2017 Formula 1 Season Preview

With the start of the 2017 Formula 1 Season right around the corner, Chris Soulsby looks at how the field is shaping up ahead of the Australian Grand Prix and what to expect from each of the ten teams on the F1 grid in 2017.

With pre-season testing over and the Australian Grand Prix right around the corner, the 2017 Formula 1 Season is about to go into full swing, with drivers and teams alike preparing for the upcoming season of competition which will be a staggering 20 races long.

2016 once again saw Mercedes run away with both the drivers and constructors championship for the third time in a row. However, 2017 marks key aerodynamic changes in the regulations which will see cars be as much as three seconds faster per lap. With these changes, it could be possible to see a shakeup in the order of the grid, potentially bringing about an end to Mercedes dominance.

2017 Formula 1 Season Preview

Mercedes

Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (44), Valtteri Bottas (77)

After running away with the championship last season, Mercedes have undergone some changes for the 2017 season. The biggest change of the year is in driver lineup, with their long term driver Nico Rosberg retiring from F1 at the end of 2016 after winning the World Drivers Championship. Rosberg has been replaced by Valtteri Bottas who joins Mercedes from Williams on a one year deal with the reigning champions. Also leaving the team is Mercedes’ Executive Director, Paddy Lowe, who is joining Williams in 2017. Lowe will be replaced by James Allison in 2017, with Allison joining Mercedes as their Technical Director, moving from Ferrari.

2017 should be an interesting year for Mercedes as in recent years, the team have been heavily reliant upon engine performance alone. With Renault and Ferrari closing the gap in engine performance over the winter however, Mercedes may not be always at the front of the grid in 2017. This is something that Lewis Hamilton himself has picked up on, with the three time champion suggesting that his team may have been overtaken by others in terms of performance for 2017.

Red Bull Racing

Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo (3), Max Verstappen (33)

Having arguably the strongest driver pairing on the grid, Red Bull Racing could be in a position to challenge Mercedes in 2017, especially under the new aerodynamic regulations that should benefit the former champions. 2016 was a season of limited success for Red Bull, rarely being able to challenge Mercedes through raw pace. Nevertheless, Red Bull were the second best team over the course of the season and were able to capitalize upon Mercedes’ mistakes which allowed wins in Spain and Malaysia.

2017 will be a very interesting season for Red Bull, especially after pre-season testing. In pre-season testing, Red Bull seemed strong when compared to the rest of the field, however, following long distance running on the second last day of testing, Red Bull seemed to be about one second slower than Ferrari who were also completing a long distance run at the same time with Sebastian Vettel in the car. Reliability also seems to be a struggle for the team in 2017, with their Renault engine experiencing overheating of the MGU-K – an issue that plagued all Renault power teams in testing. With the team bringing a large upgrade package to Australia however, Red Bull are not to be counted out for 2017.

Ferrari

Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (5), Kimi Raikkonen (7)

With many thinking that Ferrari had closed the gap to Mercedes in 2016, this prediction failed to become a reality, with the team finishing in third place in the constructor’s championship, failing to secure a win over the course of the season. The lineup at Ferrari remains largely the same for 2017, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen remaining at the team for this season.

Following pre-season testing, Ferrari look like they might be the team to beat for 2017, having outright pace and clear reliability in their car. On the final day of testing, Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the eight days in Barcelona and was a considerable 0.6 seconds faster than the next fastest lap set by Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes. Even in long runs, Ferrari also look quick, being one second faster than Red Bull on the second last day of testing. With lap times suggesting that Ferrari may be on the same level with Mercedes, if not faster, the Australian Grand Prix will certainly show if Ferrari are the team to beat for 2017.

Force India

Drivers: Sergio Perez (11) , Esteban Ocon (31)

2016 was a very successful year for Force India, with the team finishing fourth in the Constructors Standings – their highest finish to date. One of the largest changes at Force India for 2017 is in terms of their drivers, with their long term driver, Nico Hulkenberg, leaving the team to join Renault. This opened a seat up to former Manor driver, Esteban Ocon, who will partner Sergio Perez for the season.

For 2017, Force India are aiming to finish in the top three in the Constructors Standings – a goal set by team principal Vijay Mallya when the team unveiled their 2017 car. However, with Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull all seeming to have strong all round packages for 2017, it is hard to imagine that Force India will be able to challenge Formula 1’s three big teams. It is more likely however, that the team will spend much of 2017 in the midfield similar to last year. However, the prospect of Force India being at the front of the midfield for 2017 remains to be seen, with many teams in this region having very strong packages, marking what should be a very close fight.

Williams

Drivers: Felipe Massa (19), Lance Stroll (18)

2016 was quite a difficult year for Williams, with their campaign failing to match successes of recent years, slipping down to fifth in the Constructors Standings after being out developed by Force India. 2017 marks a number of changes at Williams however, with Felipe Massa coming out of his short lived retirement to take the place of Valtteri Bottas who has moved to Mercedes. Williams will also be fielding one of F1’s rookies of 2017, with Lance Stroll joining the team, becoming the youngest driver on the current grid.

After pre-season testing, Williams look to be in a strong position for 2017 after Felipe Massa set the third fastest lap time in Spain over the entirety of testing. Because of this, Williams look to be the best of the rest at the moment, being the fourth fastest team on the grid in 2017. What the team can achieve however, remains unseen and many will watch with eager eyes to see the true pace of Williams in Australia, and if they can sneak into the top three teams in for the start of the 2017 season.

McLaren

Drivers: Fernando Alonso (14), Stoffel Vandoorne (2)

After struggling in 2016 once again with a number of problems – mainly from their Honda power unit – McLaren will be looking to improve on prior results for 2017. For 2017, a number of things have changed at McLaren, with Stoffel Vandoorne joining the team following the retirement of Jenson Button and Zak Brown replacing Ron Dennis in McLaren’s management.

Following pre-season testing, McLaren do not look to be in a strong position for 2017. After claims that an engine redesign from Honda would allow the team to match Mercedes on power in 2017, McLaren look like they will be towards the back of the grid once again for the third year in a row. Throughout testing, McLaren had multiple failures on the car which resulted in at least five engine changes over the course of the eight days. Furthermore, on most days, McLaren failed to complete more than 50 laps or running in the car, with the most consecutive laps they set being 11 – one sixth of the distance of a Grand Prix. The Australian Grand Prix will show us if McLaren have managed to solve their reliability and performance issues that plagued them in testing, however, at the minute, it is not looking good for the Woking based team.

Toro Rosso

Drivers: Carlos Sainz Jr (55), Daniil Kvyat (26)

After using old-spec Ferrari engines in 2016 which saw the team gradually fall down the grid, Toro Rosso return to Renault power for 2017 and also keep the same driver lineup of Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat. Toro Rosso set the fifth fastest time of testing which makes it look like the team will be in the midfield battle once again this season. Pre-season testing was not plain sailing for Toro Rosso however, with the team experiencing reliability issues throughout, mainly through issues with their Renault power unit and the overheating of the MGU-K. Despite these problems however, it will be interesting to see how Toro Rosso perform in Australia, with the STR-12 having a lot of potential for the forthcoming season.

2017 will also be a very important year for Daniil Kvyat who was demoted to Toro Rosso after a number of incidents in 2016 when he was driving for Red Bull. The 2017 Season could be a make or break year for the young Russian, with many young and talented drivers such as Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings to join Red Bull’s sister team.

Haas F1

Drivers: Romain Grsojean (8), Kevin Magnussen (20)

With 2016 being a very impressive debut year for Haas which saw the team regularly in the points, 2017 should be an interesting year for the team. Since the end of the 2016 season, there have been some changes at the team, with Esteban Gutierrez being replaced by Kevin Magnussen. In one lap pace, Haas were the eighth fastest team in pre-season testing, being 0.4 seconds slower than Force India who were in seventh. One of the main problems that plagued Haas in 2016 were issues with brakes,  with the team experiencing heavy brake wear and multiple brake failures. Testing however, exposed these issues with the car once again, with Romain Grsojean experiencing brake failure in the final week. Before the Australian Grand Prix, overcoming this issue will be towards the top of the team’s priorities before the start of the 2017 season.

Reanult

Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg (27), Jolyon Palmer (30)

2016 marked Renault’s return to Formula 1 after buying out the Lotus F1 Team. 2016 was a poor season for the team, finishing third last in the Constructors Standings, however, 2017 should be an encouraging season for the French manufacturer, with pre-season testing suggesting that the team have made some inroads into the midfield. For 2017, Renault keep Jolyon Palmer for the second season in succession and also welcome Nico Hulkenberg to the team, who joins after leaving Force India and taking the place of Kevin Magnussen. In testing, Renault were the sixth fastest team on the grid and were less than 0.1 seconds behind Toro Rosso. The team did however, experience reliability issues through the overheating of the MGU-K which resulted in reduced running towards the end of testing. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if Renault are able to make any performance gains before the Australian Grand Prix, and if they can sneak further up the midfield than they currently are.

Sauber

Drivers: Marcus Ericsson (9), Pascal Wehrlein (94)

2016 marked another disappointing year for Sauber, with the team finishing second last in the Constructors Standings after finishing in the points once out of the 21 races of the 2016 season. For 2017, the Swiss team retain Marcus Ericsson and have signed former Manor driver, Pascal Wehrlein for the year, releasing Felipe Nasr from the team. Sauber are once again using old specification Ferrari engines this season, with the team previously running 2015 engines in 2016. Following pre-season testing, Sauber seem to be at the back of the field again for 2017, setting the slowest times of both the first and second test in Barcelona. Especially with Sauber running old power units, 2017 does not look good for the independent team, meaning that they may finish towards the back of the field once again in 2017 – something that Sauber have regularly done in recent years.
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