By Kunal Shah and Mithila Mehta | Mercedes seem to be the quicker car, but Ferrari isn’t too far behind. In fact, they’re fast enough to outwit Mercedes and snatch victories!
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This was evident in Australia and in Bahrain – both races Mercedes should’ve actually won. While a Ferrari vs Mercedes is confirmed for this season, which team will actually come out on top is the BIG uncertainty the sport is expected to deliver all season long.
For Formula 1’s sake, let’s hope that the answer to the above question comes much later into the season. Hopefully, this unpredictability will re-ignite interest in the sport, especially for the fans who’ve been sitting on the fence and getting bored with the Mercedes dominance. The other igniting factor would be a Kimi Raikkonen win! The moot question for 2017 could be which Finn will win first, Bottas or Raikkonen?
Bottas has been patted on the back for his 3rd place finish in Australia, followed by his maiden pole position in Bahrain. Lauda even went on to compare his performance to that of Rosberg’s. If we were Bottas, we’d be worried. We’d like to be Hamilton’s replacement in Mercedes, rather than Rosberg’s. However, Mercedes’ use of team orders in the third race of the season indicate two things: Mercedes is under pressure and they’ve almost made their mind to back Hamilton for this year’s title. Poor Valtteri!
In the Ferrari vs Mercedes battle, after passing the “favourite team” tag during pre-season testing, the teams are now busy passing the “fastest team” tag between each other as Red Bull Racing wonder if it is the Renault power unit or plain bad luck attracted by the unlucky number 13 they need to overcome this season.
The cars look sexier, they’re faster and seem more macho to drive, however, they’re not necessarily easy to overtake. It probably is too early to confirm this judgement, but if a Lewis Hamilton says it is difficult to overtake, it bloody well might be for every other driver barring Max Verstappen. But overtaking is the bane for Formula 1. If nothing works, we should have Max Verstappen deliver “Lessons on Overtaking” to the class of 2017.
The other team whose form will matter this season is the new management team of Formula 1.
Pirelli has been commended for finally providing a good quality Formula 1 tyre. It has taken them seven seasons to deliver in a manner they would’ve wanted. Let’s remember, in the previous seasons, the sport directed Pirelli to produce rubbish tyres. Anyway, the new tyres are allowing faster cornering, are degrading less and allowing drivers to be in attack mode for longer than the previous seasons. We loved seeing Vettel keep pace with Hamilton in Australia and then Hamilton charge down Vettel in Bahrain.
As with every season, in 2017 too we expect the cars to get faster with every passing race. However, the worrying part for this season would be the gaps that exist between the teams. It is almost as though that Formula 1 is split into three tiers. The first includes Ferrari and Mercedes where the former seems quicker in the race and the latter in qualifying. Red Bull Racing are around a shocking second off the first tier’s pace. The second tier includes the likes of Force India, Williams, Haas, Renault and Toro Rosso. This tier is a further second away from the front pack – a gap that could increase as the big teams spend more money to go quicker. Lastly, we’ve got the McLaren tier, of which Sauber is surprisingly a part of. The third tier is roughly 3-5 seconds off the first tier and the big question is which way will the gap swing through the season? But given that both teams are running year-old engines (Sauber has 2016-spec Ferrari engine while McLaren’s Honda claims their 2017 spec now matches Mercedes’ 2016-spec engine), their parity isn’t a surprise.
Finally, the other team whose form will matter this season is the new management team of Formula 1. The duo of Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches seem to be making the right noises and if they do walk the talk, Formula 1 will see a return to iconic races venues in Europe, far more equitable distribution of income (this will benefit the smaller teams) as well as a formula that could make Formula 1 – racing first, engineering later!