This year marks a new era in many aspects for Formula One: the biggest rules reset for eight years, what feels like the biggest shift in the driver market for some time, the potential for a new order and a full makeover for the drivers’ loyal – or occasionally not so loyal – stallions. So what else can we expect? Here’s my top five…
1: Better racing – perhaps
While the key motivation for changing the aerodynamic regulations for 2017 was to improve the spectacle and allow the designers to make a car potentially fast enough to break lap records – something not really seen since 2004 – there was always a dark cloud surrounding the rules shake-up: How would it affect overtaking?
A recent study in Racecar Engineering inferred that a consequence of the rule changes would be drivers able to follow closer to the car in front, without feeling such a marked effect as before. However at half a car’s length, over half of the downforce produced by the rear wing was lost.
Therefore, it may well be the case we see more trailing cars spinning or losing ground due to oversteer as they get closer in high-speed corners.
That will significantly less of an issue on tracks such as Abu Dhabi or Monaco, where drivers are more reliant on the mechanical grip that is expected to provide most of the gain in lap time this season. And since corner exit speeds will no doubt increase, the effect of DRS may be scuppered somewhat. Jacques Villeneuve will like that!
2: A changing of the old guard
The big winter news has been Liberty Media’s completed takeover of F1. Back in the autumn, conjecture was rife about how the ‘Liberty Formula’ might look. Many touted a bigger, better Formula One built for the show. Since the takeover, there have been rumblings of fairer prize-money splits than what the current big three – Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari – pick up, simply because they had a good run of it between 2008 and 2011.
In fact, McLaren ‘earned’ more revenue in 2015 than Force India, despite the latter finishing four places higher in the constructors’ championship. Money that could have gone to Manor, Sauber or if you cast your mind back, even Norfolk’s own Caterham.
Another thing to note; Bernie Ecclestone has been forced to drop the F1 Supremo tag. Hardly surprising, given the 86-year-old’s reluctance to embrace the digital age – something that Liberty are thought to be quite keen on, and may even consider broadcasting grands prix through online streaming services.
3: Shifts in the driver market
It may not necessarily be the strongest grid F1 has ever seen, but there’s certainly a fair bit of talent. Every driver has won a championship at Formula 3 level or higher – bar one of its hottest talents, Max Verstappen.
And with drivers like Stoffel Vandoorne, Lance Stroll and Valtteri Bottas getting big breaks in teams with a background in winning races and championships, it certainly piques interest in the driver merry-go round.
That being said, those who saw Lance’s first F3 season will wonder how many shunts he’ll ‘Stroll’ away from. Pastor of the Weekend award, watch out.
4: A real championship battle?
Maybe. Maybe not. Quite frankly, it seems likely genuinely close racing will be more sparse overall, since most of the attraction of F1 in 2016 was the midfield battle – especially the sparring between Williams, Force India, McLaren, Toro Rosso and to a lesser extent, Haas.
Moreover, with Pirelli supposedly making more durable tyres to cope with the increased load brought on them by higher cornering speeds, I would expect less flexibility in strategy to follow. So the choice of three compounds may become a de facto two-tyre strategy. Sadly.
5: Success breeds success
Unlike the dominance of Red Bull, I can see Mercedes’ monopoly spanning multiple iterations of the technical regulations. In my view, the long and short of it is Mercedes have everything in place to dominate for at least a couple more years.
As the saying goes, success breeds success – and since the 2016 championship was wrapped up so early I would expect the sharpest team on the grid to have the foresight to have shifted development to their 2017 car while the drivers’ championship was clearly only a two-horse race.
As Ross Brawn reveals in his book Total Competition, he assigned a series of big-name engineers to work on the 2014 regulations – if I remember rightly it was Bob Bell and Geoff Willis who worked on that year’s car with Andy Cowell on the engine side, while some work on the 2013 car carried on.
With big names such as Willis, Aldo Costa and Mark Elliot still with the team, I’d expect preparing the W08 might be simplified – to a degree – citing the relative continuity in engine regulations.
♦ Callum Springall is a blogger with the NRF1. You can follow Callum on Twitter @callumspring18