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2018 F1 Mid Season Review - The Contenders, The Wingmen & The Also-Rans

12 Races done, 9 to go and we are already in the Summer Break. The 2018 F1 Season has flown by!

This season is the longest in the Calendar with 21 rounds and there will be a lot to fight for in the 2nd half. We shall also be entering into a phase where grid penalties will become a common feature and resources for many will get strained.


How is 2018 treating teams and drivers? Lets have a quick peek :


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes, the kings of the Turbo Era are nervously looking over their shoulder in 2018. Clearly this is the toughest battle they have faced. Unlike the years gone by, they have been unable to break free from the Prancing Horse and the limits of their cars are being tested. One slip up and the contenders are ready to pounce. They are also aware that inspite of being the fastest, they aren't the best car on the grid. Lack of composure in the dirty air of the car in front, faster tyre degradation are 2 major challenges faced by them this year.  They had a slow start to the year but the team gained momentum from Baku. They currently lead the Constructors' battle by a slender 10 points but with 43 points up for grabs every weekend, the lead can disappear with one bad race. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have had their fair share of ups and downs this season. Bottas is yet to win a race and suffered some bad luck with retirements in Baku and Austria ( while leading ) and being tagged by Vettel in France. However he is 4th in the Championship with 132 points, 14 points behind Kimi in 3rd. Lewis leads the Championship ( after playing catch-up for most of the first half ) with 5 wins to his name ( Baku, Spain, France, Germany, Hungary ). He has a sizeable lead of 24 points over Vettel, the latter's DNF in Germany costing him big time. Lewis must maximize results in Belgium and Italy before the fly-aways commence and the F1 circus heads to circuits which aren't the kindest to a Mercedes. Bottas, although in contention, is already being considered a wingman for Lewis' title charge. 

Can Mercedes hold onto both titles in 2018? I highly doubt. 


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, a team that has been playing catch up in the Turbo era is slowly turning the tables on Mercedes. Clearly the most balanced, kindest on tyres and very close to a Merc in outright pace, Ferrari have the car and the tools for making this THE YEAR. Only 10 points separate them from Mercedes and its turning out to be one of the most closely contested fights in recent history. A lot of credit goes to the duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, the latter more so. Kimi got learner over the winter, faster and is enjoying having a more aggresive front-end to his car and that is bringing home the results. He looks hungrier than ever is really enjoying life in F1. Vettel on the other hand is the well-oiled German Machine that never stops being consistent. 

Sebastian Vettel sits 2nd in the Championship with 189 points, trailing Hamilton by 24 while Kimi Raikkonen is 3rd with 146 to his name. Vettel has had 4 wins ( Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Britain ), two 2nd places and one 3rd place, total of 7 podiums. 

Kimi Raikkonen is yet to win a race in 2018 but has 8 podiums, one more than Seb's. The Botched pit-stop in Bahrain and the PU failure in Spain cost the Iceman valuable points and podium finishes which would have brought him closer to his team-mate's tally of 189. He is still running the earlier-spec engine and should finally receive an upgraded unit in Belgium ( confirmed to me by a Ferrari Insider ). Qualifying still remains his Achilles heel and this is one major reason why a win still eludes him. However this is the best year since his return to the team and his 3rd strongest season overall ( both stints at Ferrari combined )

Vettel on the other hand had a very strong start to the year but his drives have not been flawless. The Big Mistake came in Germany when he aquaplaned in changing conditions knocking him out of the race and handing Lewis a big win in the grander scheme of things. The lock-up in Baku at the safety car restart, coming together in France with Bottas and the unfortunate tag by Max in China have added to the "points lost" tally. 

Ferrari have two world champions racing for them vs Mercedes' one. Their combined experience is better than the Merc duo. Ferrari should win the Constructors' Title in 2018 in my opinion...but then anything can happen in the world of motorsport! This definitely is Ferrari's Title to lose.

  

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull predicted at the start of 2018 that it will be difficult to stay in touch with the Mercedes and the Ferraris. The Constructors' table does suggest that but Red Bull have enjoyed their moments of glory in the first half of 2018. Daniel Ricciardo's win in China was exploiting the conditions on offer and applying a master strategy. His win in Monaco ( a track suited to Red Bull ) was a memorable one, redemption for the debacle in 2016. Many argue that Max would have won in the Principality. He was a step ahead of everyone but a crash in qualifying blew his chances and probably denied the team the chance of a famous 1-2. Come Austria, Red Bull's home race and Max took an unexpected win. Austria is a power circuit where the lack of top end grunt in the Tag Heuer branded Renault Power Unit is massively exposed and the what would have been damage limitation for the team turned into ecstasy. Retirements and PU failures have cost the team badly. Both drivers have 4 retirements each to their name, retirements from podium positions in the race, costing the team valuable points in the Constructors. Daniel Ricciardo is 5th in the Championship with 118 points while Max is 6th with 105. Ricciardo has 2 wins to his name while Max has 1 win and 3 podiums. It seems like Red Bull will finish P3 again in the Championship. They have enough breathing space from Renault and trail Ferrari by a massive 112 points. A lot can change in the final 9 rounds with Singapore being the major points scoring opportunity for Red Bull but giving Ferrari a run for P2 is highly unlikely.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault, who made a return to F1 as a full works team in 2016 is making a steady climb up the ladder. 4th in the standings at the summer break is a massive achievement. They have already bettered their tally of a meagre 57 points in 2017 before the summer break this year. The Facilities in Oxfordshire are expanding, personnel being hired and updates to the car coming at the pivotal moments. Nico Hulkenberg and loanee Carlos Sainz Jr. offer a great combination of youth and speed to the team. Hulkenberg leads the Intra-team battle with 52 points on the board while Sainz Jr has 30. Will Renault be able to better their current position by the end of the year? No. The gap ahead is still large and there is a lot of work to do but they will definitely extend their lead to the chasers by the end of the year. The challenge has just begun for Renault Sport F1, to challenge those in the big league is no mean task but the recruitment of Daniel Ricciardo for 2019 is a step in the right direction!


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1, the strongest Ferrari customer team on the grid is improving each weekend. Haas' improvement curve since their entry into the sport is really inspiring. Working closely with the Ferrari Power units, the chassis is very balanced and performs pretty well at most circuits. The only thing eluding them is a podium, which I still think is at least an year away. Kevin Magnussen has borne the responsibility of scoring the chunk of the points. He is currently 8th in the Drivers' Championship with 45 points, his best finish being 5th in Bahrain and Austria. Romain Grosjean is having a torrid time with crashes and DNFs ( thanks to a ghost version of Marcus Ericsson :P ). He has amassed only 21 points, scoring in 3 of the last 4 rounds of going into the summer break. 4th in Austria was his best finish, a drive which showed that the Frenchman has it in him and he just needs to keep it clean. The mid-table battle between Haas, Force India and McLaren is very intense and its imperative for both drivers to finish races in the points consistently. A non-finish for both and the tables can turn drastically. Haas don't have the resources of a McLaren but they know to invest wisely. I believe they will eventually come out on top in this 3 way bout.


Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India is going through some really testing times. One of the creditors went to the court for dissolution of the team and the team is destined to go into administration until the new owners take charge. Their challenger on track isn't having the best outing either. The team is currently 6th in the standings, 2 places lower than their best position in the recent years. Renault and Haas have jumped them, although overtaking Haas by the end of the year should still be an achievable task. A 3rd place by Perez in Baku brought some joy to the team but both Perez and Ocon have scored 59 points combined, too few going into the summer break. Perez leads his team-mate by a point with Ocon finishing in the points on 6 occasions compared to Perez's 5. The lack of funding is hurting the team bad and I doubt they might finish 6th by the end of the year. Anything lower than 4th is a disaster but that is the reality and the team must ride the tide and hope for fortunes to change in 2019.  Astonishingly, Force India remains the most successful Mercedes Customer Team on the grid.


McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren switched to Renault power for 2018 and hoped for a better outing. Its been anything but that. The experts always believed that McLaren had an excellent chassis but their design flaws have been exposed this year. One can argue that its only their first year with Renault and every team needs time to completely adjust to a new engine manufacturer. Fernando Alonso is digging deep to bring home the results and after a strong start to the year, is now struggling to keep McLaren in the fight. Stoffel Vandoorne seems to be struggling with multiple issues and is nowhere near the level of racing he has been. Alonso sits 9th in the Standings with 44 points while Vandoorne is in 16th with just 8 points. Fernando is one driver who will give his 110 % week in week out and is unbeatable when it comes to race wit. Vandoorne must drive better to save his seat, a shame if he was to lose his. Eric Boullier, the Racing Director at McLaren resigned during the triple header and that didn't help matters. McLaren needs to start afresh, begin from scratch and have the right people in the right positions with the legitimate authority to make some tough decisions. 2018 is a good lesson for the team but they still have time to turn things around. Force India is only 7 points ahead and with the issues they face off-track and on it, McLaren must capitalize on every opportunity to put pressure on them in the races and steal P6 off them. Its a long road ahead and we have seen many stories being re-written, so all is not lost for the Woking based outfit. 


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso made the big leap from Renault to Honda for 2018, practically becoming the guinea pig for feasibility and amalgamation with a Red Bull Chassis for 2019. Pierre Gasly and Brendan Hartley drive for the men in blue and both had their share of retirements and incidents. Gasly is the better performer of the two with 26 points in the championship and 3 finishes in the points. ( 4th being his best ). Hartley on the other hand scored two 10th places in Baku and Germany. His F1 career is under serious scrutiny and the WEC World Champion is finding it difficult to establish himself in the sport. The Duo need to be on the top of their game and hope that the Honda Power Unit at the back doesn't let up ( like it has in the first half ) to ensure they keep the Saubers at bay. Gasly's aim will be to impress the bosses in the A team and make a strong case for himself to be seen as an ideal fit for the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, a move that has put the cat amongst the pigeons ( will explore this in the Driver Markets post ). Toro Rosso are known for having a balanced chassis and this might prove to be the winning card in their quest to stay P8 in the Championship.


Alfa-Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber sits 9th in the Standings with 18 points to their name. Charles Leclerc, the Scuderia Ferrari Academy Driver has led the charge with 5 points finishes, 6th in Baku his best result; while Marcus Ericsson finished in the points only thrice with 9th being his best finish in Bahrain and Germany. Its a closely contested battle with Scuderia Toro Rosso who have 10 more than them and ideally, Sauber should have been ahead but mistakes and reliability issues in the recent rounds hit them hard. On the financial side, they are in better waters thanks to Alfa-Romeo and will have enough resources to give Toro Rosso a serious headache. Charles Leclerc is making a name for himself in the paddock while Marcus Ericsson's credentials are being questioned. The Swede needs to pull up his socks in the second half else his financial backing wont be able to get him a drive in 2019.


Williams Martini F1 Racing Team :

Williams is going through a very tough phase in their history. The Team has gone backwards and seem a bit lost in their quest to close up on competitors. Incidents, Non-finishes and a single points finish to show for their efforts leaves them languishing in 10th and last in the Constructors' table. Lance Stroll managed the best finish for the team in Baku with 8th, a stark contrast from the podium they bagged the year before.They claimed to have identified the source of their problems but amends can only be made in 2019. Williams are destined to finish last in 2018 and also bound to lose their title sponsor in Martini at the end of the year. Williams will only be able to score if misfortunes hit the cars closest to them.The Future looks grim and we hope for the best for one of the most decorated teams of F1.


The title battle is wide open this year and all 4 drivers ( Mercedes and Ferrari ) are in contention for the crown...which begs the question : Will the teams allow Bottas and Raikkonen to challenge Hamilton and Vettel respectively? Parity between team-mates is claimed by both team but what happens on-track is contrary to claims. We are nearing that stage of the season when its wise to choose the real contenders for the crown; at this stage its a tough call to make since the Finns are not too far in terms of points. However one bad race or non-finish will seal them as the number 2 in their respective team. Their jobs will be reduced to Mere Wingmen, snippets of which were showed in Germany and Hungary.

Mercedes and Ferrari are in a class of their own. They are the True Contenders for the crown. Red Bull can only capitalize on the mistakes made up front and they have exploited it on a few occasions. The rest of the field will continue to contend amongst themselves to be the best of the rest.


A lot is still at stake...I can't wait for Round 2 of the Bout!


2018 F1 Season Preview - Halo, F1 is back!

The 2017 F1 Season was a closely contested affair up until the Mid-Season Break. The season ended in style in Abu Dhabi and as the F1 fraternity headed into the winter break, the sport turned a page in the Chapter of the "Turbo Era". 

Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 ensured the return of the French Grand Prix ( Paul Ricard Circuit ), German Grand Prix ( Hockenheimring ) thus making 2018 the longest season in F1 History.

The iconic logo made way for another, "Grid Girls" make an exit from the sport and these garnered mixed reactions from fans but the concept of having "Grid Kids" was welcomed by one and all!


A Summary of the Changes in the 2018 F1 Season ( source : www.formula1.com ) :


Technical regulations:

- T-wings and shark-fin style engine covers outlawed
- halo cockpit protection device mandatory
- suspension systems that could alter the car’s aero performance over a lap not allowed

Sporting regulations:


- drivers allowed three rather than four power units per season
- simplified grid penalties for power unit changes
- wider range of dry tyre compounds


The greatest technical change is the addition of a new safety measure to closed cockpit racing - something which extends to the feeder series as well - The Halo!

Incorporating the device into the monocoque has created many engineering problems and increased the mass of the car. Driver escape time has been adjusted to seven seconds to leave the cockpit and twelve seconds for escape and replacing the steering wheel. Frontal crash test standards will also be higher with the objective of improving the protection against carbon elements breaking through the chassis.


Different iterations of the Halo were tested by teams throughout the 2017 season but we saw the final model at the pre-season tests :

( Pic credit : XPB Images )


Tyres 

Pirelli remain the official tyre suppliers for 2018 and have increased the available dry weather range from five to seven variants. They have also introduced a superhard and a hypersoft option.

The side wall colour designations are as follows: Hypersoft – Pink Ultrasoft – Purple Supersoft – Red Soft – Yellow Medium – White Hard – Blue Superhard – Orange.

Pirelli will supply three dry weather compounds per race and intermediates and full wet weather tyres when required.


So how have the teams fared at the tests? What are their prospects for the season? Time to find out!


Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes retained Valtteri Bottas for 2018. Bottas played the perfect team-mate to Hamilton in 2017 and the decision to extend his contract was a no-brainer. The team flexed their muscles and were the fastest in the pre-season tests. They have a lot in reserve and will be the team to beat in 2018. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have been raking up the miles and the car is very reliable. It will be interesting to see how Mercedes' latest challenger performs at circuits like Singapore which were unforgiving in the past. "Damage Limitation" is a rare occurrence for the fastest team in the Turbo Era and they seem to be favourites to lift the Constructors' Crown. Lewis' aim will be to become a 5 time World Champion but will Bottas pose a threat? I believe his challenge will fizzle out towards the business end of the season. Lewis remains my favourite to retain his championship crown.



Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari had a strong 2017 and Sebastian Vettel was a contender for the crown until the coming together in Singapore derailed his chances. The results after the Mid-Season break hurt the team badly and it seemed that they had lost the plot. The Team has lost its Title sponsor for 2018. However the results from pre-season tests prove that the car is no slouch. It is more than capable of challenging for the title. 2017 was a solid base to build on, its time to go one better in 2018.

Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen renew their partnership in 2018. Its no secret that they share the healthiest relationship between team-mates on the grid. Kimi is a team man and the team sees Vettel as their main challenger to the title. Kimi might be calling it a day at the end of the season and will be pushing all the way. Hope to see him win some races this year. Vettel's biggest challenger is Hamilton. The prospect of two 4 time World Champions facing off is too good to miss! Ferrari need to ensure that they don't repeat the tactical errors of 2017. They must remember that they have 2 cars racing and have competitive strategies for both. Its a long road ahead but it will be a start..



Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull kicks off 2018 with Aston Martin becoming a major shareholder in the team. Its nice to see the presence of a new manufacturer on the grid ( although the team uses Tag Heuer branded Renault engines ). Red Bull had a strong second half in 2017 and will look to build from there. They seem to be the 3rd fastest from the pre-season tests but then the tests are just indicators of what is to unfold. There are certain tracks on the calendar where the car is far superior to its rivals and then there are tracks where the power deficit simply cannot be compensated for. Red Bull will be hoping that the power disparity isn't as much as it was in 2017. They will definitely have Ferrari nervously looking over their shoulders in 2018.

Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the dynamic duo drive for Red Bull in 2018. Daniel had a good outing in 2017 but Max's campaign was riddled with reliability issues. Red Bull wouldn't want a repeat of 2017 since its no secret that Max with his abilities and racing acumen, is hot property in the driver market. Ricciardo too is yet to clarify where his loyalties will lie beyond 2018. So its a make or break year for the car. Red Bull boast of a very potent lineup, 2 drivers who can pounce at the tiniest of slip-ups. Beating the Mercedes and Ferrari will be no walk in the park but they have the personnel and the power to make this a reality.



Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India F1 had quite an eventful winter break - first news of a name change and now news of a possible buyout. Pre-season tests yielded grim results and the team must address issues as soon as possible to minimize the damage that could happen in the first few races. McLaren, Renault will be stronger this year so retaining P4 in the Constructors will be a tough ask.

The Relatively Volatile partnership of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon might damage the team's chances in 2018. The team must ensure that wheel to wheel racing between the team-mates is kept clean and incidents such as those in 2017 aren't repeated. Will Force India remain the fastest Mercedes Customer Team in 2018? I have serious doubts.



Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault made their return as a works team in 2015 and since then its been an uphill task. Renault retains the services of Nico Hulkenberg along with the loanee Carlos Sainz Jr. from the Red Bull Driver Program. Renault's focus has been on improving reliability since 2017 and it seems to be paying dividends now. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team should be able to finish consistently in the points at the races. They must capitalise on any slip-ups by the front runners. I believe their battle with McLaren ( now a Renault customer team ) will be a closesly fought one and they should prevail at the end of the year.

Hulkenberg and Sainz Jr. are an interesting duo. They will be pushing each other throughout the year. Both are clean racers. Its hard to put one's money on who could win the Intra-team battle. Renault should also explore the possibility of signing Sainz Jr. on a long term contract. It will help them in their quest to make it to the sharp end of the grid. I really hope the best for them!


McLaren Renault F1 Team :

McLaren Renault, 2 names that were never seen together in the lifespan of F1. McLaren had some amazing battles with the Renault works team in the early 2000s but after breaking off from Mercedes and joining forces with Honda ( returning as an engine supplier ) in 2015, McLaren went into a downward spiral. Their partnership with Honda was a disaster leading existing sponsors away from the brand and pushing them into making the big decision of becoming a Renault  customer team from 2018 ( for 3 years ). Reliability and lack of pace hurt the McLaren Honda assocation. McLaren has to rebuild itself from 2018 and strive to return to the glory days of old..

McLaren have the perfect combination of experience and youth in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Alonso is still one of the best and getting a competent car under him is long due. Alonso will be instrumental in improving the car throughout 2018. Vandoorne is an exciting prospect for the future and will bring home the results. Reliability still seems to be the challenge for the team but pace has improved drastically. The signs for 2018 are positive. Lets hope it stays that way!



Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso broke away from Renault and signed a deal with Honda engines for 2018. Many questioned the thought behind such a decision. They also lost a sponsor to Renault Sport F1 ( after Sainz Jr's loan deal ). However the top brass in the team seem to know what they are doing. Ironically Toro Rosso was the team to clock the most number of miles in the pres-season tests while McLaren was riddled with mechanical failures and driver errors. The big question for the team : Can they sustain this kind of reliability through the year. I have my reservations.

Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly will drive for Toro Rosso in 2018. Both are relatively inexperienced but how they fare would determine whether they can make it to the A team, should a spot open up in 2019. Hartley will be the man who will lead the charge according to me. Gasly will enter the fray eventually. Toro Rosso boast of a potent chassis. Consistent point finishes should be easy for them. 



Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams retain the services of Lance Stroll for 2018. Sergei Sirotkin, a rookie joins their ranks alongwith Robert Kubica who will take up the spot of Reserve Driver. The choice has been an interesting one considering the fact that Sirotkin has big financial backing. Williams has a strong car for 2018 but will the inexperience of their drivers cost them in the long run? The absence of Felipe Massa who called it a day ( this time for good ) means Stroll will be bearing the burden of scoring points while Sirotkin finds his feet in the sport. 

Williams must fare better in 2018. They had 3 torrid years and a good 2018 is very important to ensure that they have a title sponsor for 2019 ( Martini leaves at the end of 2018 ).


Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 continue their quest to become the best with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the wheel. Grosjean will be the more reliable, Mangussen's performances were pretty mercurial in 2017. Grosjean will be hoping that the braking issues he suffered in 2017 wouldn't repeat itself. The main challenge for Haas will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1. They do need more financial influx and sponsorship deals to improve on the R&D front. Lets hope 2018 opens up new vistas for them.


Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo a name that was associated with the sport for long, now makes a re-entry in 2018 alongwith Sauber. The Swiss team, which has struggled financially for a number of years, will be rebranded as Alfa Romeo Sauber from 2018 after a technical and commercial partnership was agreed. The Italian manufacturer will have their logo carried on the car, although it will still be powered by year-old Ferrari engines. Sauber released Pascal Wehrlein and aquired the services of GP2 Champion and rookie Charles LeClerc for 2018. LeClerc is an class act and I believe he will outperform Marcus Ericsson in 2018. The Swede retains his seat thanks to the sizeable sponsorship deals he brings to his employers. Ferrari will definitely have an influence and say in this team since Alfa Romeo belongs to FCA of which Ferrari is also a subsidary.


The F1 Season kicks off this weekend in Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia! 

Mercedes are still favourites to retain the crown but Ferrari are close on their heels. The results in Bahrain and China will tell the true story. Reliability will be the deciding factor again and it wont be a surprise to see drivers serving grid penalties in the latter half of the season.

I am hoping to see Kimi Raikkonen on the top step of the podium in a few races!

I am looking forward to being a guest of Scuderia Ferrari F1 in Silverstone, Belgium and Abu Dhabi.  

Wishing all the teams and the drivers the best for the season...

There are many contenders to the crown..however...There can only be One!

2017 F1 Season Review - Fantastic Fourth!

F1 turned over a new leaf in 2017. The ownership changed hands and Liberty Media added a freshness to the sport. Fan Interactions increased, Experiences were added and the future looks bright for a sport that aims at expanding its global footprint.

2017 also saw 3 rookies make it to the grid - Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly & WEC Champion Brendan Hartley ( replaced Daniil Kvyat towards the end of the season )

20 races made up the 2017 Season and pre-season tests suggested that Ferrari would be a formidable challenger. Red Bull seemed to be off the pace while Mercedes had another reliable run into 2017. Was Ferrari able to dethrone Mercedes from their perch? How did Red Bull fare with their new Tag Heuer branded engine? Bottas vs Hamilton? Hamilton vs Vettel? Bottas vs Raikkonen? Who reigned supreme in 2017? Well lets have a quick recap of the season gone by.


Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

Mercedes, the most successful team and engine supplier in the turbo-era went into 2017 with a little bit of uncertainty. The W08, their 2017 challenger was fast but not the easiest to handle. Nico Rosberg the reigning World Champion retired from the sport and Mercedes had to hire Valtteri Bottas from Williams, so that wasn't ideal. Questions were raised about the worthiness of Valtteri Bottas. Doubts lingered about the kind of relation he would have with Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari seemed to have done their homework and the gap was considerably lower than in 2016. This was going to be one tough fight.

The season started off more as a boxing bout as the contenders to the crown traded punches taking victories in alternate rounds. Lewis Hamilton took the first win of the season for the team in China and Bottas responded with a win of his own in Russia. Hamilton then took victories in Spain ( a hard fought one ), Canada and Great Britain while Bottas notched up another win in Austria. The Finn kept his more experienced team-mate honest in the title fight. Hamilton went on a winning spree in Belgium, Italy and Singapore and became the Number 1 driver in the team. Japan and USA sealed the deal. P2 in Mexico saw him being crowned the Drivers' Champion for the 4th time! He also surpassed Michael Schumacher's record of the most pole positions in Italy and with the British Grand Prix win, he equalled the records of Alain Prost and Jim Clark, who also won the race five times each. Lewis made it happen when it mattered the most. He won the those little battles to win the war and a well deserved title it was. Kudos to the Englishman for his win. Hamilton had amassed 363 points with 9 wins and 4 podium finishes at the end of 2017. Bottas who played catchup with Vettel in the second half of the year eventually finished in P3 with 305 points, 3 race wins and 10 podium finishes under his belt.

Mercedes will still be the team to beat in 2018. Period.


Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, the most successful team in F1 - A name synonymous with winning. A lot of hopes were pinned on the Maranello based outfit to take the fight to the Mercs . Many believed this was the year that Ferrari would finally deliver; after all it had been 10 years since they last won a Drivers' Championship! Ferrari persisted with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen a pair that gets along extremely well. The year started off on the right note for Vettel with 3 wins out of 6 and Lewis Hamilton having to play catchup. Going into the mid-season break, the German trailed by 3 points in the championship with 4 wins ( Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary ) & 6 podium finishes. His championship hopes seemed to be on track after Lewis struggled in qualifying in Mercedes' bogey track ( Singapore ) and Vettel put it on pole. However an uncharacteristic error on the Sunday ( on a wet track ) took the top 3 qualifiers Vettel, Verstappen and Raikkonen out of the race. Verstappen got sandwiched with Vettel cutting across and Raikkonen, who had a blistering start overtaking him resulting in a mighty shunt for the 3. Lewis took the win and it dealt a heavy blow to the championship. Retirement in Japan proved to be the final nail in the coffin and Lewis took the championship in Mexico. Vettel finished P2 ( albeit just ) with 317 points and 5 wins under his belt.

Kimi Raikkonen on the other hand had a slower start to the year. He put his car on pole in Monaco and could have won but for Vettel to come out on top thanks to a better strategy. Kimi played second fiddle throughout the year ( inspite of constant denial by the team ). He finished P4 in the Championship with 7 podium finishes, his best being 2nd in Monaco and Hungary. Once again, the Iceman didn't have reliability and circumstances going his way, robbing him of more podium finishes and possible victories. Kimi was praised for being a team player on many occasions and Belgium is one instance that comes to mind. On his final run in qualifying, Kimi made an error and had to abort the lap. He managed to give Vettel the tow towards the end of the lap, that helped the German end up on the front row to challenge for the win. One thing is certain though, he might be the oldest driver on the grid but he hasn't lost his racing edge. On his day, the Iceman is still untouchable. Will we see him win again? ever? Well that is one question no one can answer.

Ferrari were on track in the first half of the season, then they lost the plot altogether. It isn't going to be easy beating Mercedes over a season but the team can take encouragement from the fact that their competitors aren't invincible.


Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing began their 2017 campaign with a Tag Heuer branded power unit. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen renewed their partnership and things didn't seem too promising at the start of the season. However the duo gave the works team a run for their money notching a victory each under their belt. Ricciardo won in a power dominated circuit in Baku ( thanks to Vettel and Hamilton bickering and incidents galore around him ). Verstappen after a slew of retirements ( thanks to mechanical failures ) finally won in Malaysia. A coming together in Hungary brought Ricciardo grief but the Australian prevailed over the Dutchman, finishing 5th in the Drivers' Championship with 1 win and 8 podium places. 3 retirements towards the end of the season denied him the chance to retain 4th place ( eventually taken by Raikkonen ). Verstappen too suffered retirements at pivotal moments in the season and finished in 6th place with 2 wins ( Malaysia and Mexico ) and 2 podium finishes.

Red Bull must ensure that they lock down the duo for the future as they share a wonderful chemistry and have an abundance of talent. The chink in the armour was the reliability of the power units. The difference to Ferrari in 2nd seems big but it would have been a lot closer with more podiums and points finishes. They were perceived as the biggest threat towards the end of the season. Red Bull know how to win. They have been there, done that. Improving in 2018 is a given.


Sahara Force India F1 Team :

Force India continue to go from strength to strength in the Turbo Era. The Best Mercedes Customer Team tag remained with them in 2017. Sergio Perez & Esteban Ocon pushed each other throughout the year. The push became a shove and the team had to ban them from racing each other in order to protect their position in the championship. Perez finished on 100 points in P7, 13 ahead of his team-mate Ocon with points finishes in every race barring 3. His best finish was P4 in Spain. Ocon went on a record run of race finishes until his retirement in the Brazilian GP. The Frenchmen scored 87 points with his best finishes of P5 in Spain and Mexico.

Force India were truly a force to reckon with in 2017. Finishing P4 in the championship was no mean feat. They even made the Big 3 sweat on a few occasions. 2018 wont be easy sailing as those trailing behind will have more powerful units under them.


Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

Williams fielded a mix of experience and youth in Felipe Massa and Rookie Lance Stroll. Massa called it a day at the end of the 2016 season but had to return after Bottas switched to Mercedes AMG F1. Williams finished 5th in the Constructors' Championship and amazingly managed to bag a podium with Lance Stroll in Baku! The team's struggle continued in 2017 after the initial successes of 2014. Felipe Massa outscored Stroll but only just ( 3 points ), 6th being his best finish in Australia and Bahrain. Paul di Resta stepped into Massa's Seat for one race ( Hungary ), the Brazilian having to sit it out due to illness. Lance Stroll struggled in the initial rounds of the season but the 3rd place finish in Baku sent many doubters into silence. Stroll finished in the points in 7 races and suffered 4 retirements. His performances are bound to approve in 2018. The 19 year old still has a lot to learn in the world of motor racing and the team has played a big gamble by having another rookie join their ranks in 2018.


Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault Sport F1 finished the season in 6th in the Constructors' Championship, a marked improvement from their performances in 2016. They would not like to be where they are at but the only way forward is upwards and thankfully being a works team will ensure that funding never becomes an issue for R&D.

Nico Hulkenberg scored 43 points and finished 10th in the Drivers' Championship. He finished in the points in 8 races with 6th being his best finish on 4 occasions. Jolyon Palmer had a painful 2017 again, only 6th in Singapore being his finish in the points. He was eventually relieved of his services after Japan, a forgettable F1 Career for the former GP2 Champion. Carlos Sainz Jr. then joined the ranks and produced his best finish of 7th ( for the team ) in Austin, USA.

Renault will be a potent team in 2018. The dynamic duo of Hulkenberg and Sainz Jr. will be pushing each other and I see the team finishing at least P4 in 2018.


Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

Toro Rosso began the 2017 campaign with Daniil Kvyat & Carlos Sainz Jr. Kyvat was then replaced by Pierre Gasly for Malaysia & Japan and left the team after the US Grand Prix. Red Bull Loaned Carlos Sainz Jr. to Renault F1 for a year ( for 2018 ) but Renault relieved Jolyon Palmer of his services after Japan so Sainz had to effect the switch earlier. LMP1 Porsche Driver and WEC Champion Brendon Hartley took his place for the final 4 rounds of the season. This merry-go-round didn't create the ideal situation for the team since they had to fight hard to retain their place against a resurgent Haas towards the business end of the season. The team also suffered from misfiring Renault Units on many occasions.

Carlos Sainz Jr. led the charge with a career best 4th in Singapore, who can forget the Radio Communication that night "Vamos Vamos Vamos!" Daniil Kvyat only managed 5 points, 9th being his best finish. Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley weren't able to open their accounts.

Toro Rosso won't have it easy in 2018 as they switch to Honda Power. Gasly and Hartley are supremely talented but will need a reliable car under them to help the team achieve the points that they need.


Haas F1 Team :

Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen led the charge for Haas F1 in 2017 and the relatively new team continue to impress in their 2nd year. Finishing P8 in the championship, they narrowly missed beating Scuderia Toro Rosso ( 6 points ) to P7. Romain Grosjean bagged 28 points in 2017 inspite of having brake troubles throughout the year. His best finish was 6th in Austria. Kevin Magnussen's best finish was P7 in Azerbaijan and he finished the season on 19 points.

F1 is a demanding sport and Haas will have to maintain a steep development curve to stay in touch with those in front. Nevertheless they can take pride in the fact that they have fielded a more reliable car in 2017.


McLaren Honda F1 Team :

McLaren's partnership with Honda has been one of its biggest fiascos. The Engine Manufacturer failed to make inroads even in 2017 and the team suffered massively from multiple engine penalties over different race weekends. There were silver linings but the news of a split developed through the year. The Team had both cars cross the chequered flag only on 7 occasions. They did reduce the deficit to Haas F1 towards the end but were unable to finish any better than P9 at the end of the year.

Fernando Alonso & Stoffel Vandoorne finished their season on 17 and 13 points respectively, their best finishes being 6th and 7th. Alonso also enjoyed the opportunity of racing in the Indy 500 in the US which coincided with the Monaco GP. Jenson Button was recalled out of retirement and got to race but had to retire after an incident with Wehrlein. There is no doubt in the ability of the duo and results will improve with a much faster and more reliable Renault power unit for 2018.


Sauber F1 Team :

Sauber F1 finishes last in the standings, financial constraints limiting their progress in 2017. The team already had a power deficit with a 2016 Ferrari engine and their problems were compounded when the team principal Monisha Kaltenborn left mid-season. Marcus Ericsson drew a blank again while Pascal Wehrlein's P8 in Spain & P10 in Azerbaijan brought home the team's points. Antonio Giovinazzi, Ferrari's Reserve Driver also got 2 weekends under his belt in Australia & China after Wehrlein injured himself in the Race of Champions earlier in the year and felt under-prepared for the start of the season.

Its been a disappointing year again for Sauber F1 but with Alfa Romeo investing in them for 2018, a lot can change.


I had the privilege of attending the Spanish Grand Prix and the Belgian Grand Prix in 2017. Planning to do 3 races in 2018, God Willing.

The 2018 season kicks off with pre-season testing in Barcelona in February. The much debated Halo makes its debut. The lineup for 2018 is complete and car launch dates are out too.

Mercedes won a hard fought battle in 2017. Ferrari were left wondering what could have been.

Truly
it was a Fantastic Fourth for the team from Brackley! Well Done Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team!

The Countdown to the 2018 season has begun. Can't wait!