What a season it has been! There was been high points and low points – triumphs, tribulations and some rude shocks. All in all, it’s been a season to remember, even if it didn’t quite deliver on its early promise of a thrilling World Championship battle till the very end. Here are the highlights and top stories from the season:
Mercedes, Hamilton and Bottas
All eyes were on Lewis Hamilton after his defeat to teammate Nico Rosberg last year – and Hamilton fought back, and how. He waltzed home at the end of this season with a mean list of records in the bag – as the most successful British driver of all time (a statistic that’s considered to be important as F1 is believed to be a British sport) and one of the most legendary racers in modern Motorsport.
He broke Michael Schumacher’s record for the most pole positions in addition to bagging other records like most Grand Slams in a single season (three, more than Schumacher and Ayrton Senna), most poles at different circuits (24) and leads the list of the drivers with the most championship points ever.
While Hamilton has remained his sharp, edgy self on track, we also saw a new Hamilton evolve off-track. He showed an unexpectedly gentlemanly side when he swapped back places with Valtteri Bottas in Hungary. And yes, it was surprising to see Hamilton, a man who is notorious for teammate feuds, get along so well with Bottas – perhaps it’s because he didn’t feel threatened by him?
Rosberg’s retirement at the end of last season set in motion a ‘Game of Thrones’ in Formula 1 with numerous drivers vying for his racing seat. In a lot of ways, it was a case of Bottas being in the right place at the right time and be managed by the right person (Toto Wolff) – and this entire season has been about proving that he is deserving of being in the fastest car in the grid. Surely having a teammate as quick as Hamilton doesn’t help, more so since he has managed to build the entire Mercedes team around himself.
Bottas had some good races, including three wins. He delivered for the team when Hamilton did not – and as we saw in Abu Dhabi, beating Hamilton in a straight-out fight. Unfortunately, these shining moments were few and far between. Although Bottas landed himself a contract extension for 2018, Mercedes are probably just buying time till other top drivers are released in 2019.
Mercedes vs Ferrari
Before the season started, how many of us could have guessed that we would even have the prospect of a constructors’ battle on our hands? For the first time in the hybrid era, we had someone challenge Mercedes’ dominance and finally saw the much-touted Ferrari resurgence come to life. Mercedes were challengers from the first round (since they lost the opening race in Australia) and started the season on the back foot. However, they rose to the occasion like the champions that they are and Monaco was that turning point in their season.
Ferrari delivered a half challenge as they lost their way in the middle. In the first half of the season, they were the clear winners – often managing to stay ahead of the Mercedes even when they weren’t the quicker car.
Ferrari’s disasters in Asia (Singapore and Malaysia, on tracks they should have won at) and Sebastian Vettel’s errors at Baku and Singapore cost them vital points in both championships. It seemed like they had scarified reliability for speed, which did them in ultimately.
Kimi Raikkonen had a lukewarm season, only just managing to clutch onto P4 on the World Driver’s Championship. Raikkonen’s unremarkable season can also be put down to the fact that his presence in the team had become a mere formality since Ferrari’s focus was on the World Drivers’ Championship. We’ll never really know what he was capable of this season, and how much of his average performance can be attributed to being the less preferred driver in the Ferrari garage.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing were a distant and unimpressive third. The RB-13 lived up to its name in a strange way – scoring 13 podiums and 13 DNFs (Did Not Finish), a mixed season with extreme fortunes for the team. That said, were Renault truly their only Achilles heel? Max Verstappen continued to be the golden boy on the grid despite his frustrations through the first half of the season – his win at Malaysia was Red Bull racing’s first win on pure merit in the hybrid era.
Daniel Ricciardo drove consistently, notching up eight podiums – despite having more car failures than Verstappen. Unfortunately, this seems like it will be the story of Ricciardo’s time at Red Bull Racing — finding his place in the sun against his prodigal teammate, despite driving as well or better. While Red Bull Racing might not have clinched the World Championship this year, an important milestone was securing the services of their potential championship driver (Verstappen) till 2020.
After setting a high bar for themselves last season with a best-ever fourth-place finish, Force India managed to deliver again with a ‘best of the rest’ finish. Operating on slim budgets, they offered the best bang for the buck this season too. Force India’s consistency has been legendary this season, delivering double points without fail (18 out of 20 races). Perhaps their biggest issue this season was finding place on their car for all their sponsorship logos!
The only inconsistent element in the Force India mix was the volatile equation between the teammates, who repeatedly came to blows on track. Sergio Perez, the seasoned campaigner, was challenged by Esteban Ocon, the Mercedes junior driver and Nico Hulkenberg’s replacement. Frankly, although we love Nico Hulkenberg, Ocon’s talent and attitude didn’t make us miss him that much. Perez and Ocon finished P7 and P8 in the championship, with more points individually than the fifth place Constructor’s team – a statistic that speaks volumes about Force India’s achievement. In fact, F1 seemed four-tiered this year, with the top teams, Force India, the mid-field teams and the bottom teams.
The iconic former World Champion team was the slowest of the Mercedes-powered teams—which is not a desirable statistic while using the World Championship winning engine. They were unable to keep pace with Force India through the season and had an unremarkable season overall. Lance Stroll started off as the crash kid (yes, we piled on the jokes) but he seemed to come of age with a strong performance in Canada and a podium in Baku. Unfortunately, the season ended on a sour note for the Canadian with a disastrous performance in Abu Dhabi.
Felipe Massa seemed to gain momentum towards the end of the season with strong races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi – ironically, just when he prepared to bid the sport adieu. One development we are eagerly awaiting is Massa’s replacement in 2018 – our hopes are with a certain Robert Kubica. Paddy Lowe’s presence should be felt in 2018 too, helping the team recover some lost ground.
The French manufacturer managed to clinch sixtth place in the World Constructors’ Championship in the last race at Abu Dhabi, but should a sixth place really matter? Yes, it brings more money and some pride salvaged for the works team. However, Renault’s season will be remembered for the statistic that across every race this season, at least one Renault-powered car failed to finish the race. Apart from that, the works team pulled a trick out of the bag by asking for Carlos Sainz Jr in the McLaren-Honda-Toro Rosso-Renault swap, a move that helped them clinch sixth place.
The RBR B-Team found itself in a unique problem of lack of talent in the Red Bull Pool when it wanted to let go off consistently underperforming and demotivated Daniil Kvyat. But they did what Red Bull usually does — take bold decisions and ‘give wings’. They promoted last year’s GP2 Champion Pierre Gasly and brought back Berndon Hartley to boost their chances for 2018.
However, in 2017, they had a similar season as Ferrari — first half was noteworthy, second half fell apart largely due to reliability issues with their Renault power units, which the team believes was on purpose (since they were involved in the Constructors’ fight for sixth place) supplemented by their lack of experienced F1 talent. It is important to remember Toro Rosso’s role in grooming future Red Bull Racing talent, and not necessarily in a quest for glory.
Haas F1 Team
The Ferrari-powered team had a decent outing in their second season, losing sixth place by 10 points, most of which were lost in the last two races. They finished eighth in 2016 too, but scored 18 points more than last year. The team’s highlights were Monaco and Malaysia, where they scored double-points finishes, their first since debuting in F1 last year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen finished P13 and P14 in the standings. The Haas F1 Team would be hoping to benefit more from their association with Ferrari in 2018. But before all else, we hope they sort out the recurring brake issues that have troubled their drivers.
After much hope from the iconic McLaren-Honda partnership of the 90s, it was distressing to see them struggle to the extent that they did in 2017. Their nightmare partnership with Honda scored more grid penalties than World Championship points in 2017 — a season in which they seemed to go backwards from the progress made in 2016. They also had more double retirements (two) than double-points finish (one, in Hungary). Ultimately, McLaren had to choose between persisting with Honda or losing their star driver Fernando Alonso, and of course they picked the double world champion. While it remains to be seen how this decision goes, the McLaren-Honda divorce has shuffled things up for 2018.
McLaren’s ninth-place finish is worrying for the team. It means lack of visibility, lack of sponsors and lesser money from Formula 1 — all of which would affect McLaren’s racing business. While persisting with Honda would have been the correct sporting call, the business needed them to switch to a far more reliable and faster engine provider, hence, Renault. Alonso’s claim that McLaren possibly had the best chassis on the grid might not be too ambitious, but let’s see what 2018 holds.
Despite all their troubles, the McLaren drivers managed to make something out of nothing. Stoffel Vandoorne’s talent was evident and Alonso’s masterclass is still visible (his move against Massa in Abu Dhabi). Moreover, McLaren have managed to sign the best talent on the grid — Lando Norris. Let’s hope that by the time he’s ready for F1, McLaren are where they should be — the sharp end of the grid.
They managed to finish last for the second season in a row — the team that scouted talent such as Raikkonen and Massa in the 1990s seems to have lost their way. The smartest move they made in 2017 was renewing their power unit supply partnership with Ferrari, after almost switching to Honda. Unlike 2017, where they used year-old Ferrari engines, in 2018, the team will get the latest spec of the Ferrari engine. Like Williams, it would be good for old Formula 1 fans to see a competitive Sauber.
In 2018, there are rumours that Ferrari might up their involvement with the team (possibly with the Alfa Romeo brand) and we might see current Formula 2 Champion Charles Le Clerc and the 2016 GP2 runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi — Ferrari’s young drivers — at the wheels. This could mean an unfortunate exit for Pascal Wehrlein, while Marcus Ericsson, who was the only driver to not score this season will be busy checking which other seat could his money help him buy. Moreover, a mid-season change in ownership could signal a glimmer of hope for the Swiss-based team.
The year 2017 was also a landmark year in the history of Formula 1, ushering in a new era with Liberty Media as the sport’s owners. This was also Liberty Media’s first so-called season as owners of the sport. While they are already making the right noises off-track, it’s time to wait and watch how things change on track. For starters, how can Formula 1 have more wheel-to-wheel racing and the ability for cars to follow each other more closely and fight for positions. The new logo points towards this direction, now let’s hope the product lives up to the brand and logo’s promise. Here’s to 2018.