(Photo credit: Jake Archibald)
Mercedes have been the headlining team of Formula 1 for the past few years and that strong reputation failed to change in 2017 following their continued domination of the sport. For the fourth year in a row, they sealed both the drivers' and constructors' championship, though this year, with much less ease, it must be said.
2017 expectations vs reality
With a complete change of regulations for the 2017 Formula 1 season, it was expected that Mercedes may finally have a challenger in the hybrid-turbo era. And then, when Ferrari had been victors twice in the first three races, it really did appear that this would be one of the most competitive years in recent history.
Quite simply, the expectation had suddenly become that the Silver Arrows would lose the 2017 season to what originally appeared to be an incredibly flawless Ferrari. The other expectation was that it was just impossible to win across a regulation change; the Prancing Horse of 2006 and Raging Bull of 2014 had both failed in this regard.
But, following Mercedes' major improvements to the front nose, front wing, and barge boards of their W08-Hybrid in Spain, the pendulum well and truly swung back towards the recent years of dominance and away from the classic years of competition.
In the 15 races that would ensue following Spain, Mercedes would only win nine of them, dropping three each to the scrambling Ferrari and Red Bull cars. And although that doesn't sound quite as impressive as the past few years, both championships were practically sealed by the time Ferrari tripped over themselves in Singapore.
Development record and constructors' performance
Development was perhaps the key reason that Mercedes were the victors in the 2017 season. After Melbourne it was adamantly clear that they were in a tight contest with Ferrari for outright speed; by the time the first four races had passed, Ferrari had won two and Mercedes had only won the other two from slices of luck.
When it was clear Mercedes were no longer totally dominant, Mercedes made changes. They started truly coming in Spain, and practically never stopped for the entire season. Every element was improved; the front nose, especially, was dramatically re-profiled to feature an aggressive turning vane that no other team could better. It was aerodynamic innovations such as this one that ultimately allowed the Silver Arrows to be practically unchallenged in the latter half of 2017.
In the end, having the best package on the grid allowed them to take the constructors' championship for the fourth year in a row. Although Bottas's performance dwindled compared to that of Hamilton, the simple fact that Kimi Raikkonen just couldn't find a way to win meant Ferrari were quickly thwarted as any real threat to the constructors' crown.
Driver head to head
When I said that Bottas 'dwindled' next to Hamilton, I seriously meant it. The Finnish driver, who had risen to fame through four seasons with Williams, was chosen to be Nico Rosberg's replacement in 2017 after the 2016 champion's shock decision to retire at the end of his title-winning campaign.
The task was difficult; Bottas would take over the reigning world champion's seat, and having never won a grand prix he would be forced to take on Lewis Hamilton, a then three-time world champion. So, yes, it's no major surprise that Hamilton quickly cemented himself as the superior driver, going on to win nine races to Bottas's three.
Bottas's lack of pace compared to Hamilton was expected early in the season, but it was rather disappointing to seem him still falling short of his team mate's stellar performances by the latter half. Apart from the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Bottas struggled to genuinely match and/or beat Hamilton for the majority of 2017, and it's a trend he won't get away with next year given the apparent instability of the driver market, which could lead to his replacement.
Best and worst weekends
Mercedes possessed significantly better consistency this season, as Lewis Hamilton eventually managed to finish every race inside the points. In terms of their best weekends, Britain, Italy, and Singapore stick out notably in 2017.
Hamilton winning in front of his home crowd following two difficult weekends was an important victory that somewhat symbolised the entire season, as Ferrari fell at the last hurdle with a spectacular tyre failure on Vettel's car.
Italy can't be overlooked because it was a race Mercedes utterly dominated, coming home over 30 seconds ahead of the closest Ferrari. Singapore was another significantly good weekend because Mercedes still salvaged victory after both of their cars started from the third row. It really reaffirmed that they could win anywhere, even if that win only came courtesy of a first lap incident.
The worst of the weekends for Mercedes had to be in the latter half of the year in Malaysia, Mexico and Brazil, three races where the dominant team unusually dropped their guard. Although Hamilton may have been thinking big picture when Verstappen passed him in Malaysia, the Silver Arrows were not on form in Brazil and Mexico, when they were genuinely beaten to victory by superior pace. It's a concerning sign that luckily did not affect their championship bid.
Looking to 2018
The unfortunate thing about dominance is that it's harder to set your goals higher. Mercedes have already won everything, and all they can do now is repeat that. However, with Red Bull emerging extremely strong in the second half of the season, they could be a realistic threat in 2018. Furthermore, Ferrari can never be written off given their substantial Formula 1 budget and much improved 2017 compared to 2016.
The thing I'm most looking forward to next season is actually the performance of Valtteri Bottas. This article has been majorly critical of his performance, and it's admittedly a strong personal opinion. If Red Bull has a race winning car next year, they've got two teammates who can always match each other, which means Mercedes won't be able to afford Bottas lagging behind any longer.
Either way, there's no denying that Mercedes will come into 2018 as a championship contender. The real question is if they'll have someone to compete with.