The winter break is finally over.
The Formula One season gets underway this weekend in Melbourne, and fans across the world are waiting eagerly to see the new breed of cars hit the track in anger for the first time.
But one pressing question remains: will this season live up to the high expectations placed upon it?
For 2017, Formula One has responded to frequent criticisms about the cars being too slow and races being too predictable – in short, the sport has become boring.
The result has been drastic regulation changes over the off-season, resulting in more aggressive and aerodynamic cars which look, well, how an F1 car should.
One thing is for sure – the new cars are much faster. Predictions in terms of lap times are currently between three and five seconds quicker per lap than last year.
Most of this speed increase comes from an improved level of downforce, as the new regulations allow far more scope than in previous years for this area.
But that in itself raises another concern, one which has already been voiced by Lewis Hamilton, that increased downforce will result in less overtaking, and in turn, less exciting racing.
A higher level of downforce means braking zones are much shorter, as drivers can brake later into corners. Moreover, more turbulent air will be produced by aerodynamically effecient cars, meaning it’s far trickier to follow close behind an opponent when trying to make a move.
We’ll have to wait until the race on Sunday to see how much of an issue this really is.
We’ll also have to wait until Sunday to see who is really in contention for the title this year.
Predictions based on purely on pre-season testing are uncertain at best – differing fuel loads, strategies and even sandbagging can all be factors at play.
But let’s take a look anyway.
The general consenus is that Mercedes, who have dominated since the start of the hybrid era in 2014, are championship favourites. They showed impressive pace during Barcelona testing, logging many laps along the way.
Ferrari have turned heads with the pace of their 2017 machine, with Raikkonen topping the time sheets in Barcelona, seven-tenths of a second faster than any other team in the paddock.
Red Bull, who were expected to thrive with the new regulations favouring cars with strong aerodynamics, are still yet to properly show their hand. But the team are tipped to improve throughout the season with regular updates to their 2017 challenger.
The battle in the midfield is tight: Williams look to be the ‘best of the rest’ behind the top three teams, with Force India, Renault, Haas and Toro Rosso expected to be battling it out for the points.
The once legendary McLaren-Honda partnership looks to have failed to deliver again. The car’s peformance was woeful throughout Barcelona testing.
The only consistent element was the frequent breakdowns, and even when the car was running it was around 15km/h down on the straights compared to the other cars.
It will be fascinating to see what the team can salvage from a dismal start to the year. If the team continues to struggle, the chances of Alonso sticking with the team – or in the sport at all – beyond this year are not high.
But this weekend in Melbourne, all pre-season speculation will become meaningless.
We will see who is in the fight, and – perhaps more importantly – whether the new cars bring back the excitement F1 fans have been craving in recent years.
Featured image: Credit to www.skysports.com