The new regulations have a formula meant to make the cars faster with wider bodies, fatter tyres and a lower rear wing.
In the pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, the quickest time registered was 1:18.634 by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, beating 2016’s pole position time of 1:22.000 set by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton on the same circuit.
Hamilton’s auto was extremely reliable in testing this year and showed a good turn of pace but Ferrari proved quickest in Barcelona, which he thought made the Scuderia favourite going into the first race of the season – a prospect that has only provided additional motivation. The three-time world champion was also fastest during the first practice session. “That’s going to be an exciting battle”.
Vettel was less than one-tenth of a second in front of Bottas, who replaced Nico Rosberg at Mercedes after the reigning world champion retired.
The Briton, who is more familiar with the vehicle having spent the last four years with Mercedes, would have “a clear head start” to the season, but Bottas would “also fare well”, Vatanen predicted.
The grid has shrunk to 10 teams, and 20 drivers, following the demise of Manor.
The season has 20 races, one fewer than a year ago, due to Germany’s absence for financial reasons and no additions.
Canadian Lance Stroll, 18, of Williams is the only debutant this weekend.
In 2014, Ricciardo crossed the line second behind Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, but cruelly he was disqualified for breaching fuel rules. “The cars are faster than what they were previous year”.
The tyres are fatter to generate more grip in the corners.
Ricciardo is one of the men expected to challenge for the title sooner rather than later and Hamilton admitted that he would like nothing better than a full on scrap with the top drivers and the top teams before he won his next title.
But F1 in 2017 isn’t merely a technical showcase; the drivers are being pushed back to the centre of the frame thanks to cars that are harder to drive and regulations that are created to put them back at the centre of the show.
“I haven’t had a lot of battles with Seb on the track, and of course I’d love to have that and the fans want to see it”.
One of the greats of Finnish motor sport, rally world champion Ari Vatanen, described Bottas as a level-headed, “trustworthy” person, the kind of guy you want on your team. That’s what the fans want to see. That close racing and sheer competitiveness, and to see the ups and downs of the best doing their best.
“From my side I definitely feel like I can make a step forward tomorrow”.
Renault, which struggled in testing, albeit on a scale which pales in comparison to Honda’s plight, has unveiled a raft of innovations in time for the curtain raiser, pertaining most crucially to the MGU-K, which Jolyon Palmer believes is “a big fix for here (Melbourne)”.
Meanwhile, Vettel says he’s enjoyed the 2017 rules package so far.
“It’s a great challenge for everyone, but I think especially for me”, Bottas told reporters in Melbourne.
Speaking about rivals Ferrari in particular, Ricciardo said: “I think the weights on their shoulders in a way to deliver this weekend, because they seem to be the standout team in testing”.