F1 Testing 2017: Barcelona Test Preview


World © Octane Photographic Ltd. Mercedes AMG Petronas W07 Hybrid – Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing RB12. Saturday 26th November 2016, F1 Abu Dhabi GP - Qualifying. Yas Marina circuit, Abu Dhabi

The first bout of pre-season testing is set to get underway in less than two weeks’ time, at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, on February 27, and there will be plenty for fans to watch out for, with the introduction of some new regulations.

The first session will comprise four days running until March 2, with a second week also planned at the Spanish track for March 7-10. The first instalment will also include at least one day of wet running.

Given the huge overhaul of the FIA rules and regulation in 2017, this year’s test sessions will be crucial for teams who will have many questions they hope to answer, and bugs to iron out, prior to the start of the F1 season.

The changes have focused in the main on aerodynamic improvement, in a bid to move away from the engine power dominated last few seasons, with wider tyres and an increase in overall car width, which includes greater front wing span, but also a reduction in the height of the rear wing.

The increased downforce should allow more speed through corners, which drivers should now be able to take flat out and more grip should improve drivability.

The restrictive engine token system has been dropped, giving unlimited development of the power unit throughout the season, except for those teams that have opted for an older specification engine.

As always, pre-season is a frantic time for F1 teams, who rush through the mandatory crash tests and admin to get their challengers ready to race. When they arrive in Barcelona on February 27, they will have just eight days in which to sort out and hone their new package, before the Australian Grand Prix looms large on March 26.

Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

It has been a tumultuous time for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team since winning the drivers and constructors championship last season, which will make pre-season testing even more crucial for the German squad.

Firstly, driver Nico Rosberg announced his retirement from the sport just days after taking the title, leaving the Brackley based squad with a huge gap to fill in a short space of time.

To make matters worse they also lost key component in securing their three world championship titles, Executive Director (Technical) Paddy Lowe, who now looks set to join Williams Martini Racing after a short period of gardening leave. No replacement for the Brit has been confirmed as yet, but all rumours point to it being former Scuderia Ferrari man James Allison.

Moving the other way is Valtteri Bottas, who will replace Rosberg as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate. As well as having to get used to his new team sharpish, the car will also be all new to the Finn, so a solid two weeks testing without issue will be needed to get the 27-year-old settled in.

Having enjoyed outright domination of the world championship since 2014, the German squad are once again tipped to be the team to beat, with their so far superior engine and well-balanced car, but will all the recent upheaval wreak havoc on their campaign?

The Brackley based squad will launch their 2017 challenger, the W08, at event at Silverstone on February 23.

Red Bull Racing

This year’s regulation changes suit Red Bull Racing down to the ground, and with Adrian Newey back in love with the sport once again, we all know what he is capable of in the chassis department – which makes them a team to be feared in 2017.

The Milton Keynes based squad were the closest competitor to Mercedes in 2016, taking the only other non-silver arrows victories in the season, and with an all new concept Renault engine in production that looks set to rival Mercedes power – could this be the Austrian team’s comeback year?

Red Bull will unveil the RB13 online on February 26, before showing the car off the following day, just prior to the start of pre-season testing.

Scuderia Ferrari

It was another below par year for Ferrari in 2016, and the loss of Technical Director James Allison did not help matters.

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne swore the poor performances would not continue in 2017 and radical development has been employed for this year’s car. A complete design overhaul, with tighter packaging of the rear around a smaller gearbox, as well as a fully re-designed power unit, which Technical Chief Mattia Binotto estimates will increase their power output by up to 50 bhp, has been in the pipeline.

It has even been mentioned that the Italian squad have been considering the use of 3D printing for an innovative piston design that uses a new steel alloy. Ferrari believe the concept could bring them a massive performance boost.

When testing rolls around on February 27, we will find out whether or not the Maranello based squad have produced, before that however we can get a sneak peek of their 2017 machine when they unveil it at a two-day filming event at their Fiorano test track, on February 24.

World © Octane Photographic Ltd. May 2015, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain. Digital Ref : 1268LB5D2150

Sahara Force India F1 Team

Having achieved their best ever result of fourth place in the constructors’ standings last year, if the Sahara Force India F1 Team can equal their efforts in 2017, they will be on the right track.

The VJM10 will be the first chassis the squad have produced solely in-house, and the signs so far are good, as they passed all the mandatory crash tests at the first time of asking.

Having their own manufacturing process in place has made things much easing for the Silverstone based team, allowing them to devote more time to design and development, so hopes are high for another year of strong performance.

One of the key factors in their year on year improvements is consistency, but this year they have broken that ethos with the departure of driver Nico Hulkenberg. Upcoming talent Esteban Ocon has replaced the German, and it will be interesting to see how the highly rated Frenchman performs, after getting a taste for F1 with Manor Racing MRT from Round 12 onwards last year.

Force India will reveal their 2017 challenger on February 22, during a filming day at their home base of Silverstone.

Williams Martini Racing

It was a disappointing season for Williams Martini Racing in 2016, who struggled to get to grips with the tyres and a lack of downforce all year.

Having pulled themselves back from the brink of disaster at the last round of regulation changes in 2014, the British team will be hoping to once again find the right path once again.

Technical Director Pat Symonds has stood down from his position as Technical Director, which is a huge loss, but made better slightly by the fact that they are receiving the brilliant Lowe in his place.

The team have a changed driver line-up of rookie Lance Stroll and the returning Felipe Massa, who retired at the end of 2016 but was lured back by Williams when driver Bottas was poached by Mercedes.

The British team were left with little choice in releasing the Finn to the world champions, and could have found things tough had the Brazilian not agreed to return to the fold. With one newcomer already on the books, the last thing they needed was to take on another inexperienced driver in a season of massive change.

There is also the stigma attached to signing what many believe to be a “pay driver”, though Stroll, whose billionaire father paved the way for his move to Williams with large wads of cash, did win the European F3 championship in dominating style last year and has proven ability. Still the young Canadian will have much to prove in his debut year.

Williams are yet to confirm a launch date for the FW40, which has seen them jump the number sequence due to the team celebrating 40 years in F1 this year, but successfully fired up the car on February 2 and confirmed the car build was progressing to schedule.

McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team

After two years of below par performance since reigniting their partnership with Honda in 2015, the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team really must make substantial headway this season.

The Honda engine has been severely underpowered compared to its rivals in recent campaigns, but this year the Japanese manufacturer have redesigned their power unit, featuring an all new layout and structure, as it strives to make its partnership with McLaren a winning one next season.

The “size zero” chassis concept favoured by the Woking based squad of late, has also been thrown out the window and rumours are abound that they have achieved significant power gains.

Last season saw McLaren finish sixth in the standings, a massive improvement on their ninth in 2015. If they can make the same jump in progression again this season, then the Woking based squad should be fighting for podiums.

One significant change at McLaren HQ ahead of the new season is the stepping down of Chairman Ron Dennis, who was ousted from his position by the board of members.

Dennis had been at the helm for thirty-five years, and saw the team win seven constructor’s titles during his reign. However, after four seasons of poor results, shareholders had clearly had enough, and a reshaping of their management structure began to take place.

American Zak Brown is now in charge of the McLaren Technology Group, and will take the team forward into a new era, that also sees McLaren drop the “MP4” tag from their car name. The 2017 challenger will instead be known as the MCL32, and will be revealed in all its glory, at an event in Woking, on February 24.

They also waved goodbye to driver Jenson Button, who retired at the end of 2016, though the Brit will stay on board as an ambassador and test driver for the squad this year. In his place, will be one of the teams young protégé’s Stoffel Vandoorne, another highly rated driver that will have plenty to prove in 2017, but certainly has the talent to back it up.

Fernando Alonso will also remain with the squad in 2017, a brilliant marker for Vandoorne to judge himself by, and a safe pair of hands behind the wheel for McLaren who will be hoping the Spaniard can produce some of the magic he is well known for.

Scuderia Toro Rosso

Scuderia Toro Rosso suffered in 2016, after a late decision on which engine supplier to use, brought on by Red Bull Racing’s dispute with Renault, saw them have to take year old Ferrari engines, with no PU updates allowed throughout the season.

In 2017, the Faenza based squad have made the switch back to current Renault engines, and should be much improved this year.

The Dietrich Mateschitz owned squad have retained drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat, who believe continuity, along with experience will help to push the team forward in 2017.

The squad will be revealing their STR12 machine, which has passed all the mandatory crash tests ahead of time, the day before pre-season testing, which starts on February 27.

To meet the demands of the new regulations being introduced in 2017, a physical training regime has been put in place for not only the Toro Rosso drivers but their mechanics too. Fitness training in the gym as well as actual pit stop practice in the workshop is now a part of their daily routine, and is being done to help staff improve all aspects of their performance, with managing pressure a particular area of focus.

World © Octane Photographic Ltd. 2017 Pirelli new wider tyres. Nov 2016, F1 Abu Dhabi GP – Practice 2

Haas F1 Team

The Haas F1 Team had a strong start to their debut season in F1 last year, scoring points in their first two races, before trailing off in the second half of the year; they still surpassed all expectations however, and will be hoping for similar results in 2017.

Having passed the chassis crash test without problem, Team Principal Guenther Steiner confirmed they were on course to make the start of the Barcelona test, but they are yet to confirm a launch date for their new challenger.

Renault Sport Formula 1 Team

The Renault Sport Formula 1 Team started the first race of the 2016 season off well, but then struggled to make much of an impact for the rest of the year, with low-key performances in a car that proved difficult to drive.

Having made a positive step in signing up Nico Hulkenberg alongside retained driver Jolyon Palmer for 2017, they then lost Team Principal Frederic Vasseur, the Frenchman sighting senior management’s lack of a coherent future vision concerning the squad’s direction, as the reason.

It was Vasseur that tempted Hulkenberg to Enstone this year, so has the German once again made a career-stalling move? It will be interesting to see, though it is clear that Renault have not come back into F1 as a constructor for the fun of it, they are in it to succeed.

To assist with that dream, the French team have taken on a new head of aero in the last week, in the form of Peter Machin who most recently worked on wind tunnel development for Red Bull Racing during their championship winning years.

Renault fired up their RS-17 challenger on Monday 14 February and will reveal it in person so to speak, at an event in London on February 21.

Sauber F1 Team

The Sauber F1 Team struggled not only performance wise but financially too in 2016, and could have collapsed until a Swiss finance company came in and saved their bacon.

Now more secure due to their monetary saviours, the Hinwil based team are looking to move forward in 2017. One handicap they may encounter in that mission however is that they have decided to run with 2016 specification Ferrari engines, a ploy Toro Rosso tried last year, to dire consequences.

However, Sauber are confident that what they will lose in engine performance, they can make up for in chassis design – so it will be interesting to see just how optimistic that vision is by the end of the year!

The Swiss team will be the first of the F1 teams to reveal their 2017 charger on February 20; though will only be releasing images of the C36 online at that time, before officially launching on February 22, during a filming day in Barcelona.

One good move made by the team this year, is to sign up driver Pascal Wehrlein to their line-up, alongside Marcus Ericsson. The German, who will retain his backing from Mercedes in 2017, is clearly a talent and despite the engine deficiencies Sauber may be subjected to this year, the car should be aerodynamically good enough for Wehrlein to make an impression.

The German has however reportedly injured his neck, following a crash at the Race of Champions back in January, which saw him flip his car into the barriers, and he may not be fit for the start of the first test session on February 27.

Other News

Unfortunately Manor Racing MRT will not make it onto the F1 grid in 2017 and will therefore not be present in Barcelona. The Banbury based squad were forced to close their doors at the end of January, when their parent company went into administration, due to the debilitating cost of running a smaller F1 team. An investor could not be found in time for them to race this year, and  so sadly the company folded.

The F1 show must go on however, but will do so with one less team in the paddock…

Testing is by no means a gauge for predicting the F1 order for the start of the new season, but despite the fact that many teams will try to hide their true performance during the winter test sessions, we should still be able to get an indication of how well the squads have interpreted the new rules, and whether some may well need to start worrying!

Before then, we also have the new car launches to look forward to, and below is a list of all the important dates you need to note in your diary, confirmed by teams so far.

Confirmed Car Launches
TEAMDATEVENUE
Sauber F1 TeamFebruary 20Online
Renault Sport Formula 1 TeamFebruary 21London event
Sahara Force India F1 TeamFebruary 22Silverstone event
Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One TeamFebruary 23Silverstone event
Scuderia FerrariFebruary 24Fiorano test track
McLaren Honda Formula 1 TeamFebruary 24Woking
Williams Martini RacingFebruary 25TBC
Scuderia Toro RossoFebruary 26Barcelona
Red Bull RacingFebruary 26Barcelona
Haas F1 TeamFebruary 26TBC