2017 was a watershed season for Formula One, with new owners Liberty’s first full season, conveying a message of change, transparency and fan friendly ideas.
The old establishment headed by one Bernie Ecclestone, were consigned to the history books in move many hoped would translate into a better spectacle.
From the unveiling, matters started to progress on the right note. The cars sitting squat on wider tyres and suspension, exuding an air of menace hitherto lost on F1.
To this writers eyes, the Torro Rosso and Mercedes chargers were of particular good proportioning. The promise from all though, was that we would see huge improvements in lap times across the board. Testing revealed very little in terms of outright pace, with many teams coming to terms with the tyres and new regulations. The exception being that many within the paddock suspected that Ferrari had upped their game to be considered a serious threat to Mercedes dominance, though as ever with testing, false flags abound.
The suspicions were confirmed when at the first race in Australia, Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Valteri Bottas in Qualifying. The race was even more indicative of Ferrari’s actual race pace, with Vettel claiming Ferrari’s first win in Australia in 10 years. Red Bull had looked to build on a transformative 2016, but appeared to struggle with set up in early phase of the season, though the engine was of course blamed for some inadequacies. McLaren-Honda looked a far cry from being anywhere near close enough to challenging for podiums and wins, with reliability and power major problems. Force India looked to be steady, and had a new charger in the shape of the impressive Esteban Ocon, who scored a point on his F1 debut placing him among esteemed company.
In China, a Mercedes stronghold for years, Ferrari pushed Mercedes all the way finishing 6 seconds behind the silver arrows. The significance was not lost and the die had been cast, fans could look forward to a Vettel/Hamilton Ferrari/Mercedes duel. Both Bottas and Raikkonen assumed rear gunner roles at various stages, with both being unable to match their teammates consistency or speed throughout the course of the season.
In the contest at Bahrain, Mercedes resumed their crushing one lap dominance stretching a half second qualifying gap to Ferrari. The race however, showed Ferrari had the upper hand in terms of tyre management and extracting raw pace from them winning the race and stretching Vettel’s lead in the standings.
On toward Russia, and Ferrari surprised Mercedes again by taking Pole. The alarm bells were ringing loud and clear at Brackley despite winning the race with Bottas, with Vettel close behind in second, stretching his lead over Hamilton in 4th.
Spain revealed paper thin margins between the main two protagonists, with Hamilton edging Vettel by 3 seconds. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was the only other driver on the lead lap, finishing third. Force India continued their points run with a fine 4th and 5th for Perez and Ocon. Williams form dwindled at a track which can expose inadequacies, finishing 13th and 16th, confirming the Grove based team had a long 2017 ahead.
Moving on to Monaco, and a returning Champion in Jenson Button filling in for Alonso on Indycar duties. An eventful weekend saw Raikkonen emerge from Vettel’s shadow, claiming pole. Controversially however, Ferrari made a strategic call which many saw as favouring Vettel, calling in Raikkonen and leaving Vettel out, only for Vettel to retain the lead after the pitstops were completed. Vettel took the win at the principality extending his lead over Hamilton.
Canada was a demonstration of Mercedes power, with Hamilton taking pole and the win followed by Bottas. Red Bull bagged their second podium of the season beating a resurgent Vettel, who came throught the field after early damage to his car.
Arriving in Azerbaijan, Baku had all the hallmarks of a Mercedes “gimme”. Long straights and big braking zones seemed ideally suited to the W08 package and Mercedes duly delivered with Hamilton a full 1 second clear of the nearest non Mercedes competitor. In an incident filled race though, Hamilton got a double tap from his Ferrari adversary Vettel behind the safety car. This resulted in damaged to both cars and a 10 second stop and go penalty for Vettel’s dangerous driving. Hamilton then had a bizarre issue with his headrest which resulted in having to pit losing the lead. This netted Ricciardo and Red Bull the lead and eventually the win with Lance Stroll scoring Williams best result of the season, and becoming the second youngest podium scorer of all time.
Austria saw Bottas win, and Vettel stretch his lead over Hamilton to 20 points who had an unscheduled gearbox change and resulting grid penalty. Max Verstappen retired in his 5th race of 9, in a terrible run of reliability for one of F1’s brightest young talents.
Britain, marking the halfway point of the season saw an opportunity for Hamilton to close the gap to Vettel. He duly delivered winning a race where both Ferrari drivers suffered punctures in the latter stages of the race. The end result meant Hamilton had closed the gap to Vettel to just 1 point. The race also marked a return to form (and reliability) for Max Verstappen, finishing 4th.
The Heat was on in Hungary, with Vettel under pressure to retain the lead in the championship. Vettel reacted by claiming pole and the win to eek out another advantage over Hamilton, who was allowed to pass Bottas to challenge Raikkonen, but sportingly gave back the position toBottas on the final corner of the final lap.
Breezing into Belgium, Hamilton was under pressure to deliver but retained an air of calmness which was distinctly lacking in 2016. He claimed pole, equalling the great Micheal Schumacher’s record of 68 pole positions. Vettel was in close attendance merely 0.2 seconds adrift. The race followed the marginal difference in speed, with a cat and mouse game being played out by the leading contenders, evenutally resulting in Hamilton winning and Vettel settling for second.
7 points the difference heading into Italy, as Mercedes sharpened their claws and Ferrari readied their riposte. Heavy rainfall for qualifying promised a mixed grid and it delivered with Vettel down in 8th but Hamilton storming to pole. This hampered Ferrari’s efforts in the race as the Mercedes duo were too far down the road once Vettel had clear air to hunt them down. Hamilton claimed the lead in the drivers tanding for the first time in 2017.
Swooping into Singapore, Ferrari promised a fightback and qualifying provided the evidence with Vettel claiming pole with both Mercedes out of the top 4. The chance was not seized by Ferrari, with weather wreacking havoc on Vettel’s charge after a collision and retirement due to Raikkonen squeezing Verstappen and arrowing into his teammates car.
This gifted Hamilton the lead in the race, who duly took the win from Daniel Ricciardo.
Moving onto Malaysia, the gap was 28 points to Hamilton from Vettel. This marked the 3/4 point in the calendar and increasingly limited opportunities for Vettel to mount a resurgent attack on Hamilton. It started well with Pole, but yet again Ferrari were the victims of their own downfall, with engine issues preventing Vettel setting a time and started from the back of the grid. The race was won by the exceptional Max Verstappen, who clearly enjoyed the return to form, vanquishing some bitter moments which blotted the first half of his season. Hamilton came in second and stretched his lead over Vettel to 34 points.
Japan came up quickly, and Hamilton looked to close out his lead. He blitzed pole and went on to win the race, with Verstappen hounding him in the race. Red Bull’s form taking a a positive turn in the final third of the season as chassis and aero tweaks allied to Renault improvements making for a formidable package.
Ferrari’s woes continued, as again, the Scuderia’s knack of being their own worst enemy haunted them. Vettel retiring after 4 laps with spark plug failure. 59 points was the deficit with 100 to play for.
The United States GP was up next and resulted in Carlos Sainz switching Torro Rosso for Renault. He immediately impressed outqualifying his more experienced teammate Nico Hulkenberg, and outscoring him in the race for good measure. The venue also marked the last race forDanil Kvyat at Torro Rosso, replaced by Brandon Hartley for the rest of the campaign. Once action got underway, Hamilton again claimed pole position from Vettel and then went on to win the race with his adversary in second, all but sealing his fourth world title. Mercedes took their 4th world constructors title in a row, winning with 3 races to spare.
Mexico saw Vettel claim pole, but the win went to the resurgent Max Verstappen, who’s form was scintillating in the last few races. The result confirmed Hamilton as the 2017 world champion, with 2 races to go.
Onto the Brazilian GP, which was marked by an acrimonious spat between Renault and Torro Rosso. Torro Rosso accusing Renault of near sabotage, due to the proximity of the teams in the standings, and the money paid to finish above Torro Rosso. Renault via the Bullish Cyril Abiteboul, did not take matters laying down and responded in kind by suggesting it was in fact an issue specific to Torro Rosso and their chassis/instillation. Surprisingly, Red Bull led calls for calm and this resulted in the issue subsiding over the course of the week. The event itself was led out by a Valteri Bottas pole position, with Vettel claiming the win with shades of what could have been for the Scuderia.
The final race of the season came up in Abu Dhabi, with Valteri Bottas claiming pole, fastest lap and win. It marked a high point of the season for Bottas, but with some hollow qualities as the race was a dead rubber. Too often was Bottas well off Hamilton’s pace with no answers to overcome the deficit. We’ll have more from our driver by driver and team by team review of 2017, and as ever, we welcome discussion on what was a very promising year for F1 which ultimately was undone by a teams mistakes, not by a single teams domination. 2018 promises much, and we’ll have you covered as to why soon.
Stay tuned folks!