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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.

 

VIDEO: A unique look at Mexico’s famous Carrera Panamericana

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

INDYCAR
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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”