With testing and a grand prix out of the way, the 2017 F1 season brings high expectations for fans. With cars that are nearly 3 seconds a lap faster than last year and close to eclipsing lap records set in early 2000’s era, the cars are obviously faster than in years previous. When teams unveiled the 2017 cars in late February the world was in awe at the aggressive designs and shapes: wider, longer, and more angular. The cars performed on track at testing, raising eyebrows through the high-speed corners of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Leaving testing, Ferrari was poised to be the fastest car on the grid, although last year they were in the same position after pre-season and had a dismal 2016 season. Melbourne would prove to show the true pace of the teams, as it always does.
On race day of the Australian Grand Prix just a few days ago I felt this sense of “this is the year,” thinking that this year would bring more inter-team battles and a real fight for the world championship. Since 2014 Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren have been talking about “catching up” to Mercedes and Williams and Force India have always been on the heels of the top teams, surprising them with an occasional podium. As it has turned out after the first race, this might be the year where Mercedes are really given a challenge. Although they ultimately lost on a strategy error, Ferrari was able to control the gap to the Mercedes’ of Hamilton and Bottas charging behind them. So Ferrari’s pace seems true, not faster than Mercedes but maybe just as fast as Mercedes. Or could this have been a one-off win for Ferrari like in 2015? That seems unlikely based off of the pace shown in Melbourne but never the less Mercedes could turn up the wick and run away with the championship. The first race is always too early to tell.
With the first weekend in the books there are a few things that are evident. The first being Lewis Hamilton’s form. The triple world champion looks ready to snag his fourth title. He’s focused, fast, and carries a confident aura. Bottas seems to have good pace but is still getting to grips with his Mercedes W08. Williams driver and sole rookie in the 2017 field Lance Stroll has continued to struggle adapting to Formula 1 and has been off the pace of his teammate consistently throughout testing and at the Australian Grand Prix. He has also continued to struggle driving the Formula 1 car, crashing in testing several times and then in Free Practice 3 in Melbourne. Force India had a good showing with a double points finish in their first race and hopefully they will continue their great form from last year and finish close to the front runners.
Seeing the new cars in action is exhilarating and exciting. Watching them go through the high-speed corners and storm down the straights really adds some excitement to the new season. However increased down force might make overtaking that much harder because the cars won’t be able to follow behind turbulent air, and F1 doesn’t need anymore quick DRS overtakes. Overall there are a lot of reasons to be excited for this season of F1. Let’s hope it lives up to its expectations.