CAR magazine’s resident Formula 1 expert, Maurice Hamilton, shares his team-by-team analysis of how he expects the 2017 season to pan out…
44 Lewis Hamilton (GB)
77 Valtteri Bottas (FIN)
Key factor: Change of formula, driver line-up and technical director
Individually, these variations should make little difference to this well-ordered team, but collectively, they might edge the world champions onto the back foot for the first time in four years. The sudden departure of Nico Rosberg caused not only a scramble to find a replacement, but also left Mercedes without the driver who gave more technical input than Lewis Hamilton.
Feedback will be needed as Formula 1 teams get to grips (literally) with cars that have fundamentally changed. Valtteri Bottas, a serious grafter, may be able to partially fill the void, but what remains unknown is how the technical department will manage now that the studious Paddy Lowe has moved on. The Mercedes boat has been rocked – a little.
3 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS)
33 Max Verstappen (NL)
Key factor: New regulations will benefit them
Here is one team more thankful than most for the regulation change. Increased downforce plays into the hands of Adrian Newey, whose renowned aerodynamic skills were largely responsible for Red Bull’s four successive championships before the emphasis switched to the power unit in 2014. Red Bull were let down badly by Renault, but the manufacturer came on leaps and bounds last year and is poised to edge the British-based, Austrian-funded team closer to Mercedes in 2017.
All of which is good news for what is now the most dynamic driving partnership on the grid. If Red Bull has a problem, it could be dealing with a toxic Ricciardo/Verstappen rivalry similar to Hamilton and Rosberg at its worst during the past three seasons.
5 Sebastian Vettel (GER)
7 Kimi Räikkönen (FIN)
Key factor: Ferrari CEO’s inexperience and meddling
Ferrari slipped backwards in 2016 and it’s difficult to see an early recovery. For as long as Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari’s CEO, continues to think he knows as much about running a Formula 1 team as he does about high-end GT cars, the pressure will crank up even further on a team that has not won a race since September 2015.
It’s the last thing Ferrari needs, particularly for a team facing a regulation sea change without a top-line director to steer the technical ship. Sebastian Vettel’s outbursts were verbal confirmation of both his struggle with the car and an equally unexpected resurgence from Kimi Räikkönen in the second half of the season. Vettel will be hoping the wider tyres for 2017 allow him to lean on the car in the manner of his dominant days at Red Bull.
11 Sergio Pérez (MEX)
31 Esteban Ocon (FRA)
Key factor: Departure of Nico Hülkenberg
Despite this small team’s ability to punch above its weight and into fourth in the constructors’ championship, tackling the top three is beyond its financial capability. This year will be about maintaining the impressive status quo in the face of attacks from stiff competition below. Technical competence, allied to the Mercedes power unit, should prove fruitful when dealing with production of the totally new car.
Part of the package may work against Sergio Pérez, as the Mexican’s uncanny ability to nurse his tyres may be nullified by increased tread width favouring the more aggressive style of his rivals. Force India replaced Nico Hülkenberg (whose speed, if not consistency, will be missed) with Esteban Ocon, a choice based on impressive findings when running the novice during testing. It could make for a sparky driving partnership.
19 Felipe Massa (BRZ)
18 Lance Stroll (CDN)
Key factor: Addition of ex-Mercedes technical guru Paddy Lowe
This iconic team has lost its way technically, losing out to the smaller and less well-heeled Force India in 2016. In simple terms, the car did not work, specifically in tyre management. Pat Symonds, asked to leave a year ahead of his planned retirement, has been replaced as technical director by Paddy Lowe, albeit too late for the former Mercedes man to have influence on the new car.
Felipe Massa has been pulled from brief retirement to fill the vacuum created by the agreement to allow Bottas to leave and replace Rosberg in return for more favourable terms on the Williams-Mercedes power unit deal. Massa will be a perfect tutor for Lance Stroll. It remains to be seen if the youngster brings the talent to back up the finance provided by his wealthy and ambitious father.
14 Fernando Alonso (ESP)
2 Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL)
Key factor: Well placed to take advantage of the new regulations
A crucial year ahead for the former world champions. Having started – literally – at the back of the grid in 2015, when it was the newbie in the turbo and energy regeneration formula, Honda has made serious inroads that show signs of another step forward this year. Allied to this, the team’s massive technical resources have focussed on improving cornering performance to maximise the torque. The rule changes also provide an opportunity to move further forward.
McLaren desperately needs to continue progress if it is to retain Fernando Alonso and end the former champion’s frustration. In the meantime, Stoffel Vandoorne has all the necessary qualifications and promise as a novice to step into Jenson Button’s seat and keep Alonso honest. The former GP2 champion could be the surprise of the season.
26 Daniil Kvyat (RUS)
55 Carlos Sainz (ESP)
Key factor: Swap from Ferrari to Renault power
The little Italian team never recovered in 2015 after politics exerted by parent Red Bull dictated a late switch to a Ferrari power unit. Assuming Toro Rosso’s interpretation of the new rules is successful, a return to Renault (aligned with the French firm’s improvement in power performance) suggests a corresponding move back up the grid.
Two hungry young drivers are eager to capitalise and make personal points. Daniil Kvyat is still hurting from being removed from Red Bull to make way for Verstappen; Carlos Sainz wants to prove he was just as good as Verstappen before the Dutchman was promoted from Toro Rosso early in 2016. Sainz, having been mentioned in high places, also needs to be seen in a good light when contracts for leading drivers expire at the end of this year.
8 Romain Grosjean (FRA)
20 Kevin Magnussen (DNK)
Key factor: Replicating the surprise successes of 2016
For a new team, Haas had an encouraging first season thanks to finishing in the money with eighth place in the constructors’ championship. But a better indicator of long-term form was the fact that the American team scored 62% of its points in the first two races. This was partly thanks to making clever use of good luck and partly because the established teams were not yet into their stride.
Haas, despite having the technical clout of an association with Ferrari, may be about to find that the second season is always the hardest, made doubly difficult this year by the new regulations. Romain Grosjean, capable of strong performances, ought to be hard-pressed by Kevin Magnussen, formerly with Renault and quick when everything falls into place. Whether that will be the case at Haas is a big question.
27 Nico Hülkenberg (GER)
30 Jolyon Palmer (GB)
Key factor: Ongoing improvements to the Renault engine
Nico Hülkenberg has made the move from Force India because he believes his future lies with a team owned by a major manufacturer. He is technically correct, but only in the long term. The British-based outfit (with roots going back to Toleman, Benetton and Renault in a former guise) spent last year finding its feet after Renault returned as a constructor to take over a run-down team in December 2015.
After a very difficult year, the only way is up, a process encouraged by this small but workmanlike team making late-season performance gains that allowed better use of the Renault’s power package. Hülkenberg will provide a good yardstick for Palmer, who continues to slowly develop in the same way he gradually matured into a GP2 champion in 2014.
9 Marcus Ericsson (FIN)
94 Pascal Wehrlein (GER)
Key factor: Financial injection to boost development
Having struggled in survival mode for the past couple of years, Sauber is now hoping that a takeover in the middle of 2016 will move the Swiss team into a long-awaited recovery phase. The financial difficulties were helped by an 11th-hour ninth place in Brazil that moved Sauber into 10th in the championship, worth around £30m in future payouts.
All of this will help fund the necessary technical restructuring to get the Ferrari-powered car off the back of the grid. The engine will be from 2016 but will allow Sauber to focus on the switch to aero called for by the new rules. Marcus Ericsson stays on board and will be pushed hard by Pascal Wehrlein, the young Mercedes protégé showing impressive form during his debut season with Manor in 2016.