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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.

 

Tony Kanaan’s “New Reality” in IndyCar

Photo by Stephen King, INDYCAR
Stephen King, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Tony Kanaan is one of the most popular drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series from the fans who love his aggressive racing style and his fearless attitude. His team owner is the most popular man in the history of Indianapolis 500 – the legendary AJ Foyt, the first driver to win the famed race four times in his career.

In 2019, this combination would rather win races than popularity contests.

Kanaan has won 17 races in his career but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. He left Ganassi’s team following the 2017 and joined Foyt’s operation last season.

Foyt always admired Kanaan’s attitude and racing style because it reminded him of his own attitude behind the wheel of a race car. But in 2018, the combination struggled. Kanaan led just 20 laps for the season and finished 16thin the IndyCar Series points race.

“A lot of work has been done because obviously, we struggled quite a bit last year,” Kanaan admitted. “That was the challenge when I signed with AJ was to try to make this team better. It is not an easy task, especially with the competition nowadays.

“It’s a lot slower process than I thought it would be.”

Kanaan believes the biggest keys for him is to “keep digging and be patient.” But he’s also in a results-driven business.

The driver called it a long winter, but he has helped lure some of his racing friends to the team to help improve the two-car operation that also includes young Brazilian Matheus Leist.

At 84, Foyt still has control over the operation, but has turned the day-to-day duties over to his son, Larry. Just last week, the team hired Scott Harner as the team’s vice president of operations. Harner was in charge of Kanaan’s car when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing.

“The second year, we are trying to be better,” Kanaan said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality we have. There are a lot of new teams coming along so we have to step up. Otherwise, we aren’t fighting the Big 3 teams, we are fighting everybody.

“We are working on it. I like the way we are heading. AJ has been extremely open to my ideas.”

Kanaan has moved his family from Miami to Indianapolis to be near the race team’s shop. The team also has another race shop in Waller, Texas and that is where Leist’s car is prepared.

Although Kanaan doesn’t believe it’s ideal to have two different racing facilities, he believes being closer to his team will help build a more cohesive unit for this season.

At one time, Kanaan would show up at the track with a car that could win the race. No longer in that situation, he has had to readjust his goals.

“The biggest challenge is to accept that and understand your limits on equipment and on the people that you have,” Kanaan said. “Being on some of the teams that I’ve been on in the past, with four-car teams and engineers and all the resources you can get and the budget; then to come to a team with limited resources, I have to self-check all the time. With that, comes a lot of pressure as well and block out people’s opinions like, ‘Oh, he’s old or he’s washed up or the team is not good.’

“You need to shield that from your guys, because psychologically, that gets to you. You need people to work well, even if you have a car that is going to finish 15th.

“What is our reality? Racing can be lucky, but we try to make goals. We are greedy, we try to improve, but we are trying to be realistic. I have to re-set and understand this is my reality now, and I have to accept it.”

At 44, Kanaan is the oldest driver in the IndyCar. The 2004 IndyCar Series champion won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013 and if his career ended this year, it would be one of the greatest of his era.

But Kanaan isn’t ready to call it an “era.” He has more he wants to accomplish.

“The mistake I have made in my career is counting your days,” Kanaan said. “The best line I ever heard is when I signed with AJ, he told me he drove until he was 58, so why am I talking about getting old?

“In his mind, I still have 14 years to go.”

There remains one race, more than any other, that Kanaan’s boss wants to win. It’s the one that made Foyt famous.

“For my boss, winning the Indianapolis 500 is all he cares,” Kanaan said. “I could not finish a single race this year and if I win the Indy 500, that would be enough for him.

“We are not in a position to win a championship and I accept that. So, we focus on the Indianapolis 500. We had an awesome car last year and were the fastest on the second day.”

Foyt and Kanaan believe success at Indy may be in the numbers.

“AJ is all about numbers and his number was 14,” Kanaan said. “He found out Dallara was making chassis No. 14 at the end of the year. AJ bought that chassis and said that is the one we are going to race at the Indy 500. I’m not allowed to drive that car until Opening Day at the Indianapolis 500.

“That’s how big the boss is about the Indy 500.”