F1 2017 Preview: Predictions

My predictions last season could have been a bit more correct. I hadn’t expected the massive improvement to the Renault power unit that allowed Red Bull to finish 2nd in the WCC. I also hadn’t counted neither Williams nor Force India really making significant improvements their 2015 cars into 2016 and I didn’t expect Haas to rack up points that early in the season.

So watch as I go ahead and make those same mistakes all over again. This season’s predictions come down to the number of sandbags that teams offload from their car after pre-season testing. Everyone thinks that it’s down to Ferrari and Mercedes with both teams believed to be sandbagging each other so the other doesn’t have an accurate performance target.

So who will win the 2017 Formula One World Drivers’ and World Constructors’ Championships? I have a punt at it today.

World Drivers’ Championship

  1. Lewis Hamilton
  2. Sebastian Vettel
  3. Valtteri Bottas
  4. Kimi Raikkonen
  5. Max Verstappen
  6. Daniel Ricciardo
  7. Felipe Massa
  8. Sergio Perez
  9. Carlos Sainz
  10. Lance Stroll

I’ve changed this list so many times that I’m not even sure where half these names started other than the top two. It’s been a continuous flip-flop between Lewis and Seb for the top spot. It all comes down to how much Mercedes may be sandbagging and whether Ferrari will be able to continue to develop the SF70-H without James Allison as technical director. Development of this car started with Allison in charge but will the team know how and where to develop the car for maximum performance without him around? I’m not particularly confident that it will go to plan.

With what I believe will be the better car over the course of the season, I think it’s advantage Hamilton for 2017. I really, really want Ferrari or Red Bull to take the fight to Mercedes but that Mercedes power unit is just consistently too much of an advantage for Ferrari or Renault to overcome. Without engine tokens, they’ll have an easier job of catching but in engine development as in racing, catching is one thing, passing is another.

Further back, I’m expecting expected 2017 World Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen to beat out teammate Ricciardo. The battle between these two could come down to overtaking. While I rate Ricciardo the better race driver, Max is the better overtaker and with overtaking looking to be difficult this year, I would expect Max will be better able to take advantage of whatever opportunities are presented to him.

After that, a combination of experience, raw speed and car speed make up the remainder of my top ten. Very few drivers on the grid have experience in cars these fast and Old Phil Massa is one of them. Sure, he didn’t have the pace last season but I think that he may come in a little more relaxed and is in an aero formula similar to the pre-2009 formula in which he thrived as a driver. It’s just the similarity to the old days that makes me rate his chances highly.

From here, I have the lead drivers of the next teams I have in my WCC predictions so if that is right, I’d imagine that I’m right in the WDC predictions with Perez and Sainz.

The final spot goes to Lance Stroll. It’s a massive shot in the dark because Stroll has been inconsistent when fast and has slow-ish when trying to keep the car on the tarmac. When he finds his confidence and rhythm, he’ll be a consistent points finisher in that Williams. However, it’s not going to happen overnight. That 10th place spot will either be Stroll or Ocon, though.

World Constructors’ Championship

  1. Mercedes
  2. Ferrari
  3. Red Bull
  4. Williams
  5. Force India
  6. Toro Rosso
  7. Renault
  8. Haas
  9. McLaren
  10. Sauber

As I mentioned my WDC write-up, the two deciding factors this season will be the number of sandbags offloaded from cars and the impact of James Allison’s departure from Ferrari for Mercedes. If Mercedes was sandbagging more than Ferrari or if Ferrari can’t set an effective direction for the SF70-H’s development without Allison directing it, this will be Mercedes’ championship to lose. Granted, that’s one of those ifs that we can’t answer until Melbourne and until we get into the season properly.

Similarly, we are left to wonder about the ultimate pace of Red Bull. The RB12 came to life with various Renault engine upgrades with the first upgrade making it a race-winning car and the final upgrades putting it near the Mercedes on pace. Sure, Ferrari was neck-and-neck with RBR at the end of the season but they’ve got a massive advantage they didn’t have by the middle of last season.

Williams and Force India’s positions could come down to the pace of Lance Stroll and how quickly he finds it. At the risk of repeating points, the Williams looks faster than the FI in testing but that is in Massa’s hands. In Stroll’s, it’s mid-pack or mid-gravel trap.

I have Toro Rosso ahead of Renault despite likely budgets. I would expect that a factory Renault ream would have a bigger budget than Red Bull’s junior team but Red Bull’s junior team has shown itself to be pretty good with aero as demonstrated by a car that outperformed their 2015 Ferrari power unit last season.

In the back, how Honda manages with their power unit will determine McLaren’s finishing position. They could finish below Sauber on pace and reliability based on how their testing has gone. McLaren could get as high as 6th in the WCC again but McLaren and Honda will need nothing short of a miracle to pull that off.

And poor Haas is probably going to suffer a sophomore slump. Until they can prove that they are capable of developing cars, I won’t give them a chance against STR, Renault or a healthy McLaren. At least their power unit will keep them ahead of Sauber.

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