t has become high on many Formula 1 fans’ wish list to see more teams compete for Grand Prix victories coming into the new era of the sport. Since the start of the turbo era in 2014, Mercedes have walked away with 51 victories out of a possible 59. For all the neutrals and Mercedes adversaries, something needs to change.
In the interest of those two camps, recent F1 history can offer some comfort. 2017 brings a new dawn for Formula 1 racing that will see the biggest technical overhaul since 2009, and when such rule changes are brought in, F1’s form book historically gets a reshuffle to spice up the action.
In 2009, struggling Ferrari and McLaren paved way for a sensational campaign for Brawn GP. Coming in after Honda pulled out of the sport, Ross Brawn’s eponymous team claimed both constructors and driver championships. A few years later in 2014, a move to hybrid power heralded the beginning of Mercedes’ dominant run of three successive years of sweeping both titles.
In 2017, it appears Red Bull have the best chance of destabilising the Mercedes camp. Of course, unforeseen loopholes could be exploited by other teams – like Brawn GP and Red Bull’s ‘double-diffuser’ in 2009 – but that eventuality is all but impossible to predict even from within teams.
Red Bull’s team structure has a proven record in innovation. Chief designer Adrian Newey is arguably the best designer ever to work in F1, but of late he has become distant from F1, primarily because he felt the regulations had become far too rigid for him to express his flair. Also, his involvement in Aston Martin’s hyper-car project has kept him away from his F1 drawing board.
But team principal Christian Horner claims Newey has found renewed motivation in the new regulations, giving Red Bull fans something to get excited about.
“[Adrian] is excited by the regulation change for ’17 so he’s splitting his time between the two projects,” Horner told AUTOSPORT.
“Once the Aston Martin project is into a detailed design phase, he tends to stand back at that point.
“He’s very much about the concept, about the aerodynamics, about the layout of the car.
“He’s very heavily involved obviously in the ’17 car as well.”
Of course, Newey’s increased input offers no guarantee of success, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of attributing the success of a project to a single factor. Elsewhere, Red Bull’s rivals will have been working tirelessly to find performance over the winter. Mercedes in particular will be able to transfer its competitive advantage over to its new car despite the regulation change in the form of its superior power-unit.
Red Bull have a high chance of having the best chassis when the F1 season starts in Australia. Over the course of the last three seasons, Red Bull have steadily edged closer to the pace of Mercedes, and having won two races last year – despite the missed opportunity in Monaco – they should be bullish about its chances of build upon last year’s success.
The other half of Red Bull’s imminent success being realised lie with its engine partner Renault. After being heavily criticised by Red Bull for being unable to match Mercedes and Ferrari’s horsepower figures, the team ran a re-branded Tag Heuer engine for 2016.
Progress seems to be happening steadily, but with the token system scraped, manufactures are now able to change anything within the five engine allowance, making a total of 10 update opportunities for each team throughout the year.
An unexpected advantage for Red Bull and Renault is that they effectively have two factory teams. This should allow they to bring more experimental updates to its cars in order to evaluate which works best. However, if reliability remains difficult to achieve, then this strategy will be near impossible.
“Renault have been working very hard over the winter,” said Newey at Autosport International.
“I know their numbers for this year, it’s a good step forwards.”
With downforce set to reach record levels in 2017, the emphasis on engine power will be greater than in recent seasons, something that may put Red Bull at a disadvantage. However, Newey remains optimistic that Renault are “going in a very good direction.
“Two years ago we ended up in the position where they made no progress over the winter – if anything they actually went slightly backwards compared to the first year with the hybrid.
“Last year they made very good progress through the season, still behind Mercedes and Ferrari, but closing the gap rather than the gap widening.”
Engine regulations remain static into 2017, so performance figures will likely start to converge between manufactures. Increasing engine performance parity will shift development focus back onto mechanical and aerodynamic grip, an area where Newey becomes Red Bull’s biggest asset.
Red Bull are set to enter this season with cautious optimism knowing its package should be fighting for victories. When F1 resumes for testing on February 27th in Barcelona, we could finally see what Red Bull have to offer, and Mercedes’ reign of dominance might finally come to an end.
Featured Image courtesy of RedBullContentPool