And finally we come to this. The back of the pack. The teams that, however painful it may be, really don’t have the talent or the team or the car to make it consistently into the points. Now, it should go without saying that I could be completely and totally wrong about any and all of this. So take everything I say with a grain of salt.
I would love, LOVE, to put Williams higher on my list. I’ve always liked them as a team and they have a knack of signing some of my favorite drivers, but the problem is, this year at any rate, I’m not sold on them. A few years ago, Williams looked like it was back on the up and up and could be fighting for wins in a few years time, but those days have gone by the wayside. And now, thanks to the vacuum left by a certain Fins departure, the team is left with an older driver that some could argue is past his prime, and a young gun that will be fighting allegations of being a ‘pay driver’ for years to come.
To be clear, I’ve never been a huge fan of Felipe Massa. He is a talented driver, yes, but he’s never seemed to me to be truly world champion caliber. I will be the first to admit, however, that it is pretty hard to look at a driver’s credentials objectively when he the drivers he has shared a car with have been named Schumacher, Raikkonen, or Alonso. That said, time and time again, when the pressure has been on, Massa simply hasn’t performed. In recent years especially, I have never felt that Massa had the same fire burning in his belly that nearly lead him to the 2008 World Championship. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would like nothing more than to see Felipe take a top step of the podium this year. Or even on the podium. He is, without question, one of the ‘good guys’ of the sport. And I wish him the best, I just don’t know if he still has it in him to carry a team.
Which brings us to Massa’s teammate, Lance Stroll. The young Canadian’s hiring at the end of the last season certainly raised a few eyebrows and rallied more than a few cries of ‘pay driver!’ Credit where credit is due, Stroll has been fantastic in feeder series, his performance last year in Formula 3 was nothing short of brilliant, and the kid clearly has talent. But, when you have a rich, famous father that bankrolls your career, those type of allegations are bound to come up no matter how talented you may be. Going in to testing, I was willing to give Stroll the benefit of the doubt, but that didn’t exactly work out so well. Consecutive crashes in testing, when you are alone on the track, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the goings on of the team.
Predictions: 7th in Constructors. MAS: 10th in WDC. STR: 18th in WDC
I’ve seen quite a few people put Haas higher on their list of predictions, but I’m not sold. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an American and I would love nothing more than to see F1’s lone US team do well, but I just don’t see it on the cards for them this season, despite having ditched the dead weight of Esteban Guiterrez from their list of drivers. Magnussen and Grosjean do present a formidable pairing, especially if Magnussen can somehow reach back and pull out performances reminiscent of his debut at Australia several years ago. But, the issues that plagued the team at the end of last season, namely the brakes, do not seem to have gone anywhere. Let’s face it, you want to be the fastest in Formula One, but you need to slow down too and brakes are a fairly critical part of that whole slowing down thing. The team say they have the problem on lock and are working closely with Brembo to get to the root of it, but if an entire offseason has not been able to fix the problem, I’m doubtful that they will be able to make any major strides before Spain.
As for the VF-17 itself, the team has taken on the thumb nose approach to wing design, from the initial look, very similar to Ferrari’s. They too have taken advantage of the new regulations to add a mess of winglets and strakes behind the front wheels to affect the airflow back around the sidepods. Taking a quick look at the design of this area, the most striking feature is the almost fighter jet looking winglet sticking out on either side. They are incredibly reminiscent of the 2007/2008 Ferrari designs that were run in the heigh of the aerodynamic add on era.
I hope to be surprised by Haas, I really do. I was last year. But until the Brembo brakes are made to stop breaking (pun intended) I can’t see them rising too far above the back reaches of the pack.
Predictions: 8th in Constructors. GRO: 11th in WDC. MAG: 15th in WDC
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. By now, it’s becoming far too trendy to wail on McLaren, but that’s not without good reason. What should have been a rebirth of a once great team is still floundering somewhere in the midfield. And that’s if they’re lucky. It’s pretty much general consensus at this point that there is a very slim chance that the Woking team will actually be able to finish the first race of the year in Melbourne, and frankly, I’m inclined to agree. The Honda power unit strapped in the back of the newly minted orange and black McLaren is nothing short of embarrassing. It’s reminiscent of Cosworth’s ill-fated return to the sport back in 2010, except that the Cosworth engine didn’t break every five seconds. The removal of the token system means that Honda can put its nearly unlimited resources into developing the 2017 power unit over the course of the season, but will it be enough? In a word, no. Even if, by some miracle of miracles, Honda gets their act together by the end of the season, they will still have to contend with the strict limit placed upon the number of power units each team can use over the course of a single season. Don’t be surprised if, because of that, we see a penalty reminiscent of Jenson Button’s 60-odd place penalty from two years ago.
What makes the entire Honda situation even more frustrating is the fact that McLaren has, without question, one of the better driver lineups on the grid. Fernando Alonso is still… Well, Fernando Alonso, double world champion, the unrivaled Spanish Matador who could drive the wheels of a wheelbarrow. The man can drive. Extremely well. But from Ferrari to now McLaren, his talent have been squandered over the course of the past several years, and despite his best attempt to put on a brave face, the cracks are beginning to show. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the man, who, after all, was within a hair of winning his 3rd world championship not once but twice.
On the other side of the garage is Stoffel Vandoorne, the Belgium rookie (can we call him a rookie even though he did, in fact, run one full race last year?) Vandoorne shows immense talent, beating his veteran teammate Jenson Button at his lone appearance in Bahrain last year. The youngster has gone about his rise to the top the right way, hopefully avoiding the mistakes McLaren have made by promoting other talent too early (see a certain Dane and a certain Mexican on the grid). He shows promise. And a lot of it. The problem for him, however, is the same as Alonso. Can the car meet that talent?
Predictions: 9th in Constructors. ALO: 13th in WDC. VAN: 17th in WDC
Last but not least, Sauber. Long, LONG gone are the days when Sauber were the plucky underdogs consistently gaining points and even, with Sergio Perez behind the wheel, nabbing themselves a podium. The severe financial strain that is placed on any F1 team has taken its toll on Sauber in recent years, which has led them to this point, bringing up the rear of the Formula One. They caught a lucky break in nabbing themselves a point a the rain soaked Brazilian Gran Prix, pipping Manor to 10th place and earning themselves enough money to survive. They return driver Marcus Ericsson and have brought on new talent in the form of Pascal Wehrlein, a driver who was passed over by both Force India and Mercedes. That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of a team’s confidence in a driver, does it? Well, it shouldn’t. Wehrlein is good, expertly proving himself in German DTM, and doing a stellar job as Mercedes reserve driver. Last season, he consistently beat his far inferior teammate of Riko Harianto only to draw even with Esteban Ocon once Harianto got the boot.
So, their driver’s lineup is not anything near impressive but what about the car? Well, it’s about the same. The biggest problem the Swiss team will face is the simple fact that, in order to save money, they will be running a 2016 Ferrari spec engine. An engine which failed to win a single race last year. As for the car’s aerodynamic package, well, there isn’t much of one. The fancy bargeboards and winglets that decorate other cars are noticeably absent from the C36. While it may give the car a sleeker look, more reminiscent to days of old when engineers didn’t understand the full complexities of the black magic of F1. So yes, the car is pretty. I like the new paint scheme. But, discounting retirements, if they finish above P19 and P20, I’ll be the most surprised man in the world.
Predictions: 10th in Constructors. WEH: 19th in WDC. ERI: 20th in WDC
File Under: F1, Pre-Season, What the Hell Do I Know?