The 2017 Season Review

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.

The qualifying performance of all teams throughout the season

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.

Intra-Team Battles

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.

Average qualifying time difference between 2016 and 2017 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!

Average change in position for drivers in races throughout the season.

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.

Signing Off.

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!



Samin Batra


2017 Abu Dhabi GP: Mercedes dominate as Bottas wins the final race of the season; Massa finishes his final race in 10th place.

Valtteri Bottas won his third race of the season and career, with Hamilton coming in 2nd to score a Mercedes 1-2, which has been quite a rare sight this season. Sebastian Vettel finished in 3rd place for Ferrari, around 20 seconds behind Bottas. The fight for victory was between the two Mercedes drivers all throughout because Ferrari didn’t look to be as fast at all – their wait for a victory at Yas Marina continues.

The race was pretty uneventful with no safety cars or battles at the top. There were only two retirements, Ricciardo and Sainz. Ricciardo retired due to a hydraulic failure after his car struck one of the kerbs, while Sainz retired under bizarre circumstances after the Renault team failed to fix his front left tyre properly, which left it dangling as he trundled down the pit lane.

There were some great wheel-to-wheel battles in the mid field and the lower end of the grid, most notably between Alonso and Massa, and Grosjean and Stroll. Like Brazil, Alonso was stuck behind Massa for much of the first half of the race, but this time he managed to overtake the Williams driver who was in his final race, to take 9th place. Massa finished 10th.

Nico Hulkenberg managed to finish in 6th place for Renault and helped his team take 6th place in the constructors’ standings, and an additional $7M after Toro Rosso endured a bad day and both their drivers finished outside the points.

Hamilton and Bottas had a consistent gap through much of the first half of the race, before Hamilton started to come back and challenge his teammate. Some traffic helped Bottas keep Hamilton at bay, along with the fact that Hamilton was running in dirty air. Hamilton came quite close but locked up and went wide. After that, he never really got close and the Mercedes drivers came home to secure a 1-2 finish. Their most dominant race since the Italian GP this year when they finished 35 seconds clear of third placed Vettel. This was the first race in which Bottas had beaten Hamilton in a head-to-head fight. This certainly helps the Mercedes driver to strengthen his credentials.

Donuts followed soon after, with both Mercedes drivers and Felipe Massa entertaining the crowd.

It’s been a great season! Stay tuned for my post season analysis!



Brazilian GP 2017: Vettel wins in searing conditions; Hamilton storms from the pit lane to finish 4th

Sebastian Vettel scored his 5th win of 2017 at the Interlagos Circuit, to end Ferrari’s drought of wins in the second half of the season. He made a storming start from second place and overtook pole sitter Bottas at the first turn.

The first lap was chaotic with three cars –  Ocon, Vandoorne and Magnussen getting eliminated in separate incidents. Ocon was stuck by the erroneous Grosjean who lost the rear of his car while trying to fight the Force India. This was Ocon’s first retirement of his career, and it came after 27 races. Vandoorne was involved in a contact with Daniel Ricciardo who managed to keep going after having spun.

Ocon’s retirement triggered a safety car, which allowed several drivers to change tyres, and it also meant Hamilton caught up with the pack, having started from the pit lane after an engine change. Running on soft tyres, he set a searing pace, putting in fast laps and overtaking car after car.

By the time Vettel and Bottas pitted, Hamilton was leading the race but had yet to stop. More importantly, Vettel avoided the under cut by Bottas, when he came out right in front of the Mercedes. From then on, he managed to keep the gap at around 3 seconds.

What was evident was the fact that both Ferrari and Mercedes were evenly matched, with Ferrari holding a slight edge because the Mercs were running in the slip stream, while Vettel was in clear air.

Hamilton pitted for a set of fresh super softs, came out in 5th and went on chasing after a podium finish. He came up short, however as Kimi Raikkonen played a superb defense to keep 3rd position.

Felipe Massa finished in a fine 7th place in his final home race, just ahead of the McLaren of Alonso, who was ahead of Sergio Perez by just 0.1 second.

Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 to take the final point, ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz.

The race in Brazil is a marker for how close it can get in 2018, given the fact that the top 4 cars were separated by just 5 seconds! Ferrari and Mercedes were evenly matched. While Red Bull didn’t look to be on pace here, judging by their form in the previous races, they will be in the fight for the lead in 2018. Possibly, even McLaren when they fit Renault engines.

Stats of the day:

  1. This was Vettel’s 47th career victory and Ferrari’s first since July in Hungary this year.
  2. Max Verstappen broke the all time lap record at this circuit, with a 1:11.0. The previous record was held by Juan Pablo Montoya, set in a Williams in 2004.

2017 Brazilian Grand Prix: A Preview

Formula One returns to Brazil, the home of the legends, the late great Ayrton Senna, Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, or Interlagos as it was formerly called. Set in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, the track is quite short and narrow in width. It runs in an anti clockwise direction. The weather is unpredictable and many times, races have been held in wet conditions. However, this weekend’s race is forecast to be a dry race.

The frequent wet conditions have played a part in many title deciders over the past few years. It was the scene Vettel’s epic comeback in the rain in 2012 when he beat Alonso to the title, which incidentally was also McLaren’s last race win, and Michael Schumacher’s final goodbye to Formula One. It’s also the scene of a young Lewis Hamilton  winning his first ever world title in just his second year in Formula One, when he beat Felipe Massa by just one point in 2008. This track also witnessed Ferrari’s last drivers’ championship victory with Kimi Raikkonen, back in 2007. Jenson Button’s first and only world title was won here.. the list goes on and on.

Although this year’s title was already decided last time out in Mexico, there’s still plenty to play for. Mercedes will be trying new parts for the 2018 season, and they’re dubbing the last two races of this season as the first two races of the 2018 season. Sounds formidable.

Red Bull will be looking to capitalize on their return to form during the second half of the season. They have won 2 of the last 4 races with Max Verstappen, and will be carrying that momentum into Brazil. Verstappen had a tremendous outing here in the rain, last year when he showcased his maestro in the rain. He executed some daring overtakes and drove over driving lines that we didn’t know existed before.

While Ferrari’s season has unwound in the second half, they still have the pace to challenge for victory, as was evident in Mexico when Vettel took pole. They will also be looking to make a statement of their own and go full steam to win the final two races.

The remaining two races are the final two races of the disastrous McLaren Honda partnership. They will be breaking ties and McLaren will be running Renault engines next year, while Honda will supply Toro Rosso. While Honda still have problems with their power unit, the fans will hope that they can atleast score a decent points finish and go out on a better note.



2017 Mexico GP: Verstappen scores a dominant win; Hamilton wraps up the title as Vettel finishes only 4th

Max Verstappen scored a dominant third career victory at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigues in Mexico City, by 20 seconds from Valtteri Bottas. He forced his way through at the start of the race in typical ‘Max Verstappen’ style, damaging Vettel’s front wing in the process. Vettel was then being overtaken by Hamilton but his front wing stuck the right rear tyre of the Mercedes which resulted in a puncture on Hamilton’s car. Both title rivals had to pit as a result on the second lap. Vettel came out in 18th place, but soon caught up with the pack and executed a series of scintillating overtakes to make his way up the field. Hamilton, on the other hand was stuck behind the Renault of Carlos Sainz in 20th place for the first 30 laps.

3 of the 6 Renault powered cars suffered engine failures: Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg and Brendon Hartley. Hartley’s retirement triggered a virtual safety car period which was used as an opportunity by many drivers to make pit stops. Vettel fitted the ultra soft tyres, and Hamilton fitted the super softs. Vettel needed at least a 2nd place  finish to be able to carry the title fight to Brazil, provided Hamilton finished lower than 9th position. Vettel was able to salvage only fourth place in the end, despite driving on the limit in the latter half of the race, but the gap was just too big to the leaders. Hamilton after his second pit stop was able to make his way up the field and in the end managed to finish 9th.

There were some intriguing battles all throughout the race. Especially if you’ve got a Ferrari or a Mercedes working its way up the field, you’ll get to see a lot of overtakes. The best part was that the McLarens were actually running really well in Mexico, despite the long main straight. Fernando Alonso gave a tough time to both Vettel and Hamilton and was involved in wheel-to-wheel battles with them both. The thin air of Mexico due to the high altitude meant that it was very difficult for cars, running high downforce setups, to follow each other around the circuit.

We never really got to see Max Verstappen much in the race, because he was all on his own at the front, steadily building a gap, despite the Red Bull team having turned down his engine in order to put less stress on it, after what happened to the other Renault-powered cars. It was his third career win, and it is safe to say that it’s his time now. He is more ready than ever to fight for the world championship, and given how Red Bull have developed their car, we might as well see a three-team battle for the world championship next year.

Facts of the race:

  1. ( Or rather coincidence?) Verstappen has now won every race in which Kvyat was either demoted or dropped. In Spain 2016, Daniil Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso. In Malaysia 2017, he was replaced by Pierre Gasly at Toro Rosso, and now in Mexico, he was dropped altogether from the team.
  2. Lewis Hamilton is now a 4-time world champion, joining Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel.

What would it be like to have self driving auto mobiles in motor sports?

The auto industry has constantly evolved for over nearly 170 years now. From the most basic cars with at most of 10-20 bhp power, to supercars such as the McLaren F1, hyper cars, hybrids, all-electric and finally self-driving cars. It has come a long way.

Motor sports, such as F1 and WEC have helped shape what kind of technologies are introduced into the automobile industry. Carbon fiber was first used on Formula One cars, before it made its way into the automobile industry, to be used on super cars such as the McLaren F1, and also on Tesla’s Model S. New technology is introduced here, where it is tried and tested on the limit, before it makes its way into road cars.

The question is: what would it be like to have self-driving, or more like self-racing cars in F1 or WEC? On the contrary, this technology is being adopted in road cars such as Tesla’s cars, Uber has been testing self-driving cars in the US, while in Singapore, they have been successfully deployed. So, it’s the other way round here, but what matters is how accurate it becomes.

The conditions in motor sports for self-driving cars would be different. On the road, they have to encounter traffic, while at the same time keep the passenger on the correct route, while in motor sports, it will be about how much speed the car can achieve, and how fast it can navigate a corner? Reaction times would not be a problem, because the bots would have a reaction time faster than a Formula One driver.

The Yamaha team in MotoGP, has developed a prototype bot-bike – a bike which is navigated by a robot – to test out this technology. The bot-bike had two objectives: 1) to achieve a speed of 200 km/h, and 2) to beat an actual rider’s time, in this case Valentino Rossi. While the bot-bike was able to achieve the first objective, it was off the time of Valentino Rossi by about 30 seconds, which is a lot in motor sports.

With the current state of Formula One, where the teams engineer the crap out of the cars, self-driving cars is a step forward if they want to continue the way it is. It has already come about to be quite a battle of the engineers. You give a driver a race-winning car, you can win at least the constructors’ title. Such is the level of technology, that most of things are taken out of the driver’s hands, there’s launch control, hundreds of sensors which send data to the pit wall. I can recollect one instance where these cars actually behaved like robots – Fernando Alonso once drove his McLaren Honda through a corner too fast, that the Honda engine got confused and shut itself down! The current F1 cars are like space ships, with all the software that goes in.

Making these cars self-driving would most certainly take the fun out of racing, because there’s a certain thrill comes from watching drivers go wheel-to-wheel. It won’t be that much fun watching self-driving cars race each other, especially when they won’t be prone to making any mistakes. No doubt it’s great to watch these great pieces of engineering in attack mode, it would become monotonous if we took the drivers out of the equations. It would then be truly a battle of engineers.


2017 US GP: Hamilton wins to tighten grip on title, Mercedes become constructors’ champions

Lewis Hamilton won the US GP at the Circuit of the Americas from Ferrari driver, and title rival Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton had lost the lead at the start of the race to Vettel who made a brilliant start from 2nd. However, the Englishman had supreme pace and retook the lead from Vettel on lap 5. Such was the advantage that Mercedes had on this track that Vettel wasn’t able to keep up with Hamilton, who raced away.

Max Verstappen was the standout driver. He started 16th due to engine penalties but was up into 10th place after just 5 laps. He executed some scintillating overtakes on Bottas and Raikkonen. He finished in 3rd place, but was given a 5 second time penalty for going off track while overtaking Raikkonen on the last lap, and so was classified 4th.

The penalty system has been coming into question far too often, with the outrageous amount of penalties that drivers are awarded for engine and gearbox changes. It’s funny, because Stroll qualified 18th, but started in 16th after he himself had a 3 place penalty for impeding Grosjean in qualifying. This was because many other drivers had bigger 25-place or 30-place grid penalties for engine changes. Some decisions by the stewards also came into question. They gave Verstappen a 5-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, but there were numerous drivers who did that throughout the race. Ricciardo was essentially cutting a corner during his battle with Bottas in the early part of the race.

Renault debutante Carlos Sainz finished in 7th place after some intriguing battles with the Force India and Williams drivers. The circuit is wide and has long straights and so we got to see some great racing. Sainz’s battle with Perez was epic.

It’s worrying times for Bottas, because he struggled to match Hamilton’s searing pace all through the weekend. He was overtaken by both Ferrari drivers and Verstappen later in the race, and ultimately finished 5th. As a result, however Mercedes were crowned constructors’ champions for the 4th year in a row.

Hamilton now needs to finish only 5th in the next race in Mexico to win the title.