Karun Chandhok: 2017 F1 started with a fizz but fizzled out in the end

If we look back at the season, the big question that really needs to be asked is: Did Lewis Hamilton win this year’s championship or did Sebastian Vettel lose it?

Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning his fourth F1 World Drivers' Championship after the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.   -  AFP

After three seasons of Mercedes dominance, the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship saw a fantastic battle between two of the sport’s grandees as well as occasional cameos at the top from a third.

We started the year with all new rules and cars that have proven to be the fastest machines ever to race on the planet. There were high expectations for Red Bull Racing to come into the season using the change in aerodynamic regulations to their advantage, but in the end, it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari that took the fight to Lewis Hamilton.

READ: Vettel secures second place in drivers' championship

Right from pre-season testing, the 'prancing horses' showed that they had a strong package, but it was that Sunday at the first Grand Prix in Australia when we got the confirmation that it was game on. For lap after lap, Vettel stalked Hamilton and used some very strong pace around the pit-stops to get into the lead while the Englishman was stuck in traffic. That win in the opening Grand Prix gave everyone at Ferrari, and indeed the world of Formula 1, a real sense of optimism that we were in for a great season.

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel celebrate on the podium at the end of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit.   -  AP

 

The Ferrari seemed to have a very good aerodynamic package, while the Mercedes power unit took another step forward mid-season, particularly when it came to using the higher power modes in Qualifying. This extra power would often allow Lewis to qualify at the front, and as long as he made a good start, that allowed him to dictate the race.

The higher downforce package on the Ferrari meant that at tracks like Monaco and Budapest they were in a league of their own. Ironically, up until Ferrari’s home race in the Italian Grand Prix, they looked like they were in real contention, but then it all went wrong.

F1 2017: The moments that mattered

If we look back at the season, the big question that really needs to be asked is: Did Lewis Hamilton win this year’s championship or did Sebastian Vettel lose it?

Both Mercedes and Ferrari have had ups and downs this season but ultimately, the red camp gave away far too many opportunities to beat their rivals. Let’s try and put some numbers to it.

In Canada, Vettel tangled with Max Verstappen on Turn 1 and his damaged front wing meant he dropped down and ultimately finished fourth instead of a potential second place (6 points lost). In Baku, Vettel’s moment of road rage earned him a penalty, which meant that he went from a potential victory down to fourth (13 points lost). Not making use of a gap for a safe pit-stop in Silverstone resulted in a puncture and dropped Vettel from fourth to seventh (6 points lost).

Verstappen and Vettel had their own share of collisions and blame games.   -  AFP

 

Asian leg

The Asian adventure was where the wind was truly knocked out of Vettel’s campaign. Ferrari showed tremendous pace in Singapore, but it all went wrong at the start when Vettel chose to close down Verstappen more aggressively than he really should have done. Not only were both the Ferraris out, but Lewis won on a weekend when the Mercedes looked to be struggling and he would have probably ended up fourth. (A net loss of 38: points Vettel lost - 25; points Lewis gained - 13)

READ: Lewis Hamilton wins crucial, chaotic Singapore GP

Penalties for changes to the power unit meant that Vettel started at the back of the grid in Malaysia, again on a track where the Ferrari looked very fast. He showed on Sunday that he probably had the pace to win, and combined with Kimi Raikkonen’s car failing on the grid, Hamilton pulled further ahead in the championship (points lost: 13; points Lewis gained 3; Net loss: 16).

Throw in the non-finish from the front row in Japan and that’s another 18 points gone.

When you add up the points lost by Vettel in the races that we have just looked at, that’s 97 points which they had arguably thrown away!

Of his championship winning years, 2017 has arguably been Lewis Hamilton’s best. He had a couple of sub-par weekends in Russia and Monaco, but apart from the crash in Qualifying last time out in Brazil, he has been error-free, and this has been the big difference. Vettel’s mistakes in Baku and Singapore were only part of the story that cost him the title, but they were a big part.

I thought Hamilton’s Qualifying performances this year, particularly in Silverstone, Japan and Malaysia have been mighty and it was fitting that he beat the all-time record for the highest number of pole positions this year.

Verstappen celebrates after winning the Malaysian Grand Prix.   -  Getty Images

 

Verstappen impresses

Red Bull Racing had a tough start to the season where they were sent down some wrong alleys by strange wind tunnel numbers. This meant that they started the season with a car that was under-developed, and it really took until mid-season for the team to come on strong. They had a lot of reliability issues from the Renault power unit, which caused a great deal of frustration particularly for Max Verstappen, who once again showed this year that he is going to be a real force in F1 for many years to come.

Once the team started to unlock the full potential of their car, Verstappen stormed to victories, in Malaysia and Mexico, beating the Mercedes and Ferraris in a straight fight. The fact that he outperformed a top quality driver like Daniel Ricciardo 13-6 in Qualifying battles (until the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) is a very strong statement from a 20-year-old.

READ: Verstappen's best and worst moments

If Renault can deliver a bit more performance in Qualifying and improve their reliability for 2018, there’s no reason why we can’t have all three teams fighting it out next season. With McLaren also going to Renault power for 2018, we could have eight drivers, all in contention every weekend.

Great season for Force India

Beyond the top three teams, Force India had a great season with two very good drivers and a car that worked well on pretty much every type of circuit. Renault showed good progress in terms of speed although much like the customer Red Bull team, the reliability hurt the factory team as well. McLaren and Honda had a disappointing season which ultimately ended in divorce after three frustrating seasons delivering not even a podium despite having one of the best drivers in the world in Fernando Alonso. Stoffel Vandoorne did a very good job in the second half of the season to cement his place in Formula 1, while at the other end of the career spectrum, Felipe Massa said goodbye as he left Williams and Formula 1 for good.

All in all, it was a season that had plenty of drama and battling but ultimately fizzled out a little bit when we got to the Asian leg in terms of the championship battle, although we still had some great racing on track.