Formula One 2017: Q&A With Bruce Jones
We spoke with renowned motorsport journalist and commentator Bruce Jones about the upcoming F1 season and about his newest title The Carlton Sports Guide Formula One 2017. Find out who he thinks the break out stars of the year will be, what makes this season different from the rest, and look back at the biggest shockers of 2016!
WHAT IS A KEY RACE THAT YOU FEEL WILL DETERMINE HOW THE YEAR IS LIKELY TO UNFOLD?
As there is a new set of car regulations for 2017 – with larger front and rear wings, wider wheels and larger diffuser – the first grand prix, in Australia, will be the one that shows most clearly which team’s designers have got their sums right. Testing might give an indication, but no team knows if a rival has set a string of competitive laps just by running with a very low fuel load or by having got their sums right over the winter for their new car. It’s only when they hit the track at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit and start working through their r egular programme of runs in practice that a true picture will emerge.
WHO DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO BE THE BREAKOUT STAR IN 2017?
It has long been the case that even the very best driver won’t hit the front, or even get near it, unless at the wheel of the most competitive car. Just ask Fernando Alonso. So, it’s hard to spread the net wide when considering who will star in the season ahead. It’s thus harder still to consider which young gun will be able to make a name for themselves this year, as few are in top cars. Of course, with Valtteri Bottas having got the golden ticket to fill the surprise vacancy at Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s announcement that he was retiring, the Finn has every opportunity to show his talents in a new light. Being compared to Lewis Hamilton will not be easy, but let’s see… Max Verstappen earned all the plaudits last year, winning on his very first outing once he had been promoted from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing. This year, though, most expect that Daniel Ricciardo will keep him in the shade. However, look out for new Williams racer, Canadian teenager Lance Stroll, as he is not only quick, having dominated last year’s European F3 Championship, but has already got a considerable amount of F1 testing under his belt. Those who simply think of him as a son of a billionaire, which he is, have conveniently failed to notice how many races he has won. With several years more top line experience, but just one grand prix appearance as a stand-when Alonso was injured last year, Stoffel Vandoorne was GP2 champion in 2015, so ought to offer more. It’s a question as to whether McLaren and Honda can progress as to whether he will get to shine or not.
HOW DO YOU FEEL THAT THE NEW TRACKS INCLUDED THIS YEAR WILL ADD TO THE EXCITEMENT?
There are no new circuits for 2017, but drivers and their race engineers will not only still be working out how to tackle the bumps around last year’s new circuit on the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan, but will be having to recalibrate their minds and machinery to the new-generation cars that will be at least five seconds per lap faster this year and will thus have to work out how to set them up to achieve the optimum balance between straight line speed and downforce to help them stick to the track around the corners. Of course, to keep them on their toes, that balance will differ from circuit to circuit, as you can imagine that the requirements of wide open, fast Silverstone and tight, stop-start Monaco could not be more different.
IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT WILL MAKE 2017 DIFFERENT FROM OTHER YEARS IN F1 HISTORY?
Any time that there’s a new set of technical regulations offers potential for a midfield team to hit the front and a previous front running team to take a stumble. There are no new circuits to test the teams’ ingenuity and throw up a wild card. So, it’s up to the designers and engineers to interpret the new technical regulations with the most effectiveness and up to the drivers to prove strong enough to wrestle these much more physical cars to drive on the limit through the duration of a grand prix. With more rubber on the road and more downforce from the larger wings, floor and diffuser, time spent in the gym over the close season will reap dividends. There’s also the reshuffling of the pack of cards, with 2016 World Champion’s late decision to retire forcing Mercedes to sign Valtteri Bottas from Williams to fill his seat. Other drivers might have provided a sterner challenge to Lewis Hamilton, but they were already under contact with other teams and will start the season rueing a missed opportunity. Bottas is a no-nonsense individual though, so don’t expect him to be fazed if Hamilton resorts to any mind games to cement his dominant position in the team. Starting a season without the reigning world champion at the wheel is a novelty, though, and it has happened only four times. The first was in 1959 after Mike Hawthorn was killed in a road accident over the winter. There was no reigning champion on the tracks in 1971 as Jochen Rindt had been killed at Monza before he even knew that he had landed the 1970 drivers’ title. Then, 1974 was champion-free as Jackie Stewart had retired at the end of 1973 and so was 1993 as Nigel Mansell had elected to go for Indycar gold after dominating the 1992 season for Williams.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE F1 TRACK?
For years, I’ve seen it as a choice between Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka, as both are real drivers’ circuits that offer a huge challenge over that most key of ingredients – incline - with Spa-Francorchamps edging it because of the beautiful Ardennes landscape across which it is draped. Sepang always offers potential for overtaking and remains the best of the ‘modern’ F1 designs, although the more recent Circuit of the Americas is a worthy addition and the Baku City Circuit brought a refreshingly distinctive backdrop in 2016. Mexico City’s recent return to the World Championship has also been popular, with some of its twistier sections proving to be incident magnets, with all action made the more intense and exciting by the passionate and noisy crowd. Yet, Spa-Francorchamps is still peerless and sets the bar so high that it’s hard to imagine it ever being toppled from the top of the pile.
WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT FROM 2016?
There was some great racing last year, but the race that I found most enthralling was the Brazilian GP, a race that offered as many twists and turns as some entire seasons. Interlagos isn’t always bathed in sunshine and indeed many of its most memorable races have been splashed with rain. A tricky circuit in dry conditions, it can become perilous when wet and so it proved with the race starting behind the safety car. Once released to race, Verstappen proved to be the master of overtaking and, not satisfied with that, left fans speechless with his unflappable recovery from a part spin coming onto the start/finish straight. Most would have hit the wall, but the Dutch teenager simply carried on. Hamilton was able to win the race to keep his title hopes alive to the final race, but Verstappen was the star of the show for Red Bull as he hunted down Rosberg and passed him for second around the outside at the Senna S. That was as nothing, though, compared to his late-race charge from 14th after his fifth pit stop to make it back to third.
WHAT, FOR YOU, WAS THE BIGGEST SHOCK OF 2016’S SEASON?
The all-new Haas F1 team scoring points in its first two grand prix outings was something that none of the sport’s insiders would have predicted. Yet, nothing comes close to Nico Rosberg’s bombshell just days after achieving his ambition in matching his father Keke’s achievement of becoming World Champion when he announced that he was quitting the sport. It was done with dignity and people respected him for being honest in his explanation. The Mercedes F1 team’s management, however, might not have appreciated the lack of warning…
YOU’VE BEEN WORKING IN FORMULA ONE FOR DECADES. WHO IN THE SPORT IS YOUR HERO?
I don’t have one, although as a boy I thought Tom Pryce was the business for his sublime skill and incredible modesty, before his untimely death in 1977. Since being involved in the sport, though, it has been the people who drive the teams forwards that have impressed most. The ones who work at the incredible level demanded to succeed in F1 and yet don’t get deflected by the glitz and glamour that turns the heads of some of the lesser players. Britain corners the market in this area, with the likes of engineers and designers Patrick Head, Adrian Newey, Ross Brawn, Pat Symonds and Paddy Lowe having clocked up win after win after win.
The Carlton Sports Guide Formula One 2017 is available now from our website and all good bookstores.