2017 turned a page in the turbo era of F1. Bigger tyres, more downforce, faster lap times and the good emanating out of new ownership of the sport prove that F1 is slowly making its way back to the glory days. 2017 has brought a sense of freshness to the sport and the teams have embraced the challenges with aplomb. New Partnerships were created and New Rivalries were born. The Mid-Season Break is ongoing but the work carries on in the respective team factories. So how good have the contenders been up until the halfway point of the season?
Lets have a quick peek.
Mercedes AMG F1 Team :
Mercedes, the undisputed champions of the Turbo Era are tipped to retain the crown for both the Drivers' as well as the Constructors' but unlike the years gone by, the competitors have posed a bigger threat than they ever have before. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are having to play catch-up with Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes' lead in the Constructors' is a slender 39 points and they have been outclassed in a few races this year. Lewis Hamilton is P2 in the Championship, 14 points adrift with 4 wins and 2 podiums to his name. Valtteri Bottas is P3 with 169 points with 2 wins and 6 podiums.
Its advantage Lewis in the intra-team battle according to me. Lewis knows how the team functions and has shown time and again why he is a 3 time world champion. The Team will look to him to aid their defense of the world title. Valtteri Bottas on the other hand is a revelation and surprised one as he settled into his new team fairly quickly. Bottas is keeping Lewis honest in this title fight. The team must ensure that a healthy environment is maintained between the 2 garages. Mercedes maintained a fair fight on the track and delivered on their promise so far. They still have the fastest car on the grid but an unsettled one as well when stuck behind another car.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari persisted with Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen for 2017 and they have upped their game this year. Sebastian Vettel has been leading the charge and is currently the leader in the Drivers' Championship with 202 points with 4 wins to his name ( Australia, Bahrain, Monaco & Hungary ) and four 2nd place finishes. Kimi Raikkonen was the slow starter again and had many issues hampering his progress, both on the mechanical and the strategic fronts. The Iceman's performances improved in the races going into the break. Kimi Raikkonen is P5 in the Championship with 4 podium finishes to his name.
The Gap between Mercedes and Ferrari is 39 points. Momentum is with the Prancing Horse. Mercedes are definitely looking nervously over their shoulders. I wish to quote Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene : At Ferrari, there is no holiday. We have to stay humble and keep pushing. Unquote.
Sebastian Vettel is the favourite for the driver's title. Kimi Raikkonen is providing the perfect support role. Mathematically Kimi isn't out of the title race but realises its best to not jeopardize team chances by unsettling his team-mate in races ( inspite of being faster ). Kimi had the chance to win 2 races, one in Monaco and the other in Hungary but the team chose otherwise. Once again the Finn has shown that he is a team man and a class act. Ferrari will always be indebted to him
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull had a strong 2016 and had hopes to replicate it in 2017. However Ferrari arrived a lot stronger and currently maintain a healthy lead over them. Red Bull are unbeatable when it comes to chassis design and aerodynamics. However the Renault Power Tag Heuer branded Power Unit continues to be their Achilles' Heel. Daniel Ricciardo sits P4 in the Drivers' Standings with 117 Points and 1 victory to his name. ( Azerbaijan ). Max Verstappen has been very unfortunate with issues in his car causing him to retire from strong finishing positions in 4 Races. Verstappen's best finish was P3 in China. Max is P6 in the championship with 67 points.
Red Bull must ensure that both cars reach the Chequered Flag. They don't face an immediate threat from Force India but if they plan to dethrone Ferrari by the end of the season reliability will be the key. Red Bull top brass will be thoroughly displeased if they are unable to bag P2 in the Championship. Realistically, its a far fetched dream. The Development curve must not stop and Red Bull must aim to carry their progress into 2018 to be closer to the fastest teams on the grid.
Sahara Force India F1 Team :
Force India continue to be a revelation in 2017. They are right up there with the big boys fighting wheel to wheel and causing some upsets along the way as well. An accomplished power unit in Mercedes alongwith a capable chassis has ensured that Force India is the strongest customer team on the grid. They are well ahead of Williams in the Constructors but considerably behind Red Bull so improving to P3 at the end of 2017 seems uncertain. Barring Monaco, the team has always scored points. Sergio Perez leads the team-mate battle with 56 points to his name and P4 being his best finish ( Spain ). Esteban Ocon isn't far behind with 45 points, Spain his best result ( 5th ). Team Livery also is a talking point - eye-catching pink coloured cars on the grid. Driver Race Suits were similar and this invited some healthy banter with other teams over social media.
P4 would be a great finish and for a team with financial constraints like Force India, they can be extremely proud of what they have achieved so far.
Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :
Williams started well in 2014 with the New Turbo Engines suiting their cars well. However they have gone backwards since and sit 5th in the standings in the mid season break. Felipe Massa returned from retirement to take up Valtteri Bottas' place who left for Mercedes AMG F1. Lance Stroll, the rookie joined forces with him. Williams have underachieved in the first half of 2017. Lance Stroll's 3rd Place in Baku Azerbaijan was a surprise but Massa has been the more consistent of the two. His experience has been vital in keeping the team in 5th, albeit just 2 points ahead of the fast charging Toro Rossos. Massa's best finishes came in Australia and Bahrain ( 6th ) alongwith points finishes in 4 other races. Stroll is on 18 points scoring in 2 other races barring his podium. Its early days for the Canadian but in a demanding sport like F1, its vital to find your feet quickly.
The biggest advantage for Williams is the Mercedes Power Unit and there are still some power circuits left on the calendar so holding onto P5 shouldn't be an issue for the team.
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso, the final step before a Red Bull Driver Program protegee steps into the A Team prove time and again that a team operating on a small budget can still perform well with the right chassis and personnel. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. continued their alliance going into 2017. The quest to impress the bosses has token a toll on Kvyat. Incidents, accidents, retirements have marred the Russian's performances and he must pray for a strong second half to retain his seat. Carlos Sainz Jr. is in a league of his own outclassing his team-mate and bringing home majority of the points. He sits 9th in the Drivers' Standings with 35 points while Kvyat has managed only 4 and is 17th currently.
Toro Rosso will have the backing of Red Bull for the rest of the season but as much as they have to stay focused to hunt down Williams who are 2 points ahead they have to keep an eye out for those behind as well. Renault and McLaren will be forces to reckon with by the end of the year. Its imperative for the team to "make hay while the sun shines"
Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 fielded Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2017 and they deserve credit for the start provided in 2017. Haas impressed one and all since their arrival in F1 and at half-way point in 2017 they lead 2 works' teams! Grosjean has 18 points to Magnussen's 11 and unlike the teams below them, both drivers have scored points whenever presented with an opportunity. Haas is powered by Ferrari so the unit is potent enough for strong results. However the Chassis needs improvements and the team will improve with experience.
They are 10 points off Toro Rosso and it will be a close battle up until the end of the season. Toro Rosso wont be an easy team to beat but the mid-field battle is about to get fiesty in the second half of the season as Haas are no slouches.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault returned as a factory team in 2016 with an elaborate road map. They made their intentions clear by acquiring the services of the talented Nico Hulkenberg and the German has been a great investment. He has scored all the points for the team this season, the tally of which stands at 26, seemingly safe from McLaren Honda. Nico's best results were 6th in Spain and Great Britain. Renault is improving the performance of its power unit and I predict P6 for them at the end of the year. Like McLaren the chassis is pretty competent and Renault have the privilege of pumping in more money unlike their immediate competitors. Another concern for the team is the performance of Jolyon Palmer. The Former GP2 Champion is yet to score a Championship Point and is fairly off the pace in comparison to Hulkenberg. He missed being in the points on 3 occasions and he must start bringing home the desired results to aid his own career as well as the team's chances in moving up the order.
Renault has the money, the tools, the personnel, the facilities to improve race by race and as a fan I definitely believe that they will soon be fighting at the sharp end of the grid. Priority though is to have a strong second half in 2017.
McLaren Honda F1 Team :
McLaren in the second year of its partnership with Honda still languishes in ninth in the Constructors' Standings. The Chassis has been brilliant but Power Unit Issues have cost them at many races. The past few rounds promise a change of fortune and as claimed by Honda, the unit should be powerful enough to beat a Renault. Will this turn out to be true? Highly doubt it. Fernando Alonso is ahead in the intra-team battle with 10 points on the board to Stoffel Vandoorne's one. Both achieved their best result in Hungary, a circuit where power isn't the deciding factor for a strong result.
Mclaren cannot afford to be P9 by the end of the season and Honda must get its act together to ensure they don't lose sponsors and vital financial benefits of finishing higher up in the pecking order. Fernando Alonso is another asset they cannot afford to lose. I believe he is the best driver on the grid with race craft second to none. Reliability with performance will lead to stronger results to make a strong case for the Spaniard to stay put.
Sauber F1 Team :
Sauber F1 currently stands 10th and last in the Constructors' Standings. They have managed only 5 points till now and are still adrift of McLaren by 6 points. Sauber went through a change of leadership with Monisha Kaltenborn leaving the team and Frederic Vasseur taking over the reins. Its hard to see them move up from the back of the grid ( due to cash constraints ). Pascal Wehrlein has impressed again bagging all the points for the team. Marcus Ericsson needs to pull his socks up and capitalize on finishing in the points whenever the opportunity arises. Antonio Giovinazzi stepped in for Wehrlein for the first 2 races after the German's preparations for 2017 were halted with a crash in the Race of Champions. He finished 12th and retired in the next race.
Its difficult to see Sauber finish higher at the end of 2017.
The final leg of the race will resume from Belgium. A lot of action, drama awaits us in the second half of the season. The Second Half will also see many drivers suffering grid drops as components are changed on cars and exceed the permitted number by the FIA. The Teams must wait for the opportune time for such changes to ensure Damage Limitation. These could make or break the contest in the Drivers' Championship.
5 contenders to the Drivers' crown. 2 for the Constructors' but There Can Only Be One!
Bring on Spa - Francorchamps!