Formula 1 should be hibernating during the Winter months. The teams should be hard at work in the factories making sure the cars are ready for launch day. But the rest of the circus switches off for a well-deserved holiday to recharge the batteries in preparation for another long season.
Not in 2016/2017 though. This winter has been one of the most enthralling and action packed in recent memory. Here are five of my top stories from the off-season period.
1. Nico Rosberg Retires… Bottas joins Mercedes
Barely a week after Nico Rosberg finally sealed the Formula 1 World Championship in Abu Dhabi, the news broke that he had taken the decision to retire from the sport.
The 2016 had been a season long battle between the two Mercedes team mates. Both Rosberg and Hamilton hit top form at various points throughout the year, each taking 4 successive wins at one stage or another.
In the end, Nico had had enough of the pressure. The relentless pursuit of perfection against a near perfect rival had taken everything out of him. But finally, he had achieved his dream.
The announcement surprised everyone, and left Rosberg’s Mercedes team with the near impossible problem of replacing the reigning World Champion. Valtteri Bottas very quickly became the favourite for the empty seat.
I was initially disappointed by the decision to appoint Bottas. It seemed too safe, but the more I thought about it, the more he felt like the perfect choice.
His performances in testing were strong, although I think, given time, there could be even more to come from the Finn. He has a very real chance to take his first victory, and potentially more as well. His career is about to hit the peak.
2. Liberty Media Complete their purchase of Formula 1… Bernie out
It never seemed likely that Formula 1 would ever exist without Bernie Ecclestone. The man simply refused to leave, no matter how disgruntled the people around him became. He clearly trusted no one to continue his work.
When the news of Liberty Media’s deal to take over the ownership of Formula One, our immediate attention was turned to what the potential future of the Supremo would be.
Originally, it seemed as though Bernie would remain in his position for a while longer, and provide guidance to the new owners as they accustomed themselves to their new commodity. As it transpired, that was not to be.
The daily running of FOM was taken over by technical legend Ross Brawn and Sean Bratches. The early signs are extremely positive. Talk of sorting out the on track action and improving fan service. The future is certainly bright.
3. Ron Dennis leaves McLaren
Another man synonymous with Formula 1, and more specifically with McLaren, is Ron Dennis. Part owner and Chairman of the team for many years, Ron built a small empire in Woking.
However, the team had been failing, and much like the sport of Formula 1, was in desperate need of a refresh. A spat with his fellow shareholders was the final straw of his McLaren career.
The rumours had been running for months, and the announcement was finally made in November last year. His contract officially ran out in January, and Ron looks certain never to return to the sport.
A true legend of Formula 1, Ron’s legacy will always be present within the McLaren team. The organisation he built, virtually from scratch, is the epitome of perfection. Every team in the paddock could learn something from the way he did things.
4. McLaren go Orange… kind of
When Zak Brown was announced as the new Chief Executive of McLaren, his marketing influence was immediately noticeable. It was a matter of days before the team introduced an all new name for their chassis. The countdown to the launch of the MCL32 was a primary source of Formula 1 hype over the winter break.
The first teasers of the McLaren car were obvious enough to be conclusive. There was little doubt that the legendary Orange livery would be returning by the time the car was finally revealed.
In fact, the team had done such a thorough job of making sure everyone was aware of their plans, that the big reveal was actually a disappointment for many. It was Orange, in places. There was still a large amount of black remaining on the car. I thought it was a clever design. the McLaren logo fits perfectly on the shark fin. The Orange elements on the front wing also look fantastic and it is certainly refreshing to have some variety in the paddock.
Unfortunately, the McLaren does not go like it looks. They endured a horrific fortnight of testing, and made virtually no progress with the car thanks to some appalling reliability from the Honda engine.
5. The Manor team finally fall
The coffin was nailed in Brazil last year. Felipe Nasr took the two points for Sauber which doomed the ailing Manor outfit to administration.
The team had outlived their expectancy in many ways. The fact they raced at all in 2016 was a small miracle considering they barely survived a long, cold winter the year before. Unfortunately, no buyer could be found, and a repeat of the miracle was not possible.
The team eventually folded in January, and outlined the challenge that faces the sports new owners. For an outdated financial structure to force a team out of the sport is totally unacceptable.
Hopefully this story, on top of those that have gone before, will act as a catalyst for Liberty Media to act quickly and strongly. The current Concorde agreement does not expire until 2020. But the sport needs to be fair. There are sure to be several debates going on behind the scenes over the next year and beyond.
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