Although it doesn’t feel it was that long ago that Nico Rosberg was crowned the 2016 World Champion, the 2017 season is just around the corner and so much has happen over the winter even before you start talking about the cars!
Winter testing starts tomorrow in Barcelona, the first of eight days of testing preseason crammed into a flat out two week period. Barcelona, now the home of winter testing, although not universally liked due to the slightly cooler temperatures than needed.
It is going to be even more important than in the previous seasons, with wide reaching aero changes being brought in for 2017. These include a wider track, with larger delta shaped front wings, wider tyres, and a wider and lower rear wing, along with other changes with the diffuser and floor.
With the demise of Manor, ten teams will be competing in the 2017 Championship, which is expected to be one of the tightest ever in the midfield as those with significant resources will be able to develop the immature cars throughout the season.
It is Mercedes though who are the team to watch, coming off the back of three championship titles, they are rumoured to have made a significant jump in performance of their hybrid engine, just as the others including Renault and Honda are trying to catch up. Honda have made gains as McLaren’s engine supplier, but are only expected to have clawed to that of a 2016 Mercedes engine.
The dynamic at Mercedes will also be interesting to watch. Following the retirement of Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas was parachuted into the team from Williams, high on the teams list given that Toto Wolff had a hand in his management, and a seat a Williams when the Austrian was a stakeholder.
Those close behind challenging will be trying hard though. Red Bull and Ferrari the closest in 2016, but it was only Red Bull who went on to be the only other team to win a race. Even then, they were created by the misfortune of Mercedes – either the collision at the third corner in Barcelona, or Lewis Hamiltons engine failure in Malaysia. It is a statistic that both Red Bull and Ferrari would want to change for the upcoming season.
With these dramatic aero changes, comes testing. So from these initial launches over the past week expect a lot to change before Melbourne at the end of March. In fact, you only have to look at the launch of the Red Bull and Williams to see that there is a bigger story to tell, even though Mercedes and Ferrari have already given some hints.
I will be in Barcelona next week, but before then we should have a good idea of which teams have hit the sweet spot with the new regulations.