Ferrari has endured a nightmare September. After being trounced by Mercedes at Monza, the first-lap clash in Singapore between Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, marked the first time in Formula 1 history that both Ferrari’s have been eliminated from a Grand Prix on the opening lap.
In Malaysia, the Scuderia seemed to be out of the woods. Friday saw Vettel and Raikkonen top the timesheets, while also posting impressive times during long runs. It seemed certain that Vettel would seize pole position and reduce his points arrears with a win on Sunday. A turbo fault in FP3 before power unit gremlins in qualifying served to derail his weekend by condemning him to the back of the grid.
In the meantime, victories in Italy and Singapore – followed by a second place finish in Malaysia – have allowed Lewis Hamilton to steal a march towards the 2017 drivers’ championship title. He now leads Vettel by 34 points with a maximum 125 points still up for grabs.
September has been bleak for Ferrari. However, positives have emerged from the gloom and Vettel can still enter the final five races with an air of optimism regarding his title aspirations.
In this social media age, a controversy gains momentum quickly. The first spark in this season’s title tussle came in the form of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s Baku bust-up and is one such controversy that has sent the internet into meltdown.
Yesterday evening, following a meeting between the FIA and Vettel in Paris, the sport’s governing body decided to refrain from issuing further sporting punishment to the German, opening a can of worms and a frenzy of activity from keyboard warriors and armchair pundits.
Many including Hamilton, have seemingly been outraged by the verdict. In reality, however, the FIA has indeed made the right call.
Who would’ve thought it? On a circuit where overtakes usually come at a premium and Mercedes have dominated of late, we were instead treated to a blockbuster afternoon in Barcelona, headlined by a tense duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Modern classic would admittedly, be a slight overstatement, but the Spanish Grand Prix certainly delivered.
The first win is almost invariably the hardest to achieve. Many drivers hit a glass ceiling in Formula 1, where points and even podiums are regularly scooped up, while the race win remains elusive.
After 11 podiums from 81 races, Valtteri Bottas finally broke through that barrier on Sunday to clinch his first career victory in fine style. His fourth race for Mercedes and one which could prove to be a turning point in the unfolding 2017 narrative.
Bottas may be about to give Mercedes’ management a headache.
After a thrilling first three races, the 2017 picture is beginning to form. A heavyweight title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – two of the greatest drivers of their generation – seems set to be this year’s pre-eminent storyline.
However, this Mercedes versus Ferrari duel has four key cast members. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen will both hope to wade in on the title fight, yet on the basis of the first three chapters, are likely to play number two roles in their respective teams.
Both, however, will be determined to avoid becoming supporting players. In this regard, Raikkonen seems to have more work to do than Bottas, after the latter claimed a maiden pole in Bahrain and has already claimed two podium finishes this year.
It could even be argued that for Raikkonen, aspirations of 2017 championship glory are already ebbing away and as a result, his season is about the supporting role he needs to play for teammate Vettel.
So Mercedes may look to have the edge on the field once again, and while I hear you neutrals – or fans of any team bar Mercedes for that matter – bemoaning another season of dull continuity, it might still be too early to call.
Hamilton may have been half a second clear of the field today, but with the Englishman surely desperate to unsettle the newbee on the other side of the garage early on, and with Vettel indicating that Ferrari have plenty more performance up their sleeve, I’m not ready to declare Hamilton the 2017 World Champion just yet.
Next weekend, the talking will stop and the racing will start. Waking up on the first Grand Prix Sunday of a new season is like Christmas morning for motorsport fans.
Aside from the new look cars, harder tyres and perhaps heightened competition for top honours, this season’s curtain-raiser will be the first since 1994 that doesn’t feature the reigning world champion.