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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Mercedes

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MotorSportsTalk’s preview of the new Formula 1 season begins with the first of our team-by-team snapshots – and where else could we start than with defending champions Mercedes?

Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 over the past three years, taking 51 race wins in that period and clinching six world titles (three drivers’, three constructors’) in the process. It has been a period of dominance rarely seen in F1.

But will that continue into 2017 with the new technical regulations?

DRIVERS

44. Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain)
77. Valtteri Bottas (Finland)

CAR

Mercedes W08 EQ Power+

ENGINE

Mercedes M08 EQ Power+

TEAM CHIEFS

Toto Wolff (executive director)
Niki Lauda (non-executive director)
James Allison (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Basically everything. The tense rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was handled pretty well by the team, even with the title on the line in Abu Dhabi. Had it not been for their first-lap crash in Spain and Hamilton’s cruel engine failure in Malaysia, Mercedes would most probably have swept the board for wins. Still, 19 out of 21 ain’t bad.

What went wrong in 2016: Hamilton was particularly unlucky when it came to power unit reliability, undoubtedly costing him a fair shot at the title. The engine team at Brixworth will have focused on this over the winter. The clash between Rosberg and Hamilton in Austria was also unfortunate. Otherwise, Mercedes was spick and span last year.

What’s changed for 2017: The biggest change is the arrival of Valtteri Bottas in place of Nico Rosberg, who sensationally retired from racing just five days after winning the world title in Abu Dhabi. Bottas joins from Williams after four seasons in F1. The other big change is the exit of previous technical boss Paddy Lowe, who has joined Williams, and the arrival of ex-Ferrari technical chief James Allison. Oh, and the car is significantly different in design, but that’s the same for all teams in 2017.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Anything but another double title success would surely go down as a failure for Mercedes. Its form over the past three years has been such that we’d be foolish to expect otherwise. But considering Ferrari’s pre-season pace and the expected revival of Red Bull, the pressure may be ramped up this year. At this rate, the question may no longer ‘how much by’ regarding Mercedes’ title win, but ‘if’ once again…

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 23: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shares a joke with Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP during the launch of the Mercedes formula one team’s 2017 car, the W08, at Silverstone Circuit on February 23, 2017 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Mercedes is something of an enigma heading into 2017 after a so-so off-season – but I will still back the Silver Arrows to take another title double, albeit not with the ease the previous three have arrived. Lewis Hamilton will take his fourth world title this year, with Valtteri Bottas becoming a grand prix winner at last. I’ll say for them to take say 14 of the 20 races this year, 9-5 in Hamilton’s favor.

Tony DiZinno: They’ve lost only eight races in the last three years and even with the changes to the regulations this season, it’s hard to see them losing too many more again. Lewis Hamilton should be primed to take the title in a cakewalk because I don’t see Valtteri Bottas being consistently fast enough to contend after taking over from Nico Rosberg, and I do see the Red Bull pair taking points off each other in their own intra-team rivalry.

Kyle Lavigne: Of the eight days of Formula 1 pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Mercedes AMG Petronas cars led three of them. That’s less than Scuderia Ferrari, who led four, but still an indication that the Silver Arrows are just as strong as ever. What’s more, they began their race simulations on Day 2, a clear sign that they are very happy with the pace and reliability of the W08.

Valtteri Bottas should contend for race wins, and could easily win multiple races in 2017. However, it will be difficult for him to regularly challenge Lewis Hamilton for the drivers’ championship. Bottas will undoubtedly be a quick shoe, but Hamilton is still very much for the championship favorite.

 

McLaren almost back on schedule with 2018 F1 car after delay

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McLaren is almost back on schedule with its 2018 Formula 1 car development after losing two weeks due to a delay in deciding on its engine supplier, according to racing director Eric Boullier.

McLaren confirmed back in September it would be cutting ties with Honda at the end of the year after three difficult seasons, favoring a switch to Renault power units.

The decision was not taken lightly by McLaren, causing it to lose two weeks in the development of next year’s car, but Boullier confirmed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is almost back on-track.

“Maybe we made the decision to change the engine manufacturer two weeks too late for our schedule, but these two weeks have almost been recovered,” Boullier said.

“Any big decisions are always difficult to take. The concept of McLaren winning with Honda was a dream for everybody, yes – it was a beautiful story.

“Today we have huge respect for them and we definitely don’t divorce with fights and screams and finger pointing. We are all very professional – and in the end it was a business decision, which they understand.

“There is a sadness that it didn’t work out like we wanted. McLaren-Honda in terms of brands was a good fit – in terms of results it didn’t work.

“That’s what it is in the end. Now we have to see that we get back to competitiveness – back to the top!”