Formula One season so far: The good, the bad and the downright unexpected

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert


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    How quickly time flies when travelling in excess of 300 kilometres per hour.

    After 11 rounds of the 2017 Formula One season we have our defining narratives, with a long-awaited multiple-driver, multiple-team fight for the title and plenty of intrigue in the midfield, even if the two groups are far further apart than is ideal.

    But as much as the season overall has been a boon for Formula One after three years of Mercedes domination, it too has had its twists and turns.

    The good

    First to those things positive to have sprung from the season, and of them none is greater than Ferrari’s return to the front.

    On one level is that old – perhaps Ferrari-backed – truism that what’s good for Ferrari is good for Formula One, and certainly there’s no doubting that enthusing the world’s most famous car brand’s equally famous fans can only be good for the sport’s overall energy.

    But more important is that the red cars are challenging reigning constructors champion Mercedes. At the halfway mark the numbers are finely poised: Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers standings while Mercedes sits atop the constructors table.

    Some circuits suit one car and others the other, meaning guessing how this story ends really is anyone’s guess.

    There’s plenty of action to be thankful for in the midfield, too, where the closeness of 2017 has sparked that motor racing mana from heaven: intra-team rivalry.

    Flashpoints already litter Force India’s season, where Sergio Perez is desperate to impress the big teams while Esteban Ocon is carving out a name for himself relative to the Mexican’s impressive form.

    So too are the ordinarily amicable Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo embroiled in a spat at Red Bull Racing after coming to blows in Hungary, when the former punted the latter out of the race on the first lap. Put the opportunity for race wins into the mix later in the season and it’s not hard to see why an increasing number of commentators think this relationship is unsustainable in the long term.

    Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull, is interviewed by the media.

    (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images).

    Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat remains an awkward rivalry for both drivers, while Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson are desperate just to stay in the F1 frame by the end of the season.

    The bad
    The midfield isn’t all action, however. Just ask Jolyon Palmer, who remains one of only two regular drivers yet to score a point and the only regular driver yet to outqualify his teammate.

    The Briton’s performances have been criticised by Renault management, who lament that his lack of points has turned fifth in the constructors standings into a lowly eighth, and with Robert Kubica tantalisingly close to making a previously inconceivable comeback, the 2014 GP2 champion’s F1 career looks near an end.

    But not cutting it among the 20 best drivers in the world is no racing career-ender, and Palmer knows that F1 drivers come and go – Honda’s continuing lack of competitiveness, on the other hand, is far more dire a thing.

    Incalculable sums of cash have been poured into the McLaren-Honda project, but the once great partnership sits second last in the standings with just nine points.
    The team dared to dream after the relative positivity of finishing sixth with 76 points last year, but a reinvention of the engine dropped Honda into arguably its worst season since its 2014 debut.

    Honda says its power unit is now performing about where it expected at the start of the year, and it has set the ambitious target of surpassing Renault by the season’s end – but we’ve heard these targets before. Honda promised Mercedes 2016-levels of performance in the preseason, which proved cripplingly incorrect.

    Performance and reliability have been so woeful that McLaren is still looking for a way to end its long-term contract with the Japanese company, leaving Honda to frantically sort out a deal first with Sauber – which has since cut ties – and now with Toro Rosso, talks about which remain ongoing.

    The unexpected
    Formula One’s usual sporting machinations continue apace, then, but unusual is that none of it is taking place against a backdrop of crisis or controversy, for so long the sport’s preferred way of doing business – all the more impressive in light of the spectacular collapses of rival series WEC and the DTM.

    Bernie Ecclestone’s removal as CEO at the start of the year and the ushering in of new commercial ownership has left the sport in an unfamiliar state of calm and – whisper it – positivity.

    F1 Live London, an F1-backed street demonstration, was unimaginable under the old regime, which was loath to promote the sport, and behind the scenes the new-look Formula One Management is working cooperatively with the FIA to develop new regulations to improve racing without resorting to gimmicks.

    Looking the least basket case of the world’s premier motorsport categories? The 2017 season really has so far delivered beyond our expectations.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart ? but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (4)

    • Roar Guru

      August 15th 2017 @ 8:51am
      Connor Bennett said | August 15th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      A good read Michael. Surprised you didn’t mention the Halo debacle!

      I really hope Verstappen doesn’t become another Vettel for Aussie racing fans, the evil foreigner dashing the hopes of Webber/Ricciardo, but they look to be working fairly well together overall, but those incidents that keep cropping up like in Hungary are worrying signs.

      New management has done wonders for F1 since Bernie got the boot. We’re obviously in the honeymoon period so it’ll be interesting to see where we sit in a couple of years time when they’ve had time to settle into the role. Also, I think people were just over having Bernie’s face heading the sport for decades on end, change was needed.

      • August 15th 2017 @ 8:13pm
        Simoc said | August 15th 2017 @ 8:13pm | ! Report

        I think Vettel is great value and Webber was a wimp.

        The incident between Verstappen and Ricciardo is unlikely to be the last given they’re two desperados fighting for the same spot and possibly Ricciardo has a slight edge at this stage.

        Last race Alonso recorded the fastest lap of the race at the end, which seems an abberation. Maybe Honda have found some speed.

        I just hope we can get every F1 race on Free to air TV in the future. I’m liking the new ownership changes in F1.

        • Columnist

          August 16th 2017 @ 1:47pm
          Michael Lamonato said | August 16th 2017 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          Thanks for the comment! I don’t know about Webber being a wimp, but I definitely agree that Vettel’s great value. I think his generally no-nonsense approach to the sport is refreshing in this championship fight — it’s nice not to have so much internal politics to talk about, which wasn’t the case when it was all Hamilton versus Rosberg.

          We’ll keep an eye on that Red Bull Racing internal battle. If the car can become more reliable, we’ll see them competing more consistently. I think Ricciardo remains a better racer, but Verstappen is marginally faster. How that balances out will be great to watch.

          Hungary puts minimal emphasis on the power unit, showing the McLaren chassis is very, very good — but it’s true that Honda is finally making some gains, even if they’re small. Plus Alonso’s a beast, so it all adds up. If Honda can sort out its reliability, hopefully its performance trajectory can smooth out between now and next season.

          Don’t hold your breath on free-to-air! I think what’s more likely is that we’ll get an online streaming service made available at some point, like with MotoGP. Presumably it’ll be cheaper than a Foxtel subscription (and will offer HD, unlike Foxtel Play…).

      • Columnist

        August 16th 2017 @ 1:43pm
        Michael Lamonato said | August 16th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

        Thanks, mate! I figure halo’s had plenty of coverage for now — we’ll have plenty of time to talk about it all next year

        Yes, it would be a shame if Verstappen were to become a villain in Australia, although I think we’ve taken to Vettel again now he’s driving for Ferrari, so I suppose it isn’t irreversible! By all accounts they seem to get along well. Obviously the test will be when they’re competing regularly for wins or a championship. I’ll be interested to watch whether this has changed Verstappen’s attitude at all. I suspect not — he’s seemed impervious so far to any criticism of any kind — but Ricciardo seems so inert that I feel like it’s on Max to prevent the relationship melting down. We’ll see!

        Change at the top of the sport was certainly needed, and it’s great to see that change throughout the sport has been felt almost immediately. We’ll see the commercial rights holder’s full plan unfold after 2020, when it has the opportunity to reset almost all the various contracts binding the sport, so that’ll be the end of this honeymoon period, like you say.

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