Launch week: Pressure builds on Formula One to deliver

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert


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    Red Bull are slowly making their departure from the Formula One scene. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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    The 2017 season is dawning on Formula One, and as the sport transitions from its barren off-season to an optimistic pre-season, the first pieces of the year’s puzzle begin presenting themselves.

    This year Formula One is governed by a new set of technical regulations, and this month all ten teams are revealing their interpretation of the rewritten rulebook.

    Naturally each team will hope their challenger will be clever enough, their reading of the rules sophisticated enough, to propel them up the championship order.

    But while the 2017 launch week will reinstate last year’s rivalries – and settle the rumour, one way or the other, that Ferrari has found itself desperately behind the game – more important is that Formula One will be taking its first tentative steps into what is meant to be a spectacular new era.

    The 2017 rules are the long-awaited and much-hyped regulations meant to bring ‘the spectacle’ back to a Formula One judged to have lost its way in recent times.

    First billed in 2015 as a plan for “faster cars and thrilling races”, the new-look formula principally uses fatter tyres and more aggressive aerodynamics to speed up cars for the first time in generations.

    The combination of Pirelli’s new wider rubber and the lower, sweeping front and rear wings will give the car a distinctly nostalgic feel, but the formula’s secret ingredient will be the improved lap times, which will be somewhere between three and five seconds quicker than last year.

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    It sounds exciting on paper, especially since the sport dropped some of its more bombastic proposals for regulatory revolution in the preceding 24 months, but will they deliver?

    “If anybody was thinking of these rules with the aim of closing the field up, then they’ve got rocks in their head,” iconic Williams designer Patrick Head told The Guardian.

    “If they wanted a formula that allowed for more overtaking … then they needed to go for a formula that reduced downforce levels, but they have gone in the opposite direction.”

    Indeed, hand-in-hand with driver complaints that Pirelli’s tyres are prone to overheating is the way that, due to already advanced aerodynamics, following another car closely tends to hurt performance and – you guessed it – eat up the tyres.

    Further to the point is that the new aero-heavy and therefore drag-laden cars are best mated to more powerful engines, a field in which Mercedes will almost certainly still lead the way this year.

    Nico Rosberg pours champagne

    Coupled to the technical challenges facing this rule book is the fact that the sport’s poorer teams – including Williams, the surging Force India team, and struggling Sauber – are all disadvantaged when the rules are significantly rewritten.

    Compared to the cashed-up squads the small teams are severely restricted when it comes to build capacity and the ability to compete in one season while designing and building for the next.

    Given the midfield was just finding a happy, punchy medium last year, the third year of the previous regulations, a change in the rules is more likely to take the sport a step away from its goal of more competition.

    But that doesn’t mean we should lower our expectations.

    Certain is that the sport’s four power units, key to performance under these regulations, are converging in competitiveness and that aero development pace will be ferocious, meaning the championship order is at least theoretically open.

    We also know design genius Adrian Newey is again spearheading Red Bull Racing’s threat against Mercedes, and Ferrari, tipped to be at its hapless best, is an each-way bet to shine or embarrass itself.

    The fight between Williams and Force India will be fiercer in 2017 after Frank Williams’s historic team was bested by its lesser-funded midfield rival.

    Plus Renault and McLaren will be out to reclaim their places among the frontrunners after underwhelming 2016 campaigns.

    The path to a ‘more spectacular’ Formula One has never been narrower, but 2016 left us with an unfinished narrative the teams are yearning to close – and in the face of a counter-intuitive set of regulations it will be up to the teams alone to carry the sport into its next chapter.

    No launch season has been as important as that of the 2017 season, because the cars launched this month could make or break the next three seasons of Formula One.

    The pressure’s on.

    2017 Launch Dates
    Williams – 17 February (online)
    Sauber – 20 February (last night)
    Renault – 21 February
    Force India – 22 February
    Mercedes – 23 February
    Ferrari – 24 February
    McLaren – 24 February
    Haas – 26 February
    Red Bull Racing – 26 February
    Toro Rosso – 26 February

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • Roar Rookie

      February 21st 2017 @ 9:01am
      MoriartyExp said | February 21st 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Great article Michael…

      Let’s hope Brawn can change some technical issues for next season and Chase can see overall what needs to happen to bring F1 back to the spectators.

      Just hoping for a closer battle this season up the front end of the grid!

      • Columnist

        February 21st 2017 @ 8:03pm
        Michael Lamonato said | February 21st 2017 @ 8:03pm | ! Report

        Thanks, mate!

        What I think will be great about having Brawn and Carey on the books this year is that should the regulation not deliver, the likelihood of a classic F1-style knee-jerk reaction is low — instead we’ll end up with a long-term workable solution that will benefit the sport overall.

    • Roar Guru

      February 21st 2017 @ 6:24pm
      Bayden Westerweller said | February 21st 2017 @ 6:24pm | ! Report

      It could be that the new regulations don’t come into their own until 2018, with this season dominated by one or two outfits, a la 2009 – whether that entails a Mercedes status quo or a new force, whilst the rest come to terms with new concepts.

      On the commercial side, patience must be afforded for Liberty – primarily through Ross Brawn, to implement its own outlined changes, and to extract the full potential out of the new formula, which might not be realised in its entirety until the close of the decade, in tandem with the next Concorde Agreement which hopefully goes a long way towards addressing equality.

      • Columnist

        February 21st 2017 @ 8:08pm
        Michael Lamonato said | February 21st 2017 @ 8:08pm | ! Report

        I think what we will see from Liberty this year is Brawn and Carey having to choose a path should a union of the sport’s big teams form. If Mercedes, RBR, Ferrari and the other high flyers start playing hard ball in these early stages of commercial renegotiation, how will they keep them and the small teams happy? A budget cap could be the first battleground given it wouldn’t require any new commercial terms, only agreement with the FIA. It should be a fascinating season on the political front, all things considered!

        • Roar Guru

          February 21st 2017 @ 8:23pm
          Bayden Westerweller said | February 21st 2017 @ 8:23pm | ! Report

          The ‘big four’ must come to the table with an open mind if there’s any prospect of unity, and a potential FOTA reunification to that end. Unsure whether Brawn’s history at Mercedes and Ferrari will carry any sway in making them see reason, though it’s worth a crack.

          Whether the outfits can be convinced prior to entering the next round of negotiations that a budget cap can be expedited independently is dubious, though 2017 shapes as a pivotal season as much off-circuit as on. If the manufacturers particularly can be brought to seeing altruistically long-term, there might just be a chance.

          • Columnist

            February 22nd 2017 @ 10:30pm
            Michael Lamonato said | February 22nd 2017 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

            The manufacturers, though, are the only ones who can make the current generation of complicated power units, which earns them enough political sway not to have to open-mindedly come to the table. Maybe, like you say, some goodwill towards Brawn can save the situation, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if their starting position was a hard ball one — don’t forget also that Mercedes can say it has one foot out the door with its reserved place in Formula E, where Renault’s already a major player. Powerful negotiating cards.

            I’d also say the lack of willingness amongst most teams to buy into the commercial rights of the sport is a negative sign, though that’s more speculative.

            • Roar Guru

              February 23rd 2017 @ 8:48pm
              Bayden Westerweller said | February 23rd 2017 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

              Mercedes is certainly in a position to call the shots, especially if they sustain its dominance, though it would be a shame to see them leverage presence in another category over one which has delivered so much success and publicity, extending into road sales etc in recent times. It’s a cynical business, so it wouldn’t be unsurprising all the same.

              How Liberty conducts itself across the first six months or so will go a long way to determining whether the outfits are keen to buy in, though a few could already have been expected to had they been that impressed with its acquisition.

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