As the 2017 season comes to an anticlimactic close, the dust begins to settle and we can look back on an intriguing F1 season. Mercedes' invincibility was broken, but not their grasp on both championships. Although, in the end it was reliability rather than pure pace that got the job done. But with Mercedes controlling Ferrari at the front in the desert, the battle for the lower placings got all the attention.
About Class of the Field
What is the big difference between F1 success and an also ran? The squishy organic thing controlling the car. Although most of us think we can emulate our heroes at the local kart track, we clearly cannot. Class of the Field sorts the men from the boys, looking at who made the most of the machinery to hand to secure that vital win or elusive point.
It was the pot that refused to boil. After yet another chaotic first few corners, and once Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo had sliced through the field, largely with consummate ease, we were all left waiting on a four-way battle for victory or at least the podium between the Ferraris and Mercedes. Sadly, it flattered to deceive: Bottas ran out of pace, Hamilton ran out of tyres and Räikkönen ran out of interest, leaving Vettel to take the victory.
As Lewis Hamilton’s title was all but confirmed in turn three with both title contenders suffering significant damage and critically eliminating Vettel from podium contention, it opened up chances for drivers up and down the field. Some were completely out of position, and seemingly popping Hamilton’s adrenaline balloon as he appeared panicked and downbeat throughout the race. One man who definitely wasn’t out of position though was race winner Max Verstappen.
F1 didn’t get the head to head showdown it wanted in Texas, or that it desperately built up towards, but there was plenty of on track action to get excited about, along with some traditional postrace controversy. With Mercedes constructors’ champions, all that’s left is for Hamilton to wrap up his fourth drivers’ title, drawing level with Vettel, not to mention unmuddling the mess that’s the midfield between Williams and Haas.
As Sebastian Vettel’s championship hopes ground to a halt, some spectacular drives made the Japanese GP worth getting up for. Some made silly errors or saw their hopes ended by punctures, but points were available for those who strung together the Suzuka twists and turns perfectly.
As Malaysia waves goodbye to F1, it served up another unpredictable race with a fifth winner of the season and quality drives throughout the field, including a solid debut for Pierre Gasly. But all three stars of the race had one thing in common: the letter V. Just when it looked like Max Verstappen was destined not to have another podium, a guilt-edged opportunity came his way.
We’ve been waiting nine years but it finally happened. Singapore’s turbulent climate decided to dump its daily rain shower during the race and set up a classic. Drivers and teams didn’t know what direction to go in from the start and it was the top runners that were left looking foolish. That left some of the junior drivers to star and show their maturity as they kept it out of the wall, or their teammates right ‘til the end.
We had to wait for them, but there were some impressive performances in Italy. Mercedes romped away and twisted the knife on Ferrari's home ground – made all the more obvious by parading side by side throughout the cool down lap to maximise opportunity for PR shots. Meanwhile, a wet Saturday created good opportunities to surprise in qualifying and a mixed-up grid meant the need for a few recovery drives.
F1 got back into action with a lazy Sunday afternoon drive through the Ardennes forest. There were a few flash points, largely triggered by friendly fire as the Force India drivers took turns in trying to “kill” each other. Their incompetence will lead to a completely different team dynamic and opportunities for points for more midfield runners.
Some may have been ready for their summer holidays in Hungary but there were still good drives down the field and some surprising names scoring solid points. Now the development war starts in earnest, with youngsters (and Robert Kubica) in the cars this week before some much-needed rest for everyone.
A slow burner nearly set the kitchen on fire in the final laps. While Lewis Hamilton strolled to a victory to prove he’s the king of Silverstone, it all went off behind. Ferrari had already allowed Bottas to steal vital points before the wind left their sails, and their left front tyres. Elsewhere there were some great drives to enjoy, especially from those starting out of position.
The Austrian Grand Prix wasn’t a thriller, but the slow burner came to the boil just in time as Valtteri Bottas saved his teammate from conceding vital points and brought himself right back to the edge of the title race. While Bottas stifled the Ferrari attack after a stunning, borderline jump start, there were some solid performances in the pack, performing under pressure to secure key results.
Where do you start with this one? What a race! The championship rivals went head to head in Azerbaijan and then came to blows at crawling pace. Hamilton was robbed of victory by his headrest and there were enough collisions to fill up half a demolition derby. The first two drivers on the podium came from the back and some midfield runners secured landmark results while others flat out threw away chances of points.
As ever, Canada didn’t disappoint. While Lewis Hamilton was dominant at his favourite circuit with a sixth win – though Hungary could equal that record later in the year – there was drama through the pack. Let’s not forget that on Sunday morning, Hamilton was ready for a fight, he raised his game in qualifying to set a monumental lap time and once Vettel was wounded and Verstappen was halted, the Brit did everything he could to cut Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead.
With the eyes of the motorsport world watching, F1 had to take a supporting role to their own two-time champion’s efforts at Indianapolis. While Ferrari kept everyone guessing with questionable tactics, the midfield and tail-enders waited until the final 30 laps to make things interesting.
We may have been starved of action in Russia but the true return to Europe more than made up for it, as the Spanish GP, traditionally a procession, turned into a near classic. Most drivers were involved in one battle or other throughout the race, various strategies were used and the win wasn’t ensured until the final few laps. There may have been a lack of overtakes but it was still intriguing and exciting, oh and a boy met his hero too – well done FOM and Ferrari!
As the Russian GP settled into a processional pattern, there were two drivers who were the class of the field. Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel were barely challenged with only a brief flash from Kimi Räikkönen the only thing to concern their duel, bar lapping distant midfield runners. In the end, it may have been Mercedes' turf on paper but Bottas stole this one from Ferrari by catching four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel napping not once but twice in the first four laps.
We know a little more about the title race now. Mercedes showed Ferrari a fresh pair of heels on Saturday but when the points were counted on Sunday, Ferrari came away with the win. They're now leading both championships after an aggressive strategy allowed them to easily control Merc’s threat, with a little help from two Lewis Hamilton errors.
The Spaniard deserves his place atop this list, not least for his nerves at the start, but his race pace was also the most impressive of anyone’s. Sainz was the only man who dared to try slicks at the start. Having narrowly missed out on Q3 by six hundredths and perhaps felt the need to try something different to get the edge on his teammate and challenge for more than a point or two.
The new season is here and boy did the Australian GP add to the intrigue. With many sceptical of Ferrari’s title potential, they more than kept Mercedes on their toes on Saturday and then on Sunday, Vettel showed that Ferrari had the pace, as well as the ability to manage their tyres, to beat Mercedes, regardless of strategy. Is this the end of single team domination? It’s too soon to tell but it won't be long before we find out.
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