2017 expectations vs reality
I didn't really expect much coming into 2017. Then testing happened. I started to watch more of the testing coverage trying to work out why everyone was hyping Ferrari up. I started to believe, something as a Ferrari fan I haven't felt since Fernando Alonso in his prime. It was still cautious optimism, and going into Australia I still expected a Mercedes one-two. However, Vettel won the first of his five victories this season in Melbourne and the title fight was on.
In one corner you had the Mercedes W08 EQ Power, all silver arrow elegance and long wheelbase, the evolution from previous models clear in its sleek lines, heavily revised aerodynamics and because of the new regulations, satisfyingly wider tyres.
And in the other there was the Ferrari SF70, stubbier, purposeful, fast, with completely different aerodynamic side-pods and bodywork, and its own unique stamp of thoroughbred toughness.
The reality of this season was tough, heart wrenching, but at times exhilarating. The season ultimately ended in disappointment for Ferrari, but overall it was a great sporting contest and reminded a lot of fans of what a multi-team battle for the title looks like.
Development record and constructors performance
Second place in the constructors' championship represented an increase in performance from last year, finishing ahead of Red Bull by a comfortable margin. They never really stood a chance of winning the constructors' due to Kimi Raikkonen consistently being outclassed by both Mercedes. Ferrari will be happy with second place though as displacing Red Bull is no easy task considering their rate of development is usually fierce.
Ferrari's development record was nothing spectacular, but keeping pace with Mercedes to the end of the season, as evidenced by Vettel's win in Brazil, was nothing short of mighty. The amount of praise the Mercedes team has received for this season's triumph really doesn't do enough justice the boys at Maranello.
They designed a car that at times made the Merc look ordinary. However, they were never going to challenge Mercedes in a proper head-to-head until they sorted that engine out. Still lacking a few horsepower down the straights even at the end of the season, had the Ferrari been stronger at faster tracks they may have had the legs in the championship.
Driver head to head
This section is nice and easy. Vettel was quicker than Kimi all season because that is the Ferrari one driver system; no real competition. Admittedly Kimi bagged a naughty little pole in Monaco but the conspiracy theorists will tell you Ferrari engineered Vettel's subsequent win. Another one of Kimi's highlights came in Hungary where he performed the whole "back-up driver" scenario to perfection, holding off Lewis Hamilton and ensuring Sebastian extended his championship lead.
Sebastian's head to head with Kimi in qualifying was equally dominant, which kind of begs the question, why haven't Ferrari adopted the two-driver system that rivals Mclaren, Red Bull, Mercedes and Force India have had in place for a number of years now? Especially considering Ferrari have superficially made more of an effort to be media friendly and come across less isolated and run by fear.
Best and worst weekends
Gonna start off with a fairly controversial one here but I thought Russia represented a lot of what Ferrari did right this year; unfortunately no end result but I thought they got a lot right that weekend that traditionally has bugged me about Ferrari. Vettel took his first pole position in 18 months (the 47th of his career) and with teammate Raikkonen alongside him, the Scuderia had their first front row lockout since the 2008 French Grand Prix.
However, Bottas got a blistering start to move ahead of both Vettel and Raikkonen. Bottas pitted for the one and only time on lap 27, with Vettel staying out seven laps longer. Re-entering around five seconds back, Vettel chased down Bottas in a tense finale to a rather processional race, but couldn't stop the Finn from claiming his first victory. Despite missing out on his third win of the year, Vettel extended his lead at the top of the standings to 13 points, with nearest challenger Hamilton only finishing fourth. By maintaining his 100% podium success rate in 2017, Vettel became just the fifth man in history to claim 90 F1 podiums.
Many pundits have speculated that Ferrari's season came off the rails around the Singapore disaster and the flyaways. However, I would postulate that the scene for Ferrari's demise was set a few races before, after F1 returned from its summer break.
It was announced in Belgium that Vettel had signed a new three-year deal with Ferrari, keeping him at the Scuderia until 2020. Raikkonen also extended his contract, but only for a year. On track, Vettel qualified second and would convert that starting position in the race, finishing behind Hamilton, who halved the gap at the top of the standings with his fifth victory of the season.
Vettel then arrived in Italy for Ferrari's home race. In a wet qualifying session, which contained a two-and-a-half-hour delay, he could only qualify in eighth, but would start sixth due to penalties for the two Red Bulls. After maintaining position at the start, Vettel quickly passed Raikkonen, Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon to move into the podium positions.
However, Mercedes would dominate, being nearly a second a lap quicker on average throughout the race, leaving Vettel having to settle for third in front of the Tifosi, and over half a minute behind. Hamilton's fourth victory at Monza meant for the first time in 2017 Vettel wouldn't be leading the championship and was now trailing the Brit by three points after the final European race of the season.
The two Ferrari's would later collide in Singapore signalling the realistic nature of Vettel's title slipping away. Mechanical failures surrounding Japan and Malaysia took the blame solely from Vettel's mistakes (e.g. Baku) and onto the entire team and how they managed to blow the opportunity to win their first title in ten years.
Looking to 2018
Ferrari go into 2018 with the expectation back on their shoulders. The cynical side of me wants to believe Ferrari haven't learnt from the mistakes made this and previous years. But the optimistic side has a lot to take hope from this season.
Once again I am proud to be a Ferrari fan and I really hope the factory Renault team, Mclaren and Red Bull can all be part of the title fight in coming years.