The new Formula One season is nearly upon us, and here’s everything you need to know to get ready for it.
The 2017 Formula One season will get underway with the first of 20 Grands Prix on March 26. That race, the Australian Grand Prix from Melbourne, will launch a season that will extent all the way to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the Yas Marina Circuit on November 26.
There were three retirements — followed by one unretirement — to kick off this past offseason. Last year’s constructor’s champion, Mercedes, had an opening that prompted multiple drivers to switch teams. One team from the field is no longer in the sport, while the United States-based Haas F1 Team will launch its sophomore season.
Plus, there’s a new owner hoping to take the sport in a more modern and sustainable direction. This has resulted in some pretty significant technical and regulatory changes this year, and should result in even more drastic changes going forward.
With about a week to go until the whole thing gets started, we’re going to walk you through all the changes this offseason and what to expect going forward.
A champion retires
Last year’s Drivers Championship went down to the wire, a battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes. Together, they locked up the Constructors Championship for Mercedes well before the end of the season, but the two fought back and forth for lead in the individual and more prestigious title.
A series of bad starts and bad luck from Hamilton put him in a hole behind Rosberg and needed some help to win the title when the last race of the season was held. He didn’t get that help, and Rosberg bested Hamilton, the defending champion, and won his first ever Drivers Championship.
And then abruptly retired.
Rosberg, citing having achieved his goals and wanting to spend more time with his family, retired and left Mercedes and all thoughts of competing with Hamilton for another grueling season in the rear-view mirror.
Mercedes was without a replacement for some time, and eventually a deal was reached where Williams allowed Valtteri Bottas out of his contract, and the young Fin will now be racing against Hamilton as a teammate next season. This deal was complicated and also hinged on the recently-retired Felipe Massa to return to Williams so they were not without both of their 2016 drivers.
A new owner in town
Bernie Eccelstone, the longtime chief executive of Formula One Group for a staggering 40 years in the role, is no longer in charge after Liberty Media purchased a minority stake in the sport from CVC Capital Partners in September 2016. The commercial operation of the organization and sport underwent a restructuring, with Eccelstone out and a new group of faces in.
This move — Eccelstone’s departure specifically — has been a long time coming. Eccelstone was instrumental in the forward progress of the sport through some tough times and its most prosperous years on top of that. But the sport has seemed somewhat directionless and filled with question marks in recent years, and a common criticism of being both out of touch and close-minded was levied at Eccelstone by several critics.
The new ownership group seems intent on modernizing the sport and making it easier for teams without the kind of financial backing of a Ferrari or Mercedes can succeed. It will be a long process, one that’s only just begun with a decrease in engine costs by a flat €1 million this season. A further decrease is set to happen in 2018.
No more Manor
The parent company of Manor Racing Team went into administration in January 2017. When no buyers emerged, the company was forced to close entirely by March, meaning the team will no longer be on the track next season.
Manor was a non-factor last season. They were using old cars and power units. Previously, Manor was known as the Marussia F1 Team and prior to that, began life as Virgin Racing in 2010. They managed a single point last season, and were not much of a factor in either of their two previous iterations.
Other drivers moving teams
In addition to Rosberg and Jenson Button calling it quits (remember, Massa was lured out of retirement in the Mercedes deal), there are a few changes worth noting. The biggest change outside of those occurred when Kevin Magnussen turned down an offer to remain with Renault and signed with Haas, who will be conducting their second year in Formula 1 this coming season.
As a result, Esteban Gutiérrez was without a seat, leaving Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to occupy the Haas spots. Gutiérrez moved to Formula E as a result.
Esteban Ocon moves from Manor to Force India, filling the seat of Nico Hülkenberg, who moved on to Renault. Pascal Wehrlein, Ocon’s teammate at Manor in 2016, signed on with Sauber for the 2017 season, leaving Felipe Nasr without a seat.
Stoffel Vandoorne, who earned points while substituting for the injured Fernando Alonso in 2016, now has a full seat with McLaren after Button’s retirement — or sabbatical, as he’s called it. Finally, the 2016 European Formula 3 Championship winner, Lance Stroll, joins Williams to fill the seat vacated by Bottas.
2017 Formula One Driver Lineup
|Sebastian Vettel||5||Scuderia Ferrari|
|Kimi Räikkönen||7||Scuderia Ferrari|
|Sergio Pérez||11||Sahara Force India F1 Team|
|Esteban Ocon||31||Sahara Force India F1 Team|
|Romain Grosjean||8||Haas F1 Team|
|Kevin Magnussen||20||Haas F1 Team|
|Stoffel Vandoorne||2||McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team|
|Fernando Alonso||14||McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team|
|Lewis Hamilton||44||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport|
|Valtteri Bottas||77||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport|
|Daniel Ricciardo||3||Red Bull Racing|
|Max Verstappen||33||Red Bull Racing|
|Nico Hülkenberg||27||Renault Sport Formula One Tema|
|Jolyon Palmer||30||Renault Sport Formula One Tema|
|Marcus Ericsson||9||Sauber F1 Team|
|Pascal Wehrlein||94||Sauber F1 Team|
|Daniil Kvyat||26||Scuderia Toro Rosso|
|Carlos Sainz Jr.||55||Scuderia Toro Rosso|
|Lance Stroll||18||Williams Martini Racing|
|Felipe Massa||19||Williams Martini Racing|
Engine changes and new obligation
Sauber will be using year-old Ferrari power units for the 2017 season, much like Toro Rosso did in 2016. Toro Rosso will return to using Renault power for their engines in 2017.
They previously used those units before the relationship between Renault and Red Bull Racing broke down in 2015, but that relationship was aided when the TAG Heuer-branded Renault engine worked well for Red Bull last season.
Finally, a new regulation put in place says that power unit suppliers have an “obligation to supply,” meaning that any time a team is without an agreement, they will have an easier path to getting a deal done. This rule came into place as a result of what happened with Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Renault in recent years.
New body requirements
Care about the minutia of body changes that undergo F1 cars? There’s quite a few of them.
The overall width of cars has been increased to 2,000mm, bodywork is allowed to reach a maximum width of 1,600mm, and the front wing is allowed to be 1,800mm now. The rear wing has been lowered by 150mm and moved back by 200mm. The rear diffuser is now bigger and longer, while the leading edge of the barge boards are being brought forward to help with airflow customization.
Front and rear tires are now close to 25 percent wider, and the minimum weight of a car (including the driver) has been increased by 20kg to 722kg, with teams allowed to use 105kg of fuel to account for that increase.
The token system is gone
F1’s controversial token system was introduced in the 2014 season as a way to regulate power unit development. It was put in place to help with cost, but the whole system was widely regarded as too confusing and complicated. Basically, a power unit was broken into 42 parts with each part given a token “weight,” and a max weight of 66 token altogether. Teams spent tokens to upgrade various parts throughout the season.
By getting rid of this rule, it does open the door for a dominant team like Mercedes to develop its engine and dominate further, but it also allows teams like Ferrari and Honda to make changes on the fly and make things competitive. While Mercedes ran away with the title a season ago, there were times when Red Bull and Ferrari pushed them, and given small changes, perhaps would have been able to do more.
The sport is trying to introduce further regulation to decrease the overall cost of power units and their parts, but it’s a process that takes time. For now, the token system is being abandoned.
F1 Calendar changes
The German Grand Prix will not take place this year. It has been removed from the calendar entirely, an unfortunate result of an inability to get a deal done with either Nurburgring or Hockenheimring circuits.
This year’s race in Baku will be titled the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while it was previously called the European Grand Prix in 2016. The date of the race, which occurs at the Baku Street Circuit, was also moved so as not to conflict with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It will take place on June 25.
Finally, the Chinese and Bahrain Grands Prix swapped places on the schedule for the season, with the former being on April 9 and the latter being on April 16.
2017 Formula One Race Calendar
|1||Australian Grand Prix||Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, Melbourne||March 26|
|2||Chinese Grand Prix||Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai||April 9|
|3||Bahrain Grand Prix||Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir||April 16|
|4||Russian Grand Prix||Sochi Autodrom, Sochi||April 30|
|5||Spanish Grand Prix||Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona||May 14|
|6||Monaco Grand Prix||Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo||May 28|
|7||Canadian Grand Prix||Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal||June 11|
|8||Azerbaijan Grand Prix||Baku City Circuit, Baku||June 25|
|9||Austrian Grand Prix||Red Bull Ring, Spielberg||July 9|
|10||British Grand Prix||Silverstone Circuit, Silverstone||July 16|
|11||Hungarian Grand Prix||Hungaroring, Budapest||July 30|
|12||Belgian Grand Prix||Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Stavelot||August 27|
|13||Italian Grand Prix||Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Monza||September 3|
|14||Singapore Grand Prix||Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore||September 17|
|15||Malaysian Grand Prix||Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur||October 1|
|16||Japanese Grand Prix||Suzuka International Racing Course, Suzuka||October 8|
|17||United States Grand Prix||Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas||October 22|
|18||Mexican Grand Prix||Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico City||October 29|
|19||Brazilian Grand Prix||Autódromo José Carlos Pace, São Paulo||November 12|
|20||Abu Dhabi Grand Prix||Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi||November 26|
Grid penalties are handled differently
Obscene grid penalties are still going to be a thing for various violations, but those violations are regulated. Last season, teams could swap several parts of the power unit all at once and incur something like a 50-place penalty, but discharge that penalty over the course of a single race. Now, teams can only use one new component over their quota per race, with any additional components incurring further penalties that will have to be served individually.
New wet start procedures
Previously, when races had to start under extremely wet conditions, the race would begin under the safety car and proceed until it was deemed safe to race. At that point, racing would get underway as though it were a normal safety car.
Now, a new sporting regulation has been put in place that allows races to follow normal starting procedures once conditions have been declared safe. So the safety car will still be deployed and laps raced under the safety car, but when it goes in, the grid will line up and start under the lights as usual.