Fergal Walsh: Who will feel pressure in 2017?

Published on 04 Feb 2017 11:15
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Pressure has always played a major part in Formula One. Drivers are always feeling it, striving to out-qualify and out-race their team mates and those they are battling in the championship. Some can handle it, and others will crack. It's a real separation from the "men and boys" as it is always said that the greatest drivers can deal with it and perform necessarily.

So in 2017, while arguably every team and driver will be under pressure, I feel some more so than others. Some have to prove themselves, and quickly. Lets take a look.

Valtteri Bottas

Let's start with the obvious one. Nico Rosberg retired in late November, mere days after winning his Formula One world championship. It was a shocking and totally unexpected manoeuvre, but it happened. When it started to become obvious that Valtteri would be heading to Mercedes to replace him, my thoughts drifted to what his term of contract would be.

And so the ball dropped, Valtteri signed and eyebrows were raised when it emerged he penned a one year deal. However, I expected this. Just think about it in Mercedes' shoes. There is a lot of talent out of contract at the end of next season (Alonso, Vettel) and you can be sure that if 2016 doesn't go their way, they could be picking up the phone to dial Toto Wolff's number.

The thing is though, (and this is anticipating that Mercedes are interested in signing the before mentioned drivers) they will not have time to wait until the end of the season to decide. McLaren and Ferrari will not wait that long to negotiate a new contract for both drivers, which means that Valtteri really has eight or nine races at most to prove himself.

That's a really tough ask for the Finn, but then you got to wonder, what are Mercedes' expectations for him? Win races and challenge Lewis Hamilton or simply rack up points to benefit the constructor (much like we saw at Ferrari with Schumacher and Barrichello).

There is no doubt that Valtteri will strive to win races (if provided with the expected title contending car) but Lewis Hamilton has already established himself as one of the best in the sport today and this will be his fifth year at the Silver Arrows. Valtteri will have to make himself accustom to his surroundings and quickly.

McLaren

It's been over four years since McLaren last won a Grand Prix, which is actually quite astounding. It all went downhill after the 2012 season, where they didn't get the 2013 car right and slumped to fifth in the constructor standings. They stayed in that position for the 2014 standings and decided that they needed a new power unit in the hope of catching Mercedes.

So came the reunion with Honda. McLaren-Honda is such an iconic combination in F1, with the success of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost ringing in ears when McLaren-Honda is mentioned. It was the hope that the revival of this old friendship would bring the same success it did in the late 80's and early 90's, but it had the complete opposite affect.

2015 was a woeful year for McLaren who finished second to last in the standings with 27 points. 2016 was better, with a rise to sixth in the standings but for a team like McLaren it just isn't good enough. Consistent point finishes and perhaps a few podiums must be on McLaren's agenda for 2017.

The new regulations have potential to get them back on track, and they have two massively talented drivers in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne driving for them this year. The departure of Ron Dennis will only disrupt the management of the team or refresh it and bring in new ideas. A lot of eyes will be on them this season.

Jolyon Palmer

To be brutally honest, Jolyon was very lucky to retain his seat for 2017. It is no secret that he was Renault's fourth choice for the seat after rejections from Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz (Sainz was interested but Red Bull blocked any negotiations).

Jolyon has a lot to prove this season as he will be paired up with highly rated Nico Hulkenberg. Palmer managed to secure a point in Malaysia last year which may have slightly raised his reputation at Renault but rest assured that Renault will search for options for the 2018 season.

My controversial opinion is that the current 2017 Toro Rosso line up are fighting not for a seat at Red Bull, but at Renault. The Red Bull junior system has worked in the past but right now it is dangerous as the senior team look set to stick with their current line up of of Ricciardo/Verstappen for the foreseeable future. 

Renault will be a hot seat in a few years and drivers will be looking to get in on a long term deal. If Palmer can't perform, Sainz will more than likely replace him for 2018, but if Kvyat can have a stellar season, he too will be in contention.

Who knows, maybe Palmer can pull something from the bag and do well and impress his team. It's possible, but like Bottas, he will only have half a season or so to get the job done.

Ferrari

2016 was supposed to be the year that Ferrari were back on top, dethrone the dominant Mercedes by mercilessly fighting them through 21 races and stand victorious at the end of it all with two gleaming and exemplary trophies.

Instead the Prancing Horses fell to third in the championship and a common topic that overshadowed their season was the vital strategic errors and the hot headed, foul mouthed Sebastian Vettel.

Pinpointing where the pressure is being issued from, I would point to the Tifosi. Don't underestimate the power and presence of the Ferrari fans who believe that any race in which Ferrari don't win is a failure. They don't care who is driving for them, as long as he wins.

2016 reminded me a lot of Ferrari's 2014 season, where they struggled a lot and felt similar amounts of pressure. 2017 will be a big year for them as they look to challenge Mercedes for both titles. They haven't won the constructors title since 2008 and the drivers title since 2007.

I wonder if Sebastian Vettel moved to Ferrari to emulate Michael Schumacher's motives in the late 90's. Depart from success to build the iconic F1 team back to glory. Schumacher was successful in his task, but maybe Vettel has a similar plan and is simply biding his time.

Pressure is prominent in F1 and while the new regulation changes for 2017 may through up surprises, there will be tension around the paddock. We just have to look and see how delivers through it.

Fergal Walsh

 



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