F1 is never short of compelling reasons to watch races, but these five drivers have provided some of the most impressive drives we’ve seen in a while.
1 Valtteri Bottas, Azerbaijan GP
When thinking about the best performances of this year, Bottas' drive at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the first thought to come to mind. He had looked strong all weekend, leading in practice and qualifying second, as his season started to round into form. In a flash, it looked to have come undone by the second corner.
Bottas had a decent getaway from the start but early braking into turn two gave his countryman Kimi Raikkonen, who qualified in third, a chance around the outside. By now any F1 regular will know there has been a fair bit of talk about the height and harsh nature of the curbs at some circuits. Here, they seemingly scuppered the race.
Bottas hit the inside curb which then hopped his car directly into the side pod of the blameless Ferrari. That necessitated a first lap pitstop from which Bottas emerged in last place. A promising weekend at a track tilted in Mercedes favour and filled with championship points was now naught for one car. Except, nobody told Bottas that.
With his car repaired, he set to work mowing down the field. A slew of safety cars aided his efforts but his drive cannot be questioned. On lap two, he ran the track in 20th place. By lap 20, he was in 13th. And by lap 26 he was back into the points, something that had looked like an impossible race goal half an hour earlier. He was relentless; not content with points, he pushed and by lap 39, after benefiting from both Lewis Hamilton's misfortune and Sebastian Vettel's penalty, he was back on the podium.
As the top three rounded the final corner before Baku's long front straight, he had steadily gobbled up the gap to Lance Stroll. Executing perfectly, he kept the hammer down and pipped the similarly-powered Williams to the line for second by a tenth of a second, much to Stroll's chagrin. The image of the silver Mercedes bearing down on him in the late afternoon sunlight along the straight must be forever seared in Stroll's mind, just as it is in the mind of every fan who watched it.
Bottas never gave up, providing the Silver Arrows garage with a dose of much-needed positivity on a wild day. His pace had been fastest among the podium finishers and I suspect with another lap or two he would have overhauled Ricciardo for the lead. While circumstances certainly played a part, this was the best drive during the best race of this season, and one of the most impressive of Bottas' career.
2 Daniel Ricciardo, Azerbaijan GP
To say that the Azerbaijan Grand Prix produced some impressive drives (coupled with some not so impressive driving) would be an understatement. And to say that Bottas had the best of those drives would be subjectively true (in this writer's opinion), but it was close. Daniel Ricciardo also had one of the more memorable trips around the circuit.
A modest starting position, after a poor qualifying session that saw him brush the barriers, left him starting down in 10th. During the melee opening corners, one of his brake ducts picked up a piece of debris. This resulted in overheating issues severe enough to force a fifth lap pitstop in order to clear the blockage, dropping him to 17th. Once back on track, a few quick moves had him right back into the points just ten laps later. His timing was perfect as the race was red flagged after 22 laps with Ricciardo now up into sixth.
What happened at the restart will be something we discuss at year-end award time; his pass from sixth to third at the first corner. Catching both Willams and the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg by the end of the straight, he dove down the inside impossibly late, tires smoking but not flat spotting, slicing three positions in one impressive move. Many others have made bold moves under braking only to see them unwind after running wide at the apex; not Ricciardo. His exquisite car control on full display - and not unlike his ridiculous pass on Bottas at Monza last year - he made the move stick and cleared the next corner up into the podium places.
It was easily the pass of 2017 so far and, with leaders Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both having to make an unplanned stop in front of him, it put him in position to ride out the rest of the race in the clear. Bottas may have caught him with extra time on the clock but that's not how racing goes. Red Bull had a very unlikely first win of the season thanks to Daniel Ricciardo perfectly executing a stunning strategy and drive.
3 Sebastian Vettel, Canadian GP
It might seem odd to list a driver finishing off the podium when he should have been on it as having a noteworthy drive, but that's exactly what the attacking Vettel did. For full disclosure reasons I have to reveal I was at that race and without the distraction/benefit of television coverage, my view of the race may have been slightly different than yours.
Vettel had come to Canada fresh off a second Monaco victory and the Ferraris looked strong in practice. In qualifying he fought toe to toe with Hamilton for pole, each pumping in faster laps and at one point in Q3 they were separated by only four-thousandths of a second, but second was the best he could manage behind a monumental lap from his rival Hamilton.
Away from the start line in pace with everyone around him, he was one of a few leading drivers, including Bottas and Raikkonen, to come under attack from a blazing Max Verstappen behind. The Dutch teenager came around the outside of all three and sliced back in front to consolidate his second place but in the process clipped Vettel's front wing, irreparably damaging it. Forced into an early pit stop to replace the front wing, Vettel came out in full-attack mode and had regained eight places in just 15 laps.
With a pace like that, there was a palpable feeling circulating in the stands that he was pulling off something special. Lap after lap his gap times to everyone ahead shrunk. He blew away Fernando Alonso, made quick work of Raikkonen and used all his skill to pick off both the Force India cars. He was a man consumed with limiting the impact the damage suffered at the start had inflicted would have on his championship lead. In the end, he made up 14 places after his unscheduled pit stop and finished just off the podium. Given how the championship looks at the summer break, these points may yet prove to be crucial.
4 Fernando Alonso, Indianapolis
I know what you are thinking: an IndyCar race, especially an oval, is not worthy of mention among the top drives. I disagree. Alonso is undoubtedly the best talent of his generation, with apologies to the Vettels and Hamiltons out there. Just because he was on another continent and driving a different open-wheel race car, that shouldn't exclude him - he was an F1 driver performing and so he fits here among his peers.
Alonso's trip across the pond was destined to be memorable even if just for the immense curiosity it created. He endured much criticism from F1 purists for missing the crown jewel race on the calendar, but Alonso is clearly his own man, as the past few seasons have highlighted, and didn't back down from his desire to race in the second man to claim motor racing's triple crown. A previous Monaco winner, adding an Indianapolis 500 trophy to the cabinet would leave him a LeMans victory short of that mark.
Not only was his decision to miss Monaco validated with another pointless day for F1's McLaren-Honda team, but he still managed to make his mark on the race; a phone call directly to the cockpit of his car, being piloted by former teammate Jenson Button, was a wonderful and hilarious piece of originality.
Alonso had seemingly breezed through the rookie track orientation sessions and his game during qualifying was astounding. I don't think many expected even a well-regarded and seasoned circuit veteran to qualify for the race on the second row as he set the fifth-fastest lap speed.
Race day came and saw frequent swings in momentum for the two-time F1 champion. After dropping initially, he passed at will using a variety of lines and found himself even leading the race after the first round of pit stops. He benefited from a large portion of the field crashing out of contention, but he was also forced to deal with a pair of restarts that cost him nine places. Alonso would aggressively rebound from these and march back up through the order. To those watching and cheering, he had a very real shot at becoming a dark horse winner. Irony, it seems, is not without a sense of timing: 20 laps from the finish his Honda engine - such a familiar sight to his F1 followers - called it a day and left him powerless on the side of the track.
Alonso only served to enhance his near-legendary legacy with his attack, while the smile during the post-race press conference screamed that he'd return. I, for one, will be watching.
5 Lewis Hamilton, British GP
Rarely is the F1's poster boy criticized so heavily as he was in the weeks preceding the British Grand Prix. Hamilton came into the weekend after a small string of average results and was likely still fuming after the meagre punishment doled out to championship rival Vettel after their Baku clash. To make matters worse, he was the lone driver in the paddock to skip the impressive F1 showcase held in London the Wednesday before the race. This drew the ire of his dearly-loved British fans, who met his mention with a chorus of boos at the event.
With all this in mind, Hamilton took a quick jaunt to Greece to relax his mind and recuperate, only to be heavily criticized by the racing media because it meant missing an event focussed on giving back to the fans (and maybe hinting at a future race location.) To say there was some antipathy towards the three-time champion, at least publicly, could be an understatement. How Hamilton responded may come to define his season.
He demolished the competition at Silverstone, and the fans responded in kind. A blistering pole time of 1:26.6 - a long half-second clear of second - had him standing on the front straight waving at screaming fans. The mixed weather of the day had proven a little tricky for some but they are what Hamilton brings out his best for. Undoubtedly, pole at the track he knows so much success at set an ominous tone for the rest of the grid.
Come Sunday, he did not disappoint, leading away from the start and going wire to wire for an uneventful, yet impressively dominant, win. Hamilton's mastery of the challenging Saturday conditions set the plate for easy eating during the race; lap after lap the competition moved further into the distance. Lewis in particular, and Mercedes as a team, had an emphatic Grand Prix that left the impression the tide had turned and the remainder of the season was going to be perpetual Hammer Time, especially given the relatively poor form both Ferraris endured.
6 Honourable mentions
Lance Stroll, Baku: The kid's first F1 points came after a mature drive that proved his doubters wrong.
Daniel Ricciardo, Britain: A mechanical failure cost the Aussie during qualifying; his skill repaid the debt as he recovered from 19th to 5th.
Kimi Raikkonen, Hungary: Playing tail gunner for the championship leader - while having superior pace - must have driven the Finn crazy, but his tactical race was played perfectly in the name of team glory.
Max Verstappen: If it were not for early mechanical failures, the Dutchman's fantastic moves and pace could have easily been recognized on this list, notably in Canada and Azerbaijan.
Who have I missed? Tell me in the comment below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?