New W08 to be unveiled on February 23 at Silverstone, one day before 2017 Ferrari launches; Still no driver news from Mercedes, but technical row brewing at the front

 Mercedes will launch their 2017 car to defend Formula 1’s world titles at Silverstone on February 23.

The triple champions will unveil the W08 and take to the British GP track for a filming day, the day before rivals Ferrari launch their new car and complete initial shakedown laps before winter testing begins on February 27 in Barcelona.

Driver wait continues

Following the unexpected retirement of world champion Nico Rosberg within days of his 2016 title success, Mercedes are yet to confirm who will partner Lewis Hamilton in 2017.

Valtteri Bottas has been identified as their top target and is expected to make the switch from Williams, although Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport reported on Wednesday that no contract has yet been signed.

Williams have made clear that they would only consider releasing Bottas if they can hire an experienced replacement. Sky Sports understands a deal for Felipe Massa to complete a U-turn on his retirement decision was agreed in principle before Christmas, but a contract remains dependent on Bottas joining Mercedes.

Massa, who announced his decision to quit F1 after 14 years at last September’s Italian GP, remains on holiday.  

Mercedes stated prior to Christmas that no announcement would be made before the team’s return to work on January 3, although stressed no wider significance should be attached to that date. 

Technical row brewing among leading teams?

The unveiling of the new Mercedes W08 will invariably be one of the most eagerly-anticipated of 2017’s ‘launch season’, particularly as it will be the first chance for rivals to catch a glimpse of the world champions’ interpretation of the sport’s new aero rules.

In a drive for faster and more aggressive-looking cars, 2017’s challengers will feature wider front wings, shorter rear wings and overall increases in downforce. 

But, according to Autosport, a legal hydraulic suspension feature already used by Mercedes and Red Bull in 2016 to aid car handling could come under scrutiny ahead of the new season after Ferrari wrote a letter to FIA technical delegate Charlie Whiting asking for clarification, amid their own deliberations about whether to race a similar system in 2017.

In a feature for Motorsport magazine, Sky F1’s Mark Hughes explained: “For several years this has been the standard way for a team to flush out the legality of a system it believes might be conferring a rival an advantage. Whiting replied to Ferrari that he considered such a device would fall foul of regulation 3.15 (concerning whether a component or system is ‘wholly incidental to the main purpose of the suspension system’ or ‘have been contrived to directly affect the aerodynamic performance of the car’).

“That is only the FIA technical delegate’s opinion, however, and doesn’t definitively make the device illegal. But it effectively invites any team to protest the technology to the stewards of a race who would likely be guided in their ruling by Whiting’s now-expressed opinion.

“Effectively it leaves Mercedes and Red Bull in the invidious position of having to decide whether to continue with their trick systems – around which their cars will have been configured – or to play it safe and revert to a more conventional system, at least until the legality is definitively established.”

The start of the 2009 season, when F1 last underwent a significant aerodynamic overhaul, was beset by technical controversy when rival teams protested the double diffusers designs on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars in Australia. The challenge was thrown out by the International Court of Appeal after the season’s second round. 

Talks over the issue raised by Ferrari are likely to continue on towards testing at the end of next month.

Red Bull are expected to mount a more sustained challenge to Mercedes’ recent dominance of F1 in 2017, while Ferrari are also eyeing significant strides after a winless 2016 campaign.