THIS F1 LIFE

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - PAT SY­MONDS @F1Rac­ing_­mag face­book.com/ f1rac­ing­mag

Pat Sy­monds on the new sea­son

On Sun­day 9 April, sports psy­chol­o­gists must have thought the world had tilted on its axis. The essence of sport is com­pe­ti­tion, and the essence of com­pe­ti­tion is a de­sire to hu­mil­i­ate your op­po­nent. By def­i­ni­tion, there­fore, sport is in­tensely com­pet­i­tive and any par­tic­i­pant’s self-es­teem is of para­mount im­por­tance. This fact alone leads to a burn­ing de­sire to win that should pre­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of friend­ship with a fel­low com­peti­tor lest it dull the killer in­stinct that is so vi­tal to suc­cess.

Yet in Au­gusta we saw Justin Rose gen­uinely pleased to see his great friend Ser­gio Gar­cia win the Mas­ters, and, on the op­po­site side of the world, we saw an un­usual kin­ship be­tween Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Lewis Hamil­ton as their fin­ish­ing po­si­tions from Aus­tralia were re­versed in China. How this ri­valry might de­velop will un­doubt­edly be­come one of the fas­ci­nat­ing as­pects of what prom­ises to be a thrilling sea­son.

Speak­ing of com­peti­tors, the news that Fer­nando Alonso will miss the Monaco GP to com­pete at In­di­anapo­lis is fur­ther proof that it is not just pol­i­tics where the un­ex­pected is be­com­ing ever more com­mon­place. I, along with most oth­ers in the sport, would never have pre­dicted such a thing. While it is true that an F1 car is the ul­ti­mate open-wheel rac­ing ma­chine and the top F1 driv­ers are the best in the world, we should never un­der­es­ti­mate the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and the sub­tle dif­fer­ences that are re­quired for suc­cess in other series. It will not be an easy tran­si­tion. That said, if ever there were a driver whom I would con­sider ca­pa­ble of suc­ceed­ing af­ter such a par­a­digm shift in his en­vi­ron­ment, it is Fer­nando. He is a nat­u­ral driver who is al­ways at the limit and I sus­pect that find­ing that limit on a high-speed oval in a car with very dif­fer­ent aero­dy­namic and tyre char­ac­ter­is­tics will be a chal­lenge that he will rise to and rel­ish. In a broader sense, it is great to see a sce­nario such as this which is ben­e­fi­cial to all. McLaren have gained ad­mi­ra­tion, and fans on both sides of the At­lantic get a chance to see a great driver tackle a unique race. It is rem­i­nis­cent of those days so long ago when F1 driv­ers would drive any­thing go­ing. They needed to do so in or­der to earn a liv­ing, and the real win­ners were the gen­eral pub­lic who had a chance to see their he­roes at many venues and in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

Look­ing ahead, I am sure the new reg­u­la­tions will ac­cel­er­ate the re­lent­less de­vel­op­ment race that has been at the core of F1 in re­cent years. There is no doubt that Barcelona will see a raft of new aero­dy­namic fea­tures as teams are able to re­alise the fruits of their labours af­ter a pe­riod of con­sol­i­da­tion. Their fo­cus un­til now will have con­sisted of bring­ing spares lev­els up to full op­er­a­tional quan­ti­ties and, for some, re­cov­er­ing from the ac­ci­dent dam­age that plays havoc in the early part of the year. Fer­rari how­ever gave an un­mis­tak­able no­tice of in­tent by bring­ing four of their new front wings to Bahrain. A re­mark­able feat that can be achieved only with a great deal of con­fi­dence and an even greater bud­get.

How­ever, some in­ter­est­ing things have al­ready emerged from the sea­son-open­ers. There is no doubt that Pirelli have achieved the ob­jec­tives set for them by the teams and the FIA last year. The wider 2017 tyre ap­pears to be a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal from its del­i­cate fore­run­ner. We have seen that it cer­tainly has lower degra­da­tion than last year, which may or may not be a good thing for exciting rac­ing, but, more im­por­tantly, we have also seen that it is able to re­cover from abuse in a much more nor­mal man­ner. This means that driv­ers have had far greater con­fi­dence to push their cars to the limit over longer pe­ri­ods, know­ing that any slight overex­u­ber­ance will not spell an end to their af­ter­noon. Cou­ple this with a rea­son­ably gen­er­ous fuel al­lowance for 2017 and we, the fans, can ex­pect, and in­deed have seen, some full-on com­pe­ti­tion this year. The down­side of this is that the tyres are rather hard and there­fore the po­ten­tial lap-time re­duc­tion ex­pected of the high down­force 2017 cars has not been re­alised.

I am al­ways cau­tious of try­ing to pre­dict out­comes from the ev­i­dence por­trayed by small sam­ples, but if we are to be­lieve that these first races may de­fine the sea­son

ahead, then we can look for­ward to ex­cite­ment by the buck­et­ful. In­ter­est­ingly, these first races pro­vide a spec­trum of dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. In Aus­tralia, we see a cir­cuit where front tyres pro­vide the limit of per­for­mance and track tem­per­a­tures are around av­er­age. We moved on to China where the front lim­i­ta­tion still ap­plied, but the cooler tem­per­a­tures dif­fer­en­ti­ated be­tween those who use tyres hard and those who are more gen­tle on the use of this pre­cious rub­ber. In Bahrain, the em­pha­sis switched to the back of the car as rear tyres be­come the lim­it­ing fac­tor for per­for­mance, while Rus­sia has al­ways ex­hib­ited low tyre degra­da­tion and lim­ited over­tak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. With some ev­i­dence that the 2017 cars have a much nar­rower sweet spot of setup, we may well see close rac­ing swing to favour dif­fer­ent teams as these vary­ing cir­cuit char­ac­ter­is­tics come into play. The bat­tle be­tween Fer­rari and Mercedes is ti­tanic and we saw the tra­jec­tory of the first races dic­tated by tyre us­age, am­bi­ent track tem­per­a­tures and the brave strate­gic de­ci­sions that are nec­es­sary when the gaps are close.

For the past three years it has gen­er­ally been all too easy for Mercedes. They have some of the best strate­gists in the pit­lane, but I know from ex­pe­ri­ence that the eas­i­est way to de­ter­mine a good strat­egy is to start with a dom­i­nant car. They have en­joyed their dom­i­na­tion and I ad­mire them for it, but now we’re see­ing Fer­rari are more than ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing them, and I am sure it won’t be too long be­fore Red Bull, who have had slow starts to the past cou­ple of sea­sons, join them.

The one area where Mercedes re­main un­chal­lenged is qual­i­fy­ing. Their abil­ity to wind the power on for Q3 (and in­deed the first lap of the race) is stun­ning. The spec­u­la­tion is that they use a dif­fer­ent pis­ton ma­te­rial that can bet­ter cope with the huge cylin­der pres­sures. Per­haps when the oth­ers get their power units to near par­ity, the bat­tle will be­come even closer.

Alonso’s IndyCar stint is rem­i­nis­cent of the old days, when driv­ers would com­pete in many series

The 2017 Pirelli is much more ro­bust than in pre­vi­ous years, giv­ing driv­ers the longed-for abil­ity to push hard

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