Le Grand Retour
Paul Ricard 2018
French Grand Prix
Up close and personal – trackside observations from 2017 F1 testing
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  13 Mar 2017   |  7:00 pm GMT  |  95 comments

Shortly before the end of pre-season testing for the 2017 Formula 1 season, JA on F1 decided to go trackside at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and take in the sights and sounds of the new cars.

Under bright sunny skies, from pitlane practice starts out on to the track’s rapid first sector, taking in explosive braking at Turn 10 and then up to the tight and technical final corners, here’s what we discovered during last week’s running.

Up close and personal

First impressions of the new cars are that they are stunning pieces of engineering – aggressive and artistic at the same time. Renault’s RS17 might have been hard to love from the launch and studio images, but in the flesh it’s a beauty – second only to the Toro Rosso STR12 in terms of livery.

Jolyon Palmer

The Mercedes and Ferrari demonstrate the sheer complexity of the new cars with intricate aerodynamic innovations evident from nose to tail on both the WO8 and the SF70H. Lewis Hamilton also provides an interesting snapshot into how the drivers are finding the wider cars as he clips a cone turning into his pitbox after an early Thursday morning run with one of his larger-for-2017 Pirelli tyres, which raises questions on whether we will see more contact and controversy over the course of the year.

As we work our way down the pitlane, many drivers pull over at the end to go through practice start procedures. Standing next to them just behind the wall – something that would not have possible without ear defenders pre-2014 – it was evident that the larger tyres could make for some exciting, wheelspin-heavy getaways this year. The McLaren, with all its difficulties with the Honda power unit (more on that later) is noticeably quieter than its rivals as Stoffel Vandoorne pulls away and heads out onto the track.

Not so different on-track

After reaching Turns 7 and 8 – a short walk uphill from the pitlane exit – we get our first view of what the new cars look like at full speed, going through a challenging section of the track. The Haas F1 and Williams’ cars of Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll are completing long runs and are clearly fat with fuel. The VF17 and FW40 appear sluggish and heavy as their drivers hit the gas and it’s hard to see them fighting the cars – overall, it’s a little underwhelming.

Lance Stroll

Moving onto the exit of Turn 5 – which overlooks Turns 1 and 2 – and some subtle differences become apparent. Stroll appears to be ever so slightly hesitant with the power out of the left-hander and is working hard at the wheel, which is not surprising as he ended Williams’ first test with a crash at this exact spot a week earlier. By contrast, Magnussen confidently plants his car exiting the corner, but both drivers produce very consistent lines.

The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull later join the action and it’s clear when they are pushing for a hot lap and practicing for their qualifying simulations at the end of the morning as the cars appear more poised and aggressive.

Speed becomes apparent

Barcelona’s Turn 9, Campsa, is high-speed right turn the works the aerodynamics of the cars to the maximum. Here, now on super-softs, Vettel’s Ferrari is planted and stable, not a trace of a lift.

Ricciardo is similarly smooth on the medium tyres, although the harder rubber means he has to lift off a touch. Stroll is lifting too, as the Williams driver is still churning through his long run.

Daniel Ricciardo

It’s midday by now and the sun is beating down – the perfect time for a qualifying simulation. But that’s not high on the list of priorities for McLaren, as, from a distance, we hear Vandoorne’s engine splutter and die on the run to Turn 1 and the red flags fly.

As the McLaren is recovered, we move on to the braking point for Turn 10. With just a few minutes left before the lunch break, it’s finally time for some qualifying efforts.

Vettel appears on the ultra-softs and the speed of the SF17H is immediately apparent. The four times world champion is pushing (he sets the fastest time of the day despite lifting off at the final turn), with audible and impressive tyre squash as he takes the left hander.

Sebastian Vettel

At this point, Ricciardo, still on the mediums, catches Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber and chases it for a few laps. Here we get to see what these cars will look like in something resembling a race situation, and it is impressive. If two cars lapping casually in testing looks more racy than last year, a full field of 20 cars charging down to Turn 1 in Melbourne is going to be quite a sight to behold.

McLaren misery continues

Vandoorne’s issue did not keep him in the pitlane for long and he quickly re-joins the action, lapping just in front of Hamilton’s ultra-soft-shod Mercedes.

McLaren F1 winter testing 2017

But in the final moments of the morning session the MCL32 suffers what is later confirmed as an electrical problem and Vandoorne grinds to a halt in the giant run-off area behind Turn 10, and right in front of us.

As the red flags come out again – Hamilton is lucky to complete his qualifying lap in time although the stopping McLaren did briefly hold him up – Vandoorne climbs from his cockpit and jumps dejectedly from the front wheel. There’s an air of inevitability and frustration as car and driver wait for a lift back to the pitlane.

A long afternoon

After the flurry of action late in the morning – and some scrummaging practice at a packed Vettel media session – the afternoon running starts sedately, with few cars returning to the track in a hurry.

But when they do, it’s to concentrate on long runs, so we return to the pitlane to soak up the atmosphere.

F1 winter testing 2017

A massive Ferrari banner is draped over the two tiers of the main Barcelona grandstand opposite the Scuderia’s garages, but Hamilton and Magnussen (and a solitary Australian flag for Ricciardo) have noticeable banner support too. After handing over the WO8 to his teammate Valtteri Bottas for the afternoon, Hamilton makes a brief appearance on the pitwall to check out the cars and wave to the fans.

As they work their way through race sims, many teams complete practice pitstops, and the larger tyres make hard work for the crews – the stops may well be a few tenths slower this season.


Out on the circuit, the notorious shark fins don’t look too bad – except for those on the Force India and Red Bull, which look atrocious. They’re harder to love at lower speed, but the Renault design has an attractive angle, which makes it look much more aquatic and aggressive than the others.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Bottas trundles through the pitlane and we’re struck again by the sheer complexity of the WO8. It’s a very good-looking car, although the presence of the double-decked T-wing sitting ahead of the rear wing somewhat spoils its flowing lines.

F1 winter testing 2017

The next time the cars hit the track will be for practice in Melbourne – just 11 tantalising days away. Our analysis from Vettel’s race simulation from that afternoon has revealed that Ferrari appears to be right in the hunt with Mercedes, which hopefully means we’re in for an exciting 2017 season right from the off.

What do you make of our observations from trackside in winter testing? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Has anybody been? I gather that fans get the kind of access that at race weekends are reserved for pop stars, acotrs and musicians but I’m seriously thinking about going next year, and maybe Liberty will make it even better?


Have you seen the you tube video “Hamilton 2016 Raikkonen 2017”.


Just watched it, pretty impressive! The Ferrari looks bolted down.


Yep, great head-to-head comparison of the old/new regs, and exciting to think there’s more performance to come from the new cars


Thanks James.

This by far is the best piece of information we have ever received on free print medium. Your website takes the fans closer to what is happening which (unfortunately for us) is behind closed doors.
Hats off James!! I take a bow.


I’ll be attending the GP in Melbourne, so am getting pretty excited to see those fat boys on track! My feelings are that the cars will look great on track, with a lot more attack. The racing however I fear will suffer – moving away from the OWG recommendations for higher, narrower rear wings with more energy generated by the floor is likely to make following a lot more challenging, not to mention the improved braking performances offered by the wider rubber.

I also envisage more carnage, due to the wider cars meaning less room on track, as well as fatigued drivers losing concentration deeper into a race, especially the kids who may not have developed full-strength & endurance like the drivers at or beyond their peak. In all, I’m a little pessimistic, but the change is still exciting and I hope that Ferrari can bring itself back into the game.


For me when I see all the aero detail around brake ducts and other parts that only geeks and fanboys care about (me included) I wish we could have simpler steel brakes, strandard ducts and longer brakign distances with brake fade.

Wouldn’t change the look of the cars and I reacon would really improve the show,


You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a … After all the speculation about how much different and louder the cars were going to be we seem to have evolution not revolution. Dissertations about a 6db increase in sound and whether a shark fin looks good on one car and not another doesn’t fill me with the anticipation of previous years for the start of the F1 season. I truly hope I’m wrong and this year lives up to the hype over the winter for the new cars and the promise of renewed competition.


“a full field of 20 cars charging down to Turn 1” … 20 cars is not a full field! last year it was 22, before that 26
Let’s hope Liberty get things sorted before we’re down to a dozen cars.


I actually really like the shark fins.
However the silly upside down coat hanger stuck to it needs to go.
The sound……..? Well it just sucks and has since the rev limit fuel flow limit was introduced.
If Mr B does manage to introduce a non championship weekend that’s the first thing I’d want to try, no rev limiter and no fuel limiter and then the sound should be better.
Nicki Lauda made some interesting comments on his reasons for retiring suddenly compared with Rosbergs recently.
F1 used to be awesome but I honestly couldn’t say that anything I saw or heard in Barcelona was anything like awesome.
Oh hang on I’ve just thought of something, Alonsos comments on the Honda PU.


this is a completely off topic question, but i thought of it when reading this.
If the teams were running under the old car numbering system based on finishing position in the world championships, would Bottas be car number 0 as Hill was in 1993 after Mansell left the sport?


One of them would be 0. I remember reading somewhere that Prost for 93 and Senna for 94 should have been 0 (lead driver lower number) but neither wanted the number 0 so Hill had to take it. This was one of the cases I can think of where they did not conform to the higher finishing driver in the previous year, or the incumbent driver getting the lower number. The other one was Schumacher getting the lower number each year at Merc despite being beaten by Rosberg, apparently he preferred odd numbers.

I wonder when next we will see the no1 on someones car? I wonder if Rosberg would have changed his? Hamilton set the precedent of not changing his number when the new system started, you would look a bit of a prat if you did now IMO!


Lovely piece. Felt like I was trackside with you when I read it.

Thanks for keeping us up to date following our passion from such a long way away.


Campsa is a right turn


Mercedes AMG Hypercar details are starting to emerge. Surprise surprise surprise…it’s going to be finicky.

And that F1-sourced engine will likely be the most finicky part of the package. At the Geneva Motor Show, AMG head Tobias Moers told Motor1 that the engine would need a substantial service after 50,000 km (31,000 miles). What that service is, he didn’t say, but we can probably assume that it won’t be cheap.


*GASP* An exotic car would require expensive service? I am shocked. Shocked I tell you.


Sebee, if it’s low running costs you are after, just buy a Prius….


Tesla P100D does 0-60 in 2.27s and standing 1/4 mile in 10.5s…for now until the next software update gets beamed to it as it stands parked, because Tesla is the only car I know that gets faster while just standing parked.

Including tires customers change more often than usual for obvious reasons, would you like to know the maintenance costs actual customers are reporting after 30,000 or 40,000 miles? Google it and see.

Sure filthy rich don’t care, but that kinda makes the AMG hyper car a symbol of something. And I’m not sure it is good at all. I will agree it is definitely a symbol of complexity and engineering. I can only hope that boy racers with rich dads will get one for their birthday to make up for lack of time spent with dad. And as a result it keeps a few pay drivers off the F1 grid.


Sebee, I would google the running costs of the new Tesla, but as I have no interest in the car whatsoever I wont be bothering thanks. Please remember this is an article about the recent F1 testing and you are visiting an F1 site.


Do you know Ferrari service intervals and costs? No, thought not.

Stop going off topic. That’ll cut down on half of your comments.


This car has an F1 PU in it. It is related. It is impressive, but it is going to be incredibly expensive for the performance it will deliver. And goes with my argument that PUs are complex and unnecessary. There is a more efficient way to get better performance than PUs.

There has to be some practicality to a car, and this one will have all the practicality of a race car. It should be really sold like a race car. Like Ferrari does with clienti program. But in lack of ability to adopt PU technology to road, this is the best they could do to make it road relevant. FYI, AMG hybrid cars are 4 years away by official statement, and by claims they are making will cost double current V8 AMG cars. I. 4 years electric autonomous will be sweaping the world.

Did you guys see what Intel just bought for 15B? You think they bought it because it has no profitable immediate future?


It was also unnecessary for our ancestors to move out of caves. It was unnecessary to invent the wheel. You are what is commonly known as a luddite. Feel free to join us in the 21st century.


Actually, I’m a hugely excited about the future. I’m excited about electric cars and autonomous cars and the efficiency that will be realized from this being deployed in the world. I’m excited about the Molten Salt Reactors that are but a few years away and will deliver clean nuclear power that will use current nuclear waste for fuel. I think all these things will change the the world, change commuting, clean the air we breathe. I have stated this for a long long time.

None of these things have come from F1. Not electric car. Not autonomous driving. Not molten salt reactors. All the components that will change the world are being perfected outside of F1. So let us stop fooling ourselves here and let us make F1 what F1 should always be – the pursuit of insane speeds and performance, not some fuel restricted, fuel flow limited, misplaced marketing effort with way too many sparks and a DRS wing.

That is the essence of what I wish for in F1.


Just so you don’t have to search that Intel 15B dollar purchase.



So about the same as a Ferrari. Or was there some part of the phrase “Mercedes AMG Hypercar” that suggested to you “reliable, low maintenance, daily-driver”?


Great article; it put me right there!

I noticed that the Renault didn’t look as bad as the impression that I got from the splash-outs.
I don’t think you mentioned how sure-footed the Mercedes appeared, or was it?
Not surprising that you can ‘feel it’ about the McLaren status, to add to what your other senses have already determined. Tas pis, and I mean it in a commisserating way. But, ‘it is, what it is.’
I like the look of the Toro Rosso; I guess, because of the lines and colours, but also, obviously, having a sleek nose; it’s not that I really even see the stump noses, but when you see one the two teams’ cars without it, it looks good!
Magnussen is a good driver, it’s going to be a good in-stable competition there, I am expecting.
Coming a Canuck, I have to say, the jury is definitely still out on Stroll, and that is the benefit of the doubt. But as a consequences, Massa, is looking really good; pounding in the lasts like a metronome; I got to say it’s good seeing Filipe look so good and self-assured; I’m glad he’s back for another season; I hope he gets up there, at least a few times.

Thanks for the great article.


why wouldn’t Felipe be happy, he’s got nothing to lose… if Stroll beats him he can say he’s just having a quite drive in his retirement or if he beats Stroll it’s ‘I’ve still got it’.
Of course, it’s exactly the opposite for Lance, he’s on a hiding to nothing either way.


Could be worse for Lance, he could be up against Alonso in an unreliable GP2 (sorry, Formula 2) car.


You got one thing right, those shark fins are bloody horrible.


Don’t mean to knit-pick James however Campsa is a fast right hander, not left hander as described in your article.

Also you mentioned after the revealing of this years cars that you thought the fins prevalent on all the cars may come under scrutiny and that you could foresee a push to having them banned at some stage early on this season. With what you’ve gleemed from within the paddock is this something that is still a possibility?


congrats Alex Kalinauckas!


congratulations on a fine article Mr.Allen. insightful and fun to read such a personal take on the scene.


It all sounds positive, except for the t wings and shark fins. Fia to outlaw them please!


Hi James,
Is there likely to be a decision on the “T” Wings and the Shark Fin before Melbourne??


I think you have to wait for season 2018 to see them disappear.


Don’t see why it couldn’t be; it’s just a matter of issuing a rule clarification/amendment on maximum bodywork height and area above engine/gearbox/rear axle?


You guys are building the tension nicely. Countdown is on, can’t wait now.

Longer chassis, longer front wings, fat tyres, driver focused starting, Hass potential braking inconsistency issues, McLaren speed differentials, trickier to follow and pass after the opening laps… all pointing to more contact near the race start when the battling is close!

Nothing left to say other than, YOU BETTER GET A GRIP ON THIS MESS HONDA, oh and GAME ON!

Paul du Maître

Thanks James, on behalf of all of us that would have loved to be there 🙂


Australia seems to be getting closer as i keep refreshing the site home page (trying to fast forward time!) How many days now?!


I’m sorry, but………..trying to say something positive about the appearance of the shark fins is like trying to something positive about the dress sense an [Mod], well, er…….they are brash, startling and striking I guess……….

A pity, because with the shark fins, the Class of 2017 could have an elegance and purity to match the Lotus 79, Brabham BT52 or the Brawn. Unfortunately, the shark fins attached is like having [Mod]. Not a good combination .


Why do people continue to call these fins ‘shark fins’ ? Have you ever seen a shark in the water?


Kan’t wait to see them in action, come Melbourne.


I think we just have to see some racing before se can fall in love with these new F1 cars. Sharkfins are quite ugly but that kind of makes them even more badass. Like “You think im ugly? I dont [Mod] care I’m the fastest car on earth!”


Actually, you should know that in a straight line race where cars would be on the accelerator continuously, the PU F1 car runs out of power after 33s, leaving it on the ICE alone and underpowered. No braking means it has no place to recharge.

Meaning, in a 3 way 25 lap race on an oval against an IndyCar and NASCAR, an F1 car would likely come in last. V8 or V10 car would win without doubt.

Conclusion: PU F1 car is not the fastest circuit racing car in earth. It’s highly specialized and not the king of all motor sport like V10 F1 car was.


Seebee – your at it again. The deployment is set by REGULATION not the PU ability!

Given the ERSH there is not doubt these engines could quite happily be structured to run loops far quicker than your beloved V8 – it’s physics my fine friend.


I don’t see the need to examine an F1 car’s performance on ovals when, you know, they never race on ovals. Put an IndyCar or NASCAR on a purpose built or even just a regular old street circuit and F1 would absolutely destroy them. Kind of like this:

The internal combustion engine alone on modern F1 cars makes more power than the V8’s did; they were rivalling the old V8s in _2014_, never mind now. Additionally you are ignoring the MGU-H, which does not rely on braking.

Finally, if F1 isn’t the fastest circuit racing car on earth… what is? Something has to be, so what is it?


Fastest race car……
I would go for Top Fuel Funny car. 2017 Winternationals 330mph in 3.875 seconds. it may be a straight line but it is most certainly a race.


Sebee. This again? A Formula one car without battery assistance still has over 800bhp to play with! The method of judging the likely performance differential between racing cars is to look at factors like, Engine power, weight, amount of downforce generated, centre of gravity and frontal area. The F1 car beats both Nascar and Indycar in each of these areas, so how on earth did you come up with the idea that it would come last?


I doubt any f1 car in history would win a rally stage against a group B car. They are made to race on what they race on.


For F1 to declare itself the pinnacle, it should be able to defeat other major series on their turf without question.


What a ridiculous comment…. So to be the pinnacle of motor racing you have to beat indycars, NASCARs, drag racers, rally cars, trucks, off road 4x4s, dune buggies etc etc all on their own turf……these all have major series.


Who said F1 car can’t do offroad!


So you want F1s to compete in Drag Racing and Rallying? They would probably look good drifting, but would break in half in Rallycross. And some of the Kart tracks would be too tight for an F1.


You didn’t answer my question Sebee – if F1 isn’t the fastest circuit racing series on the planet, what is? What series can beat F1 on their own turf; purpose built racing circuits?


I did. It didn’t get posted. Check your inbox.

I feel F1 should be the best product all around. I feel IndyCar shouldn’t be allowed to write in their weekend race progran about how they compare to an F1 car and claim superiority. I feel for F1 to be the pinnacle it shouldn’t just be a car that is so specialized that it is good on F1 circuits only. That it should be capable of beating other disciplines on their turf. No series should be allowed to claim an edge on an F1 car – ever. No series could on V10 cars. They can on PU cars because a PU car gets schooled by an IndyCar on a super speedway.


What a load of rubbish. An f1 car would destroy an indy car on any track including an oval. Even without the hybrid power they would still have 840bhp . No contest


Sebee, if Indycar do claim to be superior to f1 then they can prove it by setting a few quick laps (and actually releasing the numbers) the nest time the are testing at COTA.


We’re the ones here braking down the details like F1 nerds. Majority of fans don’t necessarily care this much. And fact is IndyCar claims higher speeds, and fans logically associate higher speeds with faster cars, and thus better – because faster is better. After all, top speed claims are the tool used in automotive world to claim how good a hypercar is, so suddenly it isn’t good enough in the motorsport world?

IndyCar is not likely to beat F1 on F1’s turf. But F1 can’t beat IndyCar on IndyCar’s turf either – so it’s a draw. And it just shouldn’t be. End of story. F1 should beat every circuit series on their turf. Their best should not be a match for F1. End of.


@ Sebee…some time back i suggested that if liberty wanted to lift the profile they should stage an F1/Indy Car showdown. That would be a massive drawcard for both series. Seeing as both series race on purpose built tracks and road circuits then a series of three races on a combination of these would be a great spectacle. That would also become a transnational title worthy of top billing alongside both WDC/WCC titles.


Don’t hold your breath Spino….


This says it all really: “Towards the end of the afternoon, Bottas trundles through the pitlane and we’re struck again by the sheer complexity of the WO8. “

Oh well, maybe next year we’ll have some racing for the title that isn’t inter-team.

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