Month: December 2017

The 5 best F1 drivers of 2017

Who overdelivered, who made the most of their chances and who underperformed in Formula One this season? It’s time to name names.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If you think Formula One looked a bit similar in 2017 to the three seasons that preceded it, you’d be right. A fourth championship on the bounce for Mercedes and a third in four years for Lewis Hamilton meant that the Silver Arrows took the gold medal once again; for those counting at home, that’s 63 wins in 79 races for Mercedes since F1 went V6 turbo hybrid in 2014 …

So, is picking the best five F1 drivers of the year as simple as putting the two Mercedes pilots in first and second and everyone else slotting into place? In short, no. Some drivers out-performed the equipment at their disposal, others made giant strides in midfield teams, others did wonders in cars down the back, and one continues to be employed by a front-running team despite doing very little of note for four straight years …

We’re as confused as most about the latter, but we’re adamant about this: our top five list. We’ve scanned up and down the field, looked at their stats, their impact and the gravity of their achievements to come up with our best of the best. Let’s count them down.

5. Valtteri Bottas

The stats

Points/championship position: 305, third

Wins: 3 (Russia, Austria, Abu Dhabi)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 4

Fastest laps: 2

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Bottas 7, Lewis Hamilton 13

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Bottas 8, Hamilton 12

Points compared to teammate: Bottas 305, Hamilton 363

The summary
If we were hitting the pause button on the 2017 season at the mid-year break after Hungary, Bottas would be closer to the top of this list, just as he was in Hamilton’s wheeltracks as the Mercedes pair tried to chase down Vettel at the top of the standings. But as Hamilton raised his game after the summer shutdown, Bottas wilted, the Finn beaten six times in a row in races and seven times in succession in qualifying as the eventual champion found a new gear. Losing out to Hamilton is no disgrace, but it was the size of the margin to his stablemate that was most concerning. Bottas never beat Hamilton again until the title was decided, and even then, his meek defence off the start into Turn 1 from pole in Brazil saw Vettel take a win that should have been his, and didn’t quieten the noise that Bottas can be found wanting in wheel-to-wheel battles. A win in Abu Dhabi was a strong way to round out the season, but he arguably should have beaten Vettel to the runner-up spot in the championship given the machinery at each driver’s disposal. Mercedes is undoubtedly a more harmonious team than it was in the Hamilton/Nico Rosberg era, but is Bottas capable of winning the title if Hamilton doesn’t, like Rosberg did? The jury is still out.

The quote
“There has been no point in this season that I have been in a massive panic about it, because this season started pretty well. We have got some good results together and at no point during this year have I got any signs from the team that they were looking somewhere else.” – Bottas on re-signing with Mercedes for 2018 in Singapore

4. Daniel Ricciardo

The stats

Points/championship position: 200, 5th

Wins: 1 (Azerbaijan)

Podiums: 9

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 1

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Ricciardo 7, Max Verstappen 13

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Ricciardo 9, Verstappen 11

Points compared to teammate: Ricciardo 200, Verstappen 168

The summary
Assessing Ricciardo’s 2017 campaign, both in relation to teammate Verstappen and in isolation, is a tricky exercise given the RB13’s propensity to break down – 13 retirements between its two drivers shows that maybe superstitions should be heeded when naming your car for a new season … Both Red Bull drivers saw the chequered flag in just seven of 20 races (Verstappen leading Ricciardo 5-2), and not one of the Australian’s six retirements were of his own doing – he had five mechanical failures, and was taken out by a clumsy (and later repentant) Verstappen on lap one in Hungary. Three non-finishes in the final four races and a qualifying deficit to his teammate saw Ricciardo’s season end with a whimper, but the high points were steep – five podiums in a row from Spain to Austria contained his brilliantly opportunistic win in Baku, a day when being flawless was as important as being merely fast. Ricciardo enhanced his reputation as being the most decisive overtaker in F1 throughout 2017, but it’s the years to come – especially given his teammate has been re-signed until the end of the 2020 season – that will be of most interest moving forward for a driver who becomes a free agent at the end of next season.

The quote
“It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head … and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages.” – Ricciardo, writing for redbull.com

3. Max Verstappen

The stats

Points/championship position: 168, sixth

Wins: 2 (Malaysia, Mexico)

Podiums: 4

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 1

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Verstappen 13, Ricciardo 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Verstappen 11, Ricciardo 9

Points compared to teammate: Verstappen 168, Ricciardo 200

The summary
For all of the talk about Verstappen’s lack of luck and reliability this season – which was legitimate – it’s worth pointing out that the Dutchman had just one more non-finish than Ricciardo, and ended up 32 points behind his Red Bull teammate despite handily out-qualifying him over the course of the year. So how is he ahead of the ‘Honey Badger’ on this list? Momentum counts for plenty, and wins in Malaysia and Mexico (the latter as emphatic as it gets) in the final six races said much for Verstappen’s speed when his car actually held together. He was an innocent victim in first-lap crashes in Spain, Austria and Singapore, the middle of those the most depressing when he ground to a halt in a broken car just in front of a grandstand full of orange-clad fans who’d made the journey to watch him tame the Red Bull Ring. His Saturday speed – particularly when compared to a noted qualifying specialist in Ricciardo – was immense, and while he’s still prone to being impetuous in the heat of battle, the 20-year-old is still young enough to learn and good enough to improve. Verstappen has championship contender written all over him – it’s just a matter of how soon, and how he copes when the stakes are raised and wins are expected rather than being a nice novelty. Beating Ricciardo for the first time in the championship is a bare minimum for 2018.

The quote
“It’s been a positive end to the year. We will keep working hard to improve as we have done over the latter stages of this season – with some improvement from the engine side we should at least be close to the top guys next year.” – Verstappen after Abu Dhabi

2. Sebastian Vettel

The stats

Points/championship position: 317, second

Wins: 5 (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary, Brazil)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 4

Fastest laps: 5

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Vettel 15, Kimi Raikkonen 5

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Vettel 15, Raikkonen 3 (neither Ferrari finished in Singapore, and Raikkonen didn’t start in Malaysia)

Points compared to teammate: Vettel 317, Raikkonen 205

The summary
Was 2017 a championship lost by Ferrari after Vettel had them in a position to win it? Not once did it seem like the SF70H was a match for the pace and potential Mercedes appeared to have over the Scuderia, but Vettel won the opening race in Melbourne and stayed atop the title tree until just after the mid-year break. Then things unravelled quickly: Hamilton thrashed the red team at its home ground, Monza, and then came a disastrous Asian swing where Vettel was the architect of his own demise off the start in Singapore before car failures in qualifying (Malaysia) and the race (Japan) saw him consigned to being a mathematical contender rather than a legitimate one. Hamilton ended it all in Mexico, and Ferrari’s wait for a championship since Kimi Raikkonen took its last in 2007 reached a decade. It’s hard to know Ferrari’s true pace when the occasionally interested Raikkonen finishes more than 100 points behind his teammate in an identical car, but, Singapore aside, Vettel didn’t do a lot wrong, besides his moment of madness when he sideswiped Hamilton under safety car conditions in Baku. Can the Prancing Horse resist the bloodletting that typically takes place whenever it has been deemed to fail to allow Vettel to reload and go again over the winter break? For the sake of the championship fight and some variety at the top, we’re hoping so.

The quote
“Next year will be a different story, as we all start again, but right now, in these moments, you need to give credit to the best man, and that is him this year. Overall, he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that.” – Vettel on Hamilton after Mexico

1. Lewis Hamilton

The stats

Points/championship position: 363, first

Wins: 9 (China, Spain, Canada, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, USA)

Podiums: 13

Poles: 11

Fastest laps: 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Hamilton 13, Bottas 7

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Hamilton 12, Bottas 8

Points compared to teammate: Hamilton 363, Bottas 305

The summary
Can one race make a season? Singapore was where the title fight swung dramatically in Hamilton’s favour when, after thrashing Ferrari at Monza the race prior, the Briton was presented with an open goal when Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen were all out within seconds of the start at Marina Bay. On Mercedes’ weakest circuit of the year, Hamilton banked 25 precious points to extend his series lead, and from there, it was a matter of when, not if, he’d join Vettel and Alain Prost as a four-time world champion. Hamilton’s second half of the 2017 season was devastating, and five wins and a second place in the first six races after the mid-year break show why he has to be considered one of the all-time greats. Sure, he had a car advantage, but the relentless speed he showed in a race he didn’t win – when he finished fourth from a pit lane start in Brazil and finished less than three seconds behind pole-sitting teammate Bottas – was a reminder why Hamilton is approaching rarefied air. With 40 wins in the past four seasons – more than half of the races held since 2014 – the 32-year-old now has 62 career wins, and Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 victories, once thought to be untouchable, isn’t out of the question. It’ll all depend on Hamilton’s hunger and motivation – and if Mercedes keep producing cars capable of winning championships, its star driver will surely stick around for a good while yet.

The quote
“I want to be better next year. The challenge is going to be even bigger from Ferrari and Red Bull next year. Formula One doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t stand still. There is always someone there waiting to take my position.” – Hamilton after winning the championship in Mexico

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The Dan Diaries: Hitting the reset button

In his final exclusive driver column of the year, Daniel Ricciardo looks back at his 2017 season – and opens the door on his thoughts about his F1 future.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’d been a while since I’d been back home in Monaco, so the main priorities were to check that the lights still worked and that the heater could be cranked up, because it had got bloody cold since I was here last. Tick and tick. And then it was time to exhale for a bit before getting going one last time for 2017. The back-end of the year is always pretty hectic, and I hadn’t been home much since before Singapore, back in mid-September. Saying that, I could probably use some more driving, because I didn’t get to do a lot of it the longer the year went.

Abu Dhabi wasn’t a great way to end the season for all of us, and I’m not just saying that because I had to retire. After I’d fended off Kimi (Raikkonen) early on, I was driving around and just about hanging on to Seb (Sebastian Vettel) in front of me, but probably didn’t have the pace to follow him in his dirty air and pass him. Fourth looked like the best it could have got, and I was genuinely thinking about the viewers, because it was pretty dull. The combination of the track layout there and how hard it is for these cars to run close to each other, it just didn’t work. Definitely wasn’t much of a spectacle. I don’t 100 per cent know why the track doesn’t produce great racing, but I think that when you have a slow corner leading onto a long straight like we do there in a couple of places, and when the DRS zone starts – in my opinion anyway – too late, then you end up with these static races where not a lot happens. The cars this year – wider, bigger tyres, more disturbed air behind – were always going to make this one tough. It was worse than we feared, most probably. Not getting any points didn’t help my mood, to be fair.

Retiring early again was pretty hard to take, especially after I’d qualified well. I pitted earlier than I wanted to because I thought I had a flat tyre, but because it happened pretty quickly and because I was sure I hadn’t run over any debris or something, I feared it was something more than that. Turns out I was right. I got back out there and then after a few corners, I could feel the steering was getting a bit weird and quite heavy, and that’s when I knew we had a hydraulics problem. The gears start to go, and there’s no coming back from there.

It’s pretty normal to start to feel the energy wearing down towards the end of the season, because we do a lot of travel in a short time and some back-to-backs. After the race in Abu Dhabi, and maybe I was a bit flatter because of how it finished for me, I had no interest in doing much. A few people in the team were going out to celebrate the end of the season and all that, but I knew I was testing at Yas Marina on the Tuesday, and just wasn’t up for it at all. With the way the season ended, there wasn’t heaps to celebrate anyway. Since Japan, a lot happened, but not a lot of it was good. Three DNFs in the last four races and only a sixth in Brazil to show for it – you know things are bad when Brazil is the highlight of the last few races, because I’d never had a strong run there in the past.

It was a pretty grisly way to end the season, and when it finishes like that with no decent results from the last few, there’s a tendency to think it was average. But I went back through all the races in my head over the last week, and it was pretty good in parts, really strong at some stages. I won a race, I had runs of five and three podiums in a row, held off Lewis (Hamilton) to get third in Austria … there was some good stuff there. It was very up and down though, and the DNF’s hurt both Max (Verstappen) and me – we had 13 between us, Mercedes had just one with (Valtteri) Bottas in Spain and Ferrari had five, and the crash at the start in Singapore was a big factor there. Too many for us, really.

There was too much inconsistency for me to call it an amazing season or a bad one. The reliability was inconsistent and for me, in qualifying – I put in some of my standard laps, but there were other times where we were left scratching our heads like Mexico, where I was fastest on Friday and then a second off pole on Saturday. Still doesn’t completely make sense now, that one.

For me, it’s geography rather than time that makes me feel in my mind that I can switch off, and that’s coming. I did the last race, tested for a day, went to Baku to do some promo work for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, flew back to Monaco, and by the time you read this, I’ll be back in the UK for a week for Red Bull’s Christmas party, time in the simulator and some other things. And then I’m done.

There’s something about that last flight back to Oz from London and when you cross the equator – then you’re on your time and you can completely breathe again. The plan is to get back to Western Australia, not get on a plane except for when I go to Brendon Hartley’s wedding in January, and get away for a bit. Some mates of mine have rented a place away from the city and hopefully where there’s some bad mobile reception! That’s what I’m hanging out for. I feel I need to relax and go back recharged more than spending a month or so trying to do too much when I’m back in Perth, because next year is a big one for me. They’re all big, but there’s a bit going on other than just the driving.

By the time we all turn up in Barcelona at the end of February, I’ll probably be answering a million questions about what I’ll be doing after 2018 when my contract runs out. Which I’m completely prepared for, I get it. I’m actually a bit surprised how much it has been discussed already – not like it was new news that I’m up at the end of ’18 – but I guess Max re-signing with the team took the focus off him and sent it in my direction. It hasn’t been a distraction yet, but the longer it takes, the more people will ask the same questions 200 different ways – and I’ll need to come up with different ways to answer them the same way!

So where do things stand? The short answer is that there’s absolutely no rush, and things can take as long as they take – I’m not setting a deadline for anyone else’s sake, or just to get it done for me. I’m not just going to settle on something because I want it to be off my mind, because there’s a lot at stake. It’s a big decision for me, so if I need to take time to make it, I will. I’m planning on being in the sport for a long while yet, but in saying that, if I was to sign, say, a three-year deal, that’s a big chunk of the next part of my career. I need to get it right, so it’s a big call – the most important one for me yet, I think. I’ll take as much time as I need to. It’s not going to be a distraction.

I’m 29 next year and the next deal will take me into my 30s, so it’s not like I’m the young unproven kid who’ll sign anything just to get on the grid, or at the other end of my career when I’m hanging on and doing things year by year (I don’t ever want to get to that stage, I can’t see myself being that guy). You look at Lewis and when he did his Mercedes deal, he was the same age as I am now if I remember correctly. He was already doing very well where he was, but his career has really taken off since then. So, there’s a lot to consider.

You can get caught up in too many opinions with this, so I’ll use some people close to me as a sounding board and kick it around with some friends just to have the conversation, but I don’t like to have too many people getting involved. It has to come from me, I’m the one who has to live it. I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box, if you like. Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful – races, championships – that’s the absolute priority. It’s not even close.

Being in the position to make the decision is something cool, something unusual, and something where I feel like I’ll probably learn a lot. No matter what happens, it’ll be a growing experience for me because it’s something I’ve not been through. It’ll be nice to stand on my own two feet and make some grown-up decisions. Maybe even act like an adult! It’s all part of the evolution, I’m told …