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F1 2017 Season Review Part 1

Part 1 of Nigel Chiu’s look back at Formula 1 in 2017.

GP CANADA F1/2017 © FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA

Lewis Hamilton made if four world drivers’ championships. Mercedes made it four constructors’ championships in a row. We saw a first pole and victory for Valtteri Bottas. Records smashed and history made. Most importantly, it was a season that saw some good racing with a lot of drama.

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Nobody had any idea what was going to happen next. Nobody knew who was going to win each race. Nobody knew who would be fastest at each circuit. It may all sound a bit silly but the previous 3 years have hurt F1 but 2017 was different, the passion was back; Formula 1 was back.

Going into the season, it was all about Red Bull. They were the team that were expected to challenge the mighty Mercedes. Instead, it was Ferrari who surprised many and were at the sharp end from the very start. People thought that they would develop badly or take the car in the wrong direction. A suspension row over the winter played into Ferrari’s hands and they took full advantage of a situation which hurt Red Bull a lot.

Ferrari made their mark immediately and took the first race of the season in Melbourne with an impressive win. Vettel could have won the first 6 races. In China, he was very unlucky because Antonio Giovinazzi’s crash meant that the safety car had to go down the pit lane which gave everyone who hadn’t made their first stop yet, a free pit stop. In Russia, he was less than a second away from victory and he had the fastest car that weekend. It took a mighty start from Bottas and a track which saw only 1 overtake in the whole race to stop Vettel.

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And in Spain, Vettel and Hamilton had a brilliant duel. It was the race of the season. To see two of the best drivers on the grid go wheel-to-wheel with the teams playing a big part with huge strategy calls was great to see from the purists point of view. Hamilton had a chance to overtake Vettel and he did it with a swooping move into turn 1. Earlier in the race, Vettel made a stunning “dummy” overtake on Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, which was crucial and perfectly executed. That was overtake of the year for me, given the importance of it at the time and the racecraft which we saw.

With hindsight, Ferrari could have done a better job and gave Vettel the win in Spain. Instead, it was 3 wins for Vettel (Australia, Bahrain,  Monaco) ; 2 wins for Hamilton (China and Spain) and a maiden victory for Bottas in Russia. After Monaco, Vettel led Hamilton by 25 points in the drivers’ championship and Ferrari were 17 points ahead of Mercedes.

Hamilton came back in Canada and equalled his great idol, Ayrton Senna, taking his 65th pole position and a relatively easy victory. Then came Baku. It was one of the stand out points of the year. Vettel and Hamilton collided unnecessarily under safety car conditions when Vettel thought Hamilton brake tested him. The reaction was astonishing. The German driver swerved into Hamilton in anger which resulted in a 10-second-stop and go penalty. To add to the drama, Hamilton’s headrest came loose so he had to make a pitstop which cost him the win and cost him vital points on a track which suits the Mercedes. Had Vettel not done what he did, he probably would have won the race. On a Mercedes favoured circuit, a Vettel victory would have hurt. A huge opportunity was missed.

Sky Sports
Sky Sports

The Hamilton of old would have reacted badly. But this year we saw a new Lewis Hamilton, one that was at his absolute best. This is by far Hamilton’s best season in F1 yet. He got the balance between being emotional and passionate but not overdoing it perfectly because his head and mindset were in the right place and he showed that by having a sensational second half of the season.

Hungary saw Hamilton give up 3 points as he let Bottas back passed (after Bottas let him through earlier in the race) at the last corner on the final lap. A mistake? It turns out to not be but it’s almost like Hamilton told himself that he wouldn’t want to do it again and he would make sure that he was ahead of Bottas all the time so the team could favour him.

Spa produced another duel between Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton came out on top and it was just a snapshot of the 2017 season. The Brit would just have the edge over the German no matter how hard Ferrari tried. It also showed how good that both drivers were because they drove away from their team-mates and the rest of the field as they pushed each other incredibly hard. There were no mistakes from either driver in that race and it was edge of your seat stuff – just what F1 needed to capture the hope of millions of fans that the series saved.

Lewis Hamilton Records

  • Lewis Hamilton now holds the record of 72 pole positions and counting
  • Hamilton is only the 2nd driver to win the championship and score points in every single race in the same championship winning season (Michael Schumacher in 2002 is the other)
  • Hamilton is now on 25 consecutive points finishes, just 2 shy from Kimi Raikkonen’s consecutive points finish record
  • Hamilton has won his 4 world championships in 4 different countries (Brazil, Abu Dhabi, America and Mexico)

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If Vettel didn’t make that mistake at Singapore, he may well have walked away in that race and took an easy victory. The dynamic of the championship would have been completely different. It wasn’t the case and from almost zero reliability failures, Ferrari just couldn’t stop having them. The pressure is extremely high in Formula 1 but if you add the pressure of being at Ferrari with Sergio Marchionne demanding for results, something is bound to go wrong. Malaysia was meant to be Ferrari’s weekend. However, Vettel had problems in FP3 which wasn’t fully resolved for qualifying which meant that Vettel had to start from last place on the grid.

Then in the race, Raikkonen didn’t even start and even though Vettel finished a creditable 4th, he collided with Lance Stroll on the cool down lap. It was one of Formula 1’s strangest collisions and it told Vettel that perhaps, 2017 wasn’t meant to be.

More problems in Japan followed and the superb Ferrari race pace wasn’t to be seen again. Lets not forget, Ferrari showed a lot of pace prior to the flyaway races and their challenge to Mercedes is only the start of what will be an even stronger and more fierce effort in 2018. It wasn’t enough this year as a 9th place in Mexico sealed the championship for Hamilton.

Vettel and Ferrari Records

  • Sebastian Vettel is now 3rd on the overall most laps led of all time
  • Vettel is on 99 podiums, one away from a century. Only Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Lewis Hamilton have achieved a 3 digit podium figure
  • Ferrari achieved the most points scored in a single season by a constructors’ championship runner-up
GP CANADA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA

Vettel himself showed supreme pace to take pole positions and front row starts with some superb qualifying laps. He made some daring moves in Canada, Malaysia, China and of course Spain. Yes he lost his head and it probably cost him and the team the championship but he also showed that he is an excellent driver and he can take the fight to Hamilton and Mercedes.

I hope that this year is just a taste of next year. Two four-time world champions going for five sounds good, doesn’t it?

That was the story of Hamilton vs. Vettel. In part two, I’ll be reviewing the other teams and drivers performances in the 2017 season.

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