Highlights of the 2017 F1 season
2017 was a year of change in Formula 1. As with everything in life, people are usually averse to change, so the reactions were mixed. But, from my point of view, there are a few positives to look at. In this article, I will list my personal highlights of this season at the pinnacle of motorsport.
- Hamilton vs Vettel
This was the duel everyone had been waiting on for years. Arguably the two best drivers of the current era, certainly the most successful, locked head to head in a battle for the world championship.
Over the last ten years in Formula 1, from 2008 to 2017, Vettel and Hamilton have won eight titles, the other two going to Jenson Button (2009) and Nico Rosberg (2016). Seb won four straight titles between 2010-2013, whilst Lewis was crowned champion in 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2017. Only in 2010 were both involved in the title fight, although it was a four way battle until the last round. This time, it was a straight out duel between them. Up until mid-season, it seemed like Valtteri Bottas might have a word to say but as the season went on, it became clear it was a two horse race.
And this was just what the sport needed, a battle of titans, two superb drivers at the top of their game, on relatively even matched cars of rival teams. What else could you ask for? And then there was that moment in Baku, of course, which I believe marked the beginning of this fierce rivalry. Vettel led the championship for much of it, but Hamilton was a man on a mission after the summer break and, after he took the lead of the standings, he never let go of it. His championship bid was aided by a series of misfortunes for Vettel, both of his own doing (Singapore) and also bad reliability (had to start from the back after an engine change in Sepang and DNF in Suzuka).
It was nonetheless a very entertaining fight for the title and one to be remembered for years to come. Hopefully we’ll see more of it next year.
- Liberty Media
The change in ownership of F1 from CVC Capital Partners to Liberty Media, and in CEO from Englishman Bernie Ecclestone to American Chase Carey brought a much needed breath of fresh air to the sport.
2017 was marked by a much stronger presence of F1 on social media, better interaction with fans at the races, with trackside events like interviews and autograph sessions bringing the drivers closer to the crowd. Also, a great new introduction for 2017 was the post qualifying interviews by the finish line: instead of the top 3 drivers heading straight to parc fermé after qualifying and into the press conference, they stop on the finish line and are interviewed right there and then in front of the grandstand. Awesome.
Another major event was F1 Live London, an event that gathered the drivers in the streets of the English capital for demo runs, interviews, concerts and just overall interaction with the fans, attracting 100,000 people and winning the “Event of the Year” award at The Drum UK Events Awards.
You can obviously tell the American influence that Liberty Media is having in Formula 1, but overall I feel like they’re making the sport and its players more accessible and less corporate/serious – that is, from an outside perspective – than it used to be, which can only be good.
- Faster cars
It had become a worry in the recent years that F1 cars were getting rather slow, especially when compared to feeder series F2, which were producing laptimes not that far from the top echelon of the sport.
The changes in technical regulations for 2017 meant wider tires and cars, which increased the mechanical grip of the cars, thus making them faster. Aerodynamic grip was also increased by the mandatory lowering and widening of the rear wing. Besides the technical aspects, the changes also gave the cars a more aggressive look, something welcomed by the fans.
These changes also provided an increased physicality in the driving of the cars, as faster speeds through corners caused higher G forces, thus creating an added challenge for the drivers.
Of course, all of this came with a price. Overtaking got increasingly harder, too hard and often nigh impossible and that will need to be addressed.
I believe, however, that these cars are the way to go. As Niki Lauda said, F1 cars should be beasts that intimidate even the world’s best drivers and the changes for this year were a good step in that direction. The racing needs to be sorted, sure enough, but Liberty Media are already evaluating potential changes to current circuits’ layouts in order to aid overtaking and improve the show.
- End of Mercedes domination
While it is nothing new in Formula 1 to have one team dominate for several years, the sport always benefits when there is more competition for the top spots, and this year we had that. After three years of absolute Silver Arrows dominance, this year, Ferrari were finally able to rise to the challenge and be a constant threat to the world champion team. Red Bull where usually thereabouts but never close enough to be a real threat.
Although the teams points’ table paints a different picture, the truth is the Ferrari SF70H very much had the measure (and in some occasions even the upper hand) of the Mercedes F1 W08. In terms of peak performance, the Merc was ahead, but its change-sensitive behaviour meant it had a very narrow setup window, whereas the Ferrari was much more adaptable.
It is assumed that Mercedes’ Q3 engine power mode held around 0.15s advantage over the Ferrari, but the Scuderia’s car was usually stronger on race trim than in qualifying, which made for interesting races. There were some occasions where the track layout seemed, in theory, to suit one car better than the other but in practice things were sometimes reversed, as for example in Spa and Sepang, two tracks where Mercedes were expected to dominate, but instead it was Ferrari who had the superior car. So that meant there was always an element of unpredictability as to who would be the team/car to beat on a given weekend.
As for the constructor’s championship, things were a bit more straightforward. Mercedes had in Hamilton/Bottas a more often than not well-balanced driver line-up and allowed their drivers to race freely, whereas Ferrari, as usual, threw all of its weight behind its lead driver Vettel, and a consistently underperforming Kimi Raikkonen did the Italian team no favours in the constructor’s standings, which were comfortably topped by Mercedes at the end of the year.
- Competitive mid pack
During this year, only Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull got wins. Mercedes got 12 wins, Ferrari (Vettel) got 5 and Red Bull 3. The truth is the other teams are miles behind them. In fact, Lance Stroll (Williams) was the only driver from a team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull to score a podium all year, and he did so in a chaotic race in Baku. But this doesn’t mean that the racing isn’t good in the mid pack.
While Force India did an excellent job of securing a rather lonely 4th place in the constructors championship and Williams was relatively trouble-free on their way to 5th, behind them it was pretty tight, especially between Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas. Different rates of development and updated packages meant that the balance was ever shifting in the midfield and the fights to get to Q2 or sometimes even Q3 were absolutely fierce and some of the best race action this year was in the mid-pack.