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New Dimensions for 2017 Formula 1 Season


Formula 1 racing, arguably the premier global auto sport, changes each year. Detailed specifications (the formula) are announced annually, with a few to many changes in weight, length, tires, aerodynamic and wings, etc.  Downdraft and traction against the roadway is a paramount issue for these amazing machines, which can reach up to 200mph on a straight stretch. These bursts of noise and speed are then quickly changed to 40mph turns, left and right, hairpin and slower.

The engineering and stress on car and driver are like nothing else in auto racing. Though of course the American NASCAR and 24 hour Le Mans endurance, for example, provide their own unique engineering, driving, and strategy skills.

Teams enter and drop out periodically, racing each year to modify and or rebuild and test (in progress at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for the 2017 season) multiple cars. Drivers are signed or released, financial issues are a constant constraint for many smaller teams. Venues around the world change from year to year, with some races, say at Silverstone in England, or Monte Carlo remain constant international events for the rich and famous, and motor sport fans.

While the Mercedes-Benz 'Silver Arrows' were early competitors in F1, Benz dropped out for a few decades, but has since returned and in the last decade come to dominate the sport. Benz drivers, three time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have routinely started in the 1st and 2nd pole positions and frequently both finished on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place podium positions.

Beside these predictable annual changes, the 2017 season ushers in a plethora of new rules, from major changes in the car formula, longer and wider frames, bigger tires, and engine specifications.  Lewis Hamilton will have a new 'other' team driver, Valtteri Bottas, since Rosberg unexpectedly retired at the end of the 2016 season after winning his first world championship in a suspenseful duel in overall points with Hamilton down to the season's end. Team drivers’ relationships can be tense and Hamilton consistently makes clear the other Benz driver is not his partner.  Benz has quickly brought on Bottas for a one year contract to pilot the second Silver Arrow, but some speculate the German giant may bring Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull into the Benz world, who, by the way, was the dominant F1 driver before Hamilton and Rosberg pulled ahead. Vettel in a Silver Arrow would be more than worthy competition for Hamilton and the other teams. Benz's amazing success is due in no small part to the power house Mercedes enterprise behind them.

Some of the other teams are not from auto manufacturers, but put together a Renault or Benz engine into their own frame. Last year's new US entry from Hass motors used Ferrari equipment and brought in the Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez, and Swiss ace Romain Grosjean. Hass is introducing a new car in 2017, its second season in F1, with Romain Grosjean at the wheel.

Besides the formula changes that are hoped to make the races more exciting, with more passing, more noise and more speed, the biggest change is the US corporate takeover of the race.  Bernie Ecclestone had led the Formula enterprise for the last thirty years, guiding it from something of a niche wealthy gentleman-sportsman game to an international sport. The new American owners (35% controlling stock interest) hope to expand the sport even more (think the US NFL), with additional US venues (now only in Austin, Texas in August) and make each event like a Super Bowl.

The intrigue, excitement, ups and downs, strategies, and surprises promise to make the 2017 the first of perhaps many exciting days, disappointing, and rewarding.

To learn more about how it all comes together at the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 headquarters at Brackley, Northamptonshire, U.K., see Gary Anderson’s article, “Inside Brackley”, The Star, September-October 2016, pp 34-39.

Learn more about the evolution of the Mercedes F1 cars and information about the Mercedes F1 program at the Mercedes AMG Petronas website:

Michael Ayres, David Sears