x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

He who laughs last ....

The National columnist Johnny Herbert says it will be interesting to see who is smiling after the first Grand Prix.

Michael Schumacher, centre, enjoys a moment with his fellow Formula One drivers in Sakhir, Bahrain yesterday.
Michael Schumacher, centre, enjoys a moment with his fellow Formula One drivers in Sakhir, Bahrain yesterday.

I am really looking forward to the season starting as I think it is well set up to be an exciting one. There are a number of teams who are looking in good shape, but we are not genuinely going to know until qualifying who has done the best job and is quickest on pure pace and is likely to have the advantage in the opening flyaway races until the series returns to Europe.

It seems from what has been seen in the testing that Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and the Red Bull-Renault have done the best jobs and will be fighting at the front for the victories. That is good, but what makes it even better is that each of those two teams have two competitive drivers and they won't be just battling the other cars on the grid but each other in the battle for supremacy. The Ferrari pairing of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the McLaren partnership of the world champion, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, and Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull are all well matched, and watching who has the early edge in each of those teams is going to be a fascinating element of the opening races.

The Mercedes GP car, from what I have heard, is a little off the pace of the top three and I think Michael Schumacher is going to find it hard in his opening races back in the sport. It is going to take him a while to get back into it, but as I have said what is not going to help him is the lack of testing. In the past he would go away after races and work hard in testing and develop the car with the engineers, but with the new regulations banning testing once the season starts he is not going to be able to do this.

He will have to use simulators, which is not going to be ideal, and he is certainly going to have to change his approach. The car doesn't look that good from what I have been told and it was interesting to hear from contacts of mine at testing that the Force India-Mercedes looked to be quicker than the Mercedes. It is good to hear that Force India have done a good job, the car apparently is quick on a low fuel load and has been able to do consistent times on a heavier fuel load, and they do look well placed to give the front runners a run for their money.

Williams also look as if they have done a good job and it all looks very well set at the front of the grid to be close. The racing will be different with no refuelling and I just hope that Bridgestone supply a tyre that is a little inconsistent and challenges the driver in how they look after their tyres during a race. The more thoughtful they have to be, the more strategy and different approaches from the drivers you are going to have and the more interesting it will be for the spectators.

Certainly I fully expect in Bahrain to see some cars quicker earlier in the race and slower later on, while other cars will find speed and raw pace as the race goes on and their fuel load lightens. It was interesting, but not surprising, to hear that the new rear wing on the McLaren was being queried by other teams as to whether it is legal or not. Every year there is always a different interpretation over regulations from teams. You only have to look at last year when BrawnGP, Toyota and Williams had the double floor on their cars, and that was challenged heavily before it was confirmed to be legal.

Teams will push the regulations to the limit in a bid to find that little extra speed and some will get it right, while others will not. Finding out who has done the best job is always one of the most exciting parts of the opening weekend of the season. @Email:sports@thenational.ae