It’s been one of the most fierce Formula 1 seasons in recent history and with adaptations both on and off the track driving the changes.
Spain marks the beginning of F1’s set of races based primarily in Europe, with stops in Canada and Azerbaijan for good measure. The run of races, going from mid-May to early September, sees a number of legendary venues being taken in at Spa and Monza, as well as the cherished Canadian GP and the jewel in F1’s crown, Monaco.
More importantly, the Spanish round in Barcelona is where teams bring big updates for their applauded or heckled cars. The season may just be four races old but it is almost a quarter through the calendar. At this point, teams know whether their pre-season work has paid off and have had a good start, or whether they have a lot of catching up to do.
Mercedes and Ferrari are two that can be happy with proceedings thus far, both taking two wins each from the first four offerings. The closely-fought battle between the two giants of motorsport has put an even bigger smile on the faces of everyone else. Fearing yet another season of Mercedes trampling over the opposition, these fears have gone unfounded with neither team having a clear edge. It looks as though it will be between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton for the driver’s championship, although Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas netting his maiden F1 win in Russia has given hope to those wanting the Finn to be more than a rear gunner in the eight-month tussle for the title.
The narrow battle at the front has perhaps taken eyes off the fact that the 2017 cars have not been good for overtaking. In the pursuit of downforce and in making the cars faster through corners, they are now more difficult to follow and as a result, passing each other has become much more of a challenge. Melbourne saw the number of passes being accounted for on one hand while the Russian round in Sochi saw approximately zero on-track overtaking manoeuvres after the first lap.
The new breed of cars has also created large gaps in parts of the field. Much-fancied Red Bull have turned up without their horns as the expected championship charge has not materialised. The energy drinks giant has seen themselves in a fight of their own, too far behind the leading two teams to fight for podiums, and enough ahead of the chasing pack to be able to not fret too much. Williams, Force India, Renault and Toro Rosso have been closely embroiled in the scrap for the remaining points for the top ten race finishers.
A significant amount of focus has been placed on McLaren. The Woking-based squad have had the staunch glare of the media spotlight since they renewed acquaintances with Honda in 2015. After an improved 2016 campaign with numerous Q3 appearances and even a top 5 grid position or two when weather permitted, McLaren-Honda are back to fighting it out towards the back.
The shock announcement that Fernando Alonso is to race in this year’s Indy 500 with the Andretti team, run by Michael Andretti, son of former F1 world champion and Indy 500 winner Mario, has only increased the attention placed on the team at a dark period in marque’s history. Alonso has made no secret of the fact that a leading ambition of his has been to achieve the Grand Slam of motorsport – typically referring to victories at the Monaco GP, Indy 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours. The feat has only been achieved once, by the legendary Graham Hill. Nico Hulkenberg provided a boost for the sport when he was part of the Porsche team that won the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours race and in doing so became the first active driver to do so since Johnny Herbert in 1991.
On the Liberty front, work continues in the early period of the sport’s new owners to transform the sport. Chairman Chase Carey has commented that he could “fill a page” with the number of venues that have requesting a meeting to discuss potentially hosting a race, while from the Spanish GP there will be a new Fan Festival. The fan initiative will include driving simulators and pitstop challenges, as well as competitions in which winners can win prizes such as a drive in a two-seater F1 car, Paddock Club passes and photo opportunities with teams.
Any revolution takes time, a commodity Liberty are wasting little of as the sport moves forward in what has, so far, been a competitive 2017.