Podium Posts Introduction
Hello there Ayrton (waving in picture right: Photo courtesy Instituto Ayrton Senna) and hello there to everyone who might be reading. My name is James and for a long while now I have been toying with the idea of creating a blog to document my passion for the greatest sport in the world, Formula 1. So here it finally is: Podium Posts. A simple name for a simple blog which will attempt to keep abreast of all developments in Formula 1 that are catching to my eye. I might even chance my hand at some “podium predictions” too, although I prefer not having egg on my face. These posts may vary widely, from historic points of view on my favourite drivers and races, to reactions from the coming Grand Prix weekends and the state of the sport as a whole. But without further ado, we shall disengage the clutch and try to get a good start as the 5 red lights go out for the blog and recap the first week of F1 2017 testing. Testing is always hard to tell by, so my opinions are with a huge grain of salt. Sometimes though it just gives an inkling to the season ahead.
F1 Testing: 27th of February-2nd of March
Now, I am just one of many people who have had their eye fixed on the Circuit De Catalunya over the last week, eagerly anticipating the new rules and the cars they have formed, so I shall not divulge too lengthily in this post on my opinion on the new vehicles. Instead if you have interest with the ins and outs of the new cars and regulations I shall direct you towards the Youtube channels of both the very experienced motorsport journalist Peter Windsor and, perhaps for a younger generation, the F1 gamer and aerospace engineering student Aarav Amin. Both have sections in their channels that cover the cars and their make-ups to differing degrees of insight. For thoughts on the liveries do visit the excellent F1 Colours Blog. The main focus here shall revolve around what conclusions I can glean from team to team ahead of the new season. So, lets start with the reigning champions Mercedes and go down the field in terms of last year’s rankings. My predictions for finishing will come later in the off-season, following commentary on the second testing week.
Mercedes AMG Petronas
Despite the shock news of reigning champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement following last year’s conclusion, all seems to be very much ‘as you were’ for Mercedes. Yes, Valtteri Bottas’ arrival from Williams and Paddy Lowe’s move in the other direction has changed the makeup of the team somewhat, as will the pending arrival of James Allison from Ferrari. But the new car (pictured right) seems to be well on the way to emulating the expertise of its’ predecessor.
Piloted by the win hungry Bottas and the almost vengeful Lewis Hamilton (seeking redemption from the reliability issues which arguably hampered his title defence last season) Mercedes are still the major force to be reckoned with, completing a daunting 525 laps over the course of testing with the only chink in the silver armour being an electrical fault on the final morning. Pretty bullet-proof then and also quick, mounting the fastest lap time over the 4 days on the Ultra-Soft compound.
It seems that despite the attempts to disturb Mercedes with a regulation change, the opposite may have occurred and as Ross Brawn (the new sporting director of Formula 1 and Ferrari, Brawn and Mercedes veteran) said it was perhaps “naive” to think Mercedes would falter. Even if some teams have managed to out-develop Mercedes on the chassis front, it is clear we are still in an ‘engine formula’ reliant mostly on horse power. I fully expect the dominant engine in the back of the Silver Arrow to carry the aerodynamically complex car to high places again this season. I would be shocked if we do not see a Mercedes world champion for the 4th year running, unless…
Red Bull-Renault (Tag Heuer)
Unless, Red Bull’s new challenger the RB13 is unlucky for the Mercedes team. Before you get at me for the pun, they made a similar pun on their launch of the car. Following from a promising term last year, in which both of their drivers won a race to take them to 2nd in the constructors overtaking Ferrari, hopes are again high for Christian Horner’s team.
From the outside, an optimist would suggest that aerodynamics guru Adrian Newey has an ace up his sleeve somewhere. In an interview with F1’s own Ted Kravitz he remained coy on his Winter’s work on the car, including the strange ‘pingu’ nose, asserting it’s legality “providing you do it a certain way”. Red Bull are also at the centre of another legality dispute regarding their suspension. Whatever the verdict on both concepts, you cannot accuse Red Bull of being guilty of not pushing the envelope in a bid to catch up to Mercedes this season. The car seems streamlined and uncluttered to account for the horsepower deficit of their Renault engine and by attempting to understand the car’s basis, they could introduce powerful aero additions throughout the season.
But what of the actual meat of their testing? Well, Daniel Riccardio and Max Verstappen’s outings this past week have been hampered by reliability a tad bit more than they might of expected; but unlike a certain other team (who I will talk about later) it does not seem too alarming. Whilst only completing 294 laps compared to Mercedes’ mammoth total, that number is by no means small and so the incredibly talented driver pairing can probably look forward to another exciting ride this season. Whether or not they can challenge Mercedes properly is still, rather by Red Bull’s design you’d expect, still an unknown quantity. Next week’s testing may provide further clues to my predicted standing for the season.
How times change! As most of my contemporaries will remember, the dominance of Ferrari’s Schumacher era from 2000-2004 was a cause for boredom and concern for some. As was Vettel’s expertise in the Red Bull 10 years later. However, in light of last week’s testing and the dawn of Vettel’s 3rd season at Ferrari, it appears that it now falls upon the new prancing horse of Fiorano (pictured right) to deliver us from the ‘Silver Doom’.
What can we expect from Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, you ask? What’s the word from Ferrari? Well in a departure from last season, Ferrari have kept incredibly quiet around their work in testing and instead the figures have done the talking. A combined 468 laps and Sebastian Vettel’s marginally slower time (+0.247) than Mercedes, yet set on a harder compound of tyre, give plenty of encouragement to the F1 neutral wishing to see a fight at the front this season. News from sister team Haas also gives us hope that the Ferrari engine may be able to challenge the Mercedes.
However, a word of caution from the world of F1: last year we thought similar of Ferrari’s chances of bringing legitimate competition. Yet it turned out that they had gone backwards from 2015, where they won three times, to not winning at all. Whilst part of the reason for that is Mercedes’ excellence, some of the strategy calls last season for the Scuderia were utterly bizarre and to say Vettel was showing signs of exasperation by season end is an understatement. Many have speculated that Ferrari might have been running low fuel loads or that Mercedes might have ‘sand-bagged’ (an F1 term for hiding your true pace) this past testing, so it is with a keen interest that I say “watch this space!” ahead of the 2017 predictions.
Last season for Force India was nothing short of superb. Finishing 4th in the constructor standings for a team of their size is a massive achievement. Having risen from the ashes of the lowly Spyker team in 2008, Vijay Mallya must be stunned at how far the team have come in only 8 seasons. However, despite fending off their main threat last season, the famous Williams team, they have lost experienced driver Nico Hulkenberg to Renault and will enter 2017 with relative rookie Esteban Ocon taking his place alongside Sergio Perez.
The car is in many ways an eye-catching one aesthetically, with a steeped nose and a very prominent shark fin dividing opinion. But what cannot be questioned is the team’s ambition this coming term. Claiming that they can finish 3rd in the standings may turn out to be an incredibly bold claim. You would expect at this stage of the season that the Silverstone team would have to fight off one of Ferrari or Red Bull for that coveted position. A very tall order.
But what has testing told us of the possibility of that occurring? Well 278 laps is not a bad total by any means, but they would have perhaps hoped for more. It is also safe to say that by being almost 3 seconds off of the Mercedes and the Ferrari that their true pace is yet to show, considering they share their engine with the world champions. A season of high ambition then for Force India and you’d be hard pushed to find a neutral F1 fan that does not wish them well with their targets.
Williams are a funny team to try and sum up this season, there seems to be good and bad signs in equal measures. Having slipped in the standings last term from 3rd down to 5th and after having lost Bottas to Mercedes this summer, this season could be a very trying one for this old giant if they continue to slump. However they could also be the dark horses for many this season, as early signs from testing show the Williams to be very quick. All in all suggestions are their season will be nowhere near as challenging compared to another old giant of the grid, but that’s coming next. Don’t worry, I’m getting there and in full force…
The sport as a whole has arguably moved away from Williams a little. To explain this fully would take a while, but the upshot of it is, is that pure constructor teams are finding it much easier to compete under the crushing prices of the new technology of the 1.6 V6 hybrid engines than so called “customer” teams. However, Williams are of course no slouches with the Mercedes engine and slippery aero-efficient car despite the rising costs. They could benefit in future by trying to forge an exclusive partnership with an engine supplier in an attempt to gain an advantage, but as we can all see that can go very badly wrong as well as has been proved by…(okay, okay I will wait! But it’s not going to be pretty).
Bottas’ move have left Williams with a newly ‘un-retired’ Felipe Massa and a rookie Lance Stroll. Now whilst Massa is an old favourite of many and has looked pretty on the pace in testing, clocking 103 laps in limited circumstances, Stroll is a strange one. He is a multi-million pound pay driver, bankrolled by his father into the Williams seat; he also crashed several times during testing which actually removed Williams and Massa from the final day. But I am not going to jump to mad conclusions as many have done, saying he isn’t good enough. Let’s be honest, not any noddy can drive an F1 car and Williams, even under financial difficulties had drivers to choose from (including ex-Sauber driver, the Banco Do Brasil funded Felipe Nasr) and Stroll was chosen instead. As Damon Hill said, he is 18 years old and needs time!…Speaking of time…
Time. Haven’t Honda had enough already? It’s been 3 seasons since this old, legendary name was reforged and STILL we are seeing reliability issues and an apparent woeful lack of pace. Now, from the tone of this entire post one may suspect me to have some prejudice against McLaren. But if that was your thought you couldn’t be further from the truth: I am a devout fan and Fernando Alonso is unashamedly my driver. But that makes talking about this all the more painful, hence why I may seem to be ranting here. Where do you start with both McLaren and Honda? Well, let’s take it in that order shall we? First McLaren and then Honda. I shall try to be brief: perhaps McLaren-Honda get a lot of criticism due to the spotlight they are under. Either way, I will speak my mind.
McLaren’s primary marketing scheme ahead of this season has been “#changeyourgame” and they have been pushing on McLaren’s history and orange colours (as to my delight with the stunning car pictured below) yet behind the scenes it has been far from encouraging changes. The obvious thing to point to is the ousting of Ron Dennis from his role as chief executive of the company to make way for Zak Brown. Many regard Ron’s removal as a huge body blow to the team’s chances of regenerating itself. I would agree that given McLaren’s position of current vulnerability getting rid of the man who built and understood the team more than anyone was a huge error in judgement. Other changes at McLaren have also been strange and un-smooth with people in high positions coming and going in often ludicrously short amounts of time due to the change at the top. Such instability cannot be helpful for the workforce trying to build the car. That being said, the chassis and aerodynamics have seemed complex in the past and this season, so I do not believe that the major fault lies with McLaren.
So, let’s get onto Honda shall we? The last two years go without comment, they have been scrappy and backwards with comparisons being drawn to a GP2 engine from the leading driver. But lets look forwards and judge on this season. All the big noises ahead of testing were concerning their re-designed engine for this season. It has been painted as a huge positive, similar to Mercedes’ layout and therefore much improved in terms of pace. Whilst in the long run this may prove to be he case, this re-design seems quite a jerky response to poor form. Surely Honda cannot expect to copy someone else’s layout and hope to understand it in such short time? Mercedes spent years developing this engine layout behind the scenes. Honda have not. In all honesty it reeks of panic; as such it has translated poorly on track so far. McLaren’s testing has been plagued by engine unreliability.
This is frankly not good enough from either side, given the massive financial capabilities of both parties. I think above all there is a serious lack of communication between the companies. I have an insider, engineer source from Woking that claims the Honda’s reliability issues came as a “complete shock”…
I would love to be able to come back in a few months and laugh at how shoddy my interpretation of the situation is. I really would; I wish both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne the best of seasons beyond my wildest dreams. But currently all we have is the numbers from testing and they tell a tale: only 208 laps completed, 2nd slowest team ahead of only Toro Rosso (MCL32 often on a softer compound of tyre to boot) and due to 4 engine changes yet to do a proper run. You have to ask the question, could they even run a proper pace run with such a fragile engine? In case people think I have forgotten, I admit they improved in the latter two days. But we are 3 years into this 10 year deal and the encouraging signs are few and far between.
When I first heard McLaren were going to reform with Honda the visions in my head were of Fernando Alonso (pictured above), arguably the best driver of his generation (8 points away in different seasons from being a 5 time world champion) joining the legendary partnership to emulate the great Ayrton Senna: unbeatable and frightening to opposition. Now looking back I can only see how Honda and McLaren have wasted the twilight years of not only Fernando, but also another champion in Jenson Button. This is a damning review of my team and I hope I get egg on my face come the season proper, as currently my prediction will be lowly. The second test needs marked improvements: come on guys, lets sort it out!
Calling the Toro Rosso the “sister car” of the Red Bull seems to become more and more fantastical each year. Realistically they are sponsored and owned by the same man, yes. But philosophically they have become increasingly different year upon year. This season in particular is a huge departure from the Red Bull team, not least the wonderful striking new livery that adorns the car (seriously just look right on this article, the car is utterly stunning this season) and may that continue. Mainly the Red Bull seems sleeker and the STR12 is more aerodynamically complicated. Both different approaches.
Furthermore a spliced side by side shot comparison of the STR12 and the Mercedes car (pictured bottom right: credits in below) show body-work that echoes the world champions. Whilst for an engine, like the new layout Honda, this ‘copying’ comes with a downside of under-researched development; in aerodynamic and chassis terms it is easier to stomach new ideas. Therefore, Toro Rosso’s similarities to the world champions a good idea on paper, whilst also distancing the car from any decisions Red Bull choose to make; granting further independency.
Toro Rosso are an exciting little team and in Carlos Sainz they have a star of the future. I also believe that Daniil Kvyat deserves a proper second chance, as he far from disgraced himself in the Red Bull for a full year as he beat the highly regarded Daniel Ricciardo and he is still incredibly young at the age of 22. I hope to see this car give both of them the chance to shine and make a claim for a more stable drive, given that the Red Bull driver programme is notoriously cut-throat. Despite ditching the year old Ferrari engine of last year and claiming that the new Renault engine looks strong, the car still looked a little bit on the shaky side in testing with poor reliability. The two young drivers were restricted to just 183 laps over the first week. The car also appears to be the slowest of all thus far, which is concerning. Whilst testing is by no means a permanent judgement, the first signs could be a little better.
Haas’ first season in Formula 1 was quite simply outstanding, collecting a large total of 29 points including a 5th place finish in Bahrain. Whilst it is curious to wonder how much of the fire-power of the VF-16 came from it’s close ties to Ferrari, the 8th place finish cannot be scoffed at. The team were also the first since Toyota in 2002 to record points on its’ debut. The smart move to enter F1 in co-operation with an established team has certainly paid off so far.
This season creates a much tougher prospect for the American team. Their first year without unrestricted Ferrari wind-tunnel usage may prove costly later in development, but Gene Haas’ team are much of an unknown quantity. What is known is that their driver line-up looks much stronger than last year, having recruited Danish driver Kevin Magnussen, formerly of McLaren and Renault to their team to partner experienced Romain Grosjean. Whilst a shame for the ousted Esteban Gutierrez, he did not earn a single point and many in the paddock concluded he didn’t do enough to keep his seat in the striking new VF-17 (pictured above)
Testing has proved fruitful for the team so far. A very solid 343 laps and a firm middle footing in the time-sheets are very encouraging for prospects approaching Melbourne. What is yet to be seen is if the team manage to remain competitive, or as with last year see a diminishing return on their finishing places as the season goes on.
Renault’s return to F1, taking over the Lotus team at the end of 2015, could have gone smoother in all truth. A lowly 9th placed finish in the constructor’s championship along with a difficult debut season for British rookie Jolyon Palmer exemplified the poor preparation the team were able to embark upon due to a late take-over of Lotus cutting short development time for the R.S.16. A far cry from the brilliant displays that earned Fernando Alonso his two world titles in 2005 and 2006: but then again F1 has undergone a whole lot of change since then.
The spotlight is firmly on the Enstone team this season. Given that the Renault last year was the adapted 2015 Lotus, the R.S.17 (pictured right) marks the first time since 2009 that Renault have a legitimate constructor car. As such the car does indeed bear the look of a much more complicated beast. The ambitions of the team to finish 5th in the championship are therefore possible, especially with acquisition of experienced driver Nico Hulkenberg from Force India. Whilst having never scored a podium in Formula 1 in 7 years the German was a winner in the 24hrs of LeMans in 2015 and comes highly regarded in the paddock, giving Jolyon Palmer a good bench-mark to work towards this season.
In this years testing Renault have clocked up 293 laps, complete with a strong show of pace, placing Palmer and Hulkenberg 6th and 8th respectively. Overall the test was a pleasant surprise and I will be paying close attention to their second test ahead of my prediction for their season.
Now all alone at the back of the grid, Sauber face a huge season in 2017. As can be seen (in the images below) it is also their 25th year in Formula 1, depicted in their gorgeous new livery. I wish them the best in their goals this season but I do fear for them. They are indeed a customer team and therefore more subject to the whims of large financial burden. They also only just scraped 10th in the standings from Manor, who suffered disbanding as a result. Whilst the records show that under more similar cars to the 2017 regulations Sauber finished both 2nd and 3rd in the constructor championship in 2007 and 2008 respectively, the layout of the cars is not the prime reasoning in their old success.
Sauber back then were in a partnership with BMW and were in truth closer to a constructor BMW team. Perhaps this team is the biggest landmark of how being a constructor is the most important thing in Formula 1 today, a far cry from the days in which from 1980 to 1993 all drivers championships were won by non constructor teams. Perhaps, that is quite a tangent on my behalf in the wrong direction however, as maybe it is the V6 1.6L hybrids that are placing teams under such pressure financially. It does not help teams like Sauber that the ridiculous Concorde agreement (signed until 2020 and which at some point will receive a separate article from me highlighting the damage it does to F1 across the board) guarantees money be paid to the well known outfits simply if they just turn up. In light of their complaint to the EU it is remarkable how well Sauber and even more so Force India are doing, given the relative fates of HRT, Caterham and now Manor. I suppose they are more established teams, but even so F1 is becoming increasingly more brutal.
The car however, faired quite well in the last week of testing. Accumulating an impressive 349 laps with Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein’s stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi. Sauber have had a recent history of performing relatively well on the turn of the regulations and slowly slipping away. I feel that is the best they can hope for this season.
A quick line must be given for the departed Manor team here. A plucky outfit that grew on me day by day last season. It seemed they had also turned a good corner, receiving the best engine on the grid in the Mercedes and gaining support from Williams also. Perhaps it might have been this year they turned it on, but we will never know. The last of the 2010 teams to bow out and probably the most serious. However, with the money structure currently as it is in the sport and with the cost of the hybrid engines it seemed an inevitability that they too would go eventually.
If you have been reading this long, long post regarding F1 2017 then I wish you the best season for whatever team you support. Feel free to check back in on my verdict on the second week of testing, once it has concluded. It will be sure to be a much shorter post, as I think only small additions to what we already know will be offered. I also aim to continue to update upon each race. I also have an idea in the pipeline regarding the best driver of all time, my personal hero Ayrton Senna. With some other drivers that will be expanded into a sort of “best of the best” series if i have time apart from University.
All the best,
Written by James Crellin.