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
Points/championship position: 305, third
Wins: 3 (Russia, Austria, Abu Dhabi)
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
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.
“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
Points/championship position: 200, 5th
Wins: 1 (Azerbaijan)
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
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.
“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
Points/championship position: 168, sixth
Wins: 2 (Malaysia, Mexico)
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
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.
“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
Points/championship position: 317, second
Wins: 5 (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary, Brazil)
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
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.
“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
Points/championship position: 363, first
Wins: 9 (China, Spain, Canada, Great Britain, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, USA)
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
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.
“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