The 2017 Formula One season looks to be an interesting one, with the new regulation changes aimed at producing faster cars and more competition on the grid.
Here, I will be looking at the teams and drivers, giving my thoughts on what to expect this season.
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport: Lewis Hamilton (44) and Valtteri Bottas (77)
The upcoming season will be one of intrigue for the Brackley based Silver Arrows. It’s very rare for a team to keep up their dominance after a major regulation shake up, although they’ll still be viewed as the team to beat.
It will be a telling season for their drivers too; Lewis will not have been pleased in losing the title to Nico Rosberg and will be determined to reclaim it this year.
His off track antics seemed to play a part in his downfall and it’ll be interesting to see if this changes.
Despite this, there’s no doubting that he possess the natural talent to eclipse his hero Ayrton Senna and become a four time world champion.
Mercedes will be the team to beat once again in 2017
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On the other hand, Valtteri Bottas will be aiming to prove that he has what it takes to become a Formula One world champion.
He has demonstrated flashes of brilliance as to why he is a highly rated driver during his four year stint at Williams.
However, some experts believe he lacks the raw race craft to enable him to fight alongside Lewis in 2017; the first round in Australia should give us some answers.
Red Bull Racing-Tag Heuer: Daniel Ricciardo (3) and Max Verstappen (33)
Red Bull were easily the best of the rest last season, as they took advantage of Mercedes’ mishaps to win the Spanish and Malaysian Grand Prix.
However, the team did cost Ricciardo a likely victory in Monaco due to a communication problem regarding a pit stop which gifted Hamilton the lead.
Despite this, both were regulars on the podium, with some expect Adrian Newey’s expertise will lead Red Bull back to the front of the grid once more.
Max Verstappen proved many experts wrong last year and demonstrated why Red Bull swapped him with Kvyat mid season with some amazing overtakes, most notably in Brazil, as well as his win in his first race for the team.
Although he did come under criticism for his movement under braking, as each race passes by he looks more likely to become world champion sooner rather than later.
Red Bull will be aiming for their first championship in four years
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As for Daniel Ricciardo, he showed he has what it takes to fight alongside the Flying Dutchman, as demonstrated in Malaysia where the Aussie held off Verstappen to win.
If giving a potential world championship winning car, Daniel seems ready to put up a challenge and become deliver his country’s first world champion for 37 years.
Scuderia Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel (5) and Kimi Räikkönen (7)
Given the Scuderia’s resurgence in 2015, many expected them to take the fight to Mercedes once again in 2016.
In reality, the team disappointed, failing to take a single win and at times, made some baffling strategic calls which cost them dearly.
In November, Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne stated he would “no longer throw money” at their F1 team, suggesting more tough times lie ahead if they haven’t been able to catch up over the winter.
Should this happen, what does that mean for Sebastian and his title ambitions?
With Valtteri believed to be on a one year contract with an option to extend, this could provide the German with a chance to jump off the sinking ship.
In the meantime, Seb will be determined to take Ferrari back to the top and where it should be; winning races and challenging for world championships.
Will the new regulation changes result in a turn of fortunes for the Scuderia?
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In contrast, Kimi Räikkönen still hasn’t won a race for the team that gave him a world championship since returning to Maranello in 2014.
Although a consistent fixture in the top ten, it is possible his time there will be coming to an end, with the team keeping an eye on the grid to see who could be his replacement.
For the simple Finn, 2017’s objective will be to focus on developing the car and, should the opportunity arise, fight for that race win so many fans want to see before he hangs up his racing gloves for the last time.
Sahara Force India-Mercedes: Sergio Perez (11) and Esteban Ocon (31)
Accounting for their budget, Force India punched far above their weight to finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship; the teams best finish thus far.
Holding on to Sergio has been vital to the team and his two podiums at Monaco and Baku demonstrate how valuable an asset he is to the team.
A top four finish this year can be seen as a realistic target for them as they look to climb further up the grid. It won’t be easy, but nothing ever is in Fomrula One.
Sergio’s performance for Force India have fans and experts alike discussing about him being ready for a move to a team capable of challenging for wins consistently.
His move to McLaren in 2013 was too early for the Mexican, who has since rebuilt his confidence and looks better than ever.
Should the team be able to take the car to the next level, could he pull off a shock win?
Can Force India continue to push further up the grid?
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Esteban Ocon featured in nine races last year for the now defunct Manor team, after replacing Rio Haryanto at the Belgian Grand Prix.
He was able to match Pascal Wehrlein consistently and was running in the points for a while in Brazil before fading, demonstrating why he was called up ahead of the German.
It will be interesting to see how he fares alongside his experienced teammate, and see what he can achieve in his first full season of Formula One.
Williams Martini Racing-Mercedes: Lance Stroll (18) and Felipe Massa (19)
To say that Williams struggled last year is a bit of an understatement. The team’s only podium came courtesy of Bottas’ third place finish in Canada and at times, they struggled to make it into the top ten.
Felipe Massa has had to delay his retirement to partner Canadaian Lance Stroll, who dominated last years European Formula Three Championship.
For the former world champions, the aim is simple; attempt to place themselves in a similar position as to where they were at the beginning of the hybrid era and consistently fight for podiums.
Lance Stroll has been a topical subject in Formula One since he was linked with the Williams seat.
For starters, the team had to delay the announcement of his signing as title sponsor Martini didn’t want a driver to be signed with the team under the legal drinking age.
Then, there was the discussion of him only being in Formula One due to his father being a billionaire – he allegedly stated that he’d spent over $100 Million in sponsorship for his son – despite being fairly consistent in his two seasons of Formula Three.
Based on what I’ve seen so far, Stroll can go a long way. Watch this space.
Williams will be aiming for more consistency in 2017
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After what was an emotional and rather fitting send off in Brazil, Felipe Massa has returned to Williams for 2017.
Many speculated that Mercedes tried to bargain by promoting their junior Wehrlein in order to lure Bottas away.
However, Williams wanted an experienced driver for Lance to learnfrom, whilst title sponsor Martiniwanted one of their driver to be over the age of 25 (I can see a pattern developing here).
Now that he’s back, some question how motivated he is, drawing comparison to the recent example of Michael Schumacher’s three years at Mercedes.
Regardless, he’ll act as a benchmark for his youthful teamate and could possibly prove to his doubters that there is still flair within the Brazilian.
McLaren-Honda: Stoffel Vandoorne (2) and Fernando Alonso (14)
Last year, the Woking based outfit showed some signs of progress but there is still a lot of work to be done.
After a dispute with the team’s shareholders, Ron Dennis has now left the team he helped lead towards ten Drivers’ and seven Constructors’ Championships.
Realistically though, the results have to start arriving sooner rather than later if they want challenge at the front for race wins and titles once again.
Stoffel Vandoorne has been on the radar or a while now, something which was epitomised after winning the GP2 title in 2015.
Last year he was racing in the Super Formula series in Japan, winning two races to finish fourth in the championship.
In his Formula One debut in Bahrain, replacing Alonso who was recovering from his incident at Melbourne, the Belgian finished tenth, giving the team their first point of the season.
This year, Stoffel has the perfect opportunity alongside a former world champion to prove he has what is takes to be a success.
Can Honda finally catch up and allow McLaren to produce a race winning car again?
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Fernando Alonso has stated time and time again that he believe he can win one more world title before he retires.
He has demonstrated he still has what it takes with lightning starts, making up 43 places on the first lap over the course of the 2016 season (average of 2.26 per race, more than any driver).
He also scored more than double the number of points to that of last seasons teammate Jenson Button (54 points to 21).
However, signs of frustration are beginning to show, which could lead to him making another rash move to another, similar to how he left Ferrari at the end of 2014.
If Fernando truly believes he has one more title winning season within him, then McLaren need to produce a car capable of doing so.
Scuderia Toro Rosso-Renault: Daniil Kvyat (26) and Carlos Sainz Jr. (55)
Red Bull’s junior team struggled to keep up with the midfield pack during the second half of the season having used year old Ferrari power units.
For 2017, the Italian team will once again be using Renault power units as they look to climb up the grid.
To do this, they’ll have to feature regularly in the points and attempt to improve on their points tally of the last two seasons.
Everything went wrong for Daniil Kvyat last year. After colliding with Vettel in China and Russia, the Russian was dropped to the junior team for Spain, a race which was won by his replacement Max Verstappen.
For the remainder of the season he struggled to feature in the top ten on regular basis, scoring only four points.
Although he stated he lost confidence in his ability and Team Principal Franz Tost showing support, Daniil has to perform this year otherwise his Formula One career could come to an abrupt end.
With Renault power once again, can Toro Rosso improve further in 2017?
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2016 saw Carlos Sainz Jr. record more top ten finishes the he did in his debut season, achieving a career best finish of sixth on three occasions.
Although the signs of showcasing further improvement are evident, the problem for Carlos is when is becomes ready for a top seat, where will he go?
Ricciardo and Verstappen will be at Red Bull until at least the end of 2018, whilst competition for a seat with Ferrari or Mercedes looked quite strong, leaving the risk of being overlooked.
There is isn’t any doubt over his talent, but if doesn’t improve soon enough, Carlos risks being left behind.
Haas-Ferrari: Romain Grosjean (8) and Kevin Magnussen (20)
Not many people could’ve predicted the great start the American based team had in Formula One, including Haas themselves.
Although their progress was hampered by a range of technical issues, 29 points is a respectable return and the team will be focused on building on this foundation to propel themselves amongst the midfield battles on track.
Romain Grosjean had mixed fortunes last year. When the car was working, he was to maximise its potential and fight for points; when it wasn’t, every thing seemed to go wrong.
For Grosjean, he has to help the team avoid second year syndrome, something which halted the progress of numerous teams in the past if he wants to considered for the Ferrari when a vacancy eventually appears.
Moving to a new team was a big risk and thus far, it has paid dividends. There is still work to be done, but the Frenchman seems to be on the right track to achieving his ultimate goal.
Although he outscored his teammate last year, Magnussen’s inconsistency and complacency saw he left Renault after one season, receiving criticism from management in the process, and join Haas.
After an impressive first season, Haas will be aiming to keep up with the midfield teams and overcome their technical issues
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For 2017, Kevin’s objective will be to match his teamate’s pace and finish in the top ten. If he could replicate the performances he achieved for McLaren in 2014, then Romain will have a challenge on his hands.
Renault Sport F1 Team: Nico Hulkenberg (27) and Joylon Palmer (30)
From the outset, Renault knew 2016 was going to be difficult. The former world champions only scored eight points all season, with only Sauber (two) and Manor (one) behind.
The team are going through a process of reshuffling team personnel and their own expectations aren’t too high, as the team look to slowly rebuild towards the front.
Nico Hulkenberg is a well respected driver. He achieved pole position in his debut season for Williams in 2010 and won the Le Mans 24 hour race.
Yet somewhere, a driver who was once linked with a move to Ferrari, hasn’t finished on the podium. In fact, during his three years at Force India, all of their podium finishes were delivered by Sergio Perez.
Nico’s move to Renault has to have been made on the basis that they’ll be challenging near the front soon. His career is starting to get to the stage where its make or break. Time is running out.
How will Renault fair this season?
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After a slow start, Joylon Palmer eventually managed to finish in the points at Malaysia. Looking back at his results in the junior categories, it shows he needs a season to get settled before can show what he is made of.
It is clear the team are fans of Joylon, who’ll be looking to help Renault progress and climb up the field.
Sauber-Ferrari: Marcus Ericsson (9) and Pascal Wehrlein (94)*
2016 was a nightmare for the Swiss team as Felipe Nasr’s ninth place finish in Brazil saved them from the foot of the Constructors’ table.
2017 doesn’t look any better from them however, as they’ll be using a year old Ferrari power unit.
Furthermore, its been rumored that Sauber are already beginning to focus on their 2018.
Based off this information alone, Sauber will be very fortunate to score points this year.
Marcus Ericsson didn’t look come close to scoring any points for the majority of last season, his best finish being 11th in Mexico.
How will Sauber be able to survive in 2017?
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Sauber’s survival has ensured the Swede stays in Formula One for the forseeable future. If he wants this to continue, he’ll have to maximise the cars potential and hope a couple high attritional take place this year.
Pascal Wehrlein made Formula One fans take notice when he drove his Manor to tenth place in Austria. Like Ocon, he was in the points in Brazil for a while before fading.
For him to end with the team that is struggling will not do any favours. Unless he can repeat his performances from last year, then the young German will be confined to the tail end of the grid.
*At time of press, Pascal Wehrlein was still recovering from the injuries he sustained at the Race of Champions
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