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F1 2017: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Bryan Edwards

Now the cars have arrived at a proper race weekend, we can at last see what the cars look like, hear what they sound like and get some comparative data on this year's cars against last year's. And we can see what might be not quite right and that's a long list.


The good: every team has at least a modified if not a completely new livery. Now it's easy to tell Red Bull from Torro Rosso and McLaren from Force India (but not from Spyker) - and for old codgers like me, to tell Renault from both Lotus Camel and Jordan.

The bad: The Haas livery is great, the HAAS wording/logo is hideous. It's not bad but after two seasons of the "Pink for Papa" campaign, the Force India car plays with the mind, especially as Jenson Button isn't even in Melbourne, apparently, despite being the official McLaren reserve driver this weekend.

Overall looks

Nothing can overestimate how good it is to see F1 cars looking like F1 cars again. Wide, squat cars with muscular bodies and big fat tyres. Fab. The return of the longitudinal fin (it's being termed the "shark's fin" although it's nothing like that) is interesting. Although previously tried in F1, it went out of favour although it remained popular in sports cars. The theory is that, like the solid back wheel cover on a speedway bike, it provides air resistance to reduce lateral movement i.e. to reduce the risk of spinning as the rear wheels lose grip. Not all cars have it and the designs vary significantly.

To combat new regulations relating to the rear wing, most teams have added loops to the sides of the cars. These add to the amazing look of the machines from the front with some being very reminiscent of the Harrier Jump Jet. Some have also added additional small wings behind the driver and ahead of the rear wing. These are controversial, in some cases. Williams has created two wings that attach to the body behind the fin. Mercedes, Ferrari and Haas have attached their wings to the rear of the fins. In the case of Mercedes, this seems effective but in the case of Haas, one has to question both the effectiveness and the safety of their construction. This is especially interesting given the close technical co-operation between Haas and Ferrari.

The Haas "T Wing" as the new mini-wings are being called is at the rear tip of the fin. All fins flex (excessive flexing was a concern when fins were previously used and, in some cases, referred to the stewards). But the Haas fin doesn't merely flex: it's angles of deflection are severe showing a clear and obvious bend which, it has to be said, gives cause for concern over the risk of fatigue. The idea of a large piece of fin with the wings attached, flying off is very disturbing. Worse, in P1, the car did most of its running in clear air: it remains to be seen how it behaves in the dirty air of running in the mid-field, as Haas expects to do.

Ferrari provide the power unit, gearbox and rear suspension for the Haas but not the bodywork. It is interesting that both teams have produced a similar fin plus T-wing arrangement and, for different reasons, it is interesting that the fin and wing on the Ferrari are rock solid.

[UPDATE: for FP2, the Haas T-Wing was removed and the fin was far more stable. However, Grosjean, in particular, then suffered repeated problems with rear end braking and grip and frequently went agricultural].

On Track

The cars don't just look like proper F1 cars, they go like proper F1 cars. At the end of P1, Hamilton, who wasn't pushing hard, was only one second off the ultimate lap time ever around Albert Park. The tyres, obviously, help : mechanical grip is always better than downforce. One or two relatively small over-running incidents were the only drama in P1. What is immediately clear, especially from on-board video, is that the braking points and the apecis are in very different places to where the drivers expect them: the simulators are going to need some work, it seems.

The Bad

Development and testing still leaves room for itsy bitsy little problems to put a car in the garage. We're not talking about McLaren who, with a total of four engines for the whole season from today onwards look as if they might, if they are lucky, still have one left at the end of the Shanghai meeting, such was their attrition in testing. Their reliability in testing was so bad that they completed about 1/10th of the overall running of Mercedes. And they broke more engines than they will admit, suggesting that, if winter testing was included in engine allocation, they'd be pedalling the cars around Albert Park. Even today, the engine sounds like a sewing machine with loose bearings.

But it's not only McLaren: Hamilton decided his new boots were uncomfortable during his installation lap, and later an aero component was re-attached with sticky tape. Others suffered a raft of leaks, poorly fitting things and things that didn't want to do as the were supposed to do. Of course, a racing car is an incredibly complex thing but surely, when manufacturing tolerances are to less than a thousandth of a millimetre, things that are supposed to fit should fit.

But you know what? None of that matters. The cars sound like racing cars, they go like racing cars and it looks as if the variations in interpretation of the new rules will produce cars that are competitive with each other.

If things don't fall off and if the engines run for more than a few laps.

It would not be unreasonable to say that the happiest man in Melbourne this morning isn't in Melbourne at all. Button's year off, if that's what it proves to be, is already seeming to be an excellent decision. Alonso pretended to joke earlier this week when he said that the best thing that could happen to F1 would be everyone running the same engine - so long as it wasn't a Honda.

Intellectual Property Notice

F1 is, and always has been, a registered trademark but the new (R) sign that appears next to it on every TV screen makes the point forcefully. OK, that's acknowledged for this article and for ever after. We don't expect to repeat it every time.