Can anyone challenge Mercedes in 2017?

Wakey Wakey, Mr. Sting. It’s 2017 and that means the new year is upon us with new challenges for Formula 1 and new regulations in which to face those challenges.

The new regulations throw cost-cutting out the window and usher in a new era of continual development throughout the season. The teams will be looking to balance the chassis to power unit impact on the sport with the new regulations and close the competitive gap to Mercedes but that’s not going to be easy as Red Bull’s Christian Horner told Autosport.

“It’s going to be tough to overcome Mercedes,” said Horner. “They go into the year as the clear favourites.

“They have won three consecutive world championships, they’ve won 50-odd grands prix in the last three years.

“We’re just hopeful we can close that gap so we don’t have predictable results every grand prix weekend.

“With the new regulations, it should balance out the emphasis between chassis and engine.

“We’re confident we should make a bit of progress over the winter with the engine.”

Renault did make advances with their power unit in 2016 and as a re-badged TAG engine, Red Bull are hoping they can make even more advances now that the silly Token System of development has been abolished.

If the new regulations get it right, they could balance the chassis and engine pendulum which, for the last three years, has swung heavily in favor of the power unit and away from the chassis. Then there is the oddity of finding a regulation loophole, like 2009’s double diffuser, that could give some teams an instant boost.

“You hope that you haven’t missed something like the double diffuser, where there is an interpretation of the regulations that someone has spotted that generates an advantage,” he said.

“The regulations aren’t quite as dramatic as they were from ’08 to ’09 but they still represent a great opportunity to make the cars significantly quicker.

“It’s going to be a development race next year and there will be easy gains at the beginning of any development cycle.

“That relentless pursuit of chasing upgrades will be a key part of certainly next year.”

If you were one of the F1 fans concerned over the small teams, parity of the prize money and financial viability of some racing programs, then this continual development will be a real concern for you. Only the big teams can afford the continuous development war in F1 and that means that the advantage Mercedes had entering 2017 will most likely be a starting position from the baseline that will be hard to catch if you are a team with limited resources.

Equally concerning is Ferrari CEO Sergio Marchionne’s comments late in 2016 that he wasn’t keen to add funding to the F1 racing program in a season that will see rampant development and rapid prototyping demands so it isn’t necessarily just the smaller teams who will struggle to keep up with the development war in 2017.

Could there be a Double-Diffuser moment in 2017? A interpretation of the new regulations that gives a small team a unique performance advantage against the leviathans of F1? Time will tell but as of now, the F1 fan community is hoping beyond hope that the balance of chassis and power will be equalized and the racing more competitive and exciting.

Hat Tip: Autosport