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2017 offers a chance for a fresh start in Formula One. I think there will opportunities for several teams to win this season. They may not improve the action on track but the new regulations could at least promote more competition in terms of overall performance. Looking at the top three teams as it stood at the end of last season, I am wondering if we could see a substantial change in these teams’ fortunes over the next 12 months.
I see potential for Red Bull to become the benchmark. In this new era, we will see cars relying much more on aerodynamics and the renowned Adrian Newey must surely be confident of building a Championship winning car. Their performance will hang hugely on Renault however, and it must be said that if they are still not up to the speed of their rivals there is absolutely no excuse. Now with the added investment that must inevitably arrive on the back of their purchase of the Lotus team, Renault really need to get their engine up to the standard of the Mercedes.
With the eradication of the engine credit system that has limited development and stifled the abilities of Ferrari, Renault and Honda to close the gulf between them and Mercedes, I’m hoping that the performance disparity that has become hugely detrimental to the image of Formula One will begin to even out. I don’t think Mercedes are in danger of being overtaken in terms of engine performance, but they shouldn’t have such an advantage as they have had over the last three years.
There is no denying that Mercedes have had by far the best engine, but even without that advantage, the car itself would still be at least as quick as their nearest rivals. I see absolutely no reason to believe that this regulation change is going to have a negative affect on the Mercedes car. I expect they have been pushing the development of their 2017 car since they sealed the Constructors’ title in Japan. The onus is still very much on the chasing pack to find a way to catch up.
Lewis Hamilton will be the man to beat. Losing out on the chance to take his fourth Championship hurt and you can be sure that he will be more prepared than he has ever been to reclaim his place as the world’s best. Even if there is more competition from the teams around him, I see little that can get in the way of Lewis this year. Whoever is brought in to replace Rosberg will need time to adjust to the team and Hamilton will no doubt use that to his advantage.
Then we have Ferrari. I am worried. They are a team who appear to be in the middle of a fairly substantial crisis. Their management set up is fundamentally flawed and having a harmful effect on the day to day running of the team. While they were said to have virtually matched Mercedes for engine performance at the start of 2016, but they have remained some way behind the World Champions and were beaten consistently by Red Bull. The Italian outfit finished up a very disappointing third place.
In my view, Sebastian Vettel has exacerbated the problem. He came into this team after being profoundly beaten by Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull. While last year could have been considered a transition period for the German, the same simply cannot be said for his second season with the team. Vettel can boast four World titles along with a collection of other records, you would be forgiven for expecting more from a driver with so much previous success. Kimi Raikkonen got stronger throughout last year, and by the end of the season, looked to be the superior driver within the Ferrari team.
At a time when Ferrari have needed to bring themselves together and begin to build the strength of the team, from what I can gather, Vettel has been focussing to centre the focus around himself and his own ambition. This has caused a rift among the management, and has, if anything, made the lack of communication within the team even more severe. Seb will need to work with his team in order to initiate the significant improvement that will be required over the winter and into next season.
Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari will each go into pre-season testing with hopes of gaining an early advantage over their rivals. I am expecting Red Bull to make substantial in-roads into Mercedes’ advantage, I see them having a chance at victory at the opening race in Melbourne. Ferrari have a lot of work to do. They should never be discounted, there is inherent class within that team. But considering they were projecting wins this time last year, they need to find some serious performance if they intend to challenge for wins this year.