Formula 1 2017 season: Winners and Losers

Formula 1 2017 season: Winners and Losers

25 December 2017 – Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes triumphed in the first two-team title battle in several years as some competitors flourished and others floundered. GPUpdate.net presents its winners and losers from the 2017 season.

Winners

Champions, for the fourth time, were Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. The relationship between the parties was strained at the end of 2016, but a frank conversation between Hamilton and Toto Wolff in the latter's kitchen cleared the air, strengthened the partnership, facilitated by the unexpected departure of Nico Rosberg. The driver change, and loss of Paddy Lowe, allied to regulation changes designed to trip it up, threatened Mercedes' hegemony, but is operated as a cohesive unit in 2017 to battle the threat posed by Ferrari. A Mercedes slip-up was rare in 2017, the only notable negatives being Hamilton's loose headrest in Azerbaijan and Valtteri Bottas' turbo failure in Spain. As Mercedes hit a new gear, so did Hamilton, who kept cool when rival Sebastian Vettel did not. Hamilton bounced back from a couple of subdued displays (Russia, Monaco) and was peerless thereafter, putting in some sublime performances (Canada, Britain, Belgium, Italy) and as soon as Vettel/Ferrari slipped up he was there to pounce. Both are worthy champions.

Sixth in the championship and seven retirements from the opening 13 races – selective statistics can belie the strength of a driver. Max Verstappen largely kept his frustration in check during a wretched run of races as he exited from promising positions in Canada, Azerbaijan and Singapore. Mesmerizing getaways in China and Canada were a reminder of his talents, as was brilliant scrap with Vettel in Britain. Once Red Bull improved its RB13, and Renault's issues were diverted to other drivers, Verstappen was firmly in the hunt, perfectly displayed by crucial moves in Malaysia and Mexico. The foundation for those were laid through strong qualifying laps, and after the respective overtakes Verstappen controlled both races with almost arrogant ease. Verstappen held the one-lap advantage over renowned Saturday expert Daniel Ricciardo, and now with a contract through 2020 in his pocket, he has all he needs to mould a title-winning team around him.

Esteban Ocon
did not beat team-mate Sergio Pérez across one-lap or in the points standings in 2017, but out of the midfield drivers, he is the one who has thrust himself into contention for a leading seat, should such an opportunity arise. From Spain onwards, Ocon and Pérez were matched in the standings, and once returning to the venues which he visited with Manor in 2016, the Frenchman was a much stronger driver, with sublime displays in the United States and Mexico. That Ocon began to edge ahead of an experience, rounded driver in Pérez spoke volume about his potential. Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel fronted Ferrari's challenge but crucial mistakes derailed his prospects; Nico Hülkenberg spearheaded Renault's charge, led it down the correct development path, and made only a couple of minor misjudgements, while Carlos Sainz Jr. seized opportunities when presented and now has the manufacturer seat he craved.

Losers

The first year was a disaster, the second year demonstrated progress, and the third year was when the partnership was meant to kick on – but McLaren-Honda suffered a dismal campaign that concluded in divorce. Honda gambled in adopting a revised power unit concept for 2017, in pursuit of greater long-term potential, but the short-term pain was more substantial than expected, with early testing problems creating rancour and division. The spluttering MCL32s eventually improved, but by the time respectability was earned, the decision to split had already been made, as several promising situations were scuppered by grid penalties, a hangover of the early unreliability. McLaren has been left with its reputation further dented, and tied in a marriage of convenience with Renault, while Honda is still licking its wounds, and must hope for an upturn in fortunes with the smaller Toro Rosso operation. McLaren-Honda used to conjure up iconic images of dominances, but 2015-17 was an unmitigated sporting, commercial and reputational disaster.

Daniil Kvyat
earned a reprieve for 2017, despite his downward spiral through 2016, but this year proved little better, as he mustered just five points, lost his seat, and was axed altogether. There were a handful of highlights, with drives to ninth in Australia and Barcelona – the latter particularly encouraging from the back of the grid – while point-scoring effort in Austin, ironically, was his most-rounded display of the campaign. And there was a dollop of misfortune at other events, such as being assaulted by Sergio Pérez in Monaco. However, when the pressure was on, Kvyat crumbled. Mid-season first-lap mistakes in Austria and Britain severely dented his reputation, while sliding out of a strong position in Singapore proved the death knell to his prospects. Kvyat is not a hopeless liability, and his one-lap pace demonstrates he still has potential. But that won't be displayed with Red Bull, nor in Formula 1, and that ultimately is down to him. 

It wasn't just Kvyat who failed to see out the full season – Jolyon Palmer's miserable campaign with Renault concluded four events early as he moved aside for Sainz Jr. Paired against the respected and experienced Hülkenberg presented Palmer with a chance to outline his credentials, but instead he lacked pace, tripped up too frequently, and was left trailing his team-mate for much of the campaign. Hülkenberg made Q3 nine times, and the rest of the time he dropped out in Q2; Palmer just twice reached Q3, and eight times fell out of the reckoning in Q1. That one-lap pace left Palmer at a disadvantage in race trim and he reached the top 10 just once – and even then Hülkenberg was comfortably quicker. Palmer, it must be set, was hindered by the bulk of Renault's reliability issues, and acted with dignity amid the face of constant queries over his future. But for a manufacturer team his performance was simply sub-par, and Sainz Jr.'s pace across the last four rounds underlined that.

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