F1 2017: New season, new cars, same rivalry

[music playing] – F1 is back. – And it’s gone retro. AMANDA DAVIES (VOICEOVER): The cars take center stage this year, their new designs hark back to Formula One’s glory days, wider bodywork, wider tires, wider wings, and more downfalls. – The car looks incredible with the wide front tires and rear tires. I think it looks incredible. – They look wide and low and aggressive. – If they look fast, they are normally fast.

– You’ve got to tune in for this. AMANDA DAVIES: Formula One is ushering in a new era for 2017, new cars new owners, and a new look. The big change is at the front. With 2016 World Champion, Nico Rosberg, retiring, and the Flying Finn, Valtteri Bottas, from Williams replacing him at Mercedes. Red Bull and Ferrari have stuck with their tried and tested pairings, while last year’s surprise package, Force India, have replaced Renault-bound Nico Hulkenberg with Esteban Ocon, the French driver impressing at Manor last season.

He takes a seat alongside Sergio Perez. With Bottas leaving Williams, Philippe Massa has postponed his retirement, some much needed experience alongside 18-year-old rookie, Lance Stroll. McLaren have said goodbye to Jenson Button, which means rising star, Stoffel Vandoorne, steps in alongside Fernando Alonso. Toro Rosso are unchanged, whilst American team Haas welcomed Kevin Magnussen from Renault. The Dane replaces Esteban Gutierrez, with the Mexican moving to Formula E. Renault have Nico Hulkenberg teaming up with Jolyon Palmer. And Sauber welcomed Pascal Wehrlein from Manor. They’re, of course, not on the grid this year. 10 teams. At 20 races, there is so much to look forward to. Welcome to another season of The Circuit. Coming up, Flying Finn, Valtteri Bottas. VALTTERI BOTTAS: I’m doing this sport only because I want to win races, and I want to win titles. AMANDA DAVIES: McLaren star, rookie Stoffel Vandoorne. STOFFEL VANDOORNE: I’ve always had a sweet spot for McLaren. AMANDA DAVIES: And a tribute to F1’s former Chief, Bernie Ecclestone. [engine racing] AMANDA DAVIES: But first to the news that shook the F1 paddock and beyond, Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire just five days after winning the title.

NICO ROSBERG: I really feel fulfilled. [music playing] NICO ROSBERG: At the end of this year, it was the first time ever in my Formula One career that the title was in my control, and that’s when the thoughts started to come that actually it would just feel awesome, and the right thing for me, if I do win this and achieve my childhood dream, to then call it a day at that point. AMANDA DAVIE: There were some people, presumably who, like your family, who had an inclination that you were going to call it a day? NICO ROSBERG: No. AMANDA DAVIES: Nobody at all? NICO ROSBERG: Just my wife, Vivian, because she was the only one that I discussed it with. But even her, she didn’t believe me until I really did it. AMANDA DAVIES: Who was the most shocked? NICO ROSBERG: Everybody. Everybody. But, of course, then when I explained it, then it all made– it all made sense to the people who are around me, so, which I’m glad I did.

And even the general public, I really, really appreciate that it was positively taken. [music playing] AMANDA DAVIES: Do you think non-drivers can really grasp the kind of psychological aspects and what it took you this year to achieve what you achieved? NICO ROSBERG: Is that a question that you preferred? AMANDA DAVIES: No. NICO ROSBERG: That was spontaneous? AMANDA DAVIES: Mm-hmm. NICO ROSBERG: Very good journalistic effort there.

AMANDA DAVIES: Thanks. NICO ROSBERG: Difficult, but I think– I think yes, because even in your everyday life, there are always challenges that are thrown at you which are– which can be extremely difficult. In the end, the pressure and intensity was unbelievable. I seldom experienced something like that before. You know, because there’s so much going on, you know, and so much intensity on the racetrack. The battle with Lewis, you know, and with all the other guys. Then it goes beyond that. There’s the whole team, the 1,500 people around us who are building these two race cars. All the media. You know, the media is massive, and that also has an impact, because it’s just so big. So there’s so many different levels to it. AMANDA DAVIES: What was the toughest bit to kind of handle, from your perspective? NICO ROSBERG: To lose to Lewis the two championships prior to this year. It was very, very tough, and especially in the way it happened sometimes.

Really not easy to handle. But even that I wouldn’t change for anything because I know that it’s the struggles that make me stronger. You know, as long as I’m able to turn it into a positive power and really reap motivation from it, which I have managed to do, and I’m very proud of that. And my family helped me so much because they really– they all put racing as the number-one priority, and everything else was secondary.

AMANDA DAVIES: Had you sat down and had that conversation that– NICO ROSBERG: Yeah, yeah. AMANDA DAVIES: –you know, we are going to prioritize this for this period of time? NICO ROSBERG: Yeah, no, definitely. Well, you have to do, for sure, yes. And Vivian was really understanding. she was just full on on the same path as I was. AMANDA DAVIES: What do you think your overriding feeling will be on last weekend in March when everyone’s lining up for the Australian Grand Prix? NICO ROSBERG: How can I know? I can’t know. I know that I’m a– I’ll be a fan of our sport, for sure. It will be exciting to see the new cars and the battles and all that, so I’ll definitely follow. I want to be involved in the sport, as well, in some way or other, that would be great. Let’s see in what sort of position. And I can just say that now I’m really feeling content with the direction I’ve taken. [music playing] AMANDA DAVIES: Nico’s retirement meant the most sought-after seat in Formula One was up for grabs, and Valtteri Bottas wasted no time in putting his name forward to the Champions.

VALTTERI BOTTAS: I have to say it wasn’t that long until I called [inaudible] after the announcement, so, yeah. AMANDA DAVIES: What did you Say did you have your sales pitch ready? VALTTERI BOTTAS: No sales talking, just telling the facts, that I’m doing this sport only because I want to win races and I want to win titles. And I just made that very clear to him. AMANDA DAVIES: Do you realize the size of the challenge that you’re taking on joining Mercedes? VALTTERI BOTTAS: I do realize completely the situation. I am in, and I am very excited, and I can’t wait for the season.

You know, this is also my opportunity. I feel like I haven’t proved yet anything in Formula One. Obviously, I’ve had some podiums, but no wins, nothing like that, and I’m ready for the challenge. And I am not worried at all about the mental battles and so on. For me, the best will be just to keep doing my own thing, work very hard with the team and also with Lewis together and go from there.

AMANDA DAVIES: Do you slightly feel the pressure because you still haven’t got that race win? I know we were talking about this time last year you were saying this has to be the season I get my race win. VALTTERI BOTTAS: Yeah, it wasn’t, and I’m glad there’s an opportunity again. You know, I’m not, because of the race win, I’m not taking any extra pressure. I know I can do it.

We didn’t have the opportunity, especially last year with Williams, unfortunately we couldn’t win the race together, which would have been nice, because I spent four seasons as a race driver. So I think we kind of deserved it, but it’s a shame we couldn’t make it. But now it’s a new era in my career, and hopefully it’s going to be possible very soon. AMANDA DAVIES: Have you spoken to Nico about what it’s like? VALTTERI BOTTAS: No, I haven’t. No. Probably hopefully at some point. Obviously, he spent a long time on the team and he knows each and every one very well. He won the title with the team. So for sure I tried to look everywhere where I can find help. [engine racing] AMANDA DAVIES: A lot’s being said about maybe the challenges of being a teammate of Lewis Hamilton. What are you like as a teammate? VALTTERI BOTTAS: Well, yeah, it’s– AMANDA DAVIES: Should he be fearful of? VALTTERI BOTTAS: Well, I wouldn’t want to be my own teammate, that’s for sure. You know, it’s– I’m very excited being Lewis’s teammate and always want my teammate to be as good as possible. I think it’s good for you.

It’s good for both of the drivers. So I’m really looking forward to the season. He’s a three-time World Champion. I haven’t won a race, so I feel like I have plenty to prove, and not much to lose, I think more to win. I definitely want to go for the gold, you know, that’s– once you have the chance, of course, you need to go for it. AMANDA DAVIES: Valtteri may have only joined The Champions in January, but his Mercedes car has been in production a whole lot longer than that.

F1 cars take months and months to build, and Red Bull have been speeding us through the process. [music playing] – The journey begins at the Red Bull Factory in Southern England. Each season, a car is designed and built here, and every piece can be traced back to a simple pencil drawing. [music playing] – 600 people design, test, build, and assemble the 40,000 parts in the car, using 3D software. The manufacturing side of the factory runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As with everything in Formula One, speed is key.

New parts can be designed and built in a single day. [music playing] – Simulators are used to test how new parts will work on track before being made in the machine shop. Even the painting process has been designed with minimum weight and maximum speed. It’s an intense process. The team can get a brand-new car track-ready in just five months. But the design evolution never stops. The car that finishes the year bears only a passing resemblance to the one that starts the new season in March. [engine racing] – Coming up next, we put Force India’s Frenchman, Esteban Ocon, under the spotlight. [music playing] – Stouffel is unquestionably the next generation, isn’t he, and he’s just waiting for his time.

– Stoffel Vandoorne, again, I think he absolutely has to be F1 one next year. That’s a no brainer. [music playing] AMANDA DAVIES: Welcome back to The Circuit. We’re at McLaren, looking ahead to Stoffel Vandoorne’s long-awaited debut season. STOFFEL VANDOORNE: It’s always been a dream for me to be in Formula One, and I remember when I was watching television and seeing David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen.

Those were actually my favorite cars, as well, at the time, so I’ve always had a sweet spot for McLaren, and it’s a huge achievement, and I’m looking forward to give my best for the team. AMANDA DAVIES: We know you have your official title now is driver, not reserve driver. STOFFEL VANDOORNE: Yeah. AMANDA DAVIES: You have your car. But what does it mean in real terms? Do you have a locker here with your name on it that’s different to last time, or a big desk in your own office? STOFFEL VANDOORNE: Honestly for me, there’s not such a big change because I’ve been with McLaren for four years. I’ve been MDM driver program, racing in GP2, World Series, Super Formula, so I know most of the guys here, and it feels very natural for me to come in.

AMANDA DAVIES: Does it add to the pressure the fact that you are not just going to have to prove yourself your first season in Formula One, but the fact that you’re driving against Fernando in the same car? STOFFEL VANDOORNE: I think Formula One is always a pressure environment no matter what. I have a very good relationship with Fernando. I’ve been working with him for the past two years now, and I’ve seen how he works with the team, how he interacts with the people, and, you know, of course, he’s a very competitive guy. So I know– I know what it’s like to be with him, to be next to him, and, you know, I just have to make the most out of every situation, out of his experience. It’s going to be my first season, but I think I’m capable of doing a good job, as well. AMANDA DAVIES: The fact actually that this is a season that there’s so many rules and regulation changes, the cars are very different, do you think that almost levels the playing field a little bit for you, the fact that you’re a newer driver won’t be such a factor? STOFFEL VANDOORNE: I think, you know, it’s good for me to come in when there were some changes, because, like you said, you know, it equals out the field a little bit.

But MDM’s experience still helps in every situation, and us drivers are generally pretty good to adapt to new cars when regulations changes. AMANDA DAVIES: Are you excited about the rules and regulation changes, the fact you get to go a bit faster, as well? Hopefully. STOFFEL VANDOORNE: I think– AMANDA DAVIES: Maybe hopefully go a bit faster. STOFFEL VANDOORNE: Yeah, it will go faster than normally, so we shouldn’t be worried about that. But I think in terms of looks and aerodynamics, it’s a positive step. I think the cars look very futuristic and will be looking very cool, which is good for everybody, really. And, yeah, for us, as drivers, we want it to go as fast as possible, and it looks like it’s going that way. AMANDA DAVIES: How will you approach Melbourne? At some point in that weekend you must have that moment of, here I am.

STOFFEL VANDOORNE: You know, when you line up on the grid and five lights go on, at that time you’re not really thinking too much about it, you’re just getting on with your job and making sure you do all the procedures right, making sure you don’t make any mistakes. I know once I get in the car, I’m very focused on what I do, and I’ll just plan to go over to the same in Melbourne.

AMANDA DAVIES: Are you going to become a lot more demanding now, a bit ruder, get a bit more attitude? STOFFEL VANDOORNE: I don’t see why. AMANDA DAVIES: You’ll stay exactly as you are? STOFFEL VANDOORNE: Exactly. AMANDA DAVIES: How a driver conducts himself on and off track can mean the difference in securing a race seat or not. [music playing] [indistinct talking] ESTEBAN OCON: I’m not a pro on photo shooting and marketing stuff. I try to do my best. – And then maybe fold your arms. AMANDA DAVIES: 20-year-old Esteban Ocon got the nod at Force India this season after impressing at Manor for the second half of last year. ESTEBAN OCON: I always wanted to be to be a Formula One driver, and it’s about Formula One, so I take it as a job and as a part of racing.

DAVID COULTHARD: He’s professional and he gets that being a Grand Prix driver is not just about jumping in the car and being paid lots of money, it’s about the media, it’s about connecting with the sponsors, it’s about understanding that without fans, we are not professionals, because without fans, we don’t get paid to do it. – Just looking away from the camera. That’s nice. ESTEBAN OCON: I started after half of the season, and there was 12 Grand Prix that I missed, so it’s a lot different.

You have time to develop with the team, to get to know everyone, to build a proper relationship with your engineers and the mechanics. So its a lot different, and its also better to be prepared. [music playing] ESTEBAN OCON: Cars of 2017 are going to be wider, are going to be faster in corners, and they are going to be also harder to overtake. Everything’s going to be shorter, the lap time, but also braking distance, everything. So, no, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym, a lot a lot, one month and a half, two months now. So, no, I look forward to be at the first race, and I will be ready physically for sure. But it’s been hard. I’m still new in Formula One. I need to learn, I’m sure, quite a lot, learn from his experience and from the team, as soon as possible, to be at the pace right away. That’s my target. And then, yeah, I hope I can bring some fresh air and have a great time with the team.

[music playing] MAURICE HAMILTON: 2017 is a game changer for Former One for many reasons, but the principle one being that it has changed hands. Bernie Ecclestone, the man who ruled the roost for 40 years, is no longer making any of the big decisions. [music playing] Bernie Ecclestone as a little man with enormous energy, and he used that energy to lift himself more or less by the bootstraps from being a secondhand car salesman to one of the wealthiest men in sport. If you’re talking about Bernie Ecclestone’s role in the sport, he’s actually played many parts, because way back in the day, I’m talking about the ’50s now, he actually was a driver, not a very good one, but he was a driver. But when he was racing, he realized that actually there could be a bit of business to be had there, as well.

He disappeared for a while. And when he came back, he came back as a team owner. He owned the Brabham team. And when he was doing that, he could see where the sport was going wrong. He could see where it needed to be– raise its game to a professional standard. [music playing] If Bernie’s to be remembered for any one specific thing, it was his ability to realize and maximize the effect of TV coverage for the sport, because what the TV companies used to do was they would choose the races they wanted, the Monaco Grand Prix, for example, or the BBC would choose their home Grand Prix at Silverstone. So he said, no, if you want to do those races, you’ve got to do them all.

We want coverage for all the Grand Prixs we’re doing, the 15 or 16 Grand Prixs, as it was at the time, and you have to sign a deal for that. So he just turned the thing on its head, and he set– he made a template, if you like, for other sports to follow with regard to utilizing television to the maximum, not only for the coverage, but also financially. Bernie was very determined, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and so, of course, along the way, that got a lot of people’s backs up. He probably was, without question, the most difficult man to interview because his answers would be monosyllabic and evasive because he really didn’t want to tell you anything because he didn’t want you prying into his business, his business of making money. One example, for example, of his ruthlessness was the 2000 British Grand Prix. Now, the organizers at Silverstone were trying to run the race of trying to negotiate a better deal for themselves.

Bernie wanted more money. It got a bit fraught. So he simply switched the date from the traditional July date to April. And, of course, the weather was appalling. Silverstone nearly went under, literally, under the mud, but also financially, as well, because of that, and he had that power to do that. The spectators suffered as a result because they had to go through these conditions. He didn’t care. But he got his deal done with Silverstone. So that gives you one little clue as to what he was like and to how he would upset some people along the way. The new company, Liberty Media, as the title suggests, they are very aware of how to promote the sport. They can see where all the faults have lain.

They’ve got a guy called Ross Brawn in charge of the technical side. Now, Ross has won championships with Ferrari, Benetton, and his own team. He knows what Formula One is all about. If you like, he’s the poacher turned gamekeeper, and he can see exactly what needs doing. And it seems that they are going to do that. And Formula One was very much in need of it, because it was rapidly losing its way, TV figures were dying, and it needed a boost, and I think we’re going to get it.

[music playing] Along the way, of course, he made some enemies, but, overall, Bernie Ecclestone, the man who ruled the roost for 40 years, did a lot of good, and he will be remembered for the man that made Formula One what it is today. [music playing] AMANDA DAVIES: So, exciting times for Formula One under its new owners, Liberty Media. Roll on, Melbourne. [music playing].