Lewis Hamilton finds himself an eerily similar position to last season as he pursues his fourth Formula One Drivers’ Championship crown.
The Brit was pushing to win the title for the third season on the bounce in 2016, only to be defeated by his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton paid the price for a poor start to the term, although he was blighted by a number of issues with his car over the course of the campaign. Those setbacks allowed the German to establish a lead over his team-mate that he refused to relinquish over the course of the campaign. Hamilton did his utmost to try to haul Rosberg back within reach, but he did just enough to edge him out to win by five points.
Rosberg retired at the end of the 2016 campaign after winning his maiden title. As a result, Hamilton would have been confident of regaining the crown due to Mercedes’ dominance of the sport. However, the re-emergence of Sebastian Vettel has brought further excitement to the sport.
The 29-year-old was forced to watch the success of Hamilton and Rosberg without being able to compete, suffering a role reversal from his days at Red Bull. Ferrari’s new car the SF70H has brought the team back into contention for the Drivers’ Championship for the first time since Raikkonen claimed the crown in 2007. The battle with Mercedes and Hamilton will go down to the wire, with the Brit backed in the latest F1 odds at 1/2 to claim the title for the fourth time in his career.
This season has followed the same path for Hamilton as he stuttered out of the gates. He and Mercedes will have been surprised by the pace of Ferrari as Vettel won the opening race of the season in Melbourne. Although Hamilton bounced back with victories in China and Spain, the consistency of Vettel in the early stages kept him ahead of his rival. The Brit was made to rue mistakes in Russia and Monaco to leave himself 25 points adrift of the 29-year-old at the top of the standings.
The momentum was with the German, but much like last term, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction to allow Hamilton to close the gap. He reeled off victories in Canada and on home soil at Silverstone, although both drivers had issues with consistency in the summer months. There was drama mixed in as Vettel collided with Hamilton in Azerbaijan, leading to finishes outside of the top three for both men.
Vettel put in his worst performance of the season at the British Grand Prix, finishing in seventh place. However, he produced a perfect response to secure his first victory in four races at the Hungarian Grand Prix to re-establish control of the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton did not allow the German to break away, bringing the margin of his lead back to seven points with an equally fine display in Belgium.
The two men are entwined in the battle for the crown just like Rosberg and Hamilton were last season. It’s closer in some aspects, as last year’s champion boasted a larger lead over the Brit, with Hamilton almost reeling him in with four wins in the final four races.
This race appears to be swinging one way then the other, promising drama right until the final meet of the term in Abu Dhabi. It should be enthralling to watch the best drivers of their generation trade blow-for-blow until the victor is crowned in November.