We will not have a repeat world champion in 2017 now that Nico Rosberg has retired but we could see Lewis Hamilton pick up his fourth, Sebastian Vettel pick up his fifth, Kimi Räikkönen pick up his second or anyone number of drivers picking up their first title. The new technical regulations could see the Mercedes-era of dominance come to the end and could mark the start of another dynasty.
1. Lewis Hamilton Beats His Teammate in the Championship By At Least Three Spots
We don't know who Lewis Hamilton's teammate will be. We think it will be Valtteri Bottas. It could still be Pascal Wehrlein but regardless, I think Hamilton will thrash his teammate. I think he could benefit from being in the team the last few seasons and from the sudden departure of Nico Rosberg. Rosberg's former crew will have a short period to get on the same page with a new driver. If it is Wehrlein, they will at least know his personality a bit and he knows the team a bit but bringing in Bottas or another outsider would come with a learning that could allow Hamilton to set the pecking order before the season even reaches Barcelona.
2. Nico Hülkenberg Finally Gets a Podium
The man won a pole position as a rookie with an underpowered Williams in the wet at Interlagos, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans but he has yet to be on a podium in 115 starts. Equipment isn't an excuse anymore especially after Sergio Pérez had four podium finishes in the three years they were teammates at Force India. It is now or never and while Renault was a poor team in 2016, the team did suffer for designing a car for a Mercedes engine before the team was bought by the French manufacture. The Renault engine was fine in 2016, Red Bull proved that. If Renault can develop a car that fits the engine, the team could makes strides up the grid and I think the team will have a few races where the car can compete with the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, Williams and Force India.
3. There Will be at Least One Race Red Bull Bosses
Despite finishing a distant second to Mercedes-Benz in 2016, Red Bull looked really good and was on the heels of the Silver Arrows for a good chunk of the season. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen provide a tantalizing driver line-up and I think with new regulations Red Bull could leapfrog Mercedes-Benz at a few races and we could see a race where Red Bull sweeps the front row and the drivers are gone from the off never to be caught. Both Red Bull drivers could lead a race lights to flag and I wouldn't be surprised if either does it in 2017.
4. Haas Has More Finishes in the Points But Do Not Finish Ahead of any of the Top Seven in the 2016 Constructors' Championship
I am conflicted about Haas. The team reportedly started working on the 2017 car before the 2016 Australian Grand Prix. While that level of preparation is extraordinary and it could give the team a head start, Haas is a young team and still have a bit to learn and I can't see it jumping any teams especially if I think Renault will make a big improvement. The only of the top seven I could see Haas jumping is Toro Rosso but even that I am not confident about. Haas had five points finishes in 2016, all at the hands of Romain Grosjean. I think each Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen could get four or five points finishes in 2017 but if those are all finishes from seventh to tenth, the team will only have somewhere from eight points to 60 points. Toro Rosso finished on 63 points in 2016. I think the team could end up with about 40 points but not make any progress up the Constructors' Championship table.
5. Lance Stroll has an Incident That Leads People Calling for His Head
Part of me thinks the 18-year-old Quebec-native will be very coy and not try to do anything to stir the pot but at the same time I think he could feel the pressure if the results don't start coming and his teammates, whomever it is, opens a large gap between the drivers in the Drivers' Championship. Stroll has a history of bonehead moves and it there is a race where he thinks he could make a name for himself, he could overstep the line and end up irking many fellow drivers, pundits and fans.
6. McLaren Gets Podiums
I think McLaren could be the revelation of the 2017 season. McLaren could put the likes of Force India and Williams behind them in the Constructors' Championship and I think this could be the revitalization of Fernando Alonso's career. We saw what Alonso could do with an average Ferrari. And if he has the bombastic Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne breathing down his neck and bring out the best of him, McLaren could reclaim a good chunk of its former glory. I think each McLaren driver will get a podium in 2017 and I would surprised if they each ended up on the podium multiple times.
7. Max Verstappen is Alive for the Championship Entering Mexico
He might have pissed off his fair share of people in 2016 but Verstappen has all the talent in the world and I think he will be a championship contender. Verstappen has done a good job keeping the wheel on the car. Outside of an accident in drying conditions at Monaco and the Ferrari sandwich at La Source, Verstappen didn't throw away races through contact with barriers or other cars. If he continues keeping all four tires on the car and remains constantly finishing in the top five while increasing victories and podium finishes, you can't rule him out.
8. A Non-European Country Wins the Race Promoters' Trophy and It Is Not Mexico
The last European race to win the Race Promoters' Trophy was the Monaco Grand Prix in 2005 (Unless you count Russia in 2014 but Sochi is not on the European continent but Russia is generally accepted as a part of Europe and is a member of UEFA). I wonder why European races don't win it more often but I will write about that early in 2017. The Mexican Grand Prix has won the Race Promoters' Trophy and since the trophy was created in the 1975 season, only once has a race won in three consecutive years. That was the Australian Grand Prix from 1995-97. What race could usurp Mexico? If Austin brings Taylor Swift back, it could take the honors. Maybe Azerbaijan wins it, which like Russia, isn't on the European continent but is a member of UEFA. Could awarding it to Singapore or Malaysia entice those races to stay on the schedule for a few more years after both expressed wanting to withdraw from hosting a Formula One race?
9. At Least One Driver Loses a Race Seat Midseason Due to Financial Reasons
We have no idea who will be driving at Manor but Rio Haryanto is still in contention and that means he could end up running out of funding midseason again. I am also counting "financial reasons" as a manufacture getting one of its reserve drivers into a race seat. For example, if Felipe Nasr returns to Sauber and midseason Ferrari decides it wants to put Antonio Giovinazzi on the grid and decides to finagle Giovinazzi in for Marcus Ericsson or Nasr.
10. At Least Three Races Do Not Feature a Mercedes-Benz on the Front Row
In the last three seasons, only twice was Mercedes-Benz shutout from the front row (Austria 2014 and Singapore 2015). With the deck being shuffled with the new regulations, there will have to be a handful of races that Mercedes-Benz is just off and the likes of Red Bull or Ferrari will be on the ball. All dominant reigns come to an end and while I am not necessarily saying Mercedes-Benz is going to go from the top back to the middle of the pack but I think the teams grip will be loosened a bit.
11. We Will Not See a Standing Restart in 2017 and If We Do, Standing Restarts Will Be Removed From the Championship During the Season
I guess there will be standing restarts next season but unless everyone comes to their senses and reverses this before the start of the season, here is what I see happening: We have one race where the first two-thirds are green and then there is a safety car and the dirty side of the grid is covered in klag. Half the drivers will be forced to marinate their tires in the gunk and when the lights go out again drivers in second, fourth and sixth will be railroaded into turn one and drop to the last few points of positions or another big accident will be caused and leaves the right people fuming and it forces it to be dropped the same way the elimination qualifying format was dropped after a few rounds in 2016.
12. Nico Rosberg Does the Podium Interview at Least Once in 2017
He might be retired but that doesn't mean we won't see the 2016 World Drivers' Champion at a handful of races in 2017 and knowing FOM and Bernie Ecclestone, he will get Rosberg to do the podium interviews, especially if Lewis Hamilton wins the race. Plus, Rosberg will love to do it because he loves the spotlight even if the masses don't care for him and if anything he could see it as an attempt to make himself more likable.
Just like that, we are four-fifths of the way through predictions. Tomorrow will be come the final set of predictions and as you have probably figured out by now, it will be IndyCar predictions. Until then, enjoy the NASCAR, Et Cetera and sports car predictions as well.