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Analysis: Ferrari reliability and famous F1 backmarkers give Lewis Hamilton breathing space
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Oct 2017   |  8:59 am GMT  |  542 comments

Ferrari bounced into the 2017 world championship with a bang, but look set to end it with a whimper as another failure on the Ferrari power unit in Japan handed Lewis Hamilton an unassailable 59 point lead.

Hamilton has won five of the last seven Grands Prix and the swing of points due to Vettel having two non-finishes in Singapore and Japan and a compromised race in Malaysia shows how unforgiving motor racing can be.

Hamilton can clinch his fourth world championship in Austin with a win and Vettel finishing sixth or lower. And Mercedes have an even stronger chance of closing out the Constructors’ championship.

“The misfortune of Ferrari is unbelievable, the third bad race in a row. Their car is super fast and it just lacks reliability, that is their next step,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff who went to the Ferrari pit wall after the race to commiserate with his opposite number Maurizio Arrivabene.

Hamilton has been driving extremely well of late, but Ferrari’s run of results beggars belief given how quick their car is and how strong the challenge. We have quickly forgotten that Vettel led the championship after every round until last month.

Red Bull finish strongly but Verstappen denied a crack at the win

It was another strong weekend for Max Verstappen, second ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, but he had a good chance to win a second race in succession.

He finished only one second behind Hamilton after the champion-elect ran into trouble with vibrations, he said, on the power unit after upshifts. He also struggled with the tyres after the final Virtual Safety Car.

Verstappen had a real chance in the final laps, but Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa who were having their own dog fight for 10th place, got in his way after Hamilton lapped them and that gave Hamilton the breathing space he needed.

Afterwards Verstappen played down the part played by the famous backmarkers, saying that he had only been able to close on Hamilton due to traffic and admitted that he was on the limit with the front tyres himself. Everyone was mindful of what happened with Vettel and Raikkonen at Silverstone.

Ricciardo’s race was compromised by losing the start to Verstappen and then losing a place to Ocon. That separated him from his team mate and meant that Red Bull could not try one of their ‘pincer’ strategy moves on Hamilton, with one car undecutting and the over running long.

Ricciardo also had to contend with a charging Valtteri Bottas at the end. He and Kimi Raikkonen did a reverse strategy, starting on the soft tyres, which worked out to gain places. Bottas finished fourth from seventh on the grid and Raikkonen fifth from 11th grid slot. But there was disappointment for Bottas that he didn’t have enough laps on the supersoft at the end to manage to catch Ricciardo for the final podium position.

Red Bull again showed some impressive race pace for another double podium, but once again Ferrari’s reliability issues played a key part in that. It’s one thing to have a quick car, as Ferrari undoubtedly has, but with Raikkonen’s gearbox grid penalty and Vettel’s retirement, Ferrari certainly handed it to Red Bull.

After the race, Christian Horner observed of his car that “chassis wise I can’t see it’s second to anything”, a familiar refrain from the Englishman with regards to the missing element.

But they also need to start the season more strongly. Think back to the way they performed (or didn’t) at the Australian Grand Prix.

Jolyon Palmer – exit stage left
Jolyon Palmer’s F1 career ended with a twelfth place finish after an engine penalty, summing up his season. The Renault car has improved a lot in recent months and the team want to maximise their points scoring in the final races at the same time as giving new signing Carlos Sainz a benchmark for next season’s car.

“Carlos was signed for next year and Cyril (Abiteboul) made it clear that he wanted him in the car for the rest of the season, it’s a shame not to finish the season but I respect the decision,” said Palmer.

“The stress levels have been pretty huge, it’s been very difficult. I’m out, that’s F1 and it’s a shame but I’ll move on, there’s plenty to life.”

What did you think of the Japanese Grand Prix? Do you think Verstappen would have been able to pass Hamilton without the backmarkers

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James, there is an analysis to be done on how successful, or not, the tyre spec has been this season in terms of allowing drivers to just drive.

I note that even though the tyres are resilient, they still have an operating band that drivers have to manage so it seems that drivers are still having to drive to a delta to manage tyre temperature rather than the limits of the car and driver due to tyres.

Also, now things have settled down, how are the cars generally at following each other compared with last season? I know Merc are poor, but that didn’t seem to be the case for all the teams. Overtaking stats (non-DRS) should give a clue.


I’ve done quite a bit already on the tyres being too hard and that leading to an X minus one stop strategy on most tracks, which has been a shame. It has also meant that pretty much all season we’ve seen only the two softest compounds in any weekend being raced.

Some tracks, with some compounds have seen the need for management, but we have also had races where the contenders like Vettel and Hamilton have said afterwards that they were pushing hard throughout.

I’m optimistic that next season with stable tech regs, Pirelli have a better idea of what is needed to get to largely 2 stop races, which makes for more interesting strategies.

On following other cars, the standout is Ferrari of course. Merc and Williams seem to have struggled with it.

I’ll ask around among the midfield teams at the weekend in Austin


Is Ricciardo suffering from Webber-itis? Another average start left him again forcing him into a very conservative race strategy/outcome.

Kamiel from Piquet to Hakkinen

In reference to worries some have about DR’s stock value I have to say (being Dutch and looking with great pleasure at ‘our’ Max performing (finally)) that it appears to me that RBR closing the gap (a little) is more the effort of all the Laps DR did drive, without putting blame on Max for not being able to do them.
So if the RBR’s are more capable of a Ferrari or Merc pace now then we have DR to thank for that. Maybe that’s why the team expressed to look for expanding both their drivers contracts to 2020.
Verstappen rightfully said he didn’t think he would have been able to pass LH and stated today in Dutch press he still considers this as a lost or failed season.
Hopefully we will see a strong developing Honda at Toro Rosso next year to make it all even more interesting in the big ‘who’s moving who’ shuffle of 2019. Exciting times coming up.
I remember that one of my childhood hero’s – Nelson Piquet- was blamed to only grab the WDC because of the turbo (Brabham BMW I think it was). LH has shown his driver capacities for years and is in a winning car because of that. Deserved title (if Lady luck doesn’t desert him badly for the remaining of the season).
Finally…I suddenly remembered where the Vettel move of Singapore reminded me of:



As a Danny Ricc fan I say “thank you” for a very reasonable and fair post. As you strongly implied DR is largely responsible for Red Bull’s 3rd place in the Constructor’s Championship. And now that Max is getting reliability he is showing his true worth by getting not only podiums for himself but points for the team. Kudos to him.

As you quite rightly stated this is the reason why RB management want to extend their time with the team beyond their contractual period. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that both drivers will be with other teams in 2019. IMO Max either with Merc or Ferrari and Dan with which ever one of these Max doesn’t go to or Renault.

Exciting times coming indeed!


I said it just before the August break that the championship was over.


@ JW Now that post is a perfect example of ‘nominative determinism’ if ever there was one.


I’m impressed with what a hard nut to crack Lewis has been at the run in to the last two seasons. I hope he keeps it going.

He pushed a fortunate Rosberg to edge if mental implosion last year. So much so that I believe Lewis is the reason Rosberg threw the towel in.

In the last three Asian races Lewis has enjoyed the good luck whilst Vettel and Ferrari have scored consecutive own goals.

If Vettel can turn his tendency to fragility around, and Ferrari give him a reliable car with the Red Bulls getting in the mix this is far from over!!!


@ Fiona….IMO…it’s all over ,red rover. Vettel needs to score a minimum 15 points per race over Hamilton in a space of four races!!! That’s without taking into account the massive mechanical problems faced by Ferrari recently. Yes, mathematically it can be done but what are the odds? The WDC is over as far as i’m concerned. If i’m wrong i’m sure that i will be unmercilessly reminded by my usual critics and then some hahaha


If you are wrong I’m also sure you will deny ever having said it was done and dusted. 🙂


@ C63…Just can’t help yourself….where’s the shadow? hahaha Now listen up here C63….If I am wrong and Hamilton doesn’t win the WDC then i will immediately post a ‘mea culpa’ stating emphatically that ‘I WAS WRONG.’ Now there you are, it’s in black and white for all to see. I can’t be any plainer than that. Bookmark it, whatever…..


The Championship is effectively over… it would take divine intervention to all of a sudden provide gremlins to Hamilton’s car. So that being said Should Ferrari focus 100% of their efforts on next year’s car and forget about 2017?


His speed is not in doubt, but Vettel’s “mind troubles” have been a significant factor in Ferrari’s faltering performance.


Doubt that. Baku & Singapore yes. The car issues over the last 3 races have nothing to do the with Seb the driver.


Singapore was one of the last 3


Rotten luck for Vettel, Ferrari are in their 10th season now without a title, this is starting to look like the barren period pre-Schumacher era.

I wonder if it is time for a wider change of philosophy in Ferrari now. For as long as I can remember they have gone for a one car team in so far as having a No 1 and No 2 driver. Mercedes and Red Bull have shown that approach isn’t necessarily the best way forward, the inter team competition seems to be mutually beneficial despite the immense challenge involved.

On balance I think Hamilton has been the stronger driver this year and incidents like Baku make it uncomfortable for me for Vettel to be champion this year. Should Hamilton take the title, I think it would be a fair reflection of the season.


Good race from Lewis. RB on the charge which is nice to see! In other F1 related news, Grosjean is complaining again… this time about certain drivers taking their seat belt off to celebrate winning the race from the cockpit of their car. I wish someone would just slap him and tell him to shut up. Celebrating a win doesn’t even remotely concern you!! I think it rained in Austin about 4 months ago Romain, maybe we should just cancel the GP to be on the safe side?!

Clifton Preacher

I think that Max could have passed Lewis with a few more laps


I think that i may win the lottery if i have the right numbers on my ticket!!!


If you have been around competing for titles as long as Lewis & Seb have then you there will be some years where it goes for you and against your competitors, and other years where the opposite happens. This year it is Lewis’s turn to have the reliability and operational rub of the green. Few would argue that Hamilton’s 2012 campaign was severely compromised through reliability and poor team calls, and of course 2016. It’s all swings and roundabouts.
For a while now I’ve been an advocate of a return to “Best X from Y” races count towards a drivers’ WDC total point. Not 11 from 16 as we used to have, but maybe best 18 from 20 races, to allow for a couple of retirements.


Best X of Y Results … hear hear!



Could you ever run a quick analysis of MV & DR and their respective starts to races? Say passes within first 3 corners, or passes on first laps?

I can’t recall the last start DR had that he made up a net position? And I don’t think I can recall a start (when he hasn’t crashed) where MV hasn’t made up at least one net position, and usually on his teammate!

Seems an area that DR could easily work on to even out the performances relative to his teammate. Webber used to have the same problem, why can’t Aussies do a decent start? Lol.

And for end of year(getting in early) when you sometimes run fan questions for drivers etc….I’d love to hear from every driver “When was the last time you flew a long haul economy commercial flight? There’d be some funny answers I think, including a few who’d say “What’s that?” 😄


Luke, I saw you responded to my comment (but I can’t see it yet), and after reading it again it may have been a bit to defensive on MV, and too short, but I think you’re spot on with your assessment.
It already started last year with MV overtaking DR (Germany comes to mind), and continued this year.
And my thoughts are, that with the exception of Singapore, which was simply a horrible start by DR, it’s not that his starts are actually bad, it’s more that Max’ his starts are (usually) very good.

Btw, I’m very pleased to see that some people also noticed that Webber’s start were very poor. (For me the main reason why Vettel won 4 WDC’s and got the backing of Red Bull.)


I can’t recall the last start DR had that he made up a net position? Hungary

And I don’t think I can recall a start (when he hasn’t crashed) where MV hasn’t made up at least one net position, and usually on his teammate!
Should read: And I don’t think I can recall a start (when someone hasn’t crashed him) where MV hasn’t made up at least one net position, and usually on his teammate!

The only crash Max caused was on Daniel in Hungary, oddly enough.


Fair enough Murph. The point of the first question was just that I have a sneaking suspicion that comparing starts of MV & DR will show a glaring stat showing a current weakness in DR’s driving. Whereas it could be argued qualifying does as well, I’d say the gaps are so small on average that it’s not as concerning as the head to head number might show. They push each other to the limit in quali and thats great to see. But DR’s starts are average at best this year, while MV’s appear consistently brilliant. I’d be amazed if it’s a clutch feel issue. i just wonder if DR is just too tentative on the starts.
Japan was classic example, MV goes almost immediately 4th-2nd. And DR goes from 3rd-4th with a Force India ahead of him. Terrible for DR.


Good point, Luke. Ricciardo has seemed to be pretty poor off the line this year. Seems like a weakness of his.


We will have a look at that

Starts were an issue for DR in his early Toro Rosso days I recall. He lost a lot of places (as Webber did with Red Bull)


Thank you! Cheers


There is no need to hide that l am throughly disappointed back another terrible set back to Vettel’s campaign toward this year’s championship. Call me naive but l am still hopeful. It will take a reversal of luck/results unlike anything l can remember happening going for vettel l know but l like being possitive. Marc


You’re right Marc, anything could still happen, a swing the other way is still possible. I’d like Lewis to win, but I don’t want a walk over.


I find it bizarre that Vettel has been handed points for missing the Japanese anthem, and is now close to a 10 place grid penalty if he gets one more driving endorsement this year.

So his behaviour in Baku (Hamilton), Singapore (start), and Malaysia (Stroll) either outright blaming the others or not taking any responsibility does not merit points, but sitting in the car while the team desperately try to fix the engine problem does?

His bad driving has merited way more points. Maybe now the championship is nearly over he’ll get his long overdue ban?


Max stated several times post race that he didn’t think he could win the race even when he closed right up in the final laps.


Seb loosing the title brings back memories of 2010 and 2012 when Fernando lost it being in a Ferrari. The only difference one can say is that Ferrari arguably is the fastest car this year and it was not in 2010 and 2012, and Fernando didn’t make driving errors as Seb has made in Baku and Singapore this year. However, 2010 and 2012 title fights did go down to the wire and this year it won’t.

James, it’ll be great to read your point of view on whether Seb is where he is cause of Ferrari’s unreliability or because of the points he lost in Baku and Singapore.


In 2012 the car was the deficit. This year I think it’s the driver. Alonso in this Ferrari would’ve been a stronger opponent.

Ferrari should go all out for Verstappen or Hamilton, or both.


Well both clearly! As with Hamilton last year.


Ferrari kept Vettel in the car as they still worked frantically at the back of the car in the garage….I’m assuming the intent was to send him back out after the race to see who he could take out on the slow down lap?


@ LKFE….sardonic….love it.


I expect we’ll see more Ferrari engines grenading as they turn everything up to 11 for the last 4 races – with a weaker engine design – what damage will running 4 laps missing a cylinder at full mode have done?

Meanwhile, I am sure some of Lewis’s marginal pace over Red Bull is a Merc engine running in super-conservative mode in an engine that Mercedes seem to understand exactly how much use they can get out of it.

They spent bonus engine usage at Monza to break Ferrari psychologically and it worked – the fragile management fell for it and the team are working in fear of the higher ups and are making mistakes.


Well managed race from Hamilton, though I am surprised at how close the Red Bull was to the Mercedes. Would have been interesting to see how Vettel would have done.

There was talk of concerns over Hamilton’s power unit. If that one is done for, he still has another which is fairly fresh, does he not? It will be interesting to see if he takes any 5th components this season.


Never been a Vettel fan & not really a Ferrari fan, but I really hate seeing Ferrari having these reliability issues.
I know the bulk of the British/Hamilton fans are loving it, but its really robbing the sport of some potentially great championship battles.


Some more information is that Ferrari couldn’t get Vettels spark plug changed in time. You would think that would be done everytime before the race. If they did that what a twist? What would be the odds of a defective brand new spark plug?

The reason MV didn’t pass Hamilton was due to tire blisters on the front one on both stints. Hamilton’s rear tires looked pretty bad when he parked the car. So I think everyone was afraid of what happened to Vettel at Silverstone.

So apparently the back markers made no difference but Bottas did. Had he not got out of the way Hamilton’s tires couldn’t have held up. KR changed twice and I wondered why. Now I know.


Catching up is one thing, overtake is another thing. Lewis got it under control but thanks to verstappen to provide excitement to the race


The WDC title fight is by no means over. Vettel’s path to it is a lot narrower than it was with only 100 points left. However, despite Lewis traditionally owning COTA and Abu Dhabi, his run of race finishes will end at some point. Vettel will be hoping the sooner the better.


re. the vibrations. If it was engine-related, wouldn’t the pit have picked it up on the telemetry and not had to ask Lewis what he was referring to?
He can afford some new parts at this stage anyway.

Worse case, he can just take some of Kimi’s


This is vindication for Ferrari’s cynical race tactics especially in Monaco. I am not sorry to see this. Karma always gets you eventually.

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