Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2017

Mercedes triumph again in their closest title fight yet

2017 F1 season review

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Since the current engine regulations were introduced in 2014 Mercedes have had things their own way. But in the fourth year of the formula a major overhaul of the aerodynamic rules disrupted their supremacy.

In previous years either Ferrari or Red Bull had taken occasional wins. This time both did, keeping Mercedes from the top spot a total of eight times. That they still managed to win more races than everyone else put together, and this was taken as an indication of them having a tough season, shows just how easy life was for them between 2014 and 2016.

Mercedes team stats 2017

Best race result (number)1 (12)
Best grid position (number) 1 (15)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 1 (1/0)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,363 (98.29%)
Laps led (% of total) 714 (59.4%)
Championship position (2016)1 (1)
Championship points (2016)668 (765)
Pit stop performance ranking1

The pre-season shake-up was made more difficult for Mercedes This by Nico Rosberg’s sudden retirement five days after the end of last season. Not until the new year were Mercedes finally able to announce Valtteri Bottas as his replacement.

When testing began Mercedes found their W08 was reliable but difficult to get the best out of. The sheer length of the car – Lewis Hamilton described it as being “like a boat” – meant it proved ill-suited to some track layouts and it especially struggled in higher temperatures. It took until well into the second half of the season for the team to master these challenges.

Team principal Toto Wolff dubbed the W08 a ‘diva’. Newcomer Bottas found he could live with its bad days better than Hamilton. The latter had off-weekends in Russia, where Bottas scored a breakthrough win, and Monaco. “The first half of the season was maybe a little bit up and down in terms of extracting maximum performance out of the car,” Hamilton conceded.

Nonetheless both drivers amassed enough points to keep in touch with early leader Sebastian Vettel. Indeed Bottas did so well the team continued to give both drivers equal treatment in the title fight approaching mid-season: Hamilton had to relinquish third to Bottas in Hungary after the pair had swapped places.

Even so this was a strong season for Hamilton who seemed to raise his game. Perhaps it was the absence of Rosberg, perhaps it was the resurgence of Ferrari and Vettel. He produced top-drawer wins in Spain, overtaking Vettel for the win, and Belgium, where he defended excellently against a faster Ferrari to stay ahead.

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But from then on Hamilton was back to his best. He said he was “really able to hit the nail on the head most weekends and get the car where I was able to exploit the car’s potential and my potential on a consistent basis.” This soon coincided with a sharp downturn in fortunes at Ferrari, suddenly propelling Hamilton into an uncatchable points lead.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2017
Bottas resisted Vettel for breakthrough win
Even by the end of the year Mercedes had not re-established anything like their previous dominance on a regular basis. Though they won emphatically in Abu Dhabi, the previous two races went to their rivals.

One variable which did not change all year long was their strength in qualifying. The team still have a not-so-secret weapon which allows them to extract more performance from their engine for a single flying lap. Hamilton made best use of this, breaking Michael Schumacher’s all-time record for most pole positions.

Are Hamilton and Mercedes going to continue writing new records together? It would be a brave individual who bets against them refining their capricious 2017 package into something even more potent.

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  • 8 comments on “Mercedes triumph again in their closest title fight yet”

    1. It feels like the 3 engine rules gives them an extra advantage for next year and I fear it might ruin the second half of next season.

      1. +1 to this. Unless Renault (and Ferrari to a smaller extent) make a great step forward in reliability, those penalties are going to play a factor in the second set of flyaway races.

    2. While the resurgence of Red Bull Racing and Ferrari was predicted, the surprising thing is how the Mercedes car has remained the dominant car this season. I can only assume Mercedes still haven’t reached the limit of the technology they use in their engine because their car improved so much in the second half of the season, which is really amazing.
      It will be interesting to see how much gain in performance the Renault engine achieves when Budkowski finishes his gardening leave in April.
      As I think about this, I can’t see why there is a rule that limits an engine to a single injector per cylinder. If one of the aims is to reduce the cost of an engine then why not allow two injectors per cylinder?

      1. It isn’t just the engine for Mercedes to improve. Their chassis too got better as the year progressed @drycrust

      2. Mercedes only looked like the dominant car because the drivers for the other team didn’t get the maximum out of theirs.

        It had much more setup issues and Ferrari was almost always fastest on race pace.

        Mercedes might have had a slight edge in Q3 one lap pace, but it wasn’t as much as the results indicated. In several cases Vettel and Raikkonen just didn’t get a proper lap together in Q3 even though they had looked well fastest in FP3. While Hamilton usually did have the capacity to go that extra bit faster and pull out a perfect lap when it mattered.

        Also poor starts costs Vettel a lot. Canada, Silverstone, Singapore all saw him get into incidents after a poor getaway. It wasn’t the Ferrari start system which held him back, since Raikkonen did have plenty great starts. In the last few races (when the pressure was off) Vettel had some great starts too.

        Poor starts caused them to drop back and instead of a fight for the lead, the race became a recovery race to try and salvage some points.

        1. This would be an interesting article. The stats are clear, merc took the majority of poles and races, but in how many of those cases did (as far as we can tell) the fastest quallie or race car get the prize?

          Some prizes that should have gone to Ferrari were lost to mishaps or reliability, of course. I’m mainly wondering which car was the quicker here: it already seems clear to me that merc were more reliable, and HAM less mishap-prone. Luck comes into this too; the safety periods didn’t play well for Ferrari in China.

          I don’t recall Ferrari stealing a pole from Merc, but the reverse is probably true: Ferrari were quick in Spain and Canada, but Lewis grabbed pole – were those steals? I’d expect VET to have grabbed pole in Malaysia if his car had held up.

          But what about races? Surely Ferrari stole Brazil; an on-form HAM should have taken that one. Meanwhile, Merc took China(?), Russia, Spain, Canada(?), Spa, Singapore.

    3. Hamilton had about as good a season as he’s ever had. If he hadn’t pulled his now typical trick of dropping off in form once the championship is decided it would have been up there with Vettel’s dominant 2013.

      Mercedes and Hamilton’s combined qualifying performance got them in a position to take a lot of wins that Ferrari should rightly have had, and the team operating like clockwork both on track and in the development race.

      Next year I do wonder with the 3 power unit limit if that might curtail the Mercedes qualifying mode a little. How much life do those Q3 laps take from the power unit? If things are more marginal next year could they tone it down a little?

      1. Paddy Lowe is already on record as saying the 3 engine rule can be applied now without much difficulty. His only worry, was that the pace to use just 3 power units for the season would be slower. The big question is through, how much slower. If Ferrari or Renault (I think this applies for Ferrari only, really) can find a bit more from the power unit to pressure Mercedes 1 lap quali mode, and deny them pole positions, 2018 could be very interesting.

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