The F1 racing season is over now and all thoughts turn to the 2018 championship and a clean slate for all the teams and drivers and for the sport as a whole.
There is so much going on in F1 at the moment and we will look in depth at all aspects of where the sport and teams are heading during the winter break, but here are three things which are top of mind as we leave Abu Dhabi for home.
Bottas classy, but Hamilton not at his best
I asked Hamilton after the race whether this was a case of ‘well done, Valtteri, enjoy the moment, but in Melbourne it will be business as usual from me’. He admitted in the press conference that he has been celebrating his fourth title and has let his focus slip a little as a result.
What’s interesting about this is that he made it clear he didn’t want a repeat of 2015 when he let Nico Rosberg get a grip in the final races of the season after Hamilton had wrapped up the title and then carried that momentum into 2018.
Bottas has rarely been the competitor for Hamilton that Rosberg was in 2016, but it was only his first season with the team. In general Bottas has struggled through his F1 career for consistency. It was consistency that won the title for Rosberg last year and for Hamilton this year and nothing less than perfect execution every week will do if Bottas is to step up next season to the next level.
I shall be fascinated to see whether he has another level in him. Likewise with this Ferrari team; they stepped up from 2016 to this year better than anyone else, but can they find the inspiration to do it again into 2018?
It also shows that for a driver, if you are not 100% on your A Game, even with a driver on Hamilton’s level, then you lose.
F1 needs more competition at the front
The TV director focused largely on the battles in midfield today, understandably, because there was plenty of close racing, such as Massa and Alonso, Grosjean and Stroll as well as Magnussen and Wehrlein, being some examples.
It highlighted that F1 can produce good racing even on a track like Yas Marina where overtaking is difficult, but the problem is that the gaps at the front are still too large and between the front three teams and the rest is a gulf.
The points table reflects it. Between Red Bull in third and Force India in fourth is 181 points, Red Bull has almost double Force India’s tally.
That is the focus of attention at Liberty Media with support from the FIA.
It will not be easy to achieve, but it is essential for the long term future of the sport because we have to get to the point where a team like Force India can aspire to win a race, just as a lowly Premier League football team can win against Chelsea or Manchester United.
F1 is entering a delicate moment
F1’s commercial boss Sean Bratches and Head of Marketing Ellie Norman revealed the new F1 logo today in a press conference before the race and it was rolled out to the world on the podium.
It was a strong visual statement of change from the old regime to the new.
Officially the reason given for the change was because the old logo doesn’t work on digital content and on screens due to the dead space between the F and the 1.
Of course it is a very visual reminder that F1 is changing its culture away from the Bernie Ecclestone regime and that needs to extend well beyond things like logos to the way it makes decisions and the quality of the decisions it makes.
Liberty have had a busy year, making lots of small changes and only a handful of big ones, but despite the generally more relaxed and upbeat atmosphere around the F1 paddock, the mood music from the teams is that there is ‘concern’.
Things like prize money reducing because Liberty have invested money in new staff, facilities and events like F1 Live, niggle the teams.
Teams don’t feel that their share – which comes from a percentage of net profits – should be affected because of these things.
More seriously the plans unveiled for the new engines post 2020 were badly received by Ferrari and Mercedes in particular and they seem generally to be spoiling for a fight.
We are heading for a showdown and the key to it will be to present the changes which are unpalatable to Ferrari in such a way that they don’t react emotionally.
Reading the tea leaves, I can imagine a set of circumstances in which Sergio Marchionne takes Ferrari out of F1. If it happens it will be like what happened in US open wheel racing in the 1990s when Tony George took the Indianapolis 500 out of ChampCar and both sides lost.
The series and the event have never recovered from the fall-out from that debacle. They are now incidental to the global motorsport story, where prior to the split they had the must-watch series with Mansell, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Unser, Villeneuve and the rest battling it out in high level, very close racing.
F1 would survive without the red cars, but would be diminished.
Time would tell what the effect on Ferrari would be, but they seem to be going more like Porsche and heading into larger volumes and a broader range of models, so they would probably back themselves to be able to maintain appeal to prospective and existing customers without F1.
We will go into more detail on all of the above and more over the winter.
What do you think? Leave your comments in the section below