Ben Stevens looks at the teams contesting the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship which gets underway with the Australian Grand Prix weekend at Albert Park in Melbourne, from 24-26 March.
Since the V6 Turbo era started in 2014, Mercedes AMG Petronas have known one thing – winning. Never threatened by anything more than a tantrum from either Lewis Hamilton or the now-departed Nico Rosberg, they put together the most dominant three-year run in F1 history. Now they move into a new era, with Hamilton joined by Valtteri Bottas and a formula that shifts the emphasis back towards aerodynamics – yet while all good things end some time, it’s hard to see it happening for them just yet.
2016 Championship Position: P1
2016 was a difficult year to be a Ferrari fan. A promising pre-season testing programme had many thinking they could take the fight to Mercedes, instead, they slipped to third. “Winners” of testing once again in 2017, there might be more substance to the hype this time around with comparable long-run performance, but at the very least they seem competitive. Now year 3 for the Maurizio Arrivabene-Sebastian Vettel partnership, this could be the year it all comes together, or where it completely falls apart.
2016 Championship Position: P3
Last year’s runners-up enter 2017 something of an unknown quantity. Ceding the pre-season limelight to Mercedes and Ferrari, the team could still be a ways off competing for a championship, or right there from the get go. In either case, they’re sure to start grabbing plenty of headlines with the most exciting driver pairing on the grid in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen – the hope is their car (and engine) will end up being worthy of their immense talent.
2016 Championship Position: P2
In a sport where money talks like no other, Williams have made it a habit to get the most bang for their buck. Two third-placed finishes in 2014 and ’15 were followed by a fifth-place in 2016, but after a strong second pre-season test, fifth would seem the minimum they could accomplish in 2017.
2016 Championship Position: P5
Owner Vijay Mallya’s personal fortunes may be going from bad-to-worse, but his team has managed to go from strength-to-strength. Improving their championship position in each of the last three seasons, they enter 2017 with the stated goal of cracking the top three, but is that means taking on the triumvirate of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, which might be a little out of reach. Can’t fault them for aiming high though.
2016 Championship Position: P4
Entering their second year back as a constructor, Renault will be expecting to make a significant leap forward in the standings. Signing Nico Hulkenberg to spearhead their lineup is a sign the French manufacturer feels ready to move back into the top 5, but they could find that difficult with what is still the third-best power unit on the grid, even if it is far improved.
2016 Championship Position: P9
Finishing with 29 points in their first season in the sport, Haas have broken the trend of struggling newcomers this decade. In year two, the goal now shifts from learning the ropes to making some legitimate noise, as they continue to benefit from the expertise of Ferrari and chassis designers Dallara assisting with their development. After five top-10 finishes in 2016, the same would be par for the American outfit in 2017.
The story at Toro Rosso – as it always is – is not one of championship contention, but a year-long teammate struggle. In Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, they have two drivers on very different career trajectories – the former in the ascendancy, the latter struggling to halt the slide – and yet, a new season presents new opportunities for both. That said, with the team no longer saddled with year-old engines and another strong package from technical director James Key, they could end up closer to the front than many are expecting.
2016 Championship Position: P8
The season may have not even started, but McLaren are already in crisis mode. Two disastrous pre-season tests proved their Honda engines to be more unreliable than a promise from Bernie Ecclestone, and the team looks set to start the season not so much on the back foot as laid out on the canvas. All the money and effort in the world can’t seem to correct what is a fundamentally flawed power unit, and it will be a minor miracle if they achieve anything of substance this season.
2016 Championship Position: P6
A single point. That is all that separated Sauber from the ignominy of last place in the 2016 constructor’s standings – yet with Manor no longer around, is there any way they can hope to avoid that fate this year? More than any other team, the opening races will be crucial, as their 2016-Ferrari engine is at its most competitive, and other teams struggle to stay on track. Survival is the name of the game for Sauber in 2017 – but they’ve long proved to adept at exactly that.
2016 Championship Position: P10
Big Questions: Can anyone do a Brawn GP this year? Can any team end the reign of Mercedes?