All quiet as designers apply finishing touches, but Red Bull are tipped to shine

The season is over and the silence from Formula One’s leading teams is deafening.

Three months before they head Down Under for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari are locked down in final work on the new ‘wider and faster’ cars that will take to the track on March 24.

The opportunity to return to a blank sheet of paper – or more realistically a clear screen with more than a few outlines in place – has enabled the leading designers to interpret the new regulations individually and in pursuit of gaining an early competitive edge over their rivals.

Remember how Ross Brawn found success and glory in 2009 with his ‘double decker’ diffuser? It was an advantage that carried newly-retired Briton Jenson Button to the drivers’ title and his eponymous Brawn GP team to the constructors’ crown…

And who took over then? Brawn sold his team, itself born out of his takeover of the former Honda outfit, to Mercedes and stayed on to oversee the development of a squad that has since become the dominant force.

In a career built on innovative interpretations, Brawn had earlier landed titles for Benetton and Ferrari and is a man who, more than most, understands that the new rulebook for 2017 offers the top teams a chance to make a ‘quantam leap’ into the future.

“If you start early enough, if you are the first team to query interpretations with the FIA, it’s then that you can gain an advantage because you can start to shape the arguments,” he explained.

“Being early in that process is important as we found with our engine when I was at Mercedes. We started the engine project very early and it was clear that we were the first ones to do it with the queries we made to the FIA – and that gave us encouragement…”

Luckily for everyone else, there is no Ross Brawn-designed machine under construction at Mercedes this year, but that does not mean the champions will be missing out on seeking to gain an early advantage for three-time champion Lewis Hamilton and his new team-mate.

Having won the teams’ title for the last three years, they are seeking to ensure that the prospective loss of technical boss Paddy Lowe to Williams – perhaps as part of a complex of deals that will see Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas going the other way – is offset by the recruitment of former Ferrari technical chief James Allison.

But the clever money, so the paddock suggests, is already backing a return to glory for Red Bull with a new machine penned by Adrian Newey, the man who has been responsible for as many or more winners than Brawn over the last two decades.

It was Newey who was behind the cars that carried German Sebastian Vettel to his four successive championship triumphs from 2010-2013 before Mercedes took over in the era that ended with Nico Rosberg as champion this year before his abrupt retirement.

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner is already declaring Mercedes as the early pre-season favourites to stay on top – a sure sign that he is confident that Newey is on course to build a car that can continue the Milton Keynes-based outfit’s upward trend in 2016.

"Mercedes have a few things going on with drivers and technical staff but they have a very strong team," said Horner. “It will be interesting to see who they opt for in their spare seat because their options look relatively limited."

Horner said he was surprised, happily, by his outfit’s return to form in 2016 and credited engine-makers Renault for the improvement that brought them two victories – and the promise of a title challenge next year.

“We came into the season not thinking that we would be in the top five in the constructors’ championship, so I would say that one factor for sure is that the engine has made a reasonable step forward from last year - that is probably the biggest factor,” said Horner.

“On the chassis side, our senior technical team have done an amazing job. And the drivers have played their part as well! They have extracted the most from what they were given. I think strategically we are strong and we capitalised where possible on opportunities.”

Horner admitted that Newey has not given Red Bull’s 2017 F1 challenger his total 100 per cent attention due to the demands of working on other projects for Red Bull, including the Aston Martin road car.

But, he added, the man widely described as a genius had been highly motivated by the new rules and was fully engaged in creating a machine to give Australian Daniel Ricciardo and his Dutch team-mate Max Verstappen a shot at winning races on a regular basis.

"In the last couple of years he's been splitting his time 50:50 between Advanced Technology projects and F1, and that's working very well," said Horner.

"The senior technical team have taken a step up and are doing a great job, as you can see with the current car, but Adrian's influence and guidance is still very much there, and is very present with the 2017 car.

"He's got a very high work ethic anyway, and he seems to be enjoying the challenge at the moment. I think for any engineer regulation changes are always stimulating, and I think that's no different for Adrian or any members of the team."

Tickets to the 2017 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix are selling fast, make you're at Albert Park to witness the new 'wider and faster' cars of 2017. You might event get to see Daniel do his trademark shoey on the podium. 

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