Another Formula One season has gone by, and instead of seeing what we have seen the last few seasons, where arguably the best driver on the grid went against the most relentlessly consistent driver on the grid, we have had a different type of championship battle which led to Hamilton becoming champion, beating Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari.
And we are going to jump in by talking about the championship fight. This was the first season that Mercedes have not had easily the best car, and in many races towards the end of the season, like Singapore, Malaysia and Mexico for example, their car was only third best to Ferrari and Red Bull. On balance I would see Mercedes and Ferrari were even, albeit with different traits. I believe Hamilton won the championship in the end with ease for four main reasons, his relentless qualifying speed and talent, his unstoppable form in the 2nd half of the season, the strong mentality built on from his championship fights with Rosberg, and Vettel and Ferrari making it in the end too easy for him. Hamilton’s form in the 2nd half of this season since I have watched Formula One can only be matched by Alonso’s form in the 1st half of the 2012 season and Vettel in the 2nd half of 2013, he was unstoppable and on the top of his game. Hamilton won The Belgian Grand Prix and Singapore Grand Prix in races that Mercedes had no right to win and picked up relentless points to put himself in a winnable position by Mexico. Watching him this season, Hamilton really did look like the complete package. The only jots on Hamilton’s coffee book were a couple of mediocre drives in Russia, Monaco and Austria, and his qualifying mistake in Brazil after he had already won the championship. Hamilton’s performance in comparison to Bottas shows how underrated Nico Rosberg was.
Although I believe Hamilton would have edged it anyway, his title rival did make it easy for him in the end. Before the reader thinks this is going to complete roasting of Vettel this season, make no mistake, Sebastian was formidable this season. In the first half of season, with faultless performances in races such as Australia, Bahrain (which he had no right to win) and Austria were simple examples of why Vettel has won championships, performances which made people like myself who do not like him fear him, and put himself again and again in position to win races and picking up points if Mercedes were too strong. Vettel put forward one of the attacking performances of the season fighting his way back through in China, including a stunning pass on Daniel Ricciardo, and did what he needed to Hungary and Monaco in tracks where Ferrari had a massive advantage. The only jots on Sebastian’s book before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was failing to beat Bottas in Russia and getting involved in an incident with Verstappen in Canada, although his comeback later in that race was impressive enough to only limit the amount of points dropped from that race to 3.
Four races, however, really were the crucial moments of the championship fight: Spain, Azerbaijan, Singapore, and of course Mexico itself. In Spain Vettel and Hamilton engaged in a titanic battle, which Hamilton won after Mercedes timed its pitstop under the Virtual Safety Car which gave him a run at Vettel. This gave Hamilton a vital win in the first time the two of them came side-by-side on track that season.
Azerbaijan was crucial for a number of reasons, firstly, it showed that Vettel’s biggest weakness is, and always has been, his petulance. The background to the incident was that on the first safety car restart Hamilton caught Vettel out by going early off the exit of turn 15. On the second safety car, Vettel sped up, on the assumption that Hamilton was going to do exactly the same thing, which of course he didn’t and left Vettel running into the back of him, which was his mistake to start with. Vettel of course, is a man who can never, especially in the white heat of combat, see himself as being the man at fault, and instantly thought that Hamilton, who at that point had every right to control the pace, had brake tested him. As a result, Vettel drew alongside Hamilton and hit him. This firstly, was very unsporting and I believe should have led to a disqualification from that event, secondly, it could have taken both out of the race, thirdly the penalty Vettel got for it cost him an easy race victory, and fourthly, it gave Hamilton the mental edge similar to what he gained on Rosberg following their collision in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix. Throwing away points and almost bringing the sport into disrepute hurt Vettel’s title charge dearly. Quick side note, away from that incident the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was definitely the race of the year, about 8 drivers (Hamilton, Vettel, Ocon, Perez, Verstappen, Massa, Stroll, Bottas) who didn’t win the race could have feasibly won it. You had civil war erupt in Force India as Ocon clumsily hit his teammate, taking both of them out of a position where they would have ended up in 1st and 2nd, you had Bottas coming back from a lap behind to finish 2nd, you had Lance Stroll, who up until that point had been a laughing stock contend for a race win, and Ricciardo putting the pass of the year on Massa, Stroll and Hulkenburg in a move decisive to his victory. And even those incidents ignore Vettel and Hamilton fighting back up, after penalties and bizarre head rest malfunctions, superb midfield fighting, the Saubers banging wheels, and the crashes which caused the safety cars.
Singapore was really the race however, where Vettel made things to easy for Hamilton. I have criticised Vettel’s driving in combat previously as disrespectful, where in numerous occasions he gives no curtsey and it is a miracle that his style doesn’t lead to more collisions. In this occasion however, it led to his downfall, as he swiped into the side of Verstappen, in turn spinning Raikkonen into his side, leading to all threes retirement along with Alonso. As Hamilton went on to win that race, I believe that even if Ferrari did not have its mechanical issues later in the season, the damage was already done. I actually only think Vettel did not get a penalty for the incident because the FIA wanted to keep the championship interesting.
I also highlight Mexico as a key race as it flagged up Vettel’s weakness in open combat caused any chance of him keeping his championship hopes alive diminish at the first corner. After losing out to Vestappen on the first corner Vettel first managed to hit Max, and then, after Hamilton slotted in a full car length in front into turn 3, Vettel managed to not count in the consatina affect and rammed into Hamilton, losing his front wing. If Vettel had already affectively damaged his front wing on Verstappen, I believe this action would have been deliberate, but if not, it was a silly mistake. With Vettel needing a podium, and with himself near the back, it left his job to become impossible. To Vettel’s credit his comeback through the field was impressive, although he should have been penalised again for illegally passing Massa. Hamilton meanwhile had to nurse a damaged car on his way to a 4th championship, although his battle with Alonso in the final laps was electrifying. In the end it was definitely a deserving championship victory.
In terms of the Constructors Championship, Mercedes won the championship comfortably simply because their two drivers did a better job. Bottas was a better back up than Raikkonen, taking wins when Hamilton had poor weekends and being there or there abouts. However Bottas was poor in wheel to wheel combat at times, and will have to work hard to keep his seat with Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon available for Mercedes in 2019. You can also say Mercedes won the championship in the right way, restricting team orders and allowing Bottas a crack at the championship, while Kimi Raikkonen was very much a number 2 for Ferrari from day 1. Apart from an impressive qualifying in Monaco, Raikkonen still appears a shadow of his former self and I am very surprised that he has been given another season. The other worry for Ferrari going into next year is that they let James Allison, for my money the best designer in Formula One currently, go to Mercedes, and his early input into the 2017 car will be missed, and I predict Ferrari may suffer the consequences for their continuous chopping and changing.
Red Bull must be kicking themselves for starting slowly. They have the best driver line up on the grid and both drivers were fantastic to watch all season. Ricciardo is the best overtaker on the grid and Verstappen grew in stature for me throughout the season, his standout being his win in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Although the Drivers Championship doesn’t show it, I think Verstappen outshone Ricciardo this season, and if Red Bull deliver a title contending car next year he would be my tip for next years champion.
Force India have two stars in Ocon and Perez. With the 2nd lowest budget team finishing comfortably 4th I can’t believe a Porsche or a BMW have not come in to buy the team. In the strength of the underrated Perez and the young star of Ocon and the obvious talent of the engineers within the team they look ready made championship contenders if any potential buyers had the willpower to pump money into the project. I feel that in a championship situation, Perez and Ocon could contend, and I think Perez with his experience would just edge it. The civil war between them, caused by a combination of selfish driving from Perez and naivety from Ocon in Canada, Baku and Belgium was one of the more interesting subplots of the season.
Williams got a coup getting Paddy Lowe in from Mercedes, but find that their biggest weaknesses this year were the drivers. Despite his podium, Lance Strolls chance in Formula One has clearly came 2 or 3 years too early, and being 5 tenths on average slower than a past it Felipe Massa in qualifying this season is simply not good enough. Stroll also found himself in the oddest moment of the season, although he was probably not at fault for his collision with Vettel. If Williams go for Kubica I hope he will be the answer for their driver problems next season.
Renault paid the price this season for letting Jolyon Palmer drive one of their cars for over half a season. Why they let Magnussen go over Palmer, or didn’t throw money to get a Perez, or do a deal with Mercedes to get Wehrlein, or even take a gamble on a new driver like Gionvanazzi or even got Buemi from their Formula E team, I will never know. Hulkenburg has suffered from bad reliability but has done well this season, although after being beaten over three years by Perez, he must beat Sainz next year to show supremacy. Renault now have a good driver line up now and should push on next season.
Torro Rosso has been a merry-go-round this season. Kyvat was on borrowed time from the beginning of the season and Gasly should have been driving from race 1. Sainz has scored most of their points this season and he could find himself in a top drive before too long with his performances, although he is very susceptible to having an off weekend too often still. The jury is still out on both Gasly and Hartley and I wish them luck next season, and they may need it with Torro Rosso lumbered with Honda power next season.
One word can describe Haas, finishing 8th on the 8th biggest budget, solid, if unspectacular. Romain Grosjean has unfortunately now spent two seasons leading a team who build cars which characteristics are simply at complete odds with his driving style, and have completely stalled his career. Grosjean would suit Williams down to the ground and even in the Haas has been impressive at times, in particular, Austria, but his chances of landing a top drive are probably now dead. Magnuessen has come into a lot of criticism for his driving from the other drivers but apart from against Hulkenburg in Hungary I saw nothing wrong with it, he is a driver who likes to get his elbows out and there is nothing wrong with that if, like him, you do it within the rulebook. His elbows out move on Massa at Suzuka was fantastic. However, again, I think his career is stalling at Haas as well.
I wrote a blog following the Canadian Grand Prix about McLarens plight this season, and although it has got a bit better, thank heavens they are finally ditching those Honda engines. Their chassis has finished the season arguably 2nd to none, and with a bit of improvement on aerodynamics through the winter I can see McLaren locked in battle with Red Bull next season. Alonso at times could be confused to a comedian as he has lamented the Honda situation, as well as other drivers season long but this driver not being in a top car is not a laughing matter. He has been exceptional all season again and for his sake I hope the McLaren-Renault combination at least delivers win potential on the twistier circuits next season. Vandoorne had a hopeless task first half of a season but he has matched and actually beaten Alonso at time in the latter half and it will be interesting to see how he does in 2018.
Sauber started the season ok but focusing on 2018 as well as only being equipped with last years Ferrari engine has really hurt them as the season went on, and although it’s just a footnote, their whole strategy team deserved to be sacked for the ludicrous situation in Singapore. They will hope for better next season. Wehrlein was putting through his typically giant killing performances early in the season, in particular Spain, but has really disappointed me as the season went on. His estimation, especially compared to Ocon, has dropped significantly as he struggled to beat Ericsson, who himself needs to be looking over his shoulder after scoring 0 points this season.
After the 2017 championship battle went the way of the deserving champion, the countdown to 2018 starts now, and hopefully we will get to see Verstappen, Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel and Ricciardo all at the front fighting for the championship.