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williams1After getting the media jump on its Formula 1 rivals' launches by releasing "teaser" digital renderings of its 2017 Formula 1 car, Williams finally took the wraps off the actual FW40 on Saturday ahead of the opening of pre-season testing at Barcelona next week.

Unlike other teams' in-depth launches, though, Williams opted for a "soft launch" online, with a handful of studio images revealing few of the actual details of the new design beyond the wider bodywork, wider front and rear wings, and fatter tires specified by the new regulations. However, the pronounced "shark fin" seen on many of the 2017 cars stands out in sharp relief in Williams' white livery with Martini Racing stripes.

williams2Felipe Massa will be the first to drive the FW40 at the start of testing on Monday before handing over to new teammate Lance Stroll on Tuesday.

Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Haas are scheduled to reveal their new cars on Sunday.

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After a winter filled with brave talk, the 2017 Formula 1 season took a stride towards action this week with a string of teams unveiling their new cars. RACER's Chris Medland goes behind the scenes of the launch season here, but if you'd rather just take a look at the newest offerings from Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Force India and Renault, please see below.

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17DAY1rl 2387busch2Kurt Busch can quickly reel them off. Of course, finishing second in the Daytona 500 multiple times will do that to a driver.

There was 2003 when the race was called official just past the halfway point because of rain. In 2005, Busch made a strong move to grab second place with two laps to go but followed Jeff Gordon across the finish line. Looking back, he admits he had a chance to make a move on the backstretch.

"I looked in my mirror, and I saw Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. behind me and a load of Chevrolets – this was when I was driving for Ford – and I guess I just should have jumped out of line and made the move to see what would have happened through Turns 3 and 4," Busch said during Daytona 500 Media Day.

Three years later, Busch ended up pushing his then Team Penske teammate, Ryan Newman, to the victory in the 2008 race. Even races where he didn't finish second stand out.

"In 2011, I had everything going my way," Busch said of a race where he finished fifth after crossing the start/finish line third on the final lap. "I won the Clash. I won the qualifying Duel. I was in the same position on the last lap of the 500, and I didn't pull it off."

Busch ran third on the final lap in 2011, on the back bumper of the two leaders. However, tandem drafting was the name of the game then and another pairing, Carl Edwards and David Gilliland, charged by before Busch and his partner, Juan Pablo Montoya, took a shot at the front pair.

kubusch"I've been close many a time," Busch (pictured) said. "I definitely want to get this big trophy."

Winning the Daytona 500 would also see Busch accomplish one other feat. In a combined 63 starts at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway, Busch remains winless in the Cup Series when it comes to a points-paying race at in either restrictor-plate track.

Statistically speaking, Busch is one of the series' better plate racers, but he has yet to earn the hardware to show it. He's had plenty of opportunities to, however. Busch has 12 top-five finishes at Daytona and seven at Talladega with an overall 440 laps led.

In addition to his Clash and Duel win, neither or which paid points, Busch has also been victorious at the Daytona in the Xfinity Series (2012). Of course, there's also Busch's lone IROC Series win, which occurred at Talladega in 2003.

But Daytona, and in particular the Daytona 500, continue to be the thorn in Busch's side.

"This track has been tough on me," Busch said. "It owns me. It doesn't owe me anything, it's just owned me over the years. You have to keep that optimism, and you have to show up each time with the enthusiasm to go after it as a fresh start and as a championship weekend all wrapped into one.

"This is one of those tough races to win. It's the most prestigious stock car race there is. It's not easy and I've got to do a better job at being better in the clutch moments at the end of the race to capitalize on my track position to hold off the guys from behind and to win it this time, instead of figuring out what I need to do better (while) finishing second."

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For fans of Formula 1, the main date circled in the diary is the first race of any new season, when questions will finally be answered and the true performance of each team is seen for the first time.

For team press officers, the date is a very different one.

Launch day is the cause of sleepless nights, stressful phone calls, organizing and reorganizing. It is the day the new car is shown to the world for the first time (if leaks have been avoided) following months of development. It has to go well.

In recent years, many teams have moved away from the traditional launch format and opted to unveil their cars online or in the pit lane before the start of testing. But this season – perhaps due to new regulations and a longer off-season – there has been a full week of unveilings, four of which have been part of tailored events.

Granted, Williams had released renders of its 2017 car at the end of last week, but Sauber kicked off proceedings with real images of its new car on Monday, albeit only in an online reveal. Then came Renault, Force India, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren.

Physical launches are so beneficial when it comes to forming a reaction to a car. The Williams render was hard to relate to, and while the Sauber images were more impressive, they also lacked a bit of scale due to their being a studio photoshoot. But once Renault pulled back the covers on the R.S.17, excitement really began to build.

Having walked round these cars and looked at their dimensions, it is clear F1 has delivered what it aimed for in terms of more aggressive-looking machinery. Standing at the rear of the Renault in London on Tuesday, I couldn't help but be impressed by the imposing view courtesy of a lower rear wing and much wider Pirelli tires.

The message was clear too: 2017 is Renault's time to show there is value in all of its investment. Last season was a rushed effort due to the late takeover of Lotus, but this season is the first chance to build a complete car – marrying power unit and chassis – and take a step forward. Cyril Abiteboul made clear to all those working below him that the resources in place should mean the only teams capable of beating Renault this year are other manufacturers.

Abiteboul singled out Force India as a team he felt would not have the funds to keep up with the development of the manufacturer outfits, while his comments also meant he expects Williams, Toro Rosso, Haas and Sauber to be behind Renault. Those quotes did not go unnoticed when attention turned to the Force India launch at Silverstone a day later...

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Vijay Mallya took every opportunity to hit back at Abiteboul, claiming his team has the resources and development plan in place to introduce upgrades throughout the season. His bullishness just about detracted from the ugly nose on the VJM10 (pictured) – but no car needs to be pretty, only quick.

Yet even with continuous improvement, Force India's targeting the top three this season is a hugely ambitious aim. The team has been massively efficient throughout its 10 years in F1, but to get the better of at least two manufacturers as well as potentially Red Bull in a season of change would be a remarkable achievement. If Abiteboul has put the pressure on Renault, Mallya has thrown down an even bigger gauntlet to his employees.

The team with the most obvious goal unveiled its new car just a matter of yards away from where the Force India had broken cover, with the Mercedes W08 being rolled out onto the pit straight at Silverstone. Of course this is a car that is expected to challenge for yet another championship, and armed with the best power unit on the grid and three years of dominance behind it, the W08 has to be the early favorite.


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Mercedes withstood Storm Doris – with high winds and sometimes rain lashing the circuit throughout the day – to put on a strong display. The car was running on track as media were let in, and we were actively encouraged to share it with the world even before the official launch. For the drivers to deal with such conditions was already impressive, but the slickness of the operation – Lewis Hamilton driving in the morning and Valtteri Bottas in the afternoon, with Q&As with both (and other team members) to boot – was a reminder of what a well-oiled machine this is, even with the departures of Nico Rosberg and Paddy Lowe.

While Bottas was understandably excited, it was Hamilton who caught the eye. The three-time world champion was in an infectiously good mood, joking with journalists he had clashed with just a few months before and being very honest about his emotions. A year ago in Stuttgart, Hamilton was in a different mindset – posting derogatory messages about press conferences on Snapchat – but this was a man who looks ready to grab his new car by the scruff of the neck and produce his best.

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Of course, Hamilton's demeanor is helped by the confidence with which Mercedes starts the season. The following day and it was time for Ferrari and McLaren to reveal the fruits of their labors this winter, and both teams need to show improvements compared to 2017. On Friday, they also took very different approaches.

The Ferrari was launched via an online video with no supporting quotes, as the team waited for comment from team members until after its filming day was complete. McLaren, on the other hand, broadcast a live launch event from the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, before the drivers and numerous team members spoke.

"Even until today, starting with the launch of the car it's something we don't see so often these days in Formula 1, and we will be back a little bit to what Formula 1 should be," Fernando Alonso said of the launch and the new regulations. "A good presentation, a good-looking car, everything in an excellent way..."

Alonso is happy to see the sport heading in a different direction with the cars, but he was as reserved as the rest of his team on Friday. Unlike Renault or Force India, there were no proclamations of hard targets from McLaren, with "progress" the buzzword. Keeping expectations in check, Zak Brown, Eric Boullier and the technical team all said wins are unlikely, but closing the gap to the front is the priority.

Of course, to the majority in F1 – and with apologies to the press officers who work so hard – the contrasting approaches employed by the teams are largely irrelevant. How you launch your car doesn't matter, it's all about what it produces on the track, and to that end, we heard a very telling comment from McLaren chief engineer Peter Prodromou on Friday.

"The car that has impressed me so far is the Mercedes," Prodromou said. "I haven't had a good look at the Ferrari, I've seen some pictures, but clearly Mercedes has put a huge amount of man hours into the car. That's the one that stands out."

Deliver the fastest car, and nobody will care how you launched it. Over to you, Red Bull.

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McLaren launch LATHonda's overhaul of its power unit was "risky" but should allow the Japanese manufacturer to match Mercedes' 2016 level of performance early this season.

The McLaren MCL32 was launched on Friday at the team's headquarters in Woking, and features a new power unit concept that has been facilitated by the removal of the token system this season. Honda's head of F1 project, Yusuke Hasegawa, estimates the new power unit to be slightly adrift of last year's Mercedes but believes that gap will be quickly bridged.

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"Not at the moment I think because I don't know how much gain Mercedes is hoping to make," Hasegawa said. "But of course we are aiming to achieve the top level of the PU, which is Mercedes at this moment, but we don't know how much power they are making now. But I am feeling that we are not behind from them, but I think we will catch up [with Mercedes' 2016 performance] at the beginning of the season."

When it was put to Hasegawa that Mercedes believes it has made a big step forward, he replied: "I heard they did a very good job, which is very unfortunate!

"I really hope we can close up the gap to them, but I don't know the exact number until we run. We have made some progress and I hope we can close up the gap."

Fernando Alonso says McLaren knows it is unlikely to win races immediately but accepts Honda needed to take a "risky" approach to be successful in future.

"Starting from that basic let's say we need to work hard, clever than anyone else, and I think what we did until today has been into that approach," Alonso said. "So we started the 2017 car early enough, we put a lot or resources in this year's car even last year, we stopped a little bit, we changed the philosophy of the engine, obviously risky but needed if we needed to win because the engine we used in the last years was not good enough to keep fighting or developing."

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 O3I5031Fernando Alonso told Mercedes he was not available to replace Nico Rosberg in 2017, and insists winning isn't the only thing that will keep him at McLaren.

Having joined from Ferrari in 2015, Alonso has endured two tough seasons with McLaren and enters the final year of his contract this season. With Rosberg retiring at the end of last season, Alonso was linked with a move to the defending champions before Valtteri Bottas got the seat, and the Spaniard admits talks took place but says he informed Mercedes he did not want to be considered as he is happy at McLaren.

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"I think for the future we will see," Alonso said when asked if he could join Mercedes after 2017. "Until August, September, there is no point to talk about anything because I will be fully concentrated on this year's championship and we need to see which of the cars and the teams will be competitive with the new rules. Maybe we find out a new team dominates Formula 1 with these new cars, so that's the first thing.

"So when Rosberg retired there were a couple of days where I had some conversations, some phone calls arrived to me, but I was not willing to discuss anything because I was happy at McLaren. I think McLaren-Honda, along with Ferrari, are the two most prestigious teams. Right now they are not winning, that is true, but we saw even today, it's a coincidence but the two best teams in the history of Formula 1 release their cars on the same day in a proper way.

"So we need to see how these new cars perform and who is dominating the sport with the new regulations, if it's still Mercedes or not for the future."

Having said he will not consider his own future in F1 before the summer break, Alonso reiterated his desire to be world champion again, if not this year "then hopefully next year," but insists McLaren can do no more to convince him to remain with the team.

mac2"This year from the team nothing really I need to see. What I have seen is always maximum commitment, maximum work... I think we have a very strong team technically speaking and also a great collaboration between McLaren and Honda, so it is true that I have to be realistic about the last two seasons, how difficult they were, the results were coming or not coming... it is a difficult thing. But the team always showed me maximums support and maximum commitment.

"From the sport I am expecting change in terms of how exciting it is to drive this car, if we go back to what we had in the past a little bit we know how we manage the tires, the fuel, the state of charge... all these difficulties we have in modern F1 in the last four or five years with the turbo engine but I think it slowed a little the racing spirit – we were always saving something, always saving batteries, tires or fuel. There was not a single lap in the race where we were free to push as much as we wanted.

"Definitely I hope this new regulation will bring more of the fighting spirit and the racing spirit. It is something we will find out in the first couple of races and hopefully we can be more competitive also.

"Let's see – I start this year with maximum commitment, I really enjoyed the break, I really needed the break. Until 10th January I was relaxing, charging the batteries mentally surrounded by family and friends in a quiet environment, then from that moment physical work and preparation for this year. The same as every single winter but maybe a little bit more emphasis on the neck, the shoulders, the arms to prepare for this year's car. Nothing too different to the past.

"I have completely new motivation, new challenges with this year's car that I think we can give something extra. It was a long break for the fans especially but for us, for me it was just about right. Perfect timing and a good break. Now I am hungry to jump in the car and race."

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Auto Club speedwayThe president of Auto Club Speedway, Dave Allen, says it doesn't feel like it's been 20 years.

Auto Club celebrates its 20th anniversary this season, years that have gone by "super fast" with a lot packed into them, Allen told RACER. Having let the 10th and 15th anniversaries pass by, Auto Club is in the midst of a grand celebration ahead of its March 26 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

"We started talking about how do we acknowledge the 20th anniversary, how do we acknowledge the fans who have been here for 20 years and the business partners that have been with us for 20 years?" Allen said. "We just thought it was a good opportunity to take a trip down memory lane a little bit, even though 20 years isn't that long in the grand scheme of things."

ribbon cuttingThe conclusion Auto Club Speedway came to was to hold activities based around the theme of a reunion – something Allen believes a race weekend symbolizes. Fans come to make memories while sharing old ones. For those who make annual treks to the track, there's also the chance to see friends they've made through the years.

Auto Club Speedway also redesigned its logo for this year. Feeding off a high school reunion feel, the track has also been producing a lot of digital content, including superlatives and memes. Next month, the track will have selfie stations and has created its program to resemble a yearbook, which features driver signatures.

There will also be a signature page (similar to what you'd find in a yearbook) for fans to utilize during the weekend for driver autographs and other notes.

"Race week, we'll look at having Jeff Gordon's Rainbow Warrior car, which is what he drove in 1997 to win the inaugural race," Allen said of future plans. "Jimmie Johnson's going to have his car out there that won last year, the Superman car."

Auto Club Speedway officially opened on June 20, 1997, with the man who developed the speedway, Roger Penske, cutting the ceremonial ribbon. NASCAR then ran its first race at the track on June 22, which Gordon won on his way to his second championship. Gordon is the only driver to have competed in every Cup race at Auto Club until his retirement in 2015.

The track was also the site of two first-time winners: Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Kyle Busch (2005). Johnson is a California native and has since won five more races at Auto Club Speedway.

What makes racing work in Southern California? Allen points to area's rich racing history.

"We're an entertainment facility that's fun and fast and friendly," Allen said. "Our racing's gotten way better; the track has aged quite a bit. I think a lot of people actually forget that Southern California is really the birthplace of hot-rodding. When you look at car culture, and you look at the way hot-rodding evolved over the years, it started in Southern California.

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"A lot of racers that have won (in NASCAR), you look at your A.J. Foyts and your Parnelli Joneses and Dan Gurneys of the world, there's a lot of big time racers who came out of California. You look at the drivers who are racing right now – notable guys – they're all California guys. There's a rich racing history in California, and I like that. I like to play off that. I think it's important for people to pass that historical knowledge they have as race fans to the next generation."

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images from the first race at Auto Club Speedway in 1997. 

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RACER's Daytona 500 coverage is presented by Auto Club Speedway. Celebrating 20 years of flat out and five wide at their Track Reunion with two days of racing, March 25-26.

 

 R3I5019McLaren has finally unveiled the MCL32, with its 2017 car featuring an orange and black livery.

After a number of hints from the team that it would revert to a livery featuring its traditional "Papaya Orange" color, McLaren took the covers off the MCL32 at its base in Woking on Friday morning. The new car actually features "Tarocco Orange" – a different shade to that previously used on McLaren cars – with the front and rear wing and nose predominantly orange while there is more black on the engine cover and sidepods.

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The Honda-powered chassis features a very intricate nose solution, with a number of slots to improve airflow under the car. There is also a shark fin as employed by the majority of teams this year, while a "T-wing' – a small wing in front of the rear wing – is currently missing. However, with Ferrari and Mercedes running the concept on its new cars, chief engineer Peter Prodromou admits McLaren are likely to follow suit during pre-season testing.

Chief operating officer Jonathan Neale says McLaren is unlikely to be winning races this season but has set its sights on another clear improvement after finishing sixth in last year's constructors' championship.

"The journey ahead isn't going to be easy, and I've emphasized that to everyone," Neale said. "We've made progress in the past 12 months, but we're not where we need to be and we expect on-track competition to be fierce. To win in Formula 1 requires any competitor to be good at everything. Thoughtful but relentless pursuit of excellence is required.

"So, do I believe we'll be back at the front this year? Realistically, probably not quite yet, no. But do I think we'll continue to make meaningful improvement as a team? Absolutely. And that's our aim: to make progress by establishing the proper and correct, if sometimes difficult, changes that are needed to go forward.

"We can't predict where that will leave us – particularly on the eve of a new season of regulatory upheaval and uncertainty – but as a team we have many talented and driven individuals and we're restless about continuing to do whatever is needed to make us competitive."

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images from the launch.

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