The wait for the 2017 Formula 1 season is nearly over as it heads into the first round at Australia’s Albert Park circuit.
This weekend one of the most dramatic overhauls of F1 regulations will finally come to life as the battle commences for the 2017 championship. From a purely visual perspective the wider tyres and different aerodynamic layout of the cars present a rather different, but appealing, new look to Formula 1. They will be much faster too and may be up to five seconds a lap quicker than their predecessors.
With the new era comes a change in several sporting regulations too. For the tyres Pirelli have attempted to provide more durability so as to allow drivers to push harder for longer before it begins to degrade. Whether this will have a detrimental effect on strategy, cutting down on the number of stops, remains to be seen.
Should it rain Down Under the race will longer start behind a safety-car. Instead, the safety-car will take the field around the track until it is deemed safe to re-start in which case the cars will line up on the grid for a standing start. Further, the launch off the grid has been tightened up where it concerns the clutch. It’s now up to the driver to find the correct bite point, without any pre-programmed settings, and to ensure the best start without getting wheelspin or bogging down the engine.
The eight days of running, across two sessions of testing, suggested that the top three teams might be the closest they’ve been since the start of the hybrid era. Lewis Hamilton has been on record calling Ferrari the favourite. Race drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen shied away from such declarations but there is no denying that the Scuderia have made an impressive step forward. So impressive in fact that it is likely the team to beat in Australia. But they aren’t buying into the hype though as Ferrari president, Sergio Marcionne, has insisted that Mercedes are still ahead.
For their part Mercedes have announced that it will be running a second, upgraded, specification of engine in Australia. While reports are that it would’ve been introduced later on because of reliability concerns to the timetable has been moved up. There could be several reasons for this but the likelihood is that Mercedes is feeling slightly nervous about the Ferrari hence the early introduction.
What is a fact is that both Ferrari and Mercedes were sandbagging at different times during testing in Spain and the true pace of both cars will only be revealed in Saturday’s qualifying session.
Along with Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull are tipped to be part of the front-running group the true pace of the RB13 is the biggest mystery of the top three teams. While Renault has made impressive progressive with its 2017 power unit it is still behind the Mercedes and Ferrari. Despite this, given the street-like layout of Albert Park, Red Bull is very much the dark horse. While they are well capable of springing a surprise with all things being equal it’s unlikely to be for the top step of the podium.
As part street-track with a layout comprised, mostly, of medium speed corners, the Albert Park circuit is an outlier on the calendar that is unlikely to present the truest representation of the pecking order in 2017. Nevertheless, at the end of it there will be twenty-five important points and it is the first step of a 2017 season in which it seems that there might finally be a three-horse race.