Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunta, 2017 tyre test, 2016

Ten things we want to know about the 2017 F1 season

2017 F1 season

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We’re just a few weeks away from the first car launches of the 2017 F1 season. What does the year ahead have in store for us? Here are ten of the big talking points.

How much quicker will the cars be?

Formula One has set the target of a five-second per lap improvement compared to times at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2015 for its new cars. Wider tyres and wings, longer bargeboards and larger diffusers give engineers plenty of scope to go hunting lap records.

However faster car could have knock-on effects which may prove difficult to manage. Already the FIA has begun getting in touch with circuits to brief them on safety changes which will be needed as a result of the anticipated hike in cornering speeds.

The role of driver fitness will also come under greater scrutiny, particularly at hot venues such as Sepang and Singapore. We’ll also discover whether it was true that more young drivers were able to come into the sport because cars had become easier to drive. The progress of 18-year-old newcomer Lance Stroll, fresh out of Formula Three, will be particularly interesting.

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Do faster cars mean better racing?

There is a great deal of pessimism about what F1’s new rules will mean for the competition this year. The more downforce you add, the harder it is for cars to follow each other and the less compelling the racing is.

Lewis Hamilton is one of several drivers who’ve endorsed this view. “They’re talking about giving us more aerodynamics which for me is like the worst idea,” he said while the rules were still being debated. “It just shows for me that they don’t really know what they’re trying to solve.”

Will it really be that bad? Another anticipated consequence of the downforce hike is that drivers will be able to take more corners flat-out. This would effectively create longer ‘straights’, potentially giving them more chance to close on a rival. But the true effect will vary between circuits and make take several races or even a full season to properly evaluate.

Will Pirelli’s tyres be up to the job?

Pirelli reveal 2017 tyres, Yas Marina, 2016
F1 has a lot riding on these round rubber circles
After six years of ‘designed to degrade’ tyres, Pirelli have a new brief for 2016. Drivers have demanded rubber which allows them to push harder lap after lap.

On top of that there’s the added stresses of much greater cornering speeds. It all adds up to F1’s official tyre supplier needing a much tougher product for the year ahead.

Will they be up to the demands? A series of tyre failures in recent years, notably at Silverstone in 2013 and Spa in 2015, prompted ever-tighter restrictions on how teams can use their tyres. Drivers have been infuriated by high minimum pressures further restricting the performance of their cars, and engineers have endeavoured to get around the limits.

Whether Formula One’s latest technical overhaul succeeds or fails could be decided entirely by whether its tyres are up to the job.

Will Mercedes be caught?

Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit of the Americas, 2016
Mercedes have crushed the competition since 2014
Mercedes have dominated the last three seasons in a manner which no team before them has been able to achieve. Out of the last 59 races they’ve won a staggering 51. Sustaining that level of performance for a fourth consecutive season will be a tall order.

Encouragingly for their rivals, Mercedes face several key challenges to doing this. Reigning champion Nico Rosberg is no longer on the scene and his replacement has never won a grand prix before.

They’ve also lost their top technical chief, Paddy Lowe. This comes at a time when the teams are responding to a major change in the aerodynamic regulations. During the off-season the FIA has also issued new guidance on the suspension regulations which is believed to address an area where Mercedes were finding an advantage.

These changes could slightly weaken Mercedes in a number of areas. But their key strength – that superb power unit – is likely to remain unaffected, and could be what keeps them ahead.

Is Bottas a Kovalainen, a Rosberg – or even better?

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2017
Bottas has been handed a massive opportunity
Hamilton’s defeat to Rosberg last year was something few expected 12 months ago. Though Hamilton undoubtedly lost a lot of points through no fault of his own, the Rosberg of 2015 or 2014 probably wouldn’t have been competitive enough to take advantage of it.

Will his replacement be? Valtteri Bottas has a good chunk of F1 experience and has never been beaten by a team mate yet. But he’s never had a top-drawer team mate or a top-drawer car. His ability to withstand the cut-and-thrust of racing at the front and the pressure of a potential championship scenario is untested.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Heikki Kovalainen, Hamilton’s only prior Finnish team mate and now the only driver he’s been paired with who hasn’t won a world championship.

Another win-less year for F1’s big two?

Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Shanghai International Circuit, 2016
No wins for Ferrari or McLaren last year
Two of F1’s oldest and greatest teams are going through lean periods. McLaren hasn’t won a race for four years and Ferrari has been win-less in two of the last three campaigns.

What are the chances of this changing in 2017? McLaren are heading into their third season with Honda power and though significant gains were clearly made last year they still weren’t contenders for the podium. At best they might hope to be in with a chance of winning a wet race this year.

As for Ferrari, the team doesn’t look in great shape on paper. The traditional weakness in terms of their aerodynamic development remained last year and the mid-season departure of James Allison cannot help that. There are signs of them lapsing into the old bad habits of too much interference from the management. But the red team is never to be underestimated.

If either or neither of these teams are in race-winning shape by the end of the season, expect profound changes on the driver market. Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s contracts are all up for renewal at year’s end.

Will Halo ever happen?

Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2016
The Halo has divided opinion
When testing begins at the end of the month it will be a full year since we first saw an F1 car with a Halo device. However the FIA’s attempt to improve head protection for drivers is not going well.

Halo was originally supposed to be mandatory on this year’s F1 cars. However F1’s Strategy Group decided to postpone its introduction to 2018.

Will this actually happen? At the time the FIA’s safety delegate Charlie Whiting insisted Halo was “clearly adopted for 2018” though the FIA only described it as a “strong option”. Sebastian Vettel insisted it was supported by 95% of drivers in the middle of last year but a recent survey suggests many now oppose it.

Where does that leave Halo? Potentially as a key battleground for the year ahead, and a test of how the sport’s new owners value safety against aesthetics.

How will Liberty make their presence felt?

Chase Carey, Singapore, 2016
The man with the F1 world at his feet
Longer calendar? Improved digital media coverage? Better deals for smaller teams?

The priorities of Formula One’s new owners will set the direction of the sport for the coming years. Hopes are high after a decade of CVC sucking billions while contributing nothing.

But it could take time for Liberty’s priorities to solidify into real change. And will fans like what they see when it comes? Whatever the outcome, the promise of change is in the air.

Meanwhile the sport remains under threat of investigation from the European Union for anti-competitive following the complaint lodged by Sauber and Force India in 2015. Could a move in their direction by Liberty be sufficient to persuade either or both of the teams to drop the case?

What is Bernie Ecclestone’s next move?

Bernie Ecclestone, Interlagos, 2016
Ecclestone suddenly has a lot more time on his hands
Bernie Ecclestone had been at the helm of Formula One for so long, and amassed so much power, that the suddenness of his departure caught many by surprise.

He had mastered the art of finding new buyers for the sport yet continuing to call the shots regardless of who owner it. But an ‘honorary’ position within Liberty was not for him, and so a three-man team headed by Chase Carey have taken over his responsibilities.

Will Ecclestone launch an audacious bid to reclaim his sport? Does he have some devious means of reasserting control over Formula One? Or is he about to pop up as the newest member of Donald Trump’s inner circle? It’s hard to imagine him settling down for a quiet retirement.

How will lifting of engine development restrictions change F1?

Honda RA616H power unit, 2016
Will Honda be able to catch Mercedes more quickly?
The ‘token’ system was introduced in 2014 in an attempt to limit the escalation in costs as a result of the new engine formula. It worked by slowing the rate at which teams could introduce updates to their power units.

However the system came up fire as Mercedes enjoying a huge performance advantage over their rivals. It was blamed for slowing the rate at which Ferrari and the rest could catch them.

Three years on Mercedes still enjoy a healthy advantage in the power unit stakes. So for 2017 the restrictions on engine development have been eased.

Will that help Mercedes’ rivals catch them more quickly? Or will Mercedes cancel out their gains by making progress of their own? And how quickly will the updates trickle down to the smaller teams? This may prove a recipe for increasing costs while making the field less competitive as a whole.

Over to you

What are the big questions you have of the season ahead? How do you think these will be answered?

Have your say in the comments.

2017 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 46 comments on “Ten things we want to know about the 2017 F1 season”

    1. “They’re talking about giving us more aerodynamics which for me is like the worst idea,” he said while the rules were still being debated. “It just shows for me that they don’t really know what they’re trying to solve.”

      Couldn’t have put it better myself. The problem is the cars can’t follow each other through corners due to the turbulent air so there isn’t much close racing, and increasing the aero of the cars will likely just worsen this.

      1. We will have to wait out on that. It is not as easy as claiming more downforce creates more turbulent flow detriment for the one in pursuit. Rather, it is more about the amount of turbulent flow the car in front leaves in its wake.

        There are quite a few myths around turbulent flow. One of the classics for instance is that the diffuser creates more clean flow, which in reality is the opposite: flow from there launched into the path of the trailling car is a big issue, while flow coming the sidepods and top of the floor is cleaner. It becomes even more interesting when you involve rear wing-diffuser flow interconnectivity, which both improves downforce and sends the turbulent flow higher up in the air, leaving the front wing of the trailling in more laminar flow, which helps.

        Especially that last will be interesting to look at this year as diffuser and rear wing are closer to eachother. Even though the diffuser is bigger and will create more turbulent flow, the turbulent flow will be kicked higher up. If things improve, that’ll depend still. But Hamilton should not act as an aerodynamic employee. The last time research was done to the effects of turbulent flow in racing, back in 2007-2008 to prepare 2009 technical regulations, the top aerodynamicists got stunned by some of the results they got. If those people their assumptions can be thrown into the bin, than Hamilton is not in a position at all to judge either.

        1. How exactly is the turbulent flow going to be kicked higher up? @turbof1 I knew the bigger diffuser would mean more turbulence etc, but my knowledge doesn’t go quite as far as understanding how the turbulent air will go higher?

          1. It’s the interaction between the rear wing, the diffuser and anything inbetween (monkey seats, beam wings -not present anymore-, endplates,…), that pulls up the flow from the diffuser. It is a rather complex interaction between the high and low pressure flows at the rear. A more in-depth explanation can be found here:
            http://www.f1technical.net/features/20279 (paragraph ‘endplate slats’).

            The issue before this year was that this “connection of flows” got quite weakened over the years. Rear wing and diffuser got more and more separated from eachother, first in 2009 by making the diffuser roof lower and the rear wing higher and less wide (as well as removing the aero apendages on and around the engine cover), than in 2011 by lowering the diffuser roof even further, and ultimately in 2014 as well when the beam wing got removed. I’m not sure how the flow behaved in the period of 2014-2016, but it can range from the diffuser flow being kicked/pulled less high up, or worse altogether detaching at higher speed and being send right at the front wing of the trailling car. Noticed how 2014-2016 did not bring any appreciable increase in overtaking even with less downforce from the diffuser (because less flow got pulled from the diffuser!).

            Next year the roof of the diffuser will rise and the rear wing will be wider and lower, which will definitely enhance the effect again. It will diffuser flow to rise higher and/or more consistently.

            1. Thanks :)

            2. @hugh11 you can see it in wet weather races, the spray used to be shot much “higher” than nowadays.

              This could also help dissipate the spry, and therefore improve visibility in rainy conditions

        2. Well… Other than he has driven virtually all of the different cars the regulations have made so far that is.

          From the highest downforce ever in 07-8 through to the low 09 – higher 11, EBD and F- duct types. Right up to today.

          I am pretty sure that gives him a huge level of experience far far beyond what a few boffins have just because they worked in a wind tunnel and noticed a few anomalies in 09 while trying to reduce speeds and subsequently making/informing regulations that made the single ugliest cars and front wings in history!

          In fact that is most likely the issue. The wrong people are involved!

          1. It gives him experience, not knowledge. People often confuse those 2 two with one another. I’m going even to be tad arrogant here and state Hamilton never has even looked at a computer screen with cfd analysis on it. Which for the record is not his concern. And agreed he has experience.

            But I wouldn’t compare him with what you call “a few boffins”, like Paddy Lowe, Ross Brawn and Pat symons (yes, those 3 were involved with that study!), which have studied engineering at universities and have been decades into engineering F1 cars. To put Hamilton’s “huge level of experience” above the actual experience and knowledge of the people who specifically work in the field of aerodynamics, is not really being in touch with reality. The whole issue around the 2009 study, is that it was both underfunded and too rushed, and the double diffuser and further development of aerodynamics undoing the perceived gains. Still, it was highly valuable and not enough credit is given.

            1. Andy.

              I am not sure if you are being obtuse but you have taken my comments and seemingly deliberately misunderstood.

              Given a Doctorate such as my own PLUS years of experience I certainly know the difference between the two terms. The reality is you need both knowledge and experience to make sensible judgements. Particularly in an area where your experience is vicarious. I do not recall the August names you mention driving the cars? Further I am certain staring at CFD screens will not assist in such.

              Like I said the wrong people are involved.

              They need both inputs.

            2. Andy.

              I am not sure if you are being obtuse but you have taken my comments and seemingly deliberately misunderstood.

              Given a Doctorate such as my own PLUS years of experience I certainly know the difference between the two terms. The reality is you need both knowledge and experience to make sensible judgements. Particularly in an area where your experience is vicarious and not direct. I do not recall the August names you mention driving the cars? Further I am certain staring at CFD screens will not assist in such. Further, the 09 study like it or not was full of partisan self serving decisions as a result.

              Like I said the wrong people are involved.

              They need both inputs.

            3. Drg,

              They get both inputs concerning set up of the car. Hamilton’s job or input does not involve deliberately running in turbulent wake. Hamilton’s job concerning aero set up is limited to a spread sheet of different l/d, discussing this with his race engineers and giving feedback. For the rest he can only say during a race if he is loosing downforce behind a different car. He is not able to tell which part of the car in front is causing an increase or decrease of turbulence. That is an aerodynamicist his duty (when tasked to do research in it).

              Like I said before, there were issues with the the 09 study (underfunded and underrated). I am however not that arrogant to simply dismiss the work of actual aerodynamicists with decades of experience in the field. Trying to discredit it is not going to change some of the conclusions they got out of it. I am not in a position to do that, and neither are you, whether you have a doctorate or not (this is the internet; you would not be the first to claim to have one, nor the last one).

          2. Sure we’ve all figured out by now that too much aero dependency is detrimental to closer racing, and we know F1 is addicted to aero. That said, nothing in LH’s quote nor the responses above mine point out the greater mechanical grip they will have. Luckily Brawn gets it and has already commented on the mechanical grip to aero grip ratio, and I’m confident that they will have the tools with these cars to get that right and ensure aero grip is not the majority of the grip, resulting in processions.

            Oh I’m glad the likes of LH is pointing out the detriments of too much aero, but I’m just not ready to write off the changes when we haven’t even seen them race in anger, and when folks choose to isolate just aero and not take into account the other changes that have been implemented, especially the tires.

            1. Exactly. Let’s look what happens. I don’t think we will have more overtaken (overrated in my opinion) as that will simply be more difficult with wider cars. However, we do might end up with more close racing, which is what we all really want. We might also not, but we’ll have to see for ourselves.

            2. About the tyres… if they do not drop off we are even more likely to see processions. Think Russia 2014 on a on-stopper, but then every race. The cars might just finish in order of teams most of the time (bar crashes, faillures etc.)

        3. Thanks for explnations!

      2. @hugh11 I was just about to comment on the same quote as it’s spot on.

        A great inventor isn’t someone who just designs new things. It is someone who spot problems, gaps or issues and designs a solution.

        F1 has enough bright minds to solve any problem – they just need to all agree on what the problem is have the desire to fix it.

      3. Well since Lewis has no background in aerodynamics his opinion is actually just as relevant as yours.

        However people with proper technical knowledge are suggesting this years aero will allow the following car to be quite stable and controllable, which is what’s important when overtaking is attempted.

        What fans don’t seem to understand is no cars traveling at F1 speeds will allow close following through corners.

        If you want to see cars follow closely through corners go watch a slower spec series. You don’t get to claim you can have cars as fast As F1 cars are and then demand the laws of physics be broken.

        Unless you want to open the rule books to the aerodynamicist who actually know how to create high DF cars that are stable in turbulent air and maintain DF levels.

        But forcing these geniuses to work with these pathetic wings is always going to result in what we’ve gotten.

    2. To be honest, my hope is that Bottas will be neither a Rosberg nor a Kovalainen, but rather a Alonso or Vettel. Wishful thinking I know.

      1. @mashiat I think that’s a fair point. I’ve tweaked that headline slightly as it was a bit too specific before.

      2. I expect Bottas will be a Bottas.

        Who else could he be?

        1. It’s less literal and more of who he will be closer to in terms of relative pace to Hamilton, overtaking ability etc.

        2. “Whose career will Bottas’ resemble?” would be at once more accurate and a lot clunkier.

      3. Im really looking forward to seeing how he gets on. I’ll judge him at the end of the season once he’s used to his new team.

        I think he’ll surprise a lot of people this year.

      4. I have rated Bottas highly since his arrival in F1. Now that he has a top drive, I hope to be proved correct, and that he will be a consistent threat.

        1. I expect Hamilton to continue his streak of winning the most races in a season. If Mercedes try and pull the shenanigans they did last year they will be completely exposed as a fraud. As for Bottas, I expect him to do alright but considering he hasn’t won a race, my expectations are not high.

          1. Hopefully Hamilton will have grown up a little bit after losing a title that he felt entitled to. Certainly his threatening to quit after the Spanish GP last year didn’t help with team dynamics. Bottas seems to be more level headed, and that can’t be bad for Mercedes.

    3. Kovalainen is the reason Bottas got the Mercedes seat, not Wehrlein.

      1. Wolff is the reason Bottas has this opportunity.

        1. You do not get signed to a top team unless you have earned it. Bottas obviously has done his work. Will be interesting to see how he performs after settling into the team.

    4. The decision to make F1 something like five seconds a lap faster; is that driven partly by the fact that the fastest GP2 cars are about 5 seconds a lap slower than the existing F1 cars?
      João Leite mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a new GP2 chassis is likely to be introduced in 2018. I don’t think it’s going to be slower than the existing chassis, is it? So is the reason for making F1 faster that the FIA want to preserve the gap between F1 and GP2 in 2018?

      1. Evil Homer (@)
        2nd February 2017, 13:33

        Yes Nick, exactly. GP2 were getting too close to F1 in lap times, and that should be an issue “for sure”. So they made new rules to make F1 faster- more aero grip with longer yet lower rear wing, cool, wider cars and tyres, more cool- these cars will be extraordinary to drive, I don’t think too many doubt that.

        But I think, like so many smarter than I, the lower difference between the slowest speed in a corner and highest straight line speed will make is harder to overtake. But lets hope that faster corner speeds and the fact drivers can brake a little later may make up for that, and we will see the men from the boys!

        If so our boy Dan is there if RBR give a good car, young Max of course, Lewis, Bottas will faster than most think (may have a lazy $50 on him for WDC) and if McLaren can get it together one must be a hater not to want Alonso in the mix for a third. Game On!

        1. I hope you’re right. But I will admit to being ready to be disappointed- anticipointment!
          looking at the difference between GP2 and GP3 on the same track, it seems to be around 7 – 8 seconds. So perhaps the FIA want to preserve that kind of gap between GP2 and F1 in 2018.

      2. @nickwyatt first of all, thank you for spelling my name correctly. I do enjoy this little things, as it is hard to come by.

        The second part of your comment. Don’t think that is the main argument for improving the pace on F1 cars. I think the main reason is that the last 3 years, under the new regulations the cars looked a bit dull, and not as challenging for the drivers, and especially the first year the cars lost a lot of pace, only now we are seeing lap records being broken, when the logical thing would be to challenge those records year by year.

        The idea, I believe, is to bring back some of the “respect” for what should be the pinnacle of Motorsport. This is something that we lost a little bit over the years. Formula 1 needs to be ruthless.

        1. first of all, thank you for spelling my name correctly.

          I will admit to copying and pasting!

          1. @nickwyatt ahah I imagined, the thingy (don’t know how it is called) on the letter “a” is usually hiden if you are not using a Portuguese keyboard

            1. Just to add though, lap records have only been recently broken in quali when cars are alone in clean air and not in tire conservation mode. Race lap times have been far slower, indicating the lack of work and challenge the drivers have had, and hence their desire for more challenge in F1, with the likes of FA even threatening to leave if F1 doesn’t get back to being a more enjoyable thing to do.

            2. @johnmilk this is way off subject, but it’s called a ’tilde’ in English. It used to be used very occasionally to signify a slight nasalisation of a letter – just as it is in Spanish or Portuguese. I can remember seeing it used on a couple of 19th/early 20th Century product logos, but I can’t remember which ones at the moment.

            3. Ah! Thanks, it actually has the same name as in Portuguese, same spelling also. And its use is the same, in Portuguese is used to express a nasal sound, ie, an “ao” has a very different pronunciation compared to an “ão”.

              Everybody welcome to Linguistic Fanatics

    5. Kovalinen is like the “Raditz” of f1

      1. I think you are being too generous with Kovaleinen

    6. I just want to see races between drivers again, and not between tyres.

    7. I expect Bottas to be a touch more of a consistent threat to Hamilton than Rosberg was. And yeah hopefully the tires will be less of a factor. And most of all of course closer competition at the top is I think on pretty much everyone’s wish list.

    8. It doesnt matter if you are flat out or not in a corner, it still destroys your tyres in the wake of another car.

    9. Of the 10 I must admit that I’m far less interested in what Bernie will do that I am in the outcome of the intra team driver battles this year.

      2017 has one of the best driver combinations in years – that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to.

    10. Even if it is processional I think I’m just burnt out from the constant complaints.

      I don’t think I care, I just want to watch the racing.

      1. Second thought, maybe Ferrari should try and hire Toto :p

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