As we move into the festive period, it’s time to look back on some of the big talking points from F1 2017.
We have picked five and we’ll start with the renaissance of Ferrari; winners of five Grands Prix, championship leaders until September, but who ultimately lost out to Mercedes.
There is a lot of talk around at the moment about the Ferrari being the better car and that Lewis Hamilton would have won the title in either car, such was the form he was in.
It’s all conjecture of course, but the view from here is that the Mercedes was generally the better car except on occasions where it was tricky to set up to get the tyres working. This happened several times during the season, especially early on before the summer break.
Where the Mercedes was set up correctly with the tyres in the sweet spot, it was faster.
Ferrari bouncing back and taking the fight to Mercedes proved popular with fans and F1 experienced a bounce this year in crowd figures and TV ratings in some countries. Liberty Media got lucky in its first season as owners of F1, but Mercedes and Ferrari were able to point to their star quality being the cause of that bounce.
Ferrari vs Mercedes
Rules changes often bring a marginal reset to Formula 1’s pecking order, but most predicted Mercedes to continue the dominance it had sustained over the previous three years in F1, as the engine was still such a decisive factor.
Hence, Ferrari’s emergence in winter testing as a genuine challenger was something of a pleasant surprise for the swathes of naysayers.
Compared to Mercedes’ interpretation of the new-for-2017 regulations, which struggled for front-end balance – Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff famously labelled the new car “a bit of a diva” – Ferrari’s new car seemed poised and balanced in the early Barcelona tests.
Although winter testing is never the best metric of performance, Ferrari maintained its competitiveness into the actual race season, as Sebastian Vettel swept to victory in the opening round at Melbourne to win Ferrari’s first race in over a year.
Vettel kept up that form, managing to match title rival Hamilton blow-for-blow in the first half of the season. Mercedes’ greatest strength continued to be at the faster circuits, while Ferrari took advantage of their relative weakness at the slower, high-downforce circuits through wins at Monaco and the Hungaroring.
Although it was refreshing to see Ferrari taking pole positions again -something it has struggled to do for many years – Mercedes generally had the advantage on single lap pace and that again provided a head start at many venues.Before the break Mercedes had eight out of 11 poles, after the break it was seven out of nine.
Ferrari’s re-emergence as a legitimate title contender was refreshing, and Vettel’s greater consistency in the first half of the year left him with a 14-point lead atop the championship standings ahead of the summer break.
For once, the Scuderia appeared to be benefitting from a settled technical structure, with Mattia Binotto playing the conductor’s role in the engineering orchestra at Maranello. Although mechanical problems reared their ugly heads on occasion, team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was resolute in shielding his team members from the blame.
Arguably, Vettel’s hot-headedness was as much of a factor in Ferrari’s continued title drought. Feeling that he’d been brake-checked by Hamilton under the safety car at Baku, Vettel pulled up alongside the Mercedes and drove into him, earning a stop-go penalty for his efforts. This probably cost Vettel a win – Hamilton having to pit with a loose head-rest. He has described it as a real regret.
Ferrari were hammered on home soil at Monza, provoking a furious reaction from chairman Sergio Marchionne. In the aftermath, Vettel was calm and Singapore began well with pole position and Mercedes clearly struggling.
Then when rain fell on the grid, giving Hamilton a chance, Vettel came across the path of the Max Verstappen and the fast-starting Kimi Raikkonen off the line – who could not avoid the No. 5 Ferrari. Net result: elimination on the opening lap as Hamilton won on a circuit where Mercedes had been at its weakest all year and the title dream looked over.
The German’s title challenge was truly over at Suzuka, in which a spark plug ended his race after just four laps, falling 59 points behind Hamilton whose lead would become insurmountable.
“I think there are always things that you could do a bit different,” Vettel reflected.
“I think looking back Baku stands out obviously, but for the rest [of the season] I think it’s been okay.”
Regardless, it was something of a positive for F1 to have two genuinely competitive teams, and Ferrari will have plenty to digest over the winter as it seeks to win a title for the first time in a decade.
The encouraging thing is that in the wake of the title defeat Marchionne didn’t exact punishment on the staff and left everything in place. Another encouraging factor was that they were able to keep developing the car to the end of the season – pole in Mexico is testament to that. Mercedes were ominously fast in Abu Dhabi, but Ferrari will take a lot of positives from the technical path they are on and it gives them belief.
They will need to execute perfectly in 2018 to beat Mercedes – and Red Bull – but that continuity from 2017 to 2018 could provide the basis for them to do just that.
What did you think of the Ferrari vs Mercedes battle? We’ve picked five but what talking point from 2017 would you like us to discuss? Leave your comments and suggestions in the section below