Speed is king in F1 this season

Matt Majendie 22/03/2017
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The cars are much quicker this season.

It has ever been thus but quicker cars has been at the core of the rule changes deliberated over long and, at times, acrimoniously, before being put in place for the opening race of 2017 at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

The cars will be quicker – much quicker in fact at five seconds a lap faster than their 2016 predecessors – and much of that has come as a result of pressure from drivers, who for some years have been pushing for more beast-like machinery at their disposal.

So what’s been done to get to this more pacey point? For one, the cars are two metres wider – their widest since 1997 – the tyres are wider by 60mm at the front and 80mmm at the rear, the rear wings are lower and the rear diffuser is bigger and longer, plus the cars are heavier by 25kg.

In part, that means the drivers can be heavier – by about as much as 5kg – so that physically they are capable of tackling this newly discovered brute force.

Understandably, the drivers are happy. As Sebastian Vettel put it: “From a driver’s point of view it’s better pretty much everywhere. Braking is better, cornering is better, you’ve got much more grip. It’s a different animal, a different beast.”

But the issue with creating greater speed is that overtaking – forever F1’s bug bear – may yet be harder than last year in which it was hardly rife. And that’s where the sport pays the price.

For Hamilton, it is the great unknown: “It is now worse to follow another car. I don’t know how that will work out in a race.”

Basically, the technical regulation changes mean the cars might be slightly slower on the straights but they will be infinitely quicker in the corners and also wider, which means regrettably that overtaking may well be at a premium from the outset of the season start.

So what of the other new-for-2017 alterations?

Teams can now just use four power units for the course of the season and the cost of each unit has been reduced by $1m each in a bid to help the financial strugglers on the grid.

Plus there are new tyres from Pirelli, which will improve their durability, which was something drivers repeatedly moaned about. But that too comes at a price – more durability means less pitstops and hence less uncertainty.

Going into Melbourne, there is uncertainty as to how all the new rules with properly manifest themselves on the race track. Only time will tell.

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Mercedes not targeting Vettel yet, says Lauda

F1i 20/03/2017
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Sebastian Vettel

Niki Lauda has denied rumors that Mercedes has started moving in on Sebastian Vettel  with the aim of signing the Ferrari driver for 2018.

With several driver contracts expiring at the end of this year – mainly those of Vettel and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso – Mercedes offered only a one-year deal to new recruit Valtteri Bottas following Nico Rosberg’s surprise retirement.

Both Lauda and team boss Toto Wolff have said that it is upon the Finn to clearly demonstrate through his performance and results this season that his talent warrants a second year at the Silver Arrows squad.

While it’s still early days on the drivers’ market, Lauda is denying any plan to lure Vettel away from Ferrari.

“That is not our plan — I must say that quite clearly,” the triple world champion and Mercedes non-executive chairman told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.

However, he doesn’t deny that Mercedes is keeping its options open.

“We’re going to start with Bottas and (Lewis) Hamilton and see how it goes,” said Lauda.

Given its present appealing state of affairs, one doubts how Fernando Alonso could possibly extend his stay with McLaren.

Should the Spaniard decide not to retire, which he has given no indication of doing, he would also certainly have the full attention of Mercedes, although sharing the garage with former McLaren Team mate Lewis Hamilton appears a remote possibility given the difficult relationship which prevailed between the two men at Mclaren.

The silly season always appears to start earlier with every passing year. Mercedes will certainly be playing their cards close to their chest however, and so will Vettel.

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Grosjean grateful for extra training

F1i 19/03/2017
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Haas’ Romain Grosjean says the extra dose of winter training he endured earlier this year saved him from being ‘destroyed’ physically by the team’s new-spec  VF17.

The Frenchman encountered no physical issues during pre-season testing in Barcelona despite the anticipation that the 2017 cars would pose a huge physical challenge to drivers.

But for Grosjean and others, preparation has been the key.

“Let’s put it this way: if I’d been in the same condition as I was last year, I would have been destroyed,” Grosjean said.

“We pushed really hard in our training. We may actually have overdone it. It’s not as bad as we thought it would be.”

“The cars are going to be challenging and some of the races this year are going to be epic, especially where it’s warm with a high-speed track, it’ll be very hard on the body.”

“I like the challenge and I like to think that we can always get more prepared and better trained. It felt good as we did the proper training. The cars are much harder to drive than last year.”

Last season, Haas kicked off its maiden F1 campaign with points in the first four races before the team’s performance level started to slump.

Grosjean believes the US outfit’s interests may be better served by gradually building up its performance and results.

“I think this year it’s actually going to be the opposite. This year, if you had to choose, I think you’d want to start slow and finish hard, and not the opposite.

“This is because in 2018 the cars are going to be very similar to 2017, and therefore if you’re finishing on a high it means you’ve understood the regulations and everything’s going well.

“Your next car will be on that trend. We really want to keep the development going and push through the year, improving race after race.”

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