Overview: An alternative look at F1 2017

Overview: An alternative look at F1 2017

17 December 2017 – In a 20-event season, there are several unexpected moments, humorous asides, and some sub-plots that simply get forgotten. GPUpdate.net takes a look back at some of those in 2017.

Is this the way to Maranello?

Ferrari's engine glitches would become more prominent later in the season, but they appeared as early as Bahrain, when Kimi Räikkönen was forced to stop in FP1. Räikkönen parked his car by the side of the circuit and swatted aside the suggestion of a lift back to the pit lane as he made his way by foot, keeping his overalls and helmet on despite the searing conditions. The TV cameras continued to track his journey through the sand, and as expected, the Internet got creative. Even Formula 1 joined in on the act:



Force India feels the force

Force India thrived in 2017, though pairing an experienced driver still angling for a top seat with a highly-rated youngster backed by the World Champions was inevitably going to cause tensions. It began in Canada, when Sergio Pérez held firm, potentially denying Esteban Ocon a podium shot, and continued into Azerbaijan, when they made contact, robbing both of a good result. Having brushed in Hungary, they hit again on the run to Eau Rouge in Belgium, pitching Ocon briefly into the air, and had another crash later on, causing damage to both cars. Ocon accused Pérez of trying to kill him, Pérez rubbished Ocon's claims, and Force India installed team orders.

Rain on your parade

Monza in early September. The beautiful leaves have begun turning from green to a glowing orange, the Alps remain visible in the distance, while the late summer sun provides desired warmth. Well, usually. On Friday evening the loudest clap of thunder most of the paddock had ever heard rippled across the area, and it didn't stop raining all night. And in the morning it kept raining. And still it rained. And with no wind, and cold weather, it could barely dry. FP3 was almost a no-go, qualifying was repeatedly delayed, Formula 2 got going and finished in near-darkness, after a dramatic finale, while GP3's round was severely truncated. Fortunately, Sunday was back to normal.

Button returns, and gets penalties

Jenson Button didn't want to race in Formula 1 in 2017, understandably preferring to live life by his timetable after 17 years in the sport, but was coaxed back for Monaco when Fernando Alonso opted to partake in the Indianapolis 500. Button approached the event with questionable levels of enthusiasm but, once up to speed, was firmly in Formula 1 mode. Button made Q3, but was sent to the back of the grid due to an engine penalty, and eventually tipped Pascal Wehrlein into the wall. Button slithered into retirement with a broken car, and was issued with a three-place grid penalty which, technically, is still hanging over him. And may well do forever.

Wehrlein's fitness saga

Pascal Wehrlein's nasty Race of Champions crash became a talking point through much of the winter. Speculation mounted that the injury to his back had left him behind on fitness, though this was denied, only to be confirmed when he missed the first test. Wehrlein returned for the second group session, and participated in practice in Australia, but then stood down, as Antonio Giovinazzi got the call-up, and stayed in the car for China. Once Wehrlein returned for good in Bahrain, and performed heroics to almost score a point, it only then became clear just how severe his setback had been.

Sochi, so dull

Not every Formula 1 race can be a thriller, and the drive to produce regular entertainment and drama would only dilute the genuinely gripping moments. However, some races can be – how shall we say – lacking in action. Sebastian Vettel's relentless pressure on leader Valtteri Bottas – chasing his maiden victory – was the sole eye-raising moment of a race in which the only on-track overtake came when Pascal Wehrlein let Marcus Ericsson though, as per a Sauber instruction. A dire Grand Prix at an uninspiring location is about as bad as it gets – even Abu Dhabi was better.

Ericsson's Safety Car disaster

Ericsson did not score a point in 2017, and he wasn't even close in Monaco, before suffering the most embarrassing exit of the campaign. Having been allowed to unlap himself, Ericsson overtook the Safety Car on the approach to Sainte Devote, only to slide wide on colder-than-usual tyres and haplessly cruise straight into the tyre wall. The onlooking marshals could barely believe the situation which had just unfolded, having been busy holding the 'SC' sign and waving yellow flags, and were duly dispatched to clear the dented Sauber.
 
Sainz Jr. gets shot down

The pre-race press conference at the Red Bull Ring was supposed to be about the Azerbaijan fallout, but Carlos Sainz Jr. opted to steal the headlines by claiming a fourth year with Toro Rosso was "unlikely". He was soon shot down by Red Bull's senior management, and tried to explain his words in his next media session – and largely succeeded. Nevertheless, Sainz Jr. was ultimately proved right as he was used as the bargaining tool in the engine saga – and didn't even see out the 2017 campaign in Toro Rosso's colours.

Kimi's number one fan

When Räikkönen was embroiled in the Turn 1 clash at the Spanish Grand Prix, it was a setback for the Finn, and a disappointment for Ferrari. However, for one young fan, it was sheer devastation. The World Feed cameras picked up on Thomas, clad in Ferrari gear, crying his eyes out at Räikkönen's retirement. The Formula 1 paddock reacted, and soon Thomas and his parents were in Ferrari's hospitality, with the youngster meeting his hero, and receiving a signed cap. Thomas also watched the podium ceremony from parc ferme and met a few other drivers as he became the star of the day.

Sauber's favouritism saga

Sauber's off-track manoeuvres through the middle of the year coincided with its plunge in form on it, as Monisha Kaltenborn departed and Frédéric Vasseur arrived to control the listing team. Reports surfaced that Marcus Ericsson's affiliation with Sauber's owners meant he was receiving preferential treatment, but a late-night press release rubbished such suggestions, with Chairman Pascal Picci outraged at the insinuation. "This is not only patently untrue, it would be contrary to the team's absolute and longstanding commitment to fair competition," said Picci.

Bottas gets the jump

Bottas lined up from pole position in Austria and gambled on the lights going out, moving 0.201 after the five red lights went out. It proved to be the foundation for his second win, as he fended off Vettel, but the German was unconvinced. "Hmm, I don't believe that," he said, when Bottas' reaction time was put to him. The FIA clarified that Bottas had made an "exceptionally accurate and fortuitous judgement call, anticipating the moment the lights went out with great precision." Bottas kept his win, while Vettel was still left mildly perplexed in second.

Vettel tries the Shield

The FIA's desire to increase head protection took another turn at Silverstone, when a canopy-like device dubbed the 'Shield' was fitted to the SF70-H. The Shield received typically mixed reaction, but given the visual alternative, there was a more favourable mood compared to said alternative. Nevertheless, after just one driver sampled it for one lap at one circuit in one type of conditions, the shield was shelved, and the halo – towards which drivers are lukewarm and fans united in loathing – was mandated for 2018. For safety, it is difficult to argue against the halo – and the FIA had no choice – but for the future, hopefully an alternative is sought!

Behind the mic to behind the wheel

Paul di Resta has spent the last two years acting as Williams' reserve driver, along with his Mercedes DTM duties, but has also been seen in front of a TV camera, and in the commentary box, with Sky Sports. In Hungary he was present as a pundit when he got the call after FP3 that Felipe Massa's fever had not abated, meaning he was required for the remainder of the weekend. Di Resta dashed in to get changed, got behind the wheel of the FW40 and improved with each lap. In the race, he largely stayed out of trouble – aside from incurring the wrath of Räikkönen – but retired late on amid an oil pressure problem.

Alonso and the iffy exit

Fernando Alonso exited the Belgian Grand Prix amid more problems with Honda's power unit…only for the marque say there had been no detected issue. When the sport reconvened in Italy a few days later, Alonso angrily rubbished suggestions he had parked a healthy car, commenting: "It seems that the people forgot I'm racing here three years, fighting for Q1s, giving my maximum at the starts. I was pushing the car at the Hungaroring in Q1 [in 2015] uphill, just to get another run in Q2, and I tried to race with a broken rib in Bahrain [in 2016]." Alonso duly confirmed that power issues caused glitches, and that when it happened before, the engine had blown – and he parked as a precaution.

Lance strolls onto the front row

Lance Stroll's bewilderingly up-and-down season reached its second high peak at Monza, once the rain had actually receded to a point where the FW40 was more suitable than Noah's Ark. Stroll thrived in the slippery conditions, aided by Williams' package conducive to Monza than some other venues. Stroll qualified in fourth position – comfortably a career high – but thanks to engine penalties for both Red Bull drivers he was promoted to second place on the grid. Stroll was cautious into the Rettifilo Chicane, losing out to Esteban Ocon, and gradually slipped back as faster drivers worked their way through, but still netted a fine seventh.

Grosjean's hopes drain away

Malaysia's Sepang Circuit hosted its final Formula 1 event – for now – this year, and produced a memorable weekend, which began in dramatic fashion, when a loose drain cover interrupted proceedings during practice. Drain covers, which require to be securely bolted down due to the pressures exerted by Formula 1 cars, sometimes work loose, and one at Turn 13 was missed by Räikkönen and Bottas, but Romain Grosjean was less fortunate. Grosjean struck the protruding cover and his rear-right tyre was instantly ripped from the rim, pitching the hapless Haas driver into the barriers. The rest of the day's practice running was abandoned, and Haas was left with an expensive repair job.

Nobody wins!

The loosened drain cover also indirectly led to one of the bizarre motor races in living memory, when no-one finished the South East Asia Formula 4 race. The first race was postponed to Saturday, with the second race taking place shortly after, as scheduled. However, the short turnaround time, and incorrect estimations, meant the cars were not sufficiently fuelled, with all nine drivers retiring before the end of the encounter. Event organisers apologised, and amended the results accordingly.

Bad luck Pierre

Pierre Gasly surged into title contention in Super Formula – ironically costing himself a shot at competing in the US Grand Prix, when it was decided that he should contest the Suzuka showdown as opposed to the Formula 1 event in Austin. However, Typhoon Lan had other ideas. Persistent heavy rain affected qualifying, with Gasly left to rue being blocked on his hot lap, as organisers cancelled the finale as a precaution. It meant rival Hiroaki Ishiura was crowned champion by half a point. Gasly returned to Formula 1 for Mexico – only to be beset by so many engine setbacks that he entered the race with just 12 laps under his belt!

Suck my balls

The Formula 1 midfield can be a ferocious place, as displayed in Hungary, when Nico Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen clashed while battling for position. Magnussen and Hülkenberg battled for 11th position through Turn 2, with the Renault driver adopting the outside line, before being edged onto the grass by his opponent. In the post-race TV pen, Hülkenberg approached Magnussen – who was conducting an interview – to say "once again, you're the most unsporting driver on the grid." Magnussen swiftly responded, telling his opponent to "suck my balls", as Hülkenberg walked off, later calling the Dane an "asshole". Everyone, clearly, needed a summer break.

'It's not me, it's YOU!'

Renault, having previously fallen out with Red Bull, managed to also fall out with Toro Rosso towards the end of the year. Renault boss Cyril Abiteboul insinuated that Toro Rosso perhaps played a role in a spate of failures through its operation of the manufacturer's power units. Toro Rosso was unamused and released a stunning statement, inferring that their battle for sixth in the Constructors' Championship could also have had an influence in proceedings. Abiteboul was furious, pictured in a heated argument with Red Bull chief Helmut Marko, who adopted the unusual position of peacemaker to cool tensions.

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