Hopes for spectacular racing in Formula One

Sat, 25 Mar 2017

The 68th Formula One world championship roars into life around Melbourne's Albert Park this weekend.

This is the first F1 season under new owners Liberty Media and it is an important marker for a sport that has suffered sharply declining interest in recent years.

The key ingredients to rejuvenate the sport are, in my view, straightforward: firstly, more unpredictability around which team is going to win; secondly, cars that look, sound and go like thoroughbred racers; and thirdly, decent dicing for positions on the track.

These ingredients have been missing since at least 2014, when the current 1.6-litre turbo rules were adopted. Mercedes is the master of this new-look F1, winning 51 of the 59 races held over the past three years. Only the intense rivalry between team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has kept complete lack of interest in F1 at bay. That rivalry has gone for 2017, with Rosberg retiring after securing last year's championship crown.

In his absence, who is going to stand in the way of Hamilton adding a fourth driver's championship to his tally, or from playing the lead role in delivering Mercedes its fourth consecutive F1 constructors' championship?

Probably not Hamilton's new team-mate, Valtteri Bottas. The 27-year old Finn is a decent driver, but in 77 starts he has yet to win a grand prix. Over time, he may graduate from a capable No 2 to challenging Hamilton on a regular basis, but it's not likely early on.  

Perhaps then Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen?  

Both are former world champions and Ferrari has shown the hottest pace in pre-season testing. However, I recall that this time last year many were picking Ferrari to challenge Mercedes during the season. They did not.

Maybe Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen? Ricciardo was the top non-Mercedes finisher in last year's championship and would like nothing better than to win his home grand prix this weekend. Verstappen, still in his teens, became the youngest winner of an F1 grand prix last year, and has the air of a future champion.

Decent competition between these six drivers and the odd surprise from elsewhere in the pack could return F1 to something closer to the great ‘‘old days'' of 2012, when the first seven races were won by seven different drivers racing for five different teams. 

The actual racing spectacle could be about to improve, as there will be wider, more aggressive-looking cars (with improved downforce) and wider tyres that will enable this year's cars to corner much faster than those we saw in 2016.

The drivers describe these cars as being far more entertaining (and challenging) to drive than last year's, but they also report a potential fly in the ointment: the  extra downforce being generated causes turbulence which could make wheel-to-wheel racing and, crucially, overtaking more difficult. 

The extent to which this is a genuine issue will be answered by the end of this weekend.  

Here's hoping the racing is fast and spectacular and that the winner of the first grand prix of 2017 has had to fight for it every step of the way.

David Thomson