Wider cars, increased turbulence, and Mercedes’ continued dominance were some of the concerns which arose pre-season, as many F1 fans were skeptical about the season to come. Luckily, 2017 has been far from dull, and has delivered some brilliant races along the way. Here are the best of 2017 so far.
Baku had a tough start in 2016, as its first Grand Prix was a tedious encounter, and failed to live up to expectations. Understandably then, many were expecting another gloomy race this season, but we were so very wrong.
Mercedes expectedly locked out the front row of the grid, on the very power-dependent circuit, with Lewis Hamilton starting on pole. Whereas the Brit was able to retain his starting position, the same couldn't be said about his teammate who collided with Kimi Raikkonen into turn 2, forcing both the Finns into an early pit-stop. Daniel Ricciardo was another driver who was forced into an early stop, due to debris in his cars brake duct.
The carnage of the opening 15 laps meant that the safety car was deployed in order to clean up the resultant debris on track. On lap 19, as the safety car period was ending, one of the memorable moments of the season occurred as the two title challengers collided.
Sebastian Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton's Mercedes, as the German misjudged the Brit's pace, but then the championship leader pulled up alongside Hamilton, and swerved his car into him. No one could frankly believe what they just saw, and this foolish act from Vettel ultimately cost him the race win.
This wasn't the only drama at the restart, as the two Force India drivers made contact. Not only did this incident ignite tension in the team, but it also cost them an enormous haul of points, potentially even a 1-2 finish. Meanwhile, Baku's 1.2 km straight, combined with the fact that cars were clustered together due to the safety car, encouraged some brilliant overtakes.
The best of these occurred on lap 24, when Ricciardo went down the inside of the two Williams into turn 1, a move that proved to be a race-winning overtake for the Aussie.
Vettel inevitably, and justly, received a punishment for his earlier actions, in the form of a 10-second stop-go penalty, as Hamilton encountered an uncommon problem with his headrest on lap 29. Despite his efforts to fix the problem whilst in the cockpit, he was forced to pit for the issue to be resolved. Of course, he came out of the pits behind Vettel, who had served his penalty, which Hamilton was unsurprisingly frustrated about.
These incidents paved open the victory for Daniel Ricciardo, as long as he could see it out to the end. Amongst the carnage, Lance Stroll was able to keep his cool, and found himself in second place going into the closing stages of the race. However, he was being hunted down by a charging Valtteri Bottas, who managed to claw himself back into the podium positions after his first lap antics.
Bottas managed to overtake Stroll as the checkered flag fell, and beat the Canadian to the line by a tenth of a second. It was a breathtaking ending to a thrilling race. The 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix won't just be remembered as one of the best races of the season, but one of the best of the hybrid era itself.
As the 2017 British Grand Prix was approaching, fans were subjected to the news that Silverstone might not be hosting the British GP beyond 2019. However, this seasons race proved exactly why Silverstone must stay on the F1 calendar.
Lewis Hamilton was starting in pole position, with Raikkonen and then Vettel behind him. The getaway of the front three was good, but Max Verstappen was able to pull off a fantastic overtake around the outside of Vettel into turn three.
Generally, it was a clean start, but not for the two Toro Rosso drivers who collided on the opening lap. Daniil Kvyat clattered into his teammate whilst rejoining the track, causing Carlos Sainz to DNF, much to his anger.
On lap 13, Vettel and Verstappen's duel reached its climax, as the two drivers battled for third. Both the German and the Dutchman were forced off the track by the other, but it was some fantastic racing, described by Verstappen as 'bumper cars'. A pretty accurate description, it was. The four-time world champion failed to get past on track, but later performed the undercut on the teen.
Meanwhile, both Ricciardo and Bottas were performing solid recovery drives from their undeserved grid positions. The Aussie performed some scintillating overtakes as he made his way up the field after starting at the back of the grid. He was actually able to secure a very impressive fifth place, after overtaking Nico Hulkenburg in the penultimate lap of the race. The Finn's recovery drive was just as imposing, as he managed to finish in 2nd place, which involved overtaking Vettel along the way, which provided some more brilliant racing.
There was no doubt that the Mercedes was the quicker car on the day, but Ferrari were on track to secure 2nd and 4th, a result which I am sure they would have taken with open arms. However, with only two laps to go, Kimi Raikkonen suffered a front left tyre blow-out, forcing him into the pits, and costing him second place. A lap later, Vettel suffered a similar fate, as his tyre also punctured, causing him to finish in 7th position.
Whereas Silverstone proved cruel to his rivals, Hamilton dominated the race, and cruised home to his fifth British GP win. The race will be remembered for its late drama, and may be still remembered as the race where the season was turned on its head, and shifted the momentum in Hamilton's favour.
The 2017 Spanish Grand Prix will be remembered as the race where we saw Hamilton and Vettel battle it out on track for the first time this season. Action behind the front two was limited, but the tense battle at the front was more than enough to keep us entertained.
The start of the race was frantic, to say the least. Vettel was able to jump Hamilton to take the lead in the first corner, whilst Raikkonen was caught in a sandwich between Verstappen and Bottas. Three cars into the narrow first turn was always going to end badly, and it did especially for the Ferrari man who was helpless as he was clipped by his fellow countryman and suffered suspension damage.
From then on, it was a cat-and-mouse encounter between the two title contenders. Since the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is hard on the tyres, it soon became a matter of the better strategy calls, as a two-stop race was likely.
On lap 14, Hamilton was within range of the undercut, which prompted Ferrari to react and pit Sebastian Vettel, to cover off the threat. The first blow went to Mercedes, as it seemed they were bluffing, and actually wanted Ferrari to pit so the Brit could run in clean air and perform the 'over-cut'.
Even though Hamilton rejoined the race after his pit stop behind Vettel, Mercedes were leaving Bottas out in order to hold the German up. The Finn was able to play the perfect team game, as he was able to keep Vettel at bay for several laps, which allowed his teammate to close up to the back of the four-time world champion.
On lap 36, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, which induced Mercedes to pit Lewis Hamilton and fit a set of soft tyres, with the aim to get to the end of the race. Vettel responded and also came into the pits, but a lap later than Hamilton, and the VSC period had now ended, so compared to the Brit, the German lost a significantly more amount of time in the pits.
And as expected, Vettel only just rejoined the race in front of Hamilton, as the two nearly collided going into turn 1. The Ferrari man would have been relieved to have even retained track position, but his large deficit had been slashed, and he was on the inferior tyre to Hamilton, in terms of pure racing speed.
A few laps later, he was a sitting duck as Hamilton swooped around the outside of him into turn 1. Vettel simply didn't have the pace to get back past his championship rival, and had to settle for 2nd as Hamilton was triumphant.
Hamilton had come out on top then of an incredibly tense, and fantastic to watch encounter with Vettel. We hope to see similar battles in the races/years to come.
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