New cars, new rules… same stories. Ferrari, McLaren and tyres.
It hasn’t taken long for the big stories of 2017 are beginning to dominate the headlines. Following the opening week of speculation, the teams and drivers are beginning to gain a clearer picture of what exactly we can expect in this new season. The biggest story is the apparently unending struggle for Honda and, by extension, McLaren. The team just don’t seem to be able to catch a break, and the unreliability of the Honda power unit appears to be worse than ever.
The signs of frustration are beginning to show now too. Both Eric Boullier and Fernando Alonso have made their feelings surrounding their situation known. There is no doubting where the blame is being placed.
The events surrounding McLaren over the last fortnight are hugely disappointing for me. I really felt that this season would see them return to the sharp end. All of the build up was so positive. Zac Brown has revitalised the team and all the sounds coming from Honda were hinting at serious progress. Early estimates from the team were that they would be pushing to challenge the Mercedes. Sadly, the reality has proven rather different.
McLaren’s performance at this years’ test has been horrifyingly similar to the disastrous time they had in 2015. Engine failures have been a daily occurrence. So far, it has been estimated that 7 power units have been used in testing, teams will only be permitted to use 4 over the season before they are penalised. There are very few positives that can be taken into the opening round in Melbourne.
It is also true that McLaren remain at the bottom of the time sheets. However, due to the fact that they are having to run the engine at ridiculously low power just to avoid it blowing up probably has a lot to do with that particular stat.
Could Ferrari have nailed it this time?
The apparent speed of the Ferrari is another big story of testing so far. Again, I can’t help but feel I’ve seen it all before. Only a year ago, Ferrari were heading into the 2016 season looking like serious contenders for the title. That testing speed disappeared and the team ultimately failed to win a single race.
Therefore I am looking at the Ferrari’s performance with a huge amount of trepidation. We can not be sure yet how the pecking order is going to look at the opening weekend of the season.
Discarding my pessimism for a moment, this could well be the year where Ferrari finally return as championship contenders. It is now 10 years since their last drivers title, an unprecedented amount of time for the world’s greatest team to be away from the top of their sport. I’m hoping so. A good title fight is long overdue.
The tyres will certainly not be to blame in 2017
I wanted to make one final point about tyres. In order to allow drivers to push on the limit for an entire race, Pirelli have been charged with developing a new, harder and more durable tyre for 2017. This decision was made in conjunction with the new aerodynamic regulations with a view to making the racing more exciting. Unfortunately, as the glaring errors in these changes became clear, the changes made by Pirelli have come under fire.
The realisation that harder tyres means less pit stops appears to have come as a surprise to some people. Seeing as forcing the teams to make more stops was the reason why the tyres were made to be fragile in the first place, this amazes me a little. You have to wonder where the logic is sometimes.
But surely, the number of pit stops has nothing to do with the entertainment factor of a race? I can’t say I watch Formula 1 to see the cars in the pits. The action out on track is what is going to excite the fans, so surely that is where the focus needs to be. Who cares whether drivers have stopped once or twice if the racing in between the pit-stops is action packed?
These harder tyres will be exactly what the sport needs, if drivers are able to get anywhere close to each other in their new cars. The idea of seeing drivers pushing the limits lap after lap fills me with expectation.
I feel very sorry for Pirelli in this situation. They work according to their remit, but the people in charge of delivering that remit don’t seem to understand their product. Hopefully, what with the change in ownership, that problem has been resolved, we will see.
((1) Phil Guest CC BY-SA 2.0)