that there will be one pit stop fewer this year than in 2016, but strategists are also cautious to make that prediction until we have seen how the tyres act in China and Bahrain.

Incidentally, as in the last six seasons we will be producing the UBS Race Strategy Report on the Tuesday after every Grand Prix, with a deep dive into the key decisions that shaped the race with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

Esteban Ocon

Spotlight on the youth

Esteban Ocon has looked really good in testing with Force India. I don’t know how he looks in pink, but the 20 year old Frenchman has a real chance to end up in a Mercedes in a year or two if he performs well now. He was talent spotted as a youngster by Eric Boullier, but Toto Wolff bought out his contract from Gravity Management and one gets the impression that the management of Mercedes in Brackley really rate this kid.

Ocon’s up against a good benchmark in Sergio Perez and will be in the midst of a very tight midfield battle involving drivers like Felipe Massa, Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg. This gives plenty of opportunities to stand out in 2017. I will be watching Ocon closely.

I will also have a close eye on Lance Stroll, the 18 year old Canadian. He has been on the radar for a few years and earned his F1 chance by winning the FIA F3 series last year. Some would argue that another year of development might have been beneficial before jumping into F1, particularly in the year when the regulations make the cars much more physical to drive. An F3 driver’s longest race is half an hour, no comparison with 100 minutes in an F1 car pulling 6g nowadaays laterally in corners and under braking.

Lance Stroll

Youth has been in vogue since Max Verstappen breezed in aged 17 and made it look easy. Stroll is not Verstappen, but observers say he is not Max Chilton either. I suspect he’ll have some crashes early doors, but I’ll be looking beyond the stereotype of the rich man’s son with a heavy right foot to see the F1 driver he might become. For Williams it puts greater emphasis on the other driver and Felipe Massa will be interesting to watch. He has been given an extra bonus year and as leaving F1 wasn’t really his idea anyway last September, more a result of circumstances, I’ll be watching carefully to see how ‘on it’ he is.

What are you looking out for in F1 2017? Leave your comments in the section below,

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1

@KRB

Mate, my Reply function isn’t working.

But yes, 2014 slipped my mind. Thank you for the correction. Well, another food for thought for Hamilton fans 🙂

2

They’ve not been talked about a lot but I’m intrigued to see how the Renault team develops from this season on. No one can deny that the Hulk is the step up in driver level that they needed and if they can progress this season then maybe they might just get back to where they were over a decade ago.

3

Here’s food for thought.

The last time a WDC did not finish in the Top 5 of their title winning campaign was 1999, where Mika Hakkinen retired from the Australian GP.

I’m being optimistic here but even if Seb or Lewis DNF in Australia (entirely plausible but also highly unlikely), both are still hot favourites for the title, assuming testing form carries over to the actual season.

Being patriotic, I would like to put Daniel in the mix but I feel he will finish 3rd in the title at best this year, unless RBR have a silver bullet that puts them 1-2 tenths behind the top 2 cars.

Here are some cool figures also.

Renault, as a constructor and engine supplier, have won 13 Constructors titles, and 12 Driver’s titles. Most of their success has come via customer teams such as Williams, Benetton and Red Bull. However, they have been more successful as a customer.

Ferrari has only won titles as a constructor. As JA pointed out, the only time a customer team has won a race was Toro Rosso in 2008. For the record, they have won 16 Constructors titles and 15 Drivers titles.

Honda have never won a championship as a constructor, only as an engine supplier. They did win 1 race as a constructor: Hungary 2006. Their record shows 6 Constructors titles and 5 Drivers titles, with Williams then McLaren.

Mercedes is the only other current engine supplier to have won titles in both works and customer form. They have officially won 4 Constructors titles (they didn’t have it in the mid 50s), plus 8 Drivers titles. Tellingly, they have been more successful as a works team.

So what does this indicate? Absolutely nothing, it’s just for fun! Though I am slightly wrong. It shows to an extent that McHonda fans (me included) should get excited at the prospect of potential race wins but don’t expect championships anytime soon. It also shows Renault may be better off supplying teams, and that Mercedes should focus on their works team (as they are rightly doing so now). Just a bit of banter here folks! As for Ferrari, don’t expect any race wins from their customers anytime also.

Vettel is in good shape. He looks much more relaxed and calmer. The Ferrari was fairly reliable and looked superb on the track. Ironically, given Ferrari finished 3rd in 2016, under the old numbering system, Seb would’ve raced #5 anyway. And the last time he raced #5 under the old system was the year he took his first title. Plus Schumacher also won his first title carrying #5, and retired from Ferrari carrying #5. The next year, with #5&6, Ferrari took both titles.

– The last time a driver carrying #3 won the championship was in 2000. So Daniel mate, I know you have a contract but Red 3 next year might give you that title, provided the Reds are quick this year also.

– Kimi and Fernando are the only drivers on the grid to have won with 3 different engines: Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault.

Feel free to add more nonsense and superfluous facts!

4

Another polite correction … Honda has won 3 races as a constructor. They won 2 others in the 60’s with Surtees and Ginther:

http://www.statsf1.com/en/honda/victoire.aspx

5

“The last time a WDC did not finish in the Top 5 of their title winning campaign was 1999, where Mika Hakkinen retired from the Australian GP.”

Can you clarify what you mean here? If you meant top 5 in the first race, then you only need to look to 2014 where Lewis DNF’d from the first race, but went on to win the title.

6

I hope that DR has a cracking season, my guts is telling me that the Mercs will be the yard sticks again, Lewis could win with a wheelbarra, he’s just a gun and loook out for the Mclearens in the back half of the season, they are way to good of a team to be were they are and they can turn it around as Honda can to. Good luck to all and can’t wait to get going.

7

i hope/wish
Competition during the whole season
Strong Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull and a fighting midfield.
Less rules

8

I’m hoping for minimal whining from Dr Marko, very few safety cars, no silly barging at the first corner and a return to form for McHonda.

I’m expecting competitive driver battles at Ferrari & Red Bull, shouting from Max, pouting from Lewis, massive development race throughout the season, and a groundhog day style retirement from Massa again in Brazil,

But close racing will do, and may the best man win.

9

I’d like to how Mercedes found enough room onboard to add extra weight !

10
@Damien_Marquez

There will be so much to watch out for this year again James.

Personally, I’m looking to a Renault resurgence, paired with that of Hulkenberg. Both need to prove they have a worthy future together.

I’ll also be watching the progress of Carlos Sainz who’s impressed me on his very first race back in 2015. Will he be able to get out of his Red Bull contract for next year? Surely, that’s his last year at STR.

I’m also looking towards the intra team rivalry between Ricciardo and Verstappen. Testing hasn’t given us a final verdict on the team’s 2017 form, so who knows how close they are on performance.

Also, how Honda progress over the course of the season is going to be interesting. There’s no way they’ll embarrass themselves in the same way they did two years ago. With the token system gone, I’d expect McLaren to have a bit more representative lap times come Barcelona.

And finally, the driver market. Will it be Kimi’s last year? Will Vettel switch team? Does Alonso stick with McLaren. Who’ll be racing at Williams alongside Stroll in 2018. Where will Wherlein end up? The silly season is bound to be gold.

11

Indeed, there are so many things this year to follow, on the track and around it, all over the grid.
Besides the obvious talking points, presented by James, I’ll be looking forward to the developments in Honda’s struggle to get the P.U. working (as it will provide a hint on the path Liberty Media will follow with the new engine specs) and seeing how well the old folks will do (secretly hoping for a swan song from both Kimi and Felipe).
Thanks again for this type of insight, reading it is a joy.

12

James, I assume Pirelli will dictate maximum camber and minimum tyre pressure again this year. Do you expect them to be conservative and do we know if they enforced that at testing or did the teams have freedom.

Also do we know the gear ration selections for the teams and if so is anyone particularly different from the others.

13

2017…
The first year of a century without a Mercedes win?
because
The last F1 races with real cars before races are only on simulators to find the real fastest drivers with billions possible racers and payers?
The first year the F1 Management shows 99% interests in making Money and only 1% into if its still racing ?

14

I am just interested to see whether lewis Hamilton is beaten by his team mate again

15

Isha, just Lewis? You aren’t interested in seeing if Alonso, Vettel, Ricciardo or Verstappen will be beaten by their team mates again?

16

So TimW you old quantum physicist you……you are saying both RIC and VES were besten by their team mates last season. I am only referring to this universe, i make no rererence to any other parallel universe’s you may be referring to……or is this the alternate universe?? Who knows??

17

Isha, O think it’s pretty obvious that I meant that those drivers have all been beaten by their team mates in the past, not just looking at last year. The only driver with more than three seasons under his belt to have never lost out to his team mate is Valterri Bottas.

18

WOW. You touched a raw nerve of many of his fans here.

19

I seem to have been looking forward to the start of this season forever! I can’t wait to see this new cars charging towards to the first corner on Sunday, and see what kind of lap times they are capable of. I predicted prior to testing that the Bottas/Hamilton rivalry will be a bit of a none event and I have seen nothing since then to make me change my mind. The real spice will be down amongst the RB boys, expect “friendly rivalry” to be replaced with “open warfare” if there are wins and a championship battle involved. I would seriously love Kimi to go out in a blaze of glory by beating Seb, but I think Vettel will step up his performance level from last year with a decent car under him. Lewis giving up the parties to match Nico? No doubt some will have a field day with that one, but I don’t recall seeing any reduction in the number of pics from exotic places over the last four races of 2016, or indeed prior to any of the other numerous races where he comfortably beat Nico last year….

20

Tim, re: charging to the first corner…there must be very low odds that there will be contact and carnage at either T1 or T3.
Wider cars, later braking…time trialling around Barcelona wouldn’t be giving the drivers the spatial awareness they’ll need for combat in these new beasties.
I was thinking the other day just how much Stroll must be pooping his pants thinking about the run down to the first turn -having never turned a wheel in an F1 car in combat. I bet he’s waking up in a cold sweat every night!
I’ve got a GA ticket so i can go free-range on Sunday, but i think I’ll have to start at either T1 or T3.
Hopefully it stays clean, but I highly doubt it!!

21

LKFE, P.S, enjoy the race, you will have to get up early to bag a spot at T1 on Sunday!

22

LKFE, I think that flying carbon fibre is pretty much guaranteed at turn one, the extra width will make those split second gap judgements that much more likely to be wrong. I don’t envy Stroll at all, he is under a lot of pressure making his debut in a team as strong as Williams, plus these new cars are much harder to drive than their predecessors, and frankly I don’t think he has the talent level to carry him through. it will be interesting to see if he is still in that car at the end of the season.

23

Feels like an unfinished article. I thought you were going to cover all the teams and a bit more on Liberty and what changes we should expect early on from them.

24

The “article”, if this what you want to call it, feels OK for me, but I am taking it as an intimate view in James’s thoughts, while on the way to first GP of a new chapter in F1 history.
There are other articles on this site where he adresses the points you mentioned.

25

I’m backing Red Bull this year and dream of D Ric drinking from his shoe every weekend until he is WC….
But if I glance into my crystal ball for round one I’d probably see the following…

Australia Grid P1 – 6
Vettel, Kimi, Hamilton, Ric, Ves, Bottas.
Podium:
Kimi, Ric, Ham

Ferrari seem to always bring hope to winter testing and then it all falls apart (well, they seem to sit at the back end of the top 6) once they get to the season proper.
This year feels a little different and I’d expect to see them in a nice three way battle with the Red Bulls and Merc. Obviously Merc are favourites, they are still looking strong but I think that the gap has narrowed and they will be under a lot more pressure. Bottas will take a few races to get comfortable at Merc but will then hopefully be as strong as he showed a couple of seasons back with Williams. Kimi is my wildcard, I think if the Ferrari really is competitive the Finn will come to the party to revive some of the magic from his WC season ten years ago.
Hamilton will be quick as ever, but if he is in the battlezone with either redbull I think he will struggle. I think we will see plenty of rubber on the sidepods of the RB and the Merc as they dual it out in what I hope will be a wheel banging bonanza.
Vettel will wave his arms around a lot and cry on the radio while saying a few funny truths, stirring the pot and probably winning a few races.
Max and Daniel (to many peoples disappointment) will not have a falling out but will definitely tangle at some point and ignore team orders at every opportunity, but ultimately will be a very strong duo (RBR for Constructors champs?)
McLaren will do much better than anything I have read during the offseason and finish as high as 5th.
Massa will win the Brazilian grand prix (just teasing, I think my McLaren prediction might already have you questioning how high I am…)
Whatever happens, the changing dynamics of the whole sport are exciting – I don’t think I have felt this positive about the direction of the sport since they got rid of grooved tyres. Here’s to a great season of motor racing everyone!

26

Good job … Nostradamus. Now if you can get a bit more specific, I will not have to watch the whole season. Can you work it out race by race up to P10? Thanks!

27

Probably think race pace would be evenly matched between Ferrari and Mercedes, but with the qualifying mode Mercedes will edge pole position, but the races should be fun especially if Vettel can get between to the two Mercedes!

28
The Grape Unwashed

I’m really excited this year, it looks like Hamilton is going to be challenged by one or both Ferraris from the start – particularly as the red team has been strong historically in Melbourne. We’ll also see a development race throughout the season so I expect to see Red Bull and Renault getting into the mix before the halfway point. This could be the most exciting season for several years.

29

Vettel vs Raikkonen and Ricciardo vs Verstappen. Especially the latter combination will produce some major fire works. If Kimi runs Seb like he did at the end of last season we might be treated to some more fabulous outbursts from Seb 🙂

30

First race without Bernie. It will be interesting to see how the sport as a whole operates without his influence
Also with the Australian GP looming , I wonder if these new harder more physical cars would produce a better spectacle at Adelaide

31

the biggest battle of 2017 is will bewho drives for mercedes in 2018 ? alonso, hamilton and vettel could be looking at a big pay cut. 3 into 2 won’t go.
allison is a big vettel fan, benz may have had enough of the hamsters distractions and paranoia. alonso will work cheap to get a competetive drive. vettel and alonso for less money than hamilton/bottas. it’s a no brainer.

32

Except for the fact that Hamilton is already contracted to race for Mercedes in 2018, at 20m plus bonuses.

33

From memory Merc have typically “sand-bagged” anywhere around the 0.7 mark – when they open up a surprise margin between sessions. Also with their reliability issues they may have had to stay back a bit. Reckon Ferrari will have clawed back half that gap, they look better around the corners at speed. So it should be thight but still Merc ahead as they dial in their package for Melb. Assume also that Merc would have fixed their race start issues, so fewer freebies for other cars. Chn & Bah will reveal the true gaps – expect Ferrari to be stronger there in race trim.

34

I prediction is, in the first 4 races it would be 1 and 2 for Ferrari and after that Merc and Red-Bull will win some races, but the overall winner will be Ferrari

35

I agree for Massa giving the big surprise… But looks more like Kimi will be that…
I think Verstapen will need to prove that he is who suppose to be, the big next champion some year ahead, I dont think is ready yet, him nor redbull, even when I’m a Ricciardo fan I suspect he will crack under pressure of no results :S hope only the best for him… And finally Im looking forward Perez have a good season and get in a Ferrari 2018.

36

“If Bottas turns out to be a team mate more like Heikki Kovalainen was to Hamilton at McLaren in 2008, then that will be a major disappointment.” Who will be disappointed? Certainly, not LH’s fans. They already had one year when they wished NR would suddenly turn into HK. I on the other hand would be very disappointed. So, you refer to me and likeminded readers. The real question is how would LH react if VB proves to be more of a NR in 2017 than HK in 2008? Quit F1 alltogether?

37

The real question is how would LH react if VB proves to be more of a NR in 2017 than HK in 2008?

As long as his car stays in one piece, I’m sure he’ll easily be able to handle it!

38

An all red front row.Go ferrari

39

There is a great analysis by Sergey Sirotkin on Barcelona test… and on his point of view Merc is behind Ferrari – PU tuned down or not. Merc drivers had to fight oversteer and were unable to get V corners (paramount indication of a racing car perfectly stable) Ferrari drivers instead were able too… RB sort of it but not like Ferrari. I think the very long wheelbase of this year Merc car will make them quick on high speed corners but they will have hard time balancing on medium and slow… unless they pull some magic they over did it. They need to work then at the rear suspension to fix it and probably they knew that before Barcelona (hence Ferrari FIA clarification?) … anyway it looks like this season will be not a boring one…

40

Hope Mercedes have taken Baku into account when doing their long wheelbase. Not a whole lot of room for retrieving cars in some places, if one gets stuck.

41

Yes I read Sirotkin’s firsthand report on the testing, a very insightful and interesting read from a driver’s POV, on how the different cars are handling in corners. For me it’s the kind of rare insight we usually only get from James.

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