New F1 rules announced Monday create more questions than answers

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It’s obvious Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing’s dominance of Formula One over the last few years has now triggered the FIA to make some changes. While most F1 fans can agree changes are needed, it’s the kind of changes being implemented that are rather stupefying at first read-through.

With history as a guide, we look back to the last time such a sweeping range of changes was implemented, during the last reign of a dominant German at the head of the field: Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. And the changes made a decade or less ago have, in some respects, led to the sweeping changes announced on Monday.

It was in 2003, after the pair had wrapped up the titles in July the year previous, and made a mockery of the sport with team order use on two occasions (Austria and Indianapolis), that F1 put in a new points system for 2003. The 10-6-4-3-2-1 – which looks better with rose-tinted glasses each day compared to further ones – was dropped for a new one, 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1, that paid points down to eighth. Meanwhile, single car qualifying was added to replace the 12-lap, post three or four fliers, one-hour sessions of years past.

Schumacher still won out on the strength of six victories to Kimi Raikkonen’s one, but only by two points at year’s end. The single-car qualifying, meanwhile, meant you had provisional polesitters after one day that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Because Jos Verstappen had been quickest after running last on a drying track on Friday, he ran last on Saturday but would slot into his usual grid spot of 19th anyway while in his Minardi.

Come 2005, Schumacher had put in another banner year the season previous with 13 wins and could make either two, three or four stops to win, and he still did. So the rulemakers set out to delay him again. Aggregate qualifying was introduced for two days of single-lap running in an effort to improve qualifying, but mercifully it was dropped after just a handful of races.

During the races, meanwhile, drivers now had to race on a single set of tires for the entire race, and it spiced up the action. Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominance on the Bridgestones in years past was wiped out as Michelin, despite its Indianapolis fiasco, offered a better performing tire for the duration while Bridgestone was sent to the woodshed by contrast. Fernando Alonso and Renault emerged as F1’s new kings, and Schumacher was dethroned for the first time in six years.

The long-term result of that decision was that eventually tire changes came back into play, Michelin withdrew, and we’ve entered an era of spec tires in F1 once more. The qualifying systems from 2003 to 2005 were so forgettable but brought us the knockout system, first introduced in 2006, that remains the highlight of most Grand Prix weekends.

This all brings us, conveniently, to the present. Bridgestone developed tires over the next five years from 2006 through 2010 that were in essence, too good. Tire strategy was no longer a major part of the race because Bridgestone made tires that held up for such long periods; that even with two different compounds, you had the occasional one-stop, dreary processional race even then. But because Red Bull had not yet mastered the chassis-to-tire balance, as they have with Pirelli, you had several teams and drivers still in contention down to the wire in Abu Dhabi.

The last three years, of course, have seen drastically altered measures – many would argue gimmicks – to attempt to spice up the racing. DRS has, frankly in this writer’s opinion, run its course. After three years, passing arguably has been made easier and less exciting because drivers are too busy playing the DRS game of “am I or am I not within one second, do I need to be ahead on this corner or hang behind instead” instead of bothering to set up for precise, targeted passes that take laps to complete. There’s a reason you remember Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber passing at Eau Rouge, for instance, as opposed to any DRS pass of note.

Pirelli, meanwhile, can’t seem to win either way. The Bridgestones were so durable that Pirelli were told to make tires that went off – which they did, but at a seriously compromised and quick rate. The spate of tire failures that occurred at Silverstone this year meant Pirelli would have to change its construction midseason to be more conservative. The new ones suited the Red Bulls best, and ho hum, Vettel and Red Bull haven’t lost since Anthony Weiner was a daily punch line and John Oliver was having a field day with it filling in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

The 2014 season was always going to be a year of sweeping changes anyway, with new eco-friendly V6 engines, KERS being implemented into the power units, lower noses, “penalty points” and a five-engine season limit all among those getting put into practice. Fair enough; that’s enough there to force you to read and memorize the rulebook.

But the steps introduced Monday – double points at the Abu Dhabi season finale, permanent driver numbers, a cost cap for 2015 and five-second penalties – all seem to miss the point. It seems the FIA has suggested these rather than fix the fundamental problem that F1’s product at the moment is often too uninteresting as it is, without even allowing the new 2014 changes to bear themselves out before putting these four ideas into practice.

The double points idea is ludicrous, plain and simple. At no time in F1’s 60-plus year history has any one race ever carried more points prestige than another. Whether it’s Abu Dhabi or Monaco misses the point. For any one race to have a greater championship impact than another negates the other 18 races as a result. It almost makes you want to see someone wrap up the title with a lead of more than 50 points going into Abu Dhabi anyway, so they don’t lose it on a fluke.

The permanent numbers? If F1 really wants to recapture its past, perhaps a return to the iconic team numbers, Ferrari 27/28, Williams 5/6, McLaren 7/8, Lotus 11/12, Mercedes (nee Tyrrell) 3/4, what have you, would have been a better step. No one associates F1 drivers with any car number and to build the brand awareness takes time; it’s not going to make a permanent impact in one year.

The cost cap? This almost brought F1 to civil war a half decade ago and further details are needed before I could make a truly qualified comment on this one. As for the five-second penalties, that’s probably the most sensible of the lot.

But all of the four won’t do anything against the more underlying factors of keeping F1 races interesting past the start of the race. Drivers should be able to push full stop if they want on a set of tires, regulations be damned. It’s why the Spanish Grand Prix this year carried so much intrigue; Alonso pushed and made four stops but still won over those who opted to run more conservatively to save time in pit lane.

F1 has always stood for technological innovation, drivers pushing at the maximum at all times, the build-up to a pass, the iconic sounds of Ferrari V12s or screaming V10s, and consistency in its points system. Regulation changes that come closer to recapturing those ideals, rather than the ones put forth on Monday, could do more to keep F1 on the right track.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.