Formula 1 has undergone a heavy revision for 2017. After the first race of the year, what do we now know about the season ahead?

All change they proclaimed, and a fair bit of change they got.

Yesterday’s Australian Grand Prix - in which victory was fought for by Mercedes and Ferrari - was the first Formula 1 race under the new technical regulations. The cars are wider, faster and more aerodynamic, changes intended to speed up the racing and there's a host of other changes to the tyres, racing rules and the driver line-ups.

As we know, things that work on paper often don’t work in real life, and good intentions often have rather nasty unintended consequences – for example, the shambolic ‘knockout’ qualifying used this time last year.

So, what did we learn this weekend?

1. The cars are faster, but whether they are up to 5sec per lap faster as predicted remains to be seen

The new regulations yielded their primary purpose: faster lap times. The sport’s governing body, the FIA, was promising they would be up to 5sec per lap during pre-season, but clearly, this will vary from race to race. At the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, the fastest lap was set by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with a time of 1min 28.997sec. This year’s, set by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, was a 1min 26.538sec. So 2.5sec, give or take. The Australian Grand Prix is held on a sort-of-street circuit, however, so the promise of a 5.0sec improvement could well come true in a fortnight’s time at the purpose-built Shanghai International Circuit, especially seeing as it has one of the longest straights of any circuit on the calendar.

2. Finally, they’ve sorted the tyres out

The tyres are wider, yes, but what’s really exciting about them is how resistant they are to degradation. Their maker, Pirelli, describes the wear rate as ‘very low’, and on the basis of Melbourne, that seems true. This is good, because since Pirelli took over the rubber-making duties in 2010, their tyres have had very high degradation, and drivers would have to drive nowhere near the limit for long periods of the race in order to preserve them – hardly conducive to high-octane action. On the old tyres, certain cars wouldn’t ‘work’ on certain tracks, either, because teams would struggle to operate within the tyres’ narrow temperature window. Now, drivers can keep on the limit for nearly the whole race.

3. Overtaking is much more difficult

Last year was one of the best seasons on record for overtaking manoeuvres, with an average of 41.2 per race. If you look back to 2008 – the last time Formula 1 had cars this fast and aerodynamically complex – the average number of passes per race was 14.4. Ouch. Unfortunately, we seem to have returned to lower overtaking averages. Lewis Hamilton was struggling, and even the man who last year consistently overtook where one should not be able to, Max Verstappen, struggled. After the race, when a reporter asked Williams' Felipe Massa if overtaking was harder, he replied: “What overtaking?”. At least we still have the Drag Reduction System (DRS) to help drivers attack the car ahead.

4. Pitstops will be crucial

Back in the days of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher’s crushing dominance, the race was often won in the pitlane. This hasn’t been true for the last seven seasons, but Sebastian Vettel’s victory yesterday put an end to that. The ‘undercut’ – coming in for new tyres before your rival and taking advantage of fresh rubber to pass him when he makes a pit stop – had been effective before. In Australia, however, Hamilton found it impossible to overtake the Red Bull of Verstappen that was between him and Vettel’s Ferrari. The German’s ‘overcut’ (by dint of the more durable new tyres, stopping later than your rival has become preferable to stopping earlier) won him the race. Thankfully, the cars are able to follow one another closely, contrary to what had been feared, but actually getting past may prove a different story.

5. At last, we have a two-(prancing)-horse race

Vettel’s victory marked the first time in the hybrid era, which began in 2014, that someone other than a Mercedes driver had led the drivers’ championship, a fact that serves to illustrate the Silver Arrows’ crushing dominance of the last three seasons. Until now, a non-Mercedes win had required a serious degree of luck. Now, it looks like Ferrari’s promising testing pace has thankfully translated into race pace. A title fight between a Hamilton with something to prove and a rejuvenated, determined Vettel is something to savour. Mercedes new-boy Valtteri Bottas may even get involved in at some point, once he’s used to the car.

6. The midfield looks tight

Thus far, the pecking order would appear to be incredibly competitive. Up front are Mercedes and Ferrari, and nipping at their gearboxes are Red Bull. Behind that, though, you’ve got Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas all fighting for scraps, and an expectedly slight distance behind them is Sauber. The less said about McLaren and their underperforming Honda power unit, the better...

Read more - Opinion: Exciting Australian Grand Prix proves F1 is back

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Comments
10

27 March 2017
? Attack, you mean cruise past on the straight at up to 15mph quicker because of aerodynamics!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

27 March 2017
So, Raikkonen took the fastest lap in Melbourne? Makes you wonder what he was doing for the rest of the race. Seriously, is anyone remotely interested in a "race" won by strategists in the pit stops. F1 races are mainly a dull procession, occasionally made interesting by an audacious overtaking move. Without overtaking, it's dead.

27 March 2017
Ross Brawn has said that he is prepared to look at any and all solutions for 2018 if the new rules do not produce better racing. There's not a lot that can be done to change the 2017 rules in-season, but it looks like the shark fins and T-wings will get the chop for next year. Here's hoping that the ridiculous front wings get similarly trimmed, as they are the real killer of proper wheel-to-wheel racing.

27 March 2017
Fully agree; who's interested in pitlane strategy? We need cars on the the very edge, great sound, overtaking and excitement. We get zip. I'm worried about Ross Brawn, too. He's the perfect man for the job but trying to introduce rule changes is nowhere near as easy as they make it sound. Expect door slamming and bat and balls being taken home.

27 March 2017
Rallying is much more interesting to watch, and DTM.
Sadly the glory days of rallying seem to be over.

Madmac

27 March 2017
Not sure what people want. In the last few years, tyre degradation and so forth led to more overtaking that in the entire history of the World Championship. People didn't like it because drivers learned and were coached to take care of the tyres, to avoid ending up being a sitting duck. Now tyres are wider and more durable, and people are unhappy the pit stops will determine the outcome. A lot of exciting racing at lower levels happens because the drivers really aren't very good. You have to decide whether you actually like motor racing done by people who don't make many mistakes. I do.
Happy motoring

27 March 2017
....it was still a snooze fest.

Now the MotoGP race - that WAS exciting!

Steam cars are due a revival.

27 March 2017
Just decade or two ago Honda was excellent in engine building. Now, with F1, Honda has the biggest backside in that regard...

27 March 2017
Are the cars really more aerodynamic? I think not.

And they still sound like lawnmowers. In fact that is probably unfair as I quite like the sound of some lawnmowers. Perhaps Briggs and Stratton could be McLaren's new engine supplier? A pull start would be very useful if they stalled on the grid.

27 March 2017
An already boring event is now even more boring. Imagine the uproar if new regulations were introduced into horse racing that made it virtually impossible for one horse to get by another, or for an athlete in the London marathon, or a swimmer in the Olympics. The supposedly best brains in F1 have produced 'this', and the worrying bit is, they didn't see it coming. So, with all the overtaking going on in the pit now, I suggest a complete redesign of all circuits. The actual track can clear off out into the countryside where no one needs to see it, and all the spectator stands and TV OB equipment need to be moved into a suitable positions completely surrounding​ the pit lane where all the action is. That should boost figures.

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