2017 Formula 1 Predictions

After champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement, what does the future hold for Formula 1?

Published: 3rd February 2017

After a series of dramatic developments both on and off the track, the 2017 Formula 1 season looks to be one of the most intriguing to date.

New car specifications, a retired World Champion and new management all look to shake up the world’s premier motorsport. But what do we know for certain going into 2017? ALA GAP Insurance has produced a summary what we know so far, alongside a series of predictions to help weather the upcoming Formula 1 storm.

Nico Rosberg has Retired

In a move that shocked the world of motorsport, just five days after finally winning his first world title, Nico Rosberg announced that he would be retiring from the sport with immediate effect. The winner of nine of the 2016 season’s twenty-one grands prix, Rosberg defeated his three-time champion Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by five points to win the championship. But with a young family to take care of, his final victory signalled the end in Rosberg’s eyes.

I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right, Rosberg said.

Although he has left in his wake a great career, Rosberg’s retirement has also resulted in a sport without a defending champion. Rosberg’s former team, Mercedes, will as such be looking to defend their Constructor’s Champion status for the fourth year running without him, having signed the Finn Valtteri Bottas from the Williams team to their own. Bottas will therefore be Lewis Hamilton’s team partner on the starting grid for the 2017 season.

Bernie Ecclestone is Out

After almost 40 years served as Chief Executive of the Formula One Group, ‘F1 Supremo’ Bernie Ecclestone was removed from his position in January 2017 after US media conglomerate Liberty Media finalised its $8bn (£6.4bn) takeover of the business.

Although credited with revolutionising the sport and turning Formula 1 into the global sporting giant it is today, Ecclestone also had many critics of the way he ran the business. Particularly in recent years, moves such as pushing for races to be held in countries with questionable political regimes and his introduction of ideas such as the 2014 season’s double points rule and the new elimination-style qualifying system for the 2016 season were labelled ‘unfair’ by fans and gave rise to concerns that the new rules would be too difficult for fans to follow by some F1 drivers. Both ideas were dropped after lasting only one season a piece.

Ecclestone was also fiercely resistant to bring Formula 1 up to speed with the internet age, something which has long aggravated those who wish to see it utilised to its full potential. Ecclestone’s main argument was that he saw no money to be made in embracing an ever more digital world. However, with the success that the sister sport Formula E has seen with its adoption of Internet-based fan interaction, it could be argued that Ecclestone was a man stuck in the past.

With Liberty Media now in charge, the online aspect of the sport could start to turn around this year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Formula 1 become increasingly more digitally active in attempts to drum up interest and boost viewership, especially in the US where Formula 1 has struggled to win audiences – however it is possible that such moves could upset ‘purist’ F1 fans.

New F1 Car Regulations

The 2017 season will see a whole host of new regulations that the car manufacturers must follow. The cars will be bigger, heavier and will look more “aggressive”, most notably due to having much fatter tyres this season. The front tyres will be 305mm wide as opposed to the 245mm wide ones in the 2016 season, and the rear tyres will be increased from 325mm to a whopping 405mm wide. The wings will also be wider, with the rear wing lower than before. This, combined with modified specifications to the bodywork and other factors, will allow the cars to be more aerodynamic and therefore faster, with the FIA claiming that there should be considerable gains of over three seconds expected for the 2017 season. Mercedes’ Toto Wolff stated that the 2017 cars “will be more difficult to drive” and “deploy much more G on the driver like in the past”. For some drivers who have been itching to feel the sport’s “wow” factor again, such as Fernando Alonso, this will be welcome news.

We just need the fastest cars to produce a good show, Alonso said.

With the cars for 2017 expected to be even faster and more aerodynamic than those of 2016, which were already much faster than those of 2015’s season, further decreases in lap times and an increase in downforce on corners seem all but assured.

Will the Action Improve?

While the increased speed, G forces and downforce will be likely to make the races more challenging for drivers, it remains to be seen whether Formula 1’s overtaking issues will persist or not in the 2017 season. While the bigger tyres will lead to more mechanical grip, the higher generation of downforce could mean a larger aerodynamic wake produced by the cars. This would further hinder those cars immediately behind it and make it harder for cars to overtake, something that Lewis Hamilton said cost him the Brazilian Grand Prix to his partner Rosberg last season. As such, Hamilton voiced his frustrations over the plans to increase the aerodynamics of the cars for 2017, saying that it was the “worst idea” and that “[Formula 1] don’t really know what they’re trying to solve”. Hamilton stated: “Give us five seconds’ worth of lap time from aero and nothing will change – we’ll just be driving faster.”

Who Will Win?

The question on every Formula 1 fan’s mind is, of course, “Who’s going to win the season?” As far as the Constructor’s Championship goes, Mercedes remains the strongest team on the grid by quite a hefty margin, but the fact that Nico Rosberg has left them means that they spent time in the off-season looking for Rosberg’s replacement driver rather than having all their efforts focused on improving the cars. While they did secure Valtteri Bottas from Williams to replace Rosberg, who finished 8th overall for the 2016 season, it remains to be seen how he will perform under the Mercedes banner. Fellow Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, of course, remains a top threat on the field and should not be taken lightly by anybody. The three-time champion will be inevitably looking for as many podium finishes as possible this year following his marginal five-point defeat at the hands of Rosberg for the championship last year.

Red Bull Racing and Ferrari are likely to be the closest rivals to Mercedes this year. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in particular could well be set for a breakout year in 2017. The fresh-faced 19-year-old Dutchman turned many heads in the 2016 season, attaining his first-ever Formula 1 victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in his first race under the Red Bull Racing banner. He then proceeded to achieve a further ten top-five finishing positions for the season, including one at the Brazilian Grand Prix where Verstappen came from behind – as low as 15th place – with 15 laps remaining to eventually finish the race in a podium-placing 3rd place. His performance was hailed as “one of the best ever in Formula 1” history, with his Red Bull boss Christian Horner branding Verstappen’s recovery as “amazing”. Although Verstappen’s driving has been accused of being “aggressive” and “dangerous” at times, sometimes by other drivers such as Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel, the faster and more aerodynamic cars for the 2017 season could mean that the young Dutchman could be in for a stellar year.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, also shouldn’t be discounted. Ricciardo finished 3rd overall for the 2016 season, with sixteen top-five finishes including one win (at the Malaysian Grand Prix) amongst seven podium finishes. Ferrari’s team of veteran drivers, Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel, are bound to be strong threats also, especially with Rosberg’s absence, after finishing in 6th and 4th place overall respectively for 2016.

The McLaren-Honda team has struggled for the last two seasons, particularly with their new Honda engines that have attracted criticism since their 2015 return. However, with new rules introduced concerning the removal of Formula 1’s engine token system, the team have totally overhauled their engines and are confident that they can rise to the top once again to claim a ninth Constructor’s Championship.

Ultimately, with the new car regulations and the power vacuum left by Rosberg’s retirement, 2017 could be anyone’s to win. With the aforementioned power players on the starting grid, as well as the presence of other ever-threatening veterans such as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the 2017 season promises to be one to keep a watchful eye on and could easily be full of surprises. Will Hamilton secure his fourth championship? Or will we see a new face like Verstappen or Ricciardo take the crown? And how will the new “mean” car regulations affect the drivers’ performances? The kick-off Australian Grand Prix should be a good indication of things to come. The motorsports world is sure to be watching closely, especially with Liberty Media likely to take Formula 1 into a new digital age. Bring on the chequered flag!

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Published: 3rd February 2017
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