Since we entered Formula 1’s 1.6-liter hybrid era in 2014, the fans have been forced to endure race after race of painfully predictable results: a Mercedes will win, Max Verstappen will be fast, Ferrari will fuzz something up, and Fernando Alonso will say something funny.
The rules have changed for 2017, bringing increased downforce, 25-percent wider tires, and longer lasting compounds, which, when combined, are supposed to promote more grip, quicker times, and a better spectacle for the fans.
It’s hard to tell if the FIA has met its goals just yet, but there are certainly some encouraging signs after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Sunday. Here are six reasons you should watch F1 this year:
1. Ferrari is Back!
After Ferrari went winless during a blunder-filled 2016 season, Maranello has already made its way back to the top of the podium.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the finish line 10 seconds ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, breaking a 28-race winless streak for the team. The victory gives Vettel 25 points and the early lead in the 2017 World Driver’s Championship; with teammate Kimi Raikkonen coming home in fourth — and setting the fastest lap of the race — Ferrari now leads the Constructor’s championship for the first time since 2012.
One last sign of encouragement: this is only the second-time Vettel has won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, the first time was in 2011, after which he went on to dominate the championship.
2. Mercedes is Unhappy
For the first time since the end of 2013, someone who does not drive for Mercedes is leading the championship. Following the race, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff played it cool, saying “We have been very fortunate in the last three years that we’ve won most of the races, now it is about accepting that Ferrari have beaten us.” But that wasn’t quite the scene during the race when TV cameras captured Toto’s table smashing anger after Vettel overtook Hamilton on pitstop strategy.
Lewis Hamilton was also oddly on edge this weekend. After qualifying on pole Saturday, Lewis was playfully annoyed to hear Sebastian Vettel had been touching his car, while during the race, he was exasperated to find himself lacking grip and unable to match Vettel’s pace. “I was struggling with grip from the get-go. Sebastian was able to always answer me in terms of lap time and just go quicker.”
3. Max Verstappen
Despite this being Max Verstappen’s third season in a Formula 1 car, the Red Bull driver is still a teenager — and that should have his rivals very worried. “It was positive to see we weren’t that far-off Ferrari and Mercedes over a full race distance.”
With his fifth-place finish, Verstappen was the only Renault-backed driver to finish on the lead lap. It was a mature drive from the young Dutchman and look for him get faster as the RB13 improves throughout the season.
The FIA also decided to scrap the controversial “Verstappen Rule” for this season, which should leave Max free to do what Max does best.
4. North America Came to Play
For the first time since Jacques Villeneuve retired in 2006, the Formula 1 paddock features a presence from both North American nations.
Lance Stroll, a Canadian teenager, made a somewhat tumultuous start to his Grand Prix career for Williams after a five-place penalty saw him starting from the latter half of the grid before a brake failure ended his day early.
“Some guys braked quite early in front of me and I managed to gain some places, but then I had a flat spot so had to stop early and, strategy-wise, we changed to a two-stop,” said Stroll. “Then we managed to have a surprisingly good race. It was my first race and first weekend, so there are a few positives to take out of it.”
The Americans at Hass Racing made a difficult start to their second season in Formula 1 after both cars failed to finish. Romain Grosjean’s sixth-place qualifying performance was a team best, but it would end in heartbreak after he lost power and had to retire from seventh position. Teammate Kevin Magnussen was a non-factor after a first-lap incident that would lead to suspension failure later in the race.
5. All Hail King Nando
Fernando Alonso continues to be one of the most talented drivers to ever race in Formula 1, and unfortunately, he’s forced to prove it by dragging terrible cars into respectable positions. Alonso claims this year’s McLaren-Honda is some 30 km/h slower in a straight line, but somehow the Spanish savage was able to keep his MCL32 in the points for most of the afternoon until he was forced to retire with a broken floor.
“With such little degradation from this year’s tires, it’s enjoyable to be in the cockpit again. However, that enjoyment is less for us, because we are not fighting at the front,” quipped Alonso. “Our car is obviously not very competitive at the moment, so being able to keep the car in the points was a little surprising. At the end of the race, I had a problem that prevented me from finishing the race.”
Despite his personal performance, Alonso hilariously called the McLaren a last-place car, shoveling shame on Honda’s still struggling race department.
6. So Many Fantastic Colors
This F1 season also features what is easily the most colorful grid in several years. At one point, we were treated to a battle between Alonso’s orange McLaren-Honda, Esteban Ocon’s pink Force India, and Nico Hulkenburg’s yellow Renault.