F1

2017 F1 driver of the year: #1 – Lewis Hamilton

In at number one as your RealSport driver of the year is the 2017 Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion, Lewis Hamilton.

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(Photo credit: Jen_ross83)

Why we watched him in 2017

An often controversial character, one thing we are certain of in regards to Lewis Hamilton is his driving ability, which is arguably up there among the best the sport has ever seen. He may not have the tactical nous of your Sebastian Vettels or Fernando Alonsos of the world, but one thing he has in abundance is raw speed.

Always a man to watch on Saturday, Hamilton utterly dominated qualifying over the 2017 season, taking pole position 11 times out of 20 attempts. This tally saw him break Michael Schumacher’s all-time record for F1 poles, and Hamilton now stands alone as the best qualifier the sport has ever seen.

This speed is also something Hamilton carries over into his races, and he can always be counted on to give it his all in the pursuit of victory. Lewis has always been a strong overtaker, and while he may not be quite on par with the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, he is definitely one who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty in a fight to the line.

Add to this the fact that he was already a triple-world-champion before the season and still driving for Mercedes, who were once again expected to be the class of the field, and it all adds up to a driver who demands your attention on track.



World Drivers’ Championship performance

Hamilton started the season well with two wins in the first five races, but even at this stage he was already falling behind Sebastian Vettel in the standings after the German’s stellar start to the year in his rejuvenated Ferrari. Lacklustre drives in Russia and Monaco didn’t help him in this regard, with Monaco especially being a heavy blow after finishing seventh and seeing Vettel win the race.

Things really began to turn around for Hamilton, at least in terms of the results, at Silverstone. Ferrari’s bizarre tyre issues allowed Hamilton to flip the Monaco result on its head, taking the win while Vettel came home seventh, cutting a massive chunk of points off the German’s lead in the standings.

Following the summer break, Hamilton would take two straight wins in Belgium and Italy, with perhaps the Italian round being the most telling for the title race, as Mercedes simply blew Ferrari away on home territory. The margin of victory in Monza was especially surprising after Vettel’s strong second place in Spa, and from here we were all fascinated to see who could come out on top in Singapore as Hamilton led the championship for the first time in 2017.

We all remember what happened in Singapore, and two more races of bad reliability for Ferrari in Malaysia and Japan, while Hamilton would take two wins and one second place, propelled Lewis to an ultimately unassailable lead in the championship. Two more wins in Japan and the USA would pretty much confirm this, especially since Vettel retired with a spark plug issue at Suzuka.

Mexico saw Hamilton wrap up the title after a thrilling charge through the pack to ninth after opening lap contact with Vettel’s Ferrari sent both contenders to the pits. While this race was in itself an exciting conclusion to the championship, the fact that there were still two races to go was a bit of a letdown, especially after the close first half of the season we had seen. It really showed what a dominant second half of the season Hamilton had, and just how badly things had gone wrong at Ferrari.

Best weekend

When you have as good a season as Hamilton did, it’s really hard to pick out a particular highlight. He even scored three ‘Grand Chelems’ (pole, win, lead for every lap, and set the fastest lap) in 2017, taking his career total to five, on par with Michael Schumacher. The British Grand Prix was one of these, and it was tempting to go for this one just due to the emotions of racing and winning at your home event.

However, I am choosing the Italian Grand Prix purely due to the psychological body blow it delivered to Ferrari. Arriving on the back of a highly encouraging performance from Sebastian Vettel in Belgium, the Scuderia were confident of a strong weekend in front of their adoring home fans. The reality of the weekend turned out to be a much grimmer picture than this though.

A lengthy, rain-affected qualifying saw Hamilton take pole by over a second from Max Verstappen, with the closest Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen down in seventh, with Vettel eighth. Race day saw Ferrari cut through the pack to the front, but they were utterly powerless to stop Mercedes, who romped to victory by over 30 seconds in a dominant one-two.

Not only had Ferrari lost in their own back yard, but the victory allowed Hamilton to take the lead in the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2017. It was a position he would hold for the rest of the season as Ferrari’s title challenge imploded at the next few events, marking Italy out as among the definitive pendulum swinging moments of the year.

Worst weekend

The disappointment of losing a certain win in Baku due to something as trivial as a headrest problem might seem like a bad day at the office, but in the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis had an overall bad weekend.

Things started to come apart in qualifying, where a combination of cold tyres and Stoffel Vandoorne’s crash put him out in Q2 at F1’s hardest overtaking venue. Starting 13th, Hamilton did his best, but in a place like Monaco the odds were definitely stacked against him.

He ended up coming home a lowly seventh, his second lowest finish of the year. His only worse result was ninth in Mexico, but considering that ninth gave him his fourth title, it probably won’t bother Hamilton as much as another mediocre result at a venue where he craves success.

Looking to 2018

As with all F1 drivers it really depends on what car the team provide them with, but given the somewhat static rule changes, and Mercedes’ strong end to the season in Abu Dhabi, it is highly likely Hamilton will be among the front runners again in 2018.  But who can join him?

As always his teammate will expected to be right alongside him, but after Valtteri Bottas’s inconsistent start to life at Mercedes in 2017, I wouldn’t expect the Finn to be able to challenge Hamilton over the course of a season. This may sound harsh on Valtteri, and I do expect him to be closer to Lewis than he was this year, but the Brit was just on another level in the second half of 2017, and I would expect him to carry this tremendous form over into 2018.

All that remains then are the other teams. Again, with relatively static rule changes comes consistency, but also a tightening of the field, and I would expect Red Bull, and Ferrari especially, to give Mercedes a harder time of it than they did in 2017. We will never really know what’s what until qualifying in Australia, but 2018 is surely shaping up to be one of the more competitive seasons we have seen for a while.

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