The 2017 Formula One season being the 71st season of Formula One motor racing features ten teams and twenty drivers. This is one team and two drivers short of the 2016 season after Manor Racing closed down effectively in March as administrators could not find buyer for the struggling Banbury-UK based team. Just Racing, the parent company of Manor, had gone into administration earlier in January.
Dominating talks coming into the season was the retirement of the reigning Drivers’ champion, Nico Rosberg. The German driver had announced his shocking retirement in December 2016 after triumphing over title favourite teammate, Lewis Hamilton. The 2017 season is the first since 1994 in which the reigning champion did not compete. That, coupled with the announcement of Williams’ Valtteri Bottas as replacement for the retired reigning Drivers’ champion put Lewis Hamilton in pole position to reclaim the title he last won in 2015.
However, after a fortnight of winter testing in Barcelona, Ferrari emerged as genuine title contender as their SF70-H showed impressive reliability.
This performance put Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the mix for the battle to end Mercedes’ winning streak and Ferrari’s nine-year constructors’ title drought. With one point separating both Ferrari’s Vettel and Mercedes’ Hamilton after 10 races, there is no doubting the amount of grounds the Prancing Horse has covered over the Silver Arrows.
The second and concluding part of our 2-part series review focuses on how the 10 Formula One teams on the grid have shaped up at the halfway point. From Mercedes-Ferrari title battle, Red Bull surge and the misery at McLaren………
MERCEDES – 330pts
[Lewis Hamilton – 176pts; Valtteri Bottas – 154pts]
Struggled with balance, set up and putting the tyres into their temperature operating window early in the season after the FIA insisted their suspension system had to be changed but are now fully up to speed. Still quickest in qualifying and boast two drivers both scoring strongly. Remain the team to beat – but only just.
FERRARI – 275pts
[Sebastian Vettel – 177pts; Kimi Raikkonen – 98pts]
On a par if not quicker than Mercedes in race pace, the Scuderia have a car that has proved easy to set up, well-balanced – especially through the corners – and have backed it with aggressive and largely successful strategy calls. Raikkonen has not scored well but Vettel is making the most of finally having a competitive ride.
RED BULL – 174pts [Daniel Ricciardo – 117pts; Max Verstapen – 57pts]
Opened the season off the pace due to a discrepancy between data from the wind tunnel and performance on the track but now have it licked. The car is improving but remains behind the two leaders. They are confident of stepping up as the season progresses and, though the championship is beyond them, race wins are on the cards.
FORCE INDIA – 95pts
[Sergio Perez – 52pts; Esteban Ocon – 43pts]
Finished fourth last season and are punching well above their weight again this year. Two fiercely competitive drivers have been scoring points hand over fist and managing them on track is proving to be a tricky task. The best of the midfield bunch, they are not challenging the big three but are the team the others must catch.
WILLIAMS – 41pts
[Felipe Massa – 23pts; Lance Stroll – 18pts]
Started the season with a car that was better than they expected, but are still adjusting to losing Bottas to Mercedes. Stroll has taken time to adapt in his rookie season and is finding his feet, so points have been scarce. The team will develop strongly as Paddy Lowe makes his presence felt and could yet catch Force India.
TORO ROSSO – 33pts
[Carlos Sainz Jr. – 29pts; Daniil Kvyat – 4pts]
Had what looked like a decent package at the start of the season but have failed to exploit it fully. Too many DNFs have cost the team but Carlos Sainz Jr. has once again proved worthy of more in Formula One, qualifying well and having been daring and skilful while racing.
HAAS F1 – 29pts
[Romain Grosjean – 18pts; Kevin Magnussen – 11pts]
Still only the team’s second year in Formula One and so taking 29 points to date can be deemed a success. Now the American team need to find consistency and reliability. The car is temperamental and tricky to balance and set up, but Grosjean has done well when he finds the sweet spot.
RENAULT – 26pts
[Nico Hulkenberg – 26pts; Jolyon Palmer – 0pt]
Still a development year as the manufacturer returns to Formula One with a car it has designed. The power unit also needs work and Palmer’s place is under threat – he is yet to score a point and has been outraced by his teammate Hülkenberg. Have the resources to develop well but there is still a long way for them to go.
SAUBER – 5pts
[Pascal Wehrlein – 5pts; Marcus Ericsson – 0pt]
Running a year-old Ferrari engine meant this season would always be a struggle but they have been hampered by internal politics that ended in the team principal, Monisha Kaltenborn, leaving and her replacement over a fortnight by the former Renault chief Frédéric Vasseur. Expected to be at the back of the field and should be overtaken by McLaren.
MCLAREN – 2pts
[Fernando Alonso – 2pts; Stoffel Vandoorne – 0pt]
A once mighty team rendered powerless by the woeful performance and reliability of their Honda engine.
A divorce looks inevitable. Still clinging on to their greatest asset – the double world champion Alonso – who has proved the chassis is strong but the Spaniard will likely walk if he can find another drive for next season.
My Take on the Season so far………
There is no gainsaying the fact that Mercedes remains the team and Lewis Hamilton the driver to beat, but Ferrari remains an easier car to make work – the SF70-H seems to be competitive whenever it hits the track, no matter what the situation is.
The performance balance at the top has left many within the paddock with little or nothing to separate both teams.
Whether the season remains a two-horse race remains the question that lingers as the second half of the 2017 Formula One season starts in Hungary this weekend. Has Daniel Ricciardo’s resurgence or Valtteri Bottas’ incredible form made it a three-horse or perhaps a four-horse?
Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton’s impeccable run of form has only proven that the title is not beyond either of the drivers. If anything at all, Ricciardo and Bottas are just the drivers to add more excitement to the season and nothing more.
Going by the battle we have seen in the first half, the second half can only be more exciting!
Soliu Adeyemo is a renowned Formula 1 Expert. Follow him @SolihuF1 on Twitter and Instagram for more updates and analysis.