Welcome to a brand new look Lights Out F1 Blog! Sadly, the site was hacked over the festive season and I’ve had to completely rebuild it since. Instead of getting too stressed about it, I decided to have a clean up of the site and make it into something slightly different and, dare I say, slightly better.
The sport that hardly ever sleeps has well and truly awoken from its short Christmas nap and the teams are back in action, putting the final touches to their 2017 machinery. Some will be seeking title glory, while others will just be seeking to stay afloat for another year.
Of course, 2017 is a big year for the sport. After recent seasons of domination for Mercedes, and a decreasing television audience, this year sees the regulations being shaken up in order to make the cars faster and, hopefully, give better, closer racing.
Formula One has been making plenty of headlines over the winter break.
ROSBERG OUT, BOTTAS IN
The shock retirement of reigning Champion Nico Rosberg less than a week after he clinched the 2016 title in Abu Dhabi sent shockwaves through the sport and provided a talking point for much of the off-season. Who would replace him – and would they be any match for three-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton? With Rosberg announcing his plans so late in the day, Mercedes were stuck in a compromised position when attempting to find a replacement.
Talk of Mercedes buying Fernando Alonso out of his McLaren contract intrigued and delighted fans in equal measure – a rematch of their 2007 escapades at McLaren would certainly have been something to watch. What about an unhappy Sebastian Vettel? With Ferrari’s dwindling success over 2016, would he be bold and look to make a switch to the dominant force? Who else could take the place – Esteban Ocon, Pascal Wehrlein? Both young chargers who show potential, but are too early in their careers to be given a shot right at the top end of the grid.
The pieces finally slotted into place on Monday 16th January. As Pascal Wehrlein was announced as a Sauber driver, Williams promptly announced that the ‘retired’ Felipe Massa would return to their team for the 2017 season, paving the way for Valtteri Bottas to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. A new line up at the top team will certainly inject some extra intrigue into what is already a highly anticipated season.
SO LONG, MANOR
The first week of the year wasn’t too positive for Formula One. Reports that Silverstone could potentially give up hosting the British Grand Prix after 2019 were followed the next day by the news that Manor had entered administration. After several attempts to save the team, the factory doors were closed for the final time on 27th January. The team has struggled financially in the past – they missed the end of the 2014 season as a result of financial issues – but this time there looks to be no way back. The Banbury based team have endured testing seasons since their entrance into the sport in 2010 as Virgin Racing. Nevertheless, there were a few moments of joy for Manor, who were named Marussia between 2013 and 2015, including Jules Bianchi scoring his and the team’s first points in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, as well as Pascal Wehrlein taking his first point with the team at the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix. They will be missed by fellow paddock members and fans alike.
We also say goodbye to Esteban Gutierrez and Felipe Nasr, who both failed to secure 2017 race seats after enduring difficult 2016 seasons. Esteban Gutierrez is expected to make a move to Formula E after a lacklustre season for Haas. Ironically, it was Felipe Nasr who scored Sauber’s two points in the Brazilian Grand Prix, a feat which ultimately cost Manor (Nasr’s most likely shot at a 2017 drive) their place in Formula One.
Elsewhere over the winter break, Ferrari signed 2016 GP2 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi as their reserve driver for the 2017 F1 season. It has since been announced that Pascal Wehrlein will miss the first of the two winter tests due to a back injury sustained in January’s Race of Champions. The Ferrari-powered Sauber team will replace the recuperating German with Giovinazzi.
AU REVOIR FREDERIC
There was plenty of movement among team personnel in the off-season.
“There was too much different vision in the management of the team, so it makes sense for me to leave”
Perhaps most surprising of all was the departure of Frederic Vasseur from Renault. His departure after only one season suggests inter-team struggles at Renault – a team who boast about what they’ll achieve in the future with clearly little direction in the present. Rumour has it that there were ongoing differences of opinion between Vasseur and Cyril Abiteboul, the managing director of Renault Sport. Vasseur’s presence was known to be a factor in Nico Hulkenberg’s decision to join the French team for this season. Vassseur ran the ART GP2 team with which Hulkenberg won the title in 2009.
At the 2016 Championship winning team, the departure of Paddy Lowe had been long expected and he is currently on a period of gardening leave from Mercedes before joining the Mercedes-powered Williams team at the beginning of March. James Allison replaces Lowe and takes the role of Technical Director at Mercedes from March 1st.
After Ron Dennis was forced out of his role as McLaren boss in mid-November, Jos Capito has also been removed from his position at the team, which he only took up in September 2016. His short lived time at the team was a direct result of Ron Dennis’ departure, with Capito’s job becoming essentially defunct following the appointment of new boss Zak Brown.
BYE BYE BERNIE
Of course, the biggest departure from the off-season has been Bernie Ecclestone’s. He moves away from being the Chief Executive to being handed the new title of ‘Chairman Emeritus’. He’ll be advising the new owners, Liberty Media and Chase Carey, on the day to day running of the sport.
Liberty Media have also appointed Ross Brawn as the new sporting boss of Formula One. It’s an appointment which has been well received by fans, with Brawn’s emphasis very much on the long term plan for the sport rather than knee jerk reactions. (It’s worth watching this in-depth interview with Brawn about his plans for the sport.) Expect to hear more about the new owners’ plans for the sport over the course of the 2017 season.
WELCOME TO THE REVOLUTION
Yes, 2017 has already been a year of change, but perhaps the changes have only just begun. Whether it will be an evolution or a revolution of the pecking order remains to be seen. There’ll definitely be a revolution car-wise as a result of the technical regulations, and we got our first glimpse of the visual impact of those regulations as Williams released the first computer-generated images of their 2017 challenger, the FW40.
The car launches are always an exciting time and this year they come in quick succession. Sauber will be first to officially launch their car, the C36, on Monday 20th February, with the rest of the nine teams revealing their cars in the following six days before winter testing begins on the 27th February. You can find all the dates of this year’s car launches here.
The McLaren launch is already causing a stir, with promotional images featuring more than just a touch of classic McLaren orange. Stoffel Vandoorne’s 2017 helmet design certainly points towards an orange car livery:
— Stoffel Vandoorne (@svandoorne) February 5, 2017
So, that’s what you’ve missed over the winter! The cars are being stickered up, the drivers are in training and the world awaits the first glimpses of the 2017 F1 season. I’ll be keeping the site updated regularly from now right through until the fall of the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi on 26th November. It’s going to be quite a journey.
The new Formula One season is on its way…