So what’s new in F1 in 2017? First, the entry list. Unfortunately, we are down to 20 cars once more, following the demise of Manor Racing team, which means we no longer have that extra battle at the back of the field to avoid the dreaded 11th place and resulting lack of income.
There are only two new drivers in this year’s field, Lance Stroll at Williams and Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren, although the latter made his debut in Bahrain last year. In addition, five drivers have changed teams, namely Valtteri Bottas (Williams to Mercedes), Nico Hulkenberg (Force India to Renault), Kevin Magnussen (Renault to Haas), Esteban Ocon (Manor to Force India) and Pascal Wehrlein (Manor to Sauber). Drivers who were on last year’s entry list and are no longer present are Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, Esteban Gutierrez, and Felipe Nasr.
LAT PhotographicGlenn Dunbar
Changes in team management
There have been many changes of key personnel, with the biggest being Paddy Lowe’s move from Mercedes to Williams, and James Allison’s arrival at Mercedes following a spell on gardening leave after he left Ferrari last year. Top aerodynamicists on the move include Allison’s former colleague Dirk de Beer (Ferrari to Williams) and Pete Machin (Red Bull to Renault, starting in July). Renault has also hired former RBR/McLaren man Ciaron Pilbeam as chief race engineer.
Frederic Vasseur, who served as Renault team principal last year, has left the team, and Renault Sport boss Cyril Abiteboul will in effect fill the role. Pat Symonds, who was the technical boss at Williams, is now working for the UK’s Sky TV.
The only change to the calendar compared to 2016 is that we have dropped from 21 to 20 races as there is no German GP.
So what about the cars? In preparing for the 2017 season F1 teams faced the challenge of dealing with one of the biggest packages of chassis rule changes seen for several years.
The general idea was to make the cars faster and physically more challenging for the drivers, with a significant improvement in lap time, while at the same time make them look more aggressive and exciting.
The most obvious change is in the size of the tires, and hence the overall width of the cars. Almost two decades after the sport switched to narrow track cars it has returned to a familiar look from the past with front tires that are 70mm wider than last year’s, and rears that have increased by 80mm.
LAT ImagesZak Mauger
After an extensive test program with modified 2015 cars last year Pirelli developed new compounds and constructions to cope with the higher speeds and higher loads which will be seen in 2017, and which will only increase over the season due to the pace of aero development.
The tire usage rules have remained unchanged, although for the first five races the FIA has mandated that all drivers have the same selection at each event, namely two sets of the hardest tire, four of the medium, and seven of the softest. For the sixth race in Monaco and beyond the teams will make their own choices, as last year.
LAT ImagesZak Mauger
Downforce levels have increased substantially, helped by longer and higher rear diffusers. Front and rear wings have a swept back look, intended to make the cars look more aggressive, while the rear is lower and wider. Teams have also been given more freedom for developing aerodynamic parts in the bargeboard area, while the floor is also wider.
Some cars appeared in Barcelona testing with extra “T-wings” located between the airbox and the rear wing, in an area that is free for aerodynamic development, while vertical shark fins on top of the engine cover have also become standard as part of the overall package – despite many observers agreeing that they spoil the overall look of the new cars.
No more token system
In a major change to the power unit regulations the token system, used to regulate development, has been dropped. Instead the manufacturers have the freedom to develop their power units throughout the season – although they can only introduce new parts within the normal schedule of changes of the six elements that comprise the power unit. This year only four examples of each of the elements can be used before penalties are applied, rather than five, as was the case last year.
In the past we have seen drivers stockpiling power unit elements by making multiple changes in one weekend, while knowing that the most severe penalty would be to start last. That has now been stopped, with the regulations stating: “During any single Event, if a driver introduces more than one of the same power unit element which is subject to penalties, only the last element fitted may be used at subsequent Events without further penalty.”
LAT PhotographicSam Bloxham
Wet-weather race starts
Races that start behind safety cars due to wet conditions will now be very different, because from this year when the track is deemed to be safe for racing the field will stop on the grid and conduct a normal standing start, instead of just being released when the safety car comes in. The formation laps run behind the safety car won’t count as racing laps – apart from one, they will be deducted from the race distance. Thus if the race is supposed to be 70 laps and five are run behind the safety car before the standing start, the race distance subsequently run will be 70 minus five plus one, i.e. 66.
The stewards have been given more discretion when dealing with incidents this year, with the Sporting Regulations stating that “unless it is clear to the stewards that a driver was wholly or predominantly to blame for an Incident no penalty will be imposed.”
If a driver receives a penalty during a race, but cannot take it because before he retires from the race, it can be carried over to the next race in the form of a grid penalty. This applies to time penalties, drive through penalties, and stop-and-go penalties
LAT PhotographicSam Bloxham
Finally, there has of course been a major change in the way the sport is run after Liberty Media purchased the F1 Group. Chase Carey has replaced Bernie Ecclestone as CEO, with the latter getting the vague Chairman Emeritus title, although he insists that he will still come to races. Former team principal Ross Brawn has returned to F1 as Managing Director Motorsports, working alongside Carey, and his focus will be on changes for the longer term.