There’s always lots of anticipation ahead of a new race season, but even more so this year, as we begin a new era of Formula One.
After three years of Mercedes-AMG Petronas being the only real championship contenders, the powers that be introduced sweeping regulation changes for 2017. The FIA hope the new rules will increase fan interest by creating faster cars, and by potentially shaking up the running order.
To that end, rule makers also did away with the engine token system, allowing manufacturers to freely develop any part of their power units during the season.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new regulations, and other storylines, as we begin the 2017 F1 season:
The cars look faster because they are.
Many fans hadn’t stopped complaining about F1’s narrow cars and their tall, skinny rear wings, since they were introduced to the sport in 2009. And apparently, after six years, their messages finally have been received.
The new cars have wider rear wings, tires and floors, and feature lots of aerodynamic elements that stand alone from the bodywork. They don’t just look faster, either, as drivers were already running more than 3 seconds per lap faster at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya during preseason testing than they were during qualifying for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Some teams also have opted to fit their cars with rear shark fins to aid airflow, though they have been a point of contention among fans.
Nico Rosberg won’t defend his title.
Other drivers previously have retired after winning the world championship, though it doesn’t happen often, or in as dramatic fashion. Rosberg shocked the sport when he announced his retirement less than a week after crossing the finish line in Abu Dhabi, putting Mercedes in a tough spot.
Rosberg’s exit left Mercedes searching for a replacement at a time when all its best options already secured drives for 2017. Ultimately, it convinced Williams Martini Racing to let Bottas go to Mercedes — likely for a massive discount on its power units.
If you only watch three races all year, you should choose these ones.
Being an American F1 fan is tough. You either have to wake up at obscene times to watch some of the races, or record them and hope you don’t find out the results before you watch it. Thankfully, though, the must-watch Grand Prix are some of the ones that aren’t so inconvenient to watch.
While it might not produce a lot of overtaking, the Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most exciting races on the calendar, and will take place on May 28. The U.S. Grand Prix, which is on Oct. 22 this year, is a favorite among drivers and fans because the Circuit of the America produces great racing. You also shouldn’t miss the only twilight race, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, on Nov. 26. This is the final race of the season, and is often where the driver championship is decided.
F1 will be without its “supremo.”
U.S.-based Liberty Media agreed to purchase a controlling stake in F1 during the 2016 season, and the deal was approved by the FIA during the offseason. Liberty’s first official act as the sports new owner was ousting “F1 Supremo” Bernie Ecclestone as CEO.
It makes sense for F1 to begin this new era under new leadership, and the sport is due for some changes, but it surely will be odd to have Ecclestone absent from the paddock for the first time since the 1970s.
One reason the 2017 season should be exciting: Scuderia Ferrari.
Although lap times from testing should be taken with a grain of salt, Ferrari seems to have made a big step forward over the offseason. The Scuderia ran reliably through both weeks of testing, and showed pace nearly on par with what we saw from Mercedes. In addition, Ferrari reportedly was sandbagging during the second test by having Sebastian Vettel lift off coming out of the last corner.
Whether you’re a Ferrari fan or not, there’s no denying having the “Prancing Horse” competing for podiums and wins is good for the sport. The team has almost been stuck in a slump since the Michael Schumacher era, so it’s long overdue for a championship. Fittingly, the last man to claim the title for Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen, is one of its two drivers for 2017.
One reason the 2017 season might not be exciting: the cars.
We’re not exactly sure where we stand on the new cars. While they look amazing, and go like hell, drivers already have reported the new cars make following difficult. So yes, they probably will shave 4 to 5 seconds off lap times, but they also might reduce the amount of on-track passes we see.
Still, we’re keeping an open mind until we’ve seen them driven in real anger, especially since they actually might promote the use of different driving styles.
Thumbnail photo via Haas F1 Team