Formula 1 represents the pinnacle of international motorsport, but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near perfect. Modern cars are quiet and, if we're being honest, a bit boring to watch compared to the barely-controllable beasts from days gone by. That's set to change this year, with new regulations prescribing bigger wings, wider tires and more power from hybrid-turbocharged V6 engines.
What's new for 2017?
Plenty! Faced with criticisms about a lack of drama, the Formula 1 Strategy Group sat down in late 2015 and penned a set of rules to make cars (and racing) more exciting. The process started last year with more noise from the oft-criticized V6-hybrid powertrains, but the big changes come into force this year.
Although the new rules are fairly wide-reaching, they can be summed up in one word: wider. Tires are now 25 percent wider and the cars now measure 2 m (6.6 ft) across, up from 1.8 m (5.9 ft) last year. Bigger wings and an enlarged rear diffuser should produce more downforce, which means quicker lap times and a much harder time for drivers.
Unlike last year, where the cars all looked much the same, greater freedom to play with the wings and aero elements has led to a grid full of unique and fascinating shapes. Without further ado, let's take a walk along the grid with this year's challengers.
Sauber has been slowly climbing its way up the rankings recently, moving from a perpetual backmarker to stronger, more consistent midfield competitor through 2015 and '16. That momentum might be tricky to maintain though, because the new regulations have forced the team to adopt a clean-sheet design for 2017.
A lot of time has been devoted to reducing drag to compensate for the wider tires, and a new roll-structure helps to cut weight. Although the minimum weight of cars has actually been raised, cutting weight within the structure means mass can be moved around to fix issues with the balance of the car. Mercedes has proven one of the best ways to create a quick car is with narrow, neatly packaged sidepods, and Sauber has focused on slimming down the bodywork around the radiators.
Renault R.S 17
Another team on the rise is Renault. Although it saw serious success with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel in the mid-2000s, the French outfit has languished in the mid-pack ever since – save for a few podiums courtesy of Kimi Raikonnen and Romain Grosjean. This year, the team is aiming to finish fifth in the Constructors' Championship, which will mean beating the likes of Sauber and Force India consistently throughout the season.
Just like the Sauber C37 it'll be up against, the R.S 17 is a clean sheet design, making it the first car built from the ground-up by the RenaultSport team since it become a fully-formed factory entry. The company is being coy about its aerodynamic package, but it will say the maligned hybrid powertrain that held it (and Red Bull Racing) back last year should be up with the frontrunners for power in 2017.
Force India VJM10
After a consistent showing in 2016, Force India is looking to back it up in 2017. Team boss Vijay Malaya isn't willing to make any predictions about where the car will finish, but we'd suggest he'll be keen to maintain (or improve on) last year's fourth place.
The new car is a clean-sheet design, and adopts a "thumb-tip" nose and massive shark-fin off the back of the overhead air intake. It might not be pretty, but Vijay Malaya is bullish on its capabilities.
"I can't remember being more excited ahead of a new season," he says. "The VJM10 looks aggressive and purposeful, and is the result of a huge effort behind the scenes over the last twelve months. We have big hopes for this car, which looks stunning in its new livery."
Mercedes-AMG W08 EQ Power+
If the past two years are anything to go by, this will be the car to beat this year. Mercedes has won 51 of a possible 59 races since 2014, with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locking out the top-two steps of the podium with alarming regularity.
The competition will be heartened to know this is a mostly new design, with just 17 percent of last year's car carrying over. Now in its fourth generation, the hybrid powertrain in the M08 has been redesigned to deliver greater reliability over a whole season – crucial under the new, stricter engine development rules coming into force this year.
By now, the formula for this year's cars is pretty clear. The 2017 Mercedes W08 runs with a wider front and rear wing, while the floor and bargeboards are far more complex than they were last year. The team has also made the structure stiffer to deal with the extra load caused by the high-downforce setup.
This year is all about making a fresh start at McLaren. Long-serving CEO Ron Dennis has been replaced, the MP4 naming scheme is gone and, in a nod to founder Bruce McLaren, the old red-and-chrome paint scheme has been replaced with a radical new orange-and-black look. We're not sure if it'll be enough to change the team's fortunes, but it's certainly a start.
Power will come from a new Honda RA617H powerplant that, hopefully, has addressed the reliability issues plaguing previous iterations. Honda says the new V6-hybrid setup is also lighter than before, has a lower center of gravity and should make more power from its petrol engine. Given how poorly it performed in the past two seasons, we'll believe that when we see it.
Like its competitors, the team at the McLaren Technology Center has created a wider aero package for 2017. The new front wing is fiendishly complicated, and pundits have noticed a set of vanes on the front wing support that don't appear on any of the other cars released this year. Here's hoping it's enough to return one of the most successful teams in Formula 1 history to the front of pack.
Speaking of successful Formula 1 teams that haven't quite lived up to expectations recently, Ferrari will be looking to return to the top step of the podium with the SF70H. The team finished third in the Constructors' Championship last year, but has its sights set on the top step of the podium in 2017.
The angular nose and arrow-shaped front wing are both a reaction to the new aero rules, while the massive shark fin on the back of the engine cover also plays host to a set of thin aerofoils poking out in front of the rear wing. There's also a refreshed suspension design, although the front still uses pushrods and the rear still relies on pullrods.
Another member of the mid-pack last year, Williams will be looking to lock down a spot on the podium with the FW40. It doesn't break with the rest of the field, with its massive shark fin and thumb nose, although we think that Martini livery is one of the prettiest paint jobs to grace any race car in the past decade. Go on, tell us we're wrong.
"After finishing fifth in the Constructors' Championship in 2016, it will be a challenging year – especially as we enter this new era of racing," says Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal. "However, the team have been working extremely hard over the winter to deliver the maximum performance out of the car going into a brand new season."
Red Bull RB13
This is the one we've all been waiting for. After dominating with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel, unreliable Renault MGU-K power units left Red Bull Racing jostling with Ferrari for second place in the Constructors' Championship. This could be the year that changes.
Adrian Newey is widely renowned as one of the greatest aerodynamic minds to ever work in Formula 1, and it would appear his design team has already found a loophole in the new rules. We're not sure what the hole in the nose of the RB13 does, but we do know no-one else has incorporated anything like it in their designs. Beyond that it's business as usual, with a massive shark fin, fiendishly complex front wing and thumb nose all present and correct.
Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12
Red Bull's feeder team has been moving its way up the field in recent years, finishing 2016 in seventh place. This year, Ferrari power has been replaced by the latest Renault setup, while the team has developed an aero package that looks remarkably similar to the 2017 W08 Mercedes, with a simple nose and clean sidepods.
Where it differs, however, is in the massive shark fin adorning the engine cover. It also runs with a new livery, making it much easier to distinguish from its Red Bull big brother.
After exceeding all expectations in its debut season, HAAS is back for 2017 with an all-new design. Barely anything is carried over from last year, although the team has stuck with Ferrari power in its new car.
"I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year's car," says Team Principal Guenther Steiner. "You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability."
The Formula 1 season officially kicks off on March 26 in Melbourne, Australia. Although the cars are likely to stay largely the same, don't be surprised to see small aero tweaks pop up after the first test in Jerez, Spain, which began yesterday.
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