F1 2017: The moments that mattered

Sebastian Vettel’s podium finish at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix secured the second spot for him in the Drivers’ Standings. The German will be disappointed to finish behind Lewis Hamilton after a rollicking start to the season.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates on the podium at the end of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit. Finland's Valtteri Bottas won the season-ending race on Sunday, finishing ahead of world champion Lewis Hamilton with Sebastian Vettel finishing third.   -  AFP

Ferrari on the pace

It has been quite sometime since Ferrari won more than a couple of races at the start of a year. The last time Scuderia won two races in the opening third of the season was in 2013, when Fernando Alonso won two out of the first five races.

So, when Sebastian Vettel won three of the first six races in Australia, Bahrain and Monaco, it looked like the Italian team was finally ready to give Mercedes a run for its money for the first time in four years.

After the first six races of the year, Vettel held a 25-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. But Mercedes came back strongly in the next part of the season, before the summer break, winning three of the five races. Vettel won in Hungary and ended the first half of the season with a 14-point lead over Hamilton.

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

Vettel’s vulnerability

For the first time since his move to Ferrari, Vettel had a chance to fight for the title and was flawless in the first six races. But after Hamilton fought back in Canada and looked to dominate in Azerbaijan, Vettel looked rattled.

He produced what will go down as a despicable act when he purposely banged wheels with Hamilton, when they were driving behind the safety car. He had assumed — falsely — that the Briton was brake-testing. He was lucky to get away with just a penalty and was not black flagged immediately or given a much harsher punishment.

For the first time since his move to Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel had a chance to fight for the title and was flawless in the first six races.   -  Getty Images

 

Soon, following Hamilton’s wins in Belgium and Italy, Vettel was once again under the pump after losing the lead in the championship. In Singapore, on a day when he was on pole while Hamilton and Mercedes struggled, Vettel blew the start and to make things worse cut across the track to desperately hold position, triggering a multi-car collision that took him, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen out. Hamilton won and collected 25 points.

READ: Vettel secures second place in drivers' championship

Ferrari’s reliability

The Singapore pain just compounded for Ferrari and Vettel in the next two events that gave the title on a platter to Hamilton. In Malaysia, again where Ferrari looked genuinely quick and the Mercs struggled, engine failure forced Vettel to miss qualifying and start last. The following week in Japan, a Euro 59 spark plug fault forced Vettel into retirement, putting him ironically 59 points behind Hamilton.

Hammer time

Finally, it all boiled down to Hamilton winning the key moments in races. In Spain, having lost the lead at the start, Hamilton came back later in the race with a bit of help from the Virtual Safety Car to pass the German on track to win the race.

In Belgium, in a close race, he delivered the ultimate qualifying lap to pip Vettel to the pole and was millimetre perfect in the race to keep his opponent at bay. He completely dominated the British GP.

With 62 wins and 72 poles under his belt already, at 32, Hamilton, can rightly claim to be the best of his generation. He has a 15-race win lead over Vettel, who too has four world titles, but is generally considered a more rounded racing driver with clinical precision in wheel-to-wheel battles.

Since 2014, he has won 50 per cent of the races each year, with 2017 being the low point, nine wins out of 20. With stable regulations for another three years, Michael Schumacher’s records don't seem safe any more.