Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017

Have Mercedes finally been caught? Five Australian GP talking points

2017 Australian Grand Prix

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The first race of 2017 is almost upon us. Here are the top five talking points ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Have Mercedes finally been caught?

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2017
Hamilton has been hyping up Ferrari
At the track on Thursday Lewis Hamilton was eager to play up Ferrari’s testing pace as evidence that the red team are Formula One’s new pace-setters.

Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel was doing the exact opposite for Ferrari. Meanwhile everyone is waiting to discover whether Red Bull has some dramatic new upgrade ready to propel its car to the front of the park.

There has only been eight non-Mercedes race wins over the past three seasons and most of those occured on days when the silver cars hit reliability trouble (or each other). If the season begins with an SF70H or RB13 at the top of the times sheets, we can be optimistic the rest of the year won’t be quite so one-sided.

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How quick will the new cars be?

This is going to be a talking point at every track this year. However as the front-running teams are widely believed to have concealed their pace during testing, this weekend will give the best indication yet just how much quicker the new cars are.

The rapid turns five, eleven and twelve should be especially spectacular. Drivers were backing off the throttle at these high-speed corners twelve months ago but may be able to tackle them without lifting this year.

One-lap performance is one thing, but when it comes to the race we should also see drivers being able to push their cars to the limit for longer. Pirelli’s wider tyres have been designed to degrade more slowly, so we can also expect fewer pit stops, even with the ultra-soft compound being part of the allocation.

Will overtaking be possible?

Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Circuit de Catalunya, 2017
Will they be able to get close to each other?
Many drivers have expressed concerns over what new regulations will mean for the quality of racing in general and overtaking in particular. They have reported the cars are now more sensitive to running close behind another which, combined with shorter braking zones, sounds like a recipe for processions.

DRS is also expected to be less powerful and the mechanics of it could be changed for future races.

However the stronger tyres may help drivers run together more closely than they could last year. Higher cornering speeds could also make mistakes more punishing if drivers run wide or miss a braking point. And the cars are much more physically demanding, so fatigue could become a factor.

Can McLaren go the distance?

Having failed to do more than a dozen consecutive laps during testing, how much of the 58-lap race distance will the McLaren-Hondas complete on Sunday? And how much will they have to turn their engines down to achieve any kind of reasonable running?

Barring a miracle the team looks set for a very difficult start to the season. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne may well have exhausted every platitude in the PR handbook by the time they head for the airport.

Will Melbourne produce one of ‘those’ season-openers?

Ralf Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Melbourne, 2002
The 2002 season began with a bang
From time to time Melbourne serves up one of those season openers which is completely unpredictable. Think of the huge first-lap crash in 2002, Jacques Villeneuve being bundled off at the first corner in 1997 or Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica and Lewis Hamilton hitting trouble in the closing laps of 2009.

In three days’ time we could be talking about what the first race of the year revealed about the season ahead. But we might just as easily be remarking on a completely bonkers race which told us absolutely nothing.

Are you going to the Australian Grand Prix?

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2017 Australian Grand Prix

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Author information

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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33 comments on “Have Mercedes finally been caught? Five Australian GP talking points”

  1. So. Much. Hype.

    Not been this excited about a Formula 1 season in a long time.

    1. Me too, @victor. I’m practically pulling my hair out of my head I’m so impatient for Saturday morning to arrive.

  2. spafrancorchamps
    23rd March 2017, 12:26

    Yes, Mercedes has been caught definitely. Be aware for the return of The Finger. We’re all going to see this one again. Hopefully not too often, spicing up the field is one thing, new dominance is something completely different. I just hope we’ll get a season like 2008. Last good season we’ve seen. Good races, exciting championship!

    1. Where were you in 2010 and 2012?

      1. spafrancorchamps
        23rd March 2017, 16:34

        Good seasons, not such exciting races however.

        1. And 2008 had generally good races?

          1. spafrancorchamps
            23rd March 2017, 20:16

            Definitely! Of course it had some dull races, like the Spanish GP if I recall correctly. But the British GP was great, Monaco was good, Spa, Monza.. not to forget the epic season ending in Brazil. 2010 probably had the dull races out of the last 10 seasons. I think of Turkey and Korea that were good. But most of the races were Vettel dominated, until his car would break down again. That was the only reason why the championship was so close till the end. Exciting season, but boring races. 2012 had better racing, but I’d still prefer 2008, due to Ferrari and McLaren being pretty much equal overall.

          2. spafrancorchamps
            23rd March 2017, 20:17

            2012 had better racing compared to 2010 I meant.

    2. I think anyone with a decent memory for transformative events in F1
      knows that it’s wisest to wait until we have at least the first three
      races under our belts before making ANY predictions about the
      best performing teams. Every one of the current top six teams has
      some very clever, very able engineering capabilities at it’s disposal
      and every few years someone really blows us all out of the water
      with a development which conforms to the extant rules but invents
      a perfectly legitimate means of doing something in a new way.

      I have a very strong feeling that this years easing of some restrictions
      is going to open some doors none of us knew existed.

      Bring it on…..says I !

  3. The bonkers race that tells us nothing… when I read

    “Pirelli is hoping to evaluate revised wet Formula 1 tyre compounds in time for the Chinese Grand Prix after admitting that the ones tested at Barcelona were not ideal.”

    3 weeks ago, I read that as “wet race before china confirmed”. Now my forecaster has rain only for monday after the race, but maybe that moves in a bit earlier… also, red flags in q1 due to stopping McLarens could catch someone out in there…

    Really, for the first race I don’t really want an order established, that can come later.

    1. @crammond As a protest to his firing Bernie plants sprinklers on Melbourne? :p

      1. @davidnotcoulthard I look forward to Paul Ricard 2018. Bernie owns the track, sprinklers are already in place, and I don’t see any rule that hinders him to turn them on.

  4. I hope the after all the hype F1 doesn’t turn out like how Mass Effect Andromeda is perceived to be.

  5. I’m rather cautiously excited for this season – I’m very hopeful that we’re going to see a fight for poles, wins and championships that is between more than just one team and two drivers.

  6. Has Hamilton lost his last chance to win a fourth title?
    That malaysian mishap could be a lot more costly than it seemed.

    1. I think his original goal was to match Senna with regards to the number of World Championships won. He has achieved this, therefore anything more is simply a bonus.

      1. Hamilton’s goal now should be to match Vettel.

          1. Because it is the next guy in line. Then whoever has 5 titles, then 6, 7, and so on.

            It is not the name, it’s the number

  7. First race post Bernie… *rolls eyes*

    1. Yes, it will be interesting to see if there are any obvious changes.

      1. I personally could do without the national anthem ceremony prior to the races…

        1. Hear, hear. Tedious waste of time which was only brought in as a sop to Putin.

          1. No way?! I have a terrible memory. I assumed they’d always been there. And I’ve been watching since I was about 8….

  8. As Murray always told us, catching is one thing, passing is quite another.

    1. To finish first, you must first finish.

  9. I am hoping for “one of those” openers. Last time the reg’s changed there were two McLarens on the podium (after RIC’s DQ). How about a Haas sneaking in there with the same start of the year magic we saw last year. Or Renault putting all the right moves together to sneak past the others? I want to see a weird race, with strategies and circumstances producing drama everywhere.

  10. Does anyone else want to see a pink car on the podium? Checo top 3?

  11. One question that is not being asked is wether or not broadcast will have any changes as a result of Liberty Media taking over. The last few years the attention has been at the front even when nothing is happening, I hope it changes. Some more footage of the back markets would be welcomed too, they surely need the exposure and the intra team battles are usually quite interesting.

    New shot angles would also be appreciated.

  12. Michael Brown (@)
    23rd March 2017, 19:34

    6. Is Stroll all money?

    1. @mbr-9 – Good question.

      And, will he wreak havoc only on his own races with mistakes, or will he take others out with him? I would actually like to see him do well and be a very pleasant surprise.

  13. Looking forward to a new season in F1!

    Biggest question – How close are RBR, Merc and Ferrari, and who will rise to the top?

    Biggest potential (and extremely likely) disappointment – How many laps will McLaren/Honda be able to complete in Practice/Qualifying/Race before both cars are forced to retire?

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