By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
Roughly three months away from the start of the 2017 Formula 1 season and there is still just as much unrest as there was when Nico Rosberg announced his retirement just days after winning the championship in Abu Dhabi in late November.
But uncertainty is a good thing.
Now, it appears that longtime Williams driver Valtteri Bottas will finally get his shot with a top team as Rosberg’s replacement (although nothing has officially been confirmed).
A variety of rule changes still have the teams looking at Mercedes as the one to beat next season, but with Ferrari reportedly pulling out 1000 bhp from its engine, the most since the turbo era of the 1980’s, there is hope.
Although Lewis Hamilton is looked at as the top choice for the title, perhaps the best driver belongs at McLaren in Fernando Alonso, perhaps even at Red Bull with either Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen.
McLaren and Honda have been working together in development for two long seasons and building for this moment that will set off at Albert Park in Australia on March 26.
Red Bull brings back its dynamic duo in what was arguably the best developed team throughout the race season last year. So what does team principal Christian Horner and engineering genius Adrian Newey have up their sleeve in a year with so many technical changes?
The numerous changes always bring new teams into the fold (at least at first). Could it be Renault with Nico Hulkenberg? How about Haas with a highly underrated lineup in Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen?
There has been so much focus put on the negativity of the sport and many things within – Mercedes is too dominant, the cars aren’t loud, it’s follow the leader, etc.
2017 promises to be so much more than what we have been fed over the past several years.
Ferrari looks to move beyond their horrid 11 podiums and zero victories in 2016 and appear to be putting all the chips in with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen – both of whom are in the final year of their respective contracts in 2017 – and nothing makes you perform like a madman than competing for your job.
The race of the year in 2016 was easily Brazil, the site of a (not-so-fast) Felipe Massa retirement. A lasting memory for everyone was of his emotional walk back to the pits in torrential rain with the nation’s flag draped over his shoulders until he finally met his family in a warm embrace.
Also, and more importantly for my next point, was the rise of a Senna-like performance by Verstappen, who amazed us all with his ability in the wet by passing anyone and nearly everyone with ease and without remorse. The Dutchman that showed the drivability of a cold assassin is more seasoned and could prove to be more than the field can handle. Much like the rise of Vettel, Verstappen looks poised to take that next step and is the popular choice to challenge all-comers for the title next season.
We finally get to see Verstappen go up against another rising star in McLaren’s newest driver, rookie Stoffel Vandoorne – that alone could be worth sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and enjoying.
The oddity of the unknown is something that should be revered and welcomed by everyone, because for once we aren’t sitting and hoping that someone can challenge and stop the onslaught of Mercedes – this time, we sit in mystery and anticipation for the buildup of racing’s ultimate prize.
Everyone on the grid has been building for the changes, some for over a year.
On March 26, 2017, wider tires, increased power and aero changes bring back the throwback-style of Formula 1 racing and with it a likely return of variety to a series of which a fanbase so desperately deserve.
We may finally get the answer to the decade old question of who is better in the Hamilton vs. Vettel debate.
But, just maybe, that fight card looks more like this –
Hamiton vs. Vettel vs. Alonso vs. Raikkonen vs. Ricciardo vs. Verstappen vs. Bottas vs. ?
On November 26, 2017, we will find out.