The Sun has set on another Formula One season. An epic season which saw the resurgence of Ferrari, and strengthened Mercedes’ credentials as an all-conquering team. Fittingly, the final race took place at dusk in Abu Dhabi.
It’s been a roller coaster of a season, which saw the momentum of a long awaited title battle between two legends of this generation, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, swing back and forth. Vettel led the championship for much of the year, till the Italian GP, before bad luck and poor reliability struck both him and Ferrari. Consequently, their title challenge faded quickly and Hamilton sealed the championship with 2 races remaining, in Mexico.
However, the difference in points between Ferrari and Mercedes fail to speak the truth. Ferrari have been super-quick all season, their best since the title winning season of 2008. They had the superior car at many of the tight and twisty circuits, and ran Mercedes close at many of the fast circuits. However, it ultimately came down to reliability, which Mercedes have recently become masters of.
As you can see, the bottom most line of the above graph is Mercedes’ fastest qualifying time throughout the season. Often, it’s accompanied by another line closely touching it, and that is Ferrari’s qualifying time throughout the season. There’s an anomaly at certain races such as in Monza, where qualifying took place in the rain and Mercedes were head and shoulders above the rest, while Ferrari struggled. The graph shows how close the two teams were in qualifying throughout the season, and they were sometimes joined by Red Bull. That happened mostly in the latter half of the season when Red Bull found some pace.
The top three teams usually had quite a gap to the mid field teams and that’s visible through a constant divide between the bottom three lines and the rest of the lines in the graph. Sauber were usually the slowest, but they managed to close the gap in the latter half of the season.
Such small has been the performance delta between the mid field teams that losing even 0.1 seconds in a qualifying lap could be the difference between 7th and 15th positions.
Battles between teammates often tend to bring out the best in them, while putting the team at risk, as we often saw with the Force India drivers. So risky were their battles, that they were banned from racing each other for the rest of the season.
Intra-team battles throughout the season.
As you can see, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed the highest advantage over his teammates, first Jolyon Palmer and then Carlos Sainz. Alonso also had a similar advantage over his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne at McLaren, While, more closely matched were Ericsson and Wehrlein at Sauber. Verstappen over Ricciardo, Perez over Ocon, Hamilton over new teammate Bottas, and Vettel over Kimi Raikkonen all enjoyed considerable advantages over their teammates. Raikkonen has now been beaten by every teammate since 2014.
Difference in performance of 2017 vs 2016 cars.
The 2017 season saw new regulations which allowed cars to become faster than their predecessors. The question is – how fast? Turns out it was track dependent too. Since the aerodynamic regulations underwent significant change while the power units remained the same, this year’s cars had a higher advantage at aerodynamic circuits such as Albert Park in Australia, Sakhir in Bahrain, in Spa Francorchamps where cars went flat out through some corners where you’d normally brake in a 2016 car. The anomaly is at Monza which wouldn’t have seen a large amount of difference anyway because of lack of corners, but also because qualifying took place in the rain. On average, however, cars were up to 3-4 seconds faster than their previous year’s counterparts.
Average changes in position in a race
There were a lot of races that were pretty close, and that is what Formula One needs. Having less noisy engines doesn’t particularly help, and having procession-like races makes matters even worse. Fortunately, there were many exciting races – I can think of Baku for one!
Looking at the above graph, the data supports the nature of many circuits. Not many positions changed on average in Australia, which is traditionally a difficult track to overtake on. Shanghai saw huge changes, but it was also because it was a wet-dry race. Catalunya also saw high position changes, while they were typically low in Monaco. Hungary too saw low position changes and that confirms the fact that it’s a difficult track to overtake on, as are Suzuka and Yas Marina, which was perhaps the most boring race of the season.
Uncharacteristically, the race in Singapore saw high position changes, but that can be due to the fact that it was a wet race, and (unrelated) the scene of the infamous collision between Vettel, Raikkonen and Verstappen. One could say the same about the Mexico race that it is a difficult track to overtake on, but it still saw high number of position changes possibly because many drivers were serving penalties and also that Hamilton and Vettel collided and had to make their way up the grid.
Analysis aside, this season was also a season of many lasts. The tumultuous McLaren Honda partnership came to an end, and McLaren are now taking Renault engines next year. (See McLaren sign Renault engines for next year.)
Felipe Massa has finally retired, after an amazing career which saw him come painfully close to winning the 2008 championship, and his epic recovery from a life threatening accident in 2009. He is surely a legend of the sport, and a very amiable guy.
So, that’s that! An analysis of the 2017 season. Hope everyone enjoyed this season, and now we look forward to 2018 where the ‘Halo’ head protection device is coming. Hope to see another close battle between Ferrari and Mercedes, with Red Bull and possibly McLaren also joining in. That would be a treat for the eyes!