Tag Archives: Mercedes

F1 2017 season preview

The new Formula 1 season kicks off in Australia this weekend without a defending champion for the first time since 1994 following the shock retirement of Nico Rosberg after clinching the 2016 drivers’ title. 

The announcement came just five days after the German was crowned F1 champion for the first time, bringing chaos to the ‘driver merry-go-round’ over the winter break.

The new season is also notable for the most substantial raft regulation changes since the introduction of the hybrid turbo engine in 2014, with cars set to lap five seconds faster than last season’s models.

The aim is to improve the F1 spectacle. Truth be told, 2016 was not the most exciting campaign, but there is hope – albeit not shared by all parties – that these changes will lead to  more overtaking and more exciting races.

Driver line-ups

Months of speculation followed Rosberg’s retirement before Mercedes finally announced Valtteri Bottas as his replacement. The Finn, 27, earned his seat with the champions after impressing at Williams

In what was likely the shortest ever retirement, Felipe Massa returned to Williams in Bottas’ place, having originally been replaced by now team-mate and F3 champion Lance Stroll. Confusing, right?

Other changes see Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne replace Jenson Button at McLaren, with the Briton taking a sabbatical, although whether he’ll return to F1 is debatable.

Vandoorne made his debut for McLaren last year, replacing Fernando Alonso for the Bahrain GP. He became only the second reserve driver to finish in a points-scoring position on their debut after Sebastian Vettel, coming 10th.

Former Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlien joins Sauber after missing out on the Mercedes race seat to Bottas. Wehrlien was at Manor Racing last year, in a deal where they received Mercedes engines.

The 22-year-old German secured the team’s only point of the year in Australia, and takes the seat of Brazilian Felipe Nasr after he was released by Sauber.

Kevin Magnussen joins Romain Grosjean at Haas Racing after he lost his place at Renault to Nico Hulkenburg, who in-turn has had his seat at Force India filled by Esteban Ocon who drove the second half of 2016 at Manor.

Given that Ocon and Vandoorne have had previous experience on the grid, that means 18-year-old Stroll will be the only true ‘rookie’ driver on lining-up at Australia.

So here’s how the team’s line up:

Scuderia Ferrari: 5 Sebastian Vettel (Germany), 7 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

Sahara Force India: 11 Sergio Perez (Mexico), 31 Esteban Ocon (France)

Haas: 8 Romain Grosjean (France), 20 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)

McLaren Honda: 2 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium), 14 Fernando Alonso (Spain)

Mercedes AMG Petronas: 44 Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain), 77 Valterri Bottas (Finland)

Red Bull: 3 Daniel Ricciardo (Australia), 33 Max Verstappen (Holland)

Renault: 27 Nico Huklkenberg (Germany), 30 Jolyon Palmer (Great Britain)

Sauber: 9 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden), 94 Pascal Wehrlein (German)

Scuderia Toro Rosso: 26 Daniil Kvyat (Russia), 55 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain)

Williams Martini: 18 Lance Stroll (Canada), 19 Felipe Massa (Brazil)

Race calendar 

The 2017 schedule drops back to 20 races, with the German GP axed after F1 supreme Bernie Ecclestone (now deposed from power) failed to reach an agreement with the finically-stricken Hockenheim and Nurburgring circuits.

The race in Baku has been moved back a week to avoid clashing with the Le Mans 24hr race, having also had its title changed from the European to the Azerbaijan GP. Other changes see the British and Hungarian Grand Prix move back a week to fill the gap left by the German race.

March 26 – Australian Grand Prix

April 9 – Chinese Grand Prix

April 16 – Bahrain Grand Prix

April 30 – Russian Grand Prix

May 14 – Spanish Grand Prix

May 28 – Monaco Grand Prix

June 11 – Canadian Grand Prix

June 25 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix

July 9 – Austrian Grand Prix

July 16 – British Grand Prix

July 30 – Hungarian Grand Prix

August 27 – Belgian Grand Prix

September 3 – Italian Grand Prix

September 17 – Singapore Grand Prix

October 1 – Malaysian Grand Prix

October 8 – Japanese Grand Prix

October 22 – United States Grand Prix

October 29 – Mexican Grand Prix

November 12 – Brazilian Grand Prix

November 26 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Regulation changes

The biggest complaint over the past few seasons from drivers and fans alike has been the inability to constantly push the cars to the limit, due to tyre degradation and fuel-saving.

The new regulations have been designed to drastically increase speed by increasing downforce from both aerodynamic and mechanical methods, in an attempt to better the spectacle and reduce the difficulty of overtaking.

Opinions on the changes have been mixed, however. They have indeed made the cars quicker, but it’s yet to be seen whether we’ll see more overtaking.

There are also some loopholes being closed this season with respect wet-race starts and the 75 grid place penalties we have seen previously.

Technical changes

Cars have had 20cm added to their width, bringing them up to 2m and matching what they were in 1997.

The width of the tyres is also increased by 20% to increase mechanical downforce and in an attempt to better balance where grip comes from, not just relying on aerodynamic downforce – although this has also been improved.

Pirelli have also been given a brief to decrease tyre degradation, allowing drivers to push harder for longer. The downside of these changes is that the increase on drag which could increase the ‘dirty air’ the car produces – one of the main reasons why overtaking is so difficult.

Fuel consumption will also be affected. The more drag, the more fuel consumption, meaning that the cars’ minimum weight limit and fuel consumption have both been increased.

Changes to the front wing, bargeboards, rear wing and diffuser has given more scope to designers to generate increased aerodynamic downforce, again increasing speeds.

Rear and front wings have also been widened by 15 and 20cm respectively, allowing more room for aerodynamic features on the wings. The nose of the car has also been lengthened by 20cm, whilst the rear wing is 15cm lower and mounted 20cm further back, at more of an angle.

Bargeboards will also be returned to pre-2009 prominence, after years of being restricted, again allowing designers to be more creative as they seek greater downforce.

The same applies to the rear diffuser – they are taller, wider and moved further forward, although the regulations here are only slightly more lax in an attempt to keep dirty air to a reasonable level.

Rule changes

Last year’s Belgian GP saw Hamilton take a ‘tactical’ grid penalty of a record 75 places, after reliability issues earlier in the season forced him into a fifth engine change.

Given that this had already dropped him to rear of the grid, Mercedes used the opportunity to change other components, knowing that he could not drop any further back. This season, teams will be unable to ‘stack’ penalties at one race, meaning that individual penalties must be served at individual GPs.

Wet races which start behind the safety car will now having a standing start once the track has been deemed safe. If a race is suspended due to wet weather, however, then it will resume using the traditional rolling safety-car start.

What happened in pre-season testing?

It was Ferrari who set the pace at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest lap of 1:18.634, ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes followed close behind while also being the only team to complete over 1,000 laps, showing they have the reliability to match the speed. It all points towards a fierce competition between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Red Bull and Williams are also looking good, so it seems unlikely to be another one-horse race as it has been for Mercedes over the past few years.

There has been talk that Ferrari were ‘sandbagging’ and could go ever faster. Hamilton has suggested that they are favourites for victory in Melbourne, although Vettel has refuted this.

Despite the team’s speed, it would be unwise for Ferrari fans to get too excited. Last year they also showed similar pre-season pace but failed to win a race in 2016, although another winless season would be surprising.

Mercedes should also benefit from what appears to be a much healthier working relationship between Hamilton and Bottas. This should allow the team to focus solely on on-track matters instead of having to sort out feuding team-mates.

Red Bull, tipped to be Mercedes main challengers, have also shown good pace, alongside Williams who could be the dark horses. Massa was followed by Max Verstappen as the fastest cars behind Ferrari and Mercedes. The two teams will be hopeful of chalking up a few wins between them.

The midfield appears to be very tight – just six-tenths of a second separated Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso in 7th place down to Kevin Magnussen for Haas in 15th.

McLaren are the team who are once again suffering. Despite the car performing well aerodynamically, there are still big issues with the power unit supplied by Honda.

“No power and no reliability,” is how an increasingly frustrated Fernando Alonso described the car.

Who will win the drivers’ title?

Despite Ferrari’s pace in testing, Hamilton remains a clear favourite to take his fourth title with odds of 11/10 followed by Vettel (10/3).

Hamilton will certainly fired up after the disappointment of narrowly missing out in his fierce battle with Rosberg.

Bottas is not there to make up the numbers, however, and is aiming to give Hamilton a tough time. However, the general consensus is that challenging for the title in his first season at Mercedes will be a step too far for the Finn.

Vettel is widely tipped to be Hamilton’s biggest challenger, and it is hard to argue against that. With Ferrari looking improved this term, it is almost a certainty that the German will be challenging for wins on a more regular basis.

Despite the criticism he occasionally faces regarding his race-craft, Vettel, the most successful driver currently on the grid, has always challenged at the top from pretty much the beginning of his career, and there’s no doubting his speed.

Kimi Raikkonen should also not be overlooked. Perhaps he doesn’t have the raw pace of Vettel, but you can be sure that he will go quietly about his business and perhaps sneak one or two wins.

The team with the most exciting line-up has to be Red Bull. The rivalry between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, two young, fired-up and immensely talented drivers, could reach the intensity of Rosberg v Hamilton.

Red Bull should never be written off either. They have consistently produced cars capable of victory over the last eight years, although some were expecting them to show a little more pace in pre-season.

Williams, meanwhile, are definitely the dark horses. They have shown impressive pace, clocking faster times than Red Bull, and the return of Paddy Lowe as chief technical officer appears to have helped them to step to the next level.

In the last few seasons, they have been the best-of-the-rest without winning a race. This year, securing their first victory since Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish GP in 2012 is not unlikely.

Who is the 2016 team of the year?

2016 has been yet another fantastic year of sport, one well worth celebrating, be it the remarkable story of the underdog or persistent dominance at the top level.

Below are Elephant Sport’s top five teams of the year, which range from the record breaking Team GB Women’s Hockey squad, how a rugby-loving nation went football mad and the fairytale story of Leicester City.

5) Mercedes F1; the continuing domination

The Mercedes F1 team sealed their third successive double of Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships in 2016.

The team clinched both accolades in 2014 and 2015, and now 2016 when the constructor’s crown was sealed in Japan and Nico Rosberg clinched the driver’s title, in the last race of the season at Abu-Dhabi.

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Mercedes celebrate a third consecutive Constructors Championship

Not only are Mercedes on a fantastic run spanning three years, in 2016 they managed to break several records on the way.

The German works team won a record 19 of the 21 races in the season, helping them to notch up another record; an impressive tally of 765 points in a single campaign.

They also bagged the most poles in a season; 20, one away from a whole season of Mercedes poles.

Their 10 consecutive race wins could have been another history-maker; if Lewis Hamilton’s engine wouldn’t have failed in Malaysia (effectively costing him the drivers trophy), Mercedes would have 16 consecutive race wins.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing”

After helping to secure the constructors championship with a win in Japan, Rosberg said: “I’ve been here since day one of this project in 2010 and it’s really phenomenal the journey we’ve taken together towards being the best team in Formula 1.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing and I’m really proud to have played my small part in that”

The standards Mercedes have set in 2016 will take some beating.

4) England’s rugby union winning streak

A year on from the disappointment of a dismal home World Cup, England rugby union’s squad completed a perfect 2016, equalling their record of 14 successive wins, set in 2003.

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England coach Eddie Jones celebrating one of the teams 14 successive victories this year

Eddie Jones’s side equalled that mark by achieving their highest ever score over rivals Australia at Twickenham; a 37-21 win on December 3.

England can surpass their current record in February 2017, when they face France at Twickenham in the RBS Six Nations opening fixture.

Since Jones’s arrival in November 2015, England have made tremendous progress, with a Six Nations Grand Slam, a whitewash of Australia in the summer Test series down under, and a first win in a decade against South Africa.

According to the wily Australian, “10-15 English players” could feature in the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

“We are not looking at records, just the next game. But we can draw a line under this year with a good victory against a quality side [Australia],” England captain Dylan Hartley told BBC 5 Live.

“I’m very proud of the guys over the last few weeks, and it’s nice to go back to our clubs knowing we have done English rugby and the shirt proud.

“We leave it in a good place until the Six Nations,” added Hartley.

3) Wales impress at Euro 2016

A rugby-loving nation went football mad over the summer, when the Welsh national side qualified for their first major tournament since 1958 and outstandingly reached their first ever major semi-final.

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Wales score their first goal at a major tournament since 1958

More than half the population watched the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal, beating the record set for a sporting event, which was in fact only previously set by the Welsh in their Euro 2016 quarter final victory over Belgium.

It was only five years ago that Wales were ranked 117 in the world, and in 2016 they finish an impressive 12th according to Fifa’s rankings; one place above England.

Thanks to their successful surge, Wales were seeded for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which could set them in a great position to qualifying for only their third major finals next year.

Star man Gareth Bale has also been nominated for the 2016 Footballer of the Year award. The Real Madrid striker scored three goals at Euro 2016, making him Wales’ all-time top goal scorer in major tournaments.

“When you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling”

Wales manager Chris Coleman told the Evening Standard that after 2016’s success the nation must “not get carried away”.

“We have had some dark times when we have dropped outside the top 100. So when you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling.

“But there’s a different kind of pressure on us, we can’t be ‘plucky old Wales’. People will expect us to deliver.”

2) Team GB Women’s hockey gold

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Team GB’s women’s hockey squad became history-makers by winning the nation’s first-ever female field hockey gold.

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The GB women’s hockey team celebrate gold

Danny Kerry’s squad were huge underdogs when they faced the Netherlands in the final.

The Dutch comfortably won gold in both the 2008 Olympics (Beijing) and 2012 (London). They were also ranked number one in the world.

The final finished 3-3 in normal time, with Britain’s keeper Maddie Hinch making a string of remarkable saves.

And the Dutch could not beat Hinch in the resulting shootout, which Britain won 2-0. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Hollie Webb scored the decisive penalties to seal a famous victory.

Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and wife Helen Richardson-Walsh became the first married couple to win gold for Britain since Cyril and Dorothy Wright in the sailing in 1920.

“That will change the face of British hockey”

After the game former Team GB men’s hockey bronze medallist Simon Moore told the BBC: “I am genuinely struggling to put this result into words.

“GB were under pressure for huge chunks but we thought if it went to penalties we could win. Fair play to Maddie Hinch, just incredible.

“That will change the face of British hockey.”

And according to the University of the Arts hockey president Dhalyn Warren, the sport has already seen a huge “rise in participation”.

1) Leicester City; Premier League Champions

In at number one; the greatest underdog story of all time; in May 2016 Leicester City were remarkably and deservedly crowned champions of England, and not one of us predicted it.

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Former Leicester star Gary Lineker was one of many to doubt the appointment of Claudio Ranieri

Having pulled in manager Claudio Ranieri, sacked from the Greece national side in November 2014, the whole of England expected to see Leicester relegated back to the Championship from which they were promoted in 2014; especially after flirting with relegation in 2015.

The Foxes are now in the elite club of only six sides to have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992.

A number of newspapers described their title win as the greatest sporting upset of all time. Not forgetting the huge record pay outs by the bookmakers on early-season odds of 5,000-1.

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Leicester City lif the Premier League trophy

Star striker Jamie Vardy also broke a record; scoring 11 goals in 11 consecutive league games. Vardy was also the ninth player to score 20 top flight goals in a season.

Ranieri’s side had the fewest away defeats in any top flight season; defeated only twice on their travels. The club produced a further record for the most consecutive wins in the top flight (five).

The club have also continued their underdog story; successfully progressing into the Champions League knock-out stages.

Former Foxes midfielder Robbie Savage told the BBC: “I’m speechless, it is unbelievable. I’ve seen England win the Ashes and get OBEs and MBEs.

“This Leicester team’s achievement is greater than any of that. They should be recognised in the honours list”

Overall the fairytale of Leicester City makes this side, the team of the year for 2016.

Why Hamilton can still win the F1 drivers’ crown

The Brazilian Grand Prix has served up incident-packed races ever since it first appeared on the F1 calendar in 1973.

And a good dose drama at Interlagos is exactly what Lewis Hamilton needs if he is to take the drivers’ championship into the final round in Abu Dhabi.

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Hamilton cannot afford to see Rosberg celebrating a win in Brazil

His Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will take the crown if he wins either of the year’s two remaining races, or by finishing with at least one second and third place even if Hamilton wins in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

So can Hamilton snatch the title out of the German’s grasp despite trailing him by 19 points?

Most petrolheads will tell you that Interlagos is a circuit that produces tantalisingly good races – contests that, down the years, have seen many championships won and lost.

So Britain’s three-time F1 champion only needs to glance through the Brazilian GP’s history to be hopeful of derailing Rosberg’s title dream.

Comebacks and drama

In 2006, Michael Schumacher proved the circuit is one for overtaking. Starting from 10th position on the grid, the German did an astonishing job after falling to 19th position due to a flat tyre.

The seven-time world champion returned to the race, having almost been lapped, and carved his way through the field to finish in fourth place.

“Hamilton will take confidence from replaying his 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.”

‘Schumi’s’ performance was agonisingly not enough to win his eighth drivers’ crown, as Fernando Alonso successfully defended his title.

Hamilton will also surely take confidence from replaying his own 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.

After adopting a conservative strategy to secure at least 5th place, and the title, a late-race rain shower caused unexpected problems.

Hamilton wins the championship at the last corner in Brazil 2008

Hamilton was pushed down to 5th place by Timo Glock who didn’t enter the pits for intermediates like most others.

With just three laps to go, Sebastian Vettel overtook the Briton which meant Hamilton would end up with equal points to Massa, but with one fewer victory.

Against all expectations Vettel and Hamilton were able to overtake Glock, who had lost all grip with his dry-weather tyres, in the very last corner of the race.

This meant that Hamilton ultimately grabbed the fifth place he needed to become champion.

The 2009 season saw more drama as Jenson Button sealed the drivers’ championship with a sublime recovery drive, starting in 14th but finishing fourth.

In 2012, the outcome of the championship remained in doubt until the final lap, as Vettel – who fell to the back of the field on the first lap – drove a gritty race back through the pack to seal the title.

Although Hamilton is yet to win in Brazil, he can take confidence in denting Rosberg’s maiden title hopes from the tracks record of drama.

Weather

Rain is nothing out of the ordinary at Interlagos in November, and so the weather might also give Hamilton a helping hand.

He won’t have forgetten the Monaco GP earlier this year, which he won in in wet conditions while Rosberg struggled home in seventh place.

Inclement weather often courses havoc in F1, with drivers’ race strategies hit by puddles and spray, while chopping and changing tyres from full wets, to intermediates and back to slicks can often catch them out.

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Rain is a regular occurrence at the Brazilian GP

The forecast for Sao Paulo suggests there is a chance of low temperatures and showers on Saturday and Sunday.

Another seventh placed finish for Rosberg and a win in the wet for Hamilton would leave the pair level on 355 points going into the final weekend in Abu-Dhabi.

Three of the last six race weekends in Brazil have featured wet weather.

Combine that with Interlagos being a tight, twisty circuit which dries out quite quickly, and unpredictability is almost guaranteed.

For example, Nico Hulkenberg won a surprise pole position for Williams on a drying track in 2010.

A full-on wet race could also swing the balance towards Red Bull who have looked strong in the rain this season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished second in a wet British GP earlier this year with Hamilton winning, Rosberg third and Verstappen’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo fourth.

Rosberg overdue bad luck

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Hamilton breaks down in Malaysia

Over the course of the year Rosberg has surprisingly only won one more race than Hamilton, despite the large points difference between the two.

Hamilton has had the lump sum of bad luck between the pair. You only need to glance at the table below to see that Rosberg is due a blip.

Race’s in which Mercedes drivers have had problems

Race order Driver Problem
Bahrain Hamilton Hamilton suffered a first-corner collision dropping to 7th; he fought back to 3rd
China Hamilton Hamilton started at the back of the grid due to a power unit failure; he finished 7th
Russia Hamilton The Brit started 10th after an engine failure in qualifying; he finished 5th.
Spain Hamilton & Rosberg Rosberg and Hamilton collided on the first lap resulting in both not finishing the race
Canada Rosberg The German finished 5th after suffering a slow puncture during the race
Austria Rosberg The German turned into a corner late as Hamilton tried to pass around the outside and damaged his front wing, finishing fourth. Rosberg was given a 10-second penalty.
Belgium Hamilton Hamilton started in 21st place on the grid, after a raft of engine penalties resulting from failures early in the season. He fought back to third.
Malaysia Hamilton Hamilton’s title hopes were dealt a heavy blow when his engine failed as he led the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Just one error for Rosberg will blow the championship wide open, be it in the wet conditions he’s struggled in this season, the drama the Brazilian GP often throws up or an overdue car performance issue for the German.

If Hamilton can emulate his hero Senna and notch his first win at the late Brazilian’s home circuit; the current world champ could bolster his chances of defending his crown and taking it right down to the wire in Abu-Dhabi.