By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
There is a reason Toto Wolff is so happy Valtteri Bottas has finally signed for Mercedes. Consequently, there is a reason Claire Williams is so happy Felipe Massa is back with her team as Bottas’ replacement. Teams with experienced veterans are rejoicing ahead of the 2017 regulations because they know that experience will count more than ever before.
It is not unusual for cars and teams to be pushed to their breaking point during the debut season of major rule changes, but 2017 is going to push that limit further than ever before.
The latest data from Pirelli and the FIA shows that cornering speeds may be up 40 km/h this year, that’s 25 mph. This comes on the heels of news that cars will be at full throttle some 20 to 40 percent more of a typical lap than they were in 2016. Drivers may be at full throttle for 90 percent of the lap at Monza, where they reach some of the highest top speeds of the season. Teams are busy reclassifying some corners as straights because the drivers will no longer have to lift or brake for them. It will be incredibly intense, but things will break, because F1 cars will be subjected to forces greater than they have ever experienced before.
In addition to vastly increased cornering speeds and engine loads, Formula One teams will have to deal with four power units for the length of the season, one fewer than in 2016. When components of the power unit fail, teams will no longer be able to incur all their grid penalties at once either; gone are the days of Fernando Alonso receiving 35 plus grid spot penalties. Instead they will be incurred separately, race after race, until Charlie Whiting and the boys are satisfied.
Faster, harder to drive, more fragile cars will reward immensely the drivers and teams who can steer clear of trouble on track. In the past, calling a driver a ‘safe pair of hands’ was often a backhanded compliment, but now it will be invaluable skill set.
This should play into the hands of drivers like Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and Felipe Massa more than any others. They not only have vast experience, but they also raced or tested the lightning quick F1 cars of the early and mid 2000’s, the last machines that reached the kind of sustained speeds expected in 2017.
In many ways it is a shame Jenson Button is on sabbatical, because his smooth driving style and calm demeanor make him the perfect driver for this new era of F1; one that will punish mistakes more than any in recent memory and reward consistency above all.
On the flip-side of experience lay the stars of tomorrow, rookies and young drivers like Lance Stroll, Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Ocon, Pascal Wehrlein, and to an extent, Max Verstappen. It will be fascinating to see how they cope. Their limited F1 experience will show, but their youth may allow them to adapt to the 2017 cars quicker than expected. Talent will still reign supreme, but teams will be hellbent on keeping the youngsters out of trouble.
F1 will be unquestionably more spectacular in 2017 than seasons past. Yet increased downforce, speeds, mechanical grip and width, will ensure that increased care both from the drivers and teams will be paramount not only to success, but survival. F1 is only weeks away from its biggest evolution in over 20 years, with most teams still putting the final touches on their designs prior to testing. Let’s hope they are ready come February 27th.