Mercedes AMG Petronas
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas
The Brackley based team begins 2017 as the reigning drivers’ and constructors’ champion for the third year running. Times have changed, however, as Nico Rosberg shocked the paddock by announcing his retirement right after winning the drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi. Mercedes did well to sign Bottas from Williams to replace Rosberg but much remains unknown. He has never driven in a front running car. Will Hamilton destroy Bottas, or will the Finn keep his cool and hold his own?
Red Bull Racing
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen
Milton Keynes based Red Bull Racing head in to 2017 with many reasons for optimism. First, sweeping regulation changes to increase downforce levels play to their strength. Adrian Newey is probably the greatest aerodynamicist F1 has. Second, they have arguably the best driver pairing in the sport. Ricciardo has continued to show impressive pace and Verstappen transitioned from Toro Rosso midseason better than anyone could have expected. Finally, Renault seem to have sorted out their power unit. Watch for Red Bull to bring the fight to Mercedes.
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen
The squad from Maranello hope to return to their 2015 form at minimum. 2016 was a difficult season for the Scuderia, filled with bad strategy and bad luck. This year will be sink or swim for Ferrari as they are currently comprised: Vettel could leave if the season is once again frustrating and Raikkonen is likely nearing the end of his career. Regulation changes may not suit the team well either, their aerodynamics having been a weak point for a few years running. Watch for Ferrari to fall back from Red Bull in 2017.
Sahara Force India
Drivers: Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon
Silverstone’s Force India are coming off another impressive campaign where they finished the highest they ever have: 4th in the constructors’ championship. The driver lineup has gotten younger for 2017 with Ocon coming from now defunct Manor to replace the outgoing Nico Hulkenberg. This leaves Perez as the lead driver, his most pressure packed assignment since his one year run with McLaren in 2013. The team is known for pushing the boundaries of how much a “small budget” can accomplish. Watch for Force India to nip at the heels of the front runners once again.
Williams Martini Racing
Drivers: Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll
Grove based Williams had an awkward winter this year. Massa retired at the end of the 2016 season. Stroll was signed straight out of F3 with $80 million in backing. The team had a few options to partner with Stroll but Martini insisted upon an older driver. Cue the return of Massa. In January Valtteri Bottas jumped ship after four seasons to drive for Mercedes. Williams has been known for a low-downforce, low-drag approach since 2014 which runs counter to the direction of the 2017 aero regulations. Watch for them to fall lower in the midfield with their combination of an over-the-hill driver, a rookie, and a lack of downforce.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne
The team from Woking has also had a busy offseason. Jenson Button retired at the end of 2016 paving the way for Vandoorne. He should bring a strong fight to veteran Alonso. The biggest question mark for McLaren will be the Honda power unit. After two massively difficult years and the removal of the token system, will Honda be able to reach parity with the other engine suppliers? Watch for the battle between Alonso and Vandoorne, and whether or not McLaren becomes a regular in Q3.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Drivers: Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat
The little team from Faenza returns to Renault power this season after using the 2015 Ferrari power unit throughout 2016. The driver pairing should have Toro Rosso scrapping for points throughout the campaign. Sainz is incredibly talented and motivated, he could move up the grid after this season assuming Red Bull doesn’t make room for him at the senior team. Kvyat had a torrid 2016 but looks to fight for his F1 career. The (other) Scuderia’s car will once again be designed by James Key, an incredibly talented engineer who has helped the team punch well above their weight since signing on in 2012. Watch for a handful of Q3 appearances, a ferocious inter-team battle, and a supposedly all new livery.
Drivers: Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen
Last year’s debutants look to push their way up the grid with a strong driver pairing of Grosjean and Magnussen. Grosjean had a strong first year with Haas scoring points five times and finishing 16 of 21 races. The team suffered teething problems, especially with the brakes, but says they have solved that problem. Magnussen moves from Renault to Haas after a difficult season in which he dragged the awful R.S. 16 to the points in Russia and Singapore. The wildcard for Haas this year is the chassis. The team has less data than the others but has a strong partnership with Ferrari. Watch for the team to pull out aggressive strategies as they try to top last year’s points tally.
Drivers: Nico Hulkenberg, Jolyon Palmer
Enstone & Viry’s Renault endured a painful 2016 season as they ran what was basically a 2015 Lotus without the Mercedes power unit. They scored a coup in signing Hulkenberg from Force India, giving hope that in future seasons they will challenge for podiums and wins. Palmer returns after a difficult rookie season. Watch for Renault to move up the grid this season as their focus since taking over Lotus has been solely on 2017.
Drivers: Marcus Ericsson, Pascal Wehrlein
Last but not least Sauber from Hinwil, Switzerland are also coming off an incredibly difficult season. They scored two points at Brazil in heavy rain thanks to Felipe Nasr, who lost his seat after losing the sponsorship of Banco do Brasil. The team has secured strong funding from Ericsson’s backers, giving hope for the future. Ericsson is coming off a strong year in which he almost dragged the C35 into the points on merit in Mexico. Wehrlein comes from Manor thanks to Mercedes money, though his availability at the beginning of the season is in doubt after an accident at the Race of Champions in Miami. Watch for appearances in Q2, a strong inter-team battle and the possible debut of Antonio Giovinazzi at Melbourne.