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Rules, drivers, Q&A's and more - all you need to know ahead of the 2017 F1 season

Rules, drivers, Q&A's and more - all you need to know ahead of the 2017 F1 season - News

The new Formula One campaign gets under way a week on Sunday when Melbourne's Albert Park plays host to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

The sport has undergone a radical overhaul of its technical regulations over the winter in a bid to spice up the show, while reigning champion Nico Rosberg will not be on the grid to defend his title after he retired.

Here, we look at the rules changes, the drivers, and the key questions ahead of what promises to be a scintillating year.

So, what did we learn from pre-season testing?

Mercedes are still very good. Ferrari may be even better. And McLaren are in crisis. Let's start with the world champions. Lewis Hamilton is joined by Valtteri Bottas this season, and despite a new-look driver line-up, the team which has dominated Formula One for the past three years, looked impressive in testing. They completed more mileage than any of their competitors - indeed they were the only team to break the 1,000-lap barrier - while they looked racy, too. But, and it could prove to be a big but, both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel posted quicker lap times for Ferrari than either of the Mercedes pair and they also impressed with race-style simulations. Meanwhile, McLaren's miserable time with engine supplier Honda looks set to extend into a third year. The Honda engine is slow and desperately unreliable and there is every chance Fernando Alonso and new team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne will prop up the grid in Melbourne later this month.

Can Ferrari really take the challenge to Mercedes?

There is a growing sense of belief emanating from the Italian team that this may be their year. Hamilton has already said that Ferrari will start the season as favourites - a prediction swiftly rejected by Vettel - but there can be no denying that they enjoyed a strong pre-season. The famous constructor spent much of 2016 in the doldrums and failed to register a single victory, but all of the signs from the two winter tests in Barcelona would suggest that they will head into the new campaign at least on a level footing with Mercedes, and if not marginally ahead.

Are the cars different this year?

This year's cars are wider, lower and faster in a bid to make them look more aggressive and provide a greater physical and mental challenge for the drivers. Hamilton and Alonso, who have been critical of the sport in recent times, have given the new cars the thumbs up. The new technical regulations were introduced to spice up the show but it is feared that the increased downforce could lead to fewer overtakes during a race.

Have there been any other rule changes?

Wet races will get under way from a standing start on the grid - even if a safety car is initially required - while a loophole which allowed teams to take advantage of the sport's complicated engine rules has been closed. The calendar has also been reduced by one race to 20 following the financial collapse of the Nurburgring in Germany.

How will Formula One change in the post-Bernie Ecclestone era?

American giants Liberty Media are now in charge of the sport after it completed a £6.4billion purchase in January. Ecclestone, who governed Formula One for the last 40 years, was moved aside with American Chase Carey installed as F1's chairman and CEO. Former Ferrari chief Ross Brawn will look after the sporting side, with Sean Bratches, a former ESPN executive, taking care of the commercial arm of the sport. The Concorde Agreement which runs until 2020 means the new owners are unlikely to make sweeping changes in the immediate future, but they have already targeted an increased social media presence - an area in which Ecclestone was reluctant to improve - with teams and drivers now permitted to shoot short-form videos in the paddock and garages.

Was Ecclestone the only big name to leave in the winter?

No. McLaren will be without their long-standing chairman Ron Dennis after he was placed on gardening leave. Dennis has been replaced by American Zak Brown. While Jenson Button will not be on the grid for the first time in 17 years after he retired. Meanwhile, James Allison, the highly-rated design guru, has joined Mercedes after Paddy Lowe was also placed on gardening leave. Lowe is set to join Williams. The sport will be without a defending champion for the first time since 1994 after Rosberg's shock retirement.

Who'll be on the grid in 2017?

Nico Rosberg's shock retirement means the forthcoming Formula One campaign will be contested without its reigning champion for the first time since 1994.

The grid has also shrunk to just 10 teams after cash-strapped Manor were forced out of business.

We take a closer look at the 20 drivers who will line up for the season-opener in Melbourne on March 26.

MERCEDES

Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)

Car: 44

Age: 32

Starts: 188

Wins: 53

Championships: 3 (2008, 2014, 2015)

Valtteri Bottas (Fin)

Car: 77

Age: 27

Starts: 77

Wins: 0

Mercedes have dominated the sport for the last three years, winning 51 of the last 59 races, en route to claiming a hat-trick of consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships. But the Brackley-based outfit will head into the new campaign with an untested line-up. Former Williams driver Bottas, yet to win in F1, teams up with triple world champion Hamilton following Rosberg's decision to retire just five days after he won the title in Abu Dhabi.

RED BULL

Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)

Car: 3

Age: 27

Starts: 109

Wins: 4

Max Verstappen (Ned)

Car: 33

Age: 19

Starts: 40

Wins: 1

Red Bull boast arguably the best line-up in the sport. Ricciardo, the smiley Australian, turned in a string of impressive performances last season to finish behind only Rosberg and Hamilton in the championship, while 19-year-old Verstappen won on his Red Bull debut in Spain and then delivered a performance for the ages with his display in the wet at Brazil.

FERRARI

Sebastian Vettel (Ger)

Car: 5

Age: 29

Starts: 178

Wins: 42

Championships: 4 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Kimi Raikkonen (Fin)

Car: 7

Age: 37

Starts: 252

Wins: 20

Championships: 1 (2007)

Ferrari finished a distant third last year after they failed to register a single victory. There appeared to be mass disharmony within the Italian camp, but a strong pre-season will give them enormous hope heading into the new campaign. Will they be able to deliver when it really matters however, and take the challenge to Mercedes this year?

FORCE INDIA

Sergio Perez (Mex)

Car: 11

Age: 27

Starts: 114

Wins: 0

Esteban Ocon (Fra)

Car: 31

Age: 20

Starts: 9

Wins: 0

Force India have it all to do to replicate their successes of last season after they exceeded all expectations to finish a fantastic fourth in the constructors' championship. Ocon, who made his debut for the now defunct Manor team midway through last year, joins Perez after Nico Hulkenberg left to join Renault.

WILLIAMS

Felipe Massa (Bra)

Car: 19

Age: 35

Starts: 250

Wins: 11

Lance Stroll (Can)

Car: 18

Age: 18

Starts: 0

Massa was called out of his short-lived retirement following Bottas' switch to Mercedes. The veteran Brazilian is joined by rookie Lance Stroll, who, at just 18, will become the second youngest driver to start a Formula One race when the lights go out in Melbourne. Williams endured a largely disappointing 2016, but will be buoyed by their promising performances in testing.

McLAREN

Fernando Alonso (Spa)

Car: 14

Age: 35

Starts: 273

Wins: 32

Championships: 2 (2005, 2006)

Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel)

Car: 2

Age: 24

Starts : 1

Wins: 0

McLaren are in crisis following a desperately poor pre-season plagued by an unreliable and slow Honda engine. Alonso, who is out of contract with McLaren at the end of the year, has already voiced his criticism of the Japanese manufacturer in what is set to be another deeply frustrating season for the double world champion. Belgian Vandoorne partners Alonso after he was hired to replace Jenson Button.

TORO ROSSO

Daniil Kvyat (Rus)

Car: 26

Age: 22

Starts: 57

Wins: 0

Carlos Sainz (Spa)

Car: 55

Age: 22

Starts: 40

Wins: 0

Red Bull's sister team will be powered by Renault in 2017 after using Ferrari engines last term. Russian driver Kvyat was sent back to Toro Rosso after just four races of last year following Red Bull's decision to promote Verstappen. Kvyat struggled on his return to the team but has been retained for another year with Sainz, the talented Spaniard, occupying the other seat.

HAAS

Romain Grosjean (Fra)

Car: 8

Age: 30

Starts: 102

Wins: 0

Kevin Magnussen (Den)

Car: 20

Age: 24

Starts: 40

Wins: 0

The American team are set for their second season in the sport after making their debut last year. Their campaign started encouragingly but tailed off as the year wore on. Danish driver Magnussen, formerly of Renault, replaces Esteban Gutierrez for 2017.

RENAULT

Nico Hulkenberg (Ger)

Car: 27

Age: 29

Starts: 115

Wins: 0

Jolyon Palmer (Gbr)

Car: 30

Age: 26

Starts: 20

Wins: 0

Renault will be expecting to take significant strides this season after they endured a largely disappointing first year back in the sport as a standalone constructor. British driver Palmer, who is retained for a second campaign, will team up with former Le Mans winner Hulkenberg.

SAUBER

Marcus Ericsson (Swe)

Car: 9

Age: 26

Starts: 56

Wins: 0

Pascal Wehrlein (Ger)

Car: 94

Age: 22

Starts: 21

Wins: 0

Wehrlein, a member of the Mercedes young driver programme, has had to make do with a seat at Sauber after he was overlooked for the vacant drive alongside Hamilton following Rosberg's retirement. He teams up with the heavily-sponsored but largely unimpressive Ericsson.

What rules have changed?

Formula One has undergone a radical shake-up of its technical regulations in a bid to spice up the show this season.

The 2017 cars are wider and lower in order to improve downforce, make the cars faster, and look more aggressive.

We run the rule over the latest changes to the F1 rulebook while Britain's Jolyon Palmer, who drives for Renault, provides his expert analysis.

Aerodynamics

The dimensions of a Formula One car have radically changed to make them faster and appear more aggressive. This year's cars are much wider, having increased from 1800mm to 2000mm. The width of the front wing is up by 75mm to make the car look quicker, while the rear wing is lower and wider (a 150mm increase). The rear wing is also closer to the diffuser, while the diffuser is bigger, the floor of the car is wider and the bargeboards are longer, all to improve performance.

Palmer's verdict: The idea is for the cars to look cool - a throwback to the eighties. They have been designed this way to give the impression of speed and to look racy. The changes have increased the downforce and we can now take a number of corners flat out which we had never have been able to do before.

Weight

Formula One cars were 600 kilograms 10 years ago, but have steadily increased in recent years. And in 2017 they will come in at more than 720kg due to the bigger cars, wider tyres and extra bodywork. The regulation changes will also make the cars tougher to handle, and place a greater physical stress on the drivers. As such, most drivers have put on muscle over the winter in order to cope with the new demands.

Palmer's verdict: Last year I was as lean as I could be, but I would not be able to be that weight and drive the new cars. The FIA, Formula One's governing body, has increased the weight limit otherwise no one would get to the end of the race. The speed of the cars will take its toll on us physically, and the hot races will be difficult. Mentally it will also be a huge challenge.

Tyres

The front and rear tyres are radically different this year to cope with the demands of the wider, heavier cars. The front tyres have increased in width from 245mm to 305mm while the rear tyres are now 405mm, having been 325mm last season. The new tyres will also produce mechanical grip and be more durable which should allow drivers to push to the absolute limit throughout the race.

Palmer's verdict: The wider tyres make the car quicker in low-speed corners, while the aerodynamic changes make the car quicker at high speed. They are harder and more durable, too, so we should be able to go much further into the race without stopping. It looks as though we will have more one-stop races this season.

So... will the changes improve the show?

The cars will certainly be much faster with lap times expected to tumble by up to five seconds, and the general consensus is that they look much better, too. But it is expected that the extra downforce will increase the drag and make it harder for one car to follow another, thus leading to fewer overtakes.

Palmer's verdict: People are worried that because we have got more downforce we will not be able to follow, and the braking distances are shorter, so there will be less margin to make a lunge on another driver. It is too early to say, but they look way cooler this year and the image of all 20 cars going past the crowd will look really impressive.

15 March 2017
Blog

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