Rosberg’s shock retirement after his championship winning season in 2016 meant that many tipped Hamilton for an easy route to the title. But the resurgent Ferrari and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel have made it far from straightforward. Now past the halfway mark of the season, the action really starts to heat up.
September saw three big races. Could Ferrari claim home victory at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza for the first time since 2010? What really happened during the carnage at Singapore? And we bid farewell to the Malaysian Grand Prix as it makes its final appearance on the race calendar.
Plus, we’ll take a look ahead to 2018 at all the latest rumours on who will be racing where in 2018.
Driving for Ferrari always brings pressure. This year, Raikkonen and, in particular, Vettel, were really feeling the heat as they turned up at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. On Ferrari’s home turf and with expectations soaring thanks to Vettel’s place atop of the standings, there was real hope that Ferrari would finally have a home win for the first time since Alonso took top spot back in 2010. It was also the 70th anniversary of the famous red of Ferrari first entering motorsport as the Scuderia racing team. High expectations and high hopes for an important, noteworthy victory.
Hamilton had other ideas. In front of 93,000 home fans Hamilton retook the top spot of the driver’s championship. Roundly booed by the home crowd, albeit in a much friendlier manner than on some previous occasions, Hamilton must be getting used to the view from the top of the podium at Monza after claiming his fourth victory at the circuit.
Ferrari fans could have been forgiven for expecting this result, especially after Hamilton broke the record for pole positions during qualifying. Starting in first, Hamilton took total control of the race, comfortably leading his teammate Bottas to a Mercedes 1-2. The only challenge came from a surprising source – Williams driver Lance Stroll who, having qualified in second, pushed Hamilton going into the first corner. But the challenge didn’t last long and soon Hamilton was off and racing practically on his own, as the battle for second took place behind him.
Having qualified sixth on the grid, Vettel managed to fight his way through to third, but his car didn’t have the power to match that of the two Mercedes drivers. In fact, he had more concern from Red Bull, having to work hard to keep Ricciardo behind him.
Driver of the weekend has to be Ricciardo, who started back in 16th place after a penalty for using too many vehicle parts throughout the season. Battling through the pack, a combination of excellent strategy and aggressive overtaking saw Ricciardo behind Raikkonen and Vettel with twelve laps to go. Able to pass the Finn, the long stint spent on his tyres meant he didn’t quite have the rubber to take on Vettel.
And spare a thought for the previous Ferrari winner, Alonso, who really isn’t enjoying his time at McLaren. Out of the thirteen races Alonso has taken part in this season, he has only finished four times.
1st – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2nd – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
3rd – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Formula One racing is all about fine margins. Drivers pushing their cars as close to the edge as possible. Every fraction of a second, every millimetre of spare track is used to be as fast as they can. Hours and hours of preparation go into every race, meaning drivers are prepared to do as much as they can to win the race.
Singapore. In the wet and under the floodlights. A thrilling location for a race. Sebastian Vettel has qualified in first. Title rival Hamilton is back in fifth. The perfect opportunity to reclaim the top of the driver’s championship and put the pressure back on Hamilton.
Lights out. Race starts. And then the unthinkable happens…
The giant crash at the very start of the Singapore Grand Prix was all that everyone was talking about as Sebastian Vettel’s aggressive defensive manoeuvre saw him out of the race, along with Verstappen, Raikkonen and Alonso.
When the lights went out and the race started, Vettel began in trademark defensive fashion, moving across to cover off Verstappen, who had qualified second. Verstappen had no choice but to move across, but Raikkonen was moving up the outside. Verstappen clashed with Raikkonen, sending both cars out of control and into the back of Vettel. The chaos that followed was lucky to only claim one other driver. Spare a thought for Alonso, who was finally showing his true form, only to be sideswiped by Raikkonen’s out of control Ferrari. Alonso was so angry after returning to the pit, that it was reported he left a fist-sized hole in the wall of his room.
Hamilton could have been forgiven for having a broad grin beneath the helmet as he witnessed the carnage unfold in front of him. With the Red Bulls and Ferraris dominating practice and qualifying, Hamilton was expecting to spend the race chasing after the leading pack, waiting for a mistake to pounce upon. Instead, he was gifted the race in the first few seconds.
Hamilton told The Guardian “I came here with the idea of damage limitation,” he added. “Thinking I would come out again behind in the championship. Now I am much further ahead, so I count my blessings.”
It wasn’t just luck that helped Hamilton claim victory. Having been outpaced by Red Bull all weekend in the dry humid conditions, race day’s rain helped level the playing field. Hamilton recorded fastest lap after fastest lap, pushing himself further and further ahead of the remaining Red Bull of Ricciardo. In the end, he soon had total control of the race, and with it, the balance of the title race was tipped firmly in his favour.
1st – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2nd – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
3rd – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
When Max Verstappen arrived on the scene in 2015, the precocious young driver quickly made a big impact. Quickly promoted from Toro Rosso to the main Red Bull team, the 17-year old is widely seen as a future great of the sport.
But 2017 has been a rough year for the young driver, characterised by mistakes and vehicle failure, summed up in the collision with teammate Ricciardo back at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The gloom of the season was lifted with a surprising yet dominant victory at the last ever Malaysian Grand Prix. Having moved up from third to second on the grid after Raikkonen’s car failed during the warm-up lap, he took advantage of the change in position to really take off from the start.
There is no question that Verstappen has talent. And with a little more luck (and more than a little bit more experience/common sense), his results this season could have been much stronger. This was a race of cool-headedness and control, the pace of his Red Bull giving him a lead of seven seconds after just ten laps.
Verstappen’s quick start left Hamilton in the dust, but he didn’t seem too concerned over the result, only the lack of power in his car. The big reason for this was Vettel’s grid penalty that saw him start at the back of the pack. Expecting little pressure from his sole title challenger, Hamilton could have been forgiven for letting the eager young Dutchman Verstappen to pass and leave him to focus on his own race.
But Vettel wasn’t going to give up. Knowing that the title was potentially slipping from his grasp, Vettel fought his way through the chasing pack, eventually finishing in fourth place, two places behind Hamilton in second. A valiant attempt that could potentially keep the title race alive.
1st – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2nd – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3rd – Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
Malaysia said goodbye to Formula One this past weekend, as the Sepang Circuit leaves the calendar. Having been funded by the Malaysian government since 1999, a lack of local interest and development through its position on the calendar has meant the race has left with little fanfare.
The Malaysian Grand Prix is one of many that signify the last decades of Ecclestone’s control of the sport. Like Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Turkey and many others, their position on the calendar were all through the heavy financial investment from the countries hosting them, but with little interest in the sport from local fans. While they make for exotic locations, races like Malaysia emphasise the troubling state the sport is in, where instant money has been prioritised over long-term success.
Thank you to the fans here in Malaysia, I'll miss racing at this great circuit. Congrats and happy birthday, Max. Looking forward to Japan! pic.twitter.com/x9HR0uLKTw— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) October 1, 2017
The new owners, Liberty Media, are unlikely to follow the same formula. Looking more towards holding races in city centres, bringing the races to the people. With the owners also showing their distaste for the big money TV deals that have taken F1 off of public channels, expect future races to appear on city streets rather than circuits built by oligarchs and dictators around the globe.
The teams are starting to look ahead to next season, with rumours abound about who will be where when racing starts once again in Australia. Here are five of the biggest rumours about next season:
Not having raced in Formula One since 2011, many thought Robert Kubica’s F1 career was over after being left with just partial movement in his left arm. But rumours continue to persist that he will be back and racing for Renault in 2017.
Kubica has just signed up with Nico Rosberg’s management company, which will be hoping to facilitate his return. But Renault are expected to make Carlos Sainz their driver to partner Nico Hulkenberg. There is potentially a space at Williams if they decide not to continue with Felipe Massa.
The British Renault driver is fighting for a seat next season, as it has been made clear he will not be kept on at Williams. A combination of an unreliable car and disputes with number one driver Nico Hulkenberg has left his future in the sport in the balance. With just eight points to his name this season, he will need to perform a lot better to save his future.
Alonso ducking out of the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500 saw many considering his future in the sport, especially after he performed so well in the race. McLaren’s reliability problems and poor Honda engines have meant he has struggled to find a car that fits his skill.
But McLaren’s ditching of Honda has given the Spaniard some renewed hope in the team. With Renault stepping in to replace Honda, Alonso must have seen something to convince him his efforts won’t go to waste in the future.
Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson will both be waiting anxiously to hear what new partners Ferrari have to say about Sauber’s lineup for next season. While both drivers haven’t exactly been setting the racing world alight, they would both be keen to continue the slow progress they have made in Sauber, especially with the new Ferrari engine.
But there is a potential replacement lined up. Ferrari’s young ‘wonder kid’ Charles Leclerc has already won the GP3 Series and is looking likely to win F2 at a canter. Ferrari could be eyeing up a similar set-up that Red Bull has with Toro Rosso, using the smaller team to bring through potential starts of the future.
Ever since losing his place at Red Bull to Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat’s place with Red Bull and Toro Rosso has looked shaky. Once one of the more promising drivers in F1, the Russian driver has looked out of sorts, and was replaced entirely for the Malaysian Grand Prix by Pierre Gasly. Despite finishing in 14th position, the view is that Toro Rosso will give the young Frenchman an opportunity to prove himself over the next few races.
So where does that leave Kvyat? With Carlos Sainz leaving Toro Rosso next season to join Renault, he could still be a Toro Rosso driver in 2018. But is that what he wants? With Toro Rosso activating an option in his contract, he might have little choice. Needless to say, the last few seasons for Kvyat have not been the happiest, so his future remains uncertain.
September has been a good month for Hamilton, and one to forget for Vettel. Having been ahead at the start of the month, Vettel now trails Hamilton by 34 points. The only positive is that Hamilton’s 7 race wins haven’t been enough to open clear daylight between himself and the German in pursuit. With five races remaining, there are 125 points available, should Vettel win every single race. But Hamilton won’t let that happen without a fight.
In third, Bottas is 25 points behind Vettel and could still overtake him to claim second in the championship. That would be a massive achievement for the Finn in his first season as a Mercedes driver.
Behind the top three, the positions look more stable, with Ricciardo likely to be best of the rest, ahead of Raikkonen and Verstappen.
1st – Lewis Hamilton (281 points)
2nd – Sebastian Vettel (247 points)
3rd – Valtteri Bottas (222 points)
4th – Daniel Ricciardo (177 points)
5th – Kimi Raikkonen (138 points)
6th – Max Verstappen (93 points)
1st – Mercedes (503 points)
2nd – Ferrari (385 points)
3rd – Red Bull (270 points)
4th – Force India (133 points)
From the far east to way out west, as Formula One heads to Japan, the US and Mexico for three crucial races in the battle for the title.