From 10 to 1: The F1 mid-season highlights

by H. Mayor – photo: | The British GP at Silverstone marked last weekend the halfway point of the F1 season. The first half has been intense and contentious, and has left some great moments and a few surprises (Ferrari’s great level for starters, something no one dared to put their money on beforehand). So far, the important regulation changes introduced at the beginning of the season regarding race format and vehicle specifications seem to be working. They appear to allow for a more equitable sport without undermining its showiness.

At this halfway point it is time to appraise the Championship so far and give out our marks:

10. The duel Mercedes – Ferrari

Nothing has been more significant for the F1 popularity this year than the exciting battle between Mercedes and Ferrari. The uncontested dominance of the German scuderia over the last few years has given way to a competition between two equals. Ferrari, with a different single-seater but a top level pilot, the four times champion Sebastian Vettel, has challenged Lewis Hamilton’s supremacy.

An epic fight which has already left some memorable encounters climaxing with the clash in Baku.  

The battle and tension between those two competitive monsters is sure to continue, or perhaps even increase, over the second half of the competition. Spectators are in for a top show where the roles of Bottas and especially of Raikkonen are also going to be important.

9. Four Winners

The public loves the unpredictable and over the last two years there was not much room left for the unexpected. One of the focal points of this 2017 has been the opening up of the podium to a whole range of drivers. A clear example of this is the four different winners of the first ten races: Hamilton (4), Vettel (3), Bottas (2) y Ricciardo (1), plus other drivers such as Raikkonen, Verstappen or Stroll climbing to second and third positions. At the beginning of each race nowadays you can never know for sure who is going to win, a delightful sensation!

In the whole of  2016, for instance, there were also four winners… but Rosberg and Hamilton shared 19 victories of a total of 21 races. In 2015 there were only three winners, both of Mercedes’ team-mates and a few victories from Vettel and the same happened in 2014, where instead of Vettel was Ricciardo who managed a some victories. A more open and unpredictable championship makes for a far better show which is much more appealing to the general public.

8. Ricciardo

Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ dominance, and the bitter battle between Vettel and Hamilton are grabbing all the headlines but in all fairness we must honour Daniel Ricciardo’s spectacular season. After a scatty start of the season the Aussie arrives at halfway point of the season with five consecutive podiums under his belt in the last six races, among them his triumph in Baku. His competitive level makes him a very likely candidate for a third position in the classification and positions him well above the much superior car of Raikkonen who has had a very disappointing performance so far..

Taking into account Verstappen’s dire beginning of season, Ricciardo is pretty much single handedly holding Red Bull’s credibility up with the best. Will he be able to keep on growing?

7. Force India

A huge start of season and again another unexpected success. Many doubts hang over Force India regarding their ability to keep up the extraordinary performance level they displayed in 2016 having lost Hulkenberg and with an apparently not so powerful single-sitter. Behind the untouchables, Checo Perez has completed an exceptional first half of the season, coming even before Verstappen. Esteban Ocon is also one of the three pilots (together with Vettel and Hamilton) that has finished every single race within points.

6. Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz has suffered a number of mechanical problems and other contingencies (Silverstone has been the last one…) which have thwart his potential to shine in the classification. This year the Spanish driver has surprised everyone with a superior driving performance which has given him the confidence to fight all battles. Perhaps he is the pilot which has experienced the greatest growth from last year.

But the reliability of his Toro Rosso is questionable to say the least and this is bound to frustrate any further achievements for him this season. Perhaps in the immediate future he might aspire to a higher position.

5. The new regulations

The many regulatory changes introduced this year have proven satisfactory enough. Many had expressed their scepticism about such changes with some even forecasting they will mean the end of the show as we knew it.

Halfway through the season we can safely say that these have passed the test of the competition, at least from an spectators’ point of view: the races seem more dynamic, more equal, not so predictable and there are more variables that teams have to consider. Perhaps there is room for improvement but the ultimate objective, recovering the public’s attention, seems to have been achieved.

4. Newcomers

This hasn’t been a good year for newcomers so far. Despite the already mentioned Sainz and rookie Lance Stroll achieving a third position in Baku, there hasn’t been any other surprise from new young talents in the grid this year.

The Canadian rookie is one of the few worth mentioning, particularly seeing his growth over the last few races on board his Williams. His performance can now be compared to that of a consolidated veteran such as Felipe Massa. Pascal Wehrlein hasn’t done too badly for the weakest car in the competition after managing to scrap 5 points. Things are not going so well for Joylon Palmer who seems to have bitten more than he can chew or for Stoffel Vandoorne, whose only achievement is to finish races inconspicuously.

3. Renault

Renault is perhaps the greatest disappointment (McLaren aside) as far as scuderias are concerned. They had built everyone’s hopes up in the pre-season. They seemed to have raised the competitive bar with their new and improved single-seater and with the signing up of a coveted pilot like Hulkenberg.

The truth is that the French team hasn’t quite fit into the new competition and is not meeting expectations. Despite his 6th in Silverstone, Niko has managed to come in points in just five races and Palmer has displayed a very poor performance.

2. Top esquires

Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen are not being of much help in their supporting role to the leading drivers of their respective teams. This is disappointing given they drive top level single-seaters and are both experience drivers with substantial trajectories.

Raikkonen on board the same Ferrari that has made Vettel the leader of the championship, has only set foot on the podium in three occasions (including the last in British GP). He has not only been of little help to the German driver but he is also being comfortably outperformed  by Ricciardo. The Australian driver is virtually competing on his own as Verstappen is being so reckless he has ended up not finishing a total of five races.

On the other side of the spectrum is Valtteri Bottas, third in the classification, two podiums so far, and extremely reliable and supportive to Hamilton, particularly when this is at his lowest. A great work within an also complex context.

1. Honda

We have to award the lowest marks to Honda. From the start, McLaren’s cars were not raising great expectations but the situation with the engines that Honda is supplying is totally unacceptable. Weak, powerless, short-lived and worst of all, unreliable. To see a champion like Fernando Alonso fighting against the Saubers at most, just to scrape a few miserable points, is the most pitiable image of the season.

Leave a Reply