Will Formula One’s 2018 sequel be better than the 2017 original?

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    As the sun dawned on Melbourne’s Albert Park on the last Sunday of March only one question teased the minds of the Formula One paddock: what sort of season did 2017 have in store?

    Up to that morning only a handful of clues, difficult to discern and useless in drawing a conclusion, had presented themselves.

    We already knew that the new generation Formula One car was fast – very fast. Lewis Hamilton, pole-sitter in 2016 and 2017, had blitzed his pole time by more than one and a half seconds on Saturday in breathtaking exhibition of the new machinery’s potential.

    Better still, Ferrari had moved substantially closer to the front of the field, missing out on pole less than three-tenths of a second and setting practice times that hinted at impressive race pace.

    But hidden behind the headline lap were hints that Formula One’s new eye-pleasing cars were having the feared side effect of splitting up the field. Whereas in Abu Dhabi in 2016 the slowest car was 3.54 per cent slower than the quickest, by Australia that margin had ballooned to 5.15 per cent.

    Hopes that the race would conclusively allay any fears were dashed in a handful of laps. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari strategised their way past Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in a taste of the head-to-head battle that was to come, but racing in these wider, downforce-laden prototypes was more difficult than ever.

    “It’s been the fundamental way the cars have been since I have been in Formula One, but it’s probably worse now than it’s ever been,” Lewis Hamilton lamented.

    Hamilton’s analysis continued to ring true throughout the season. Year on year overtaking almost halved, from an average of 41.24 passes per race last season to 21.75 in 2017. The year’s 435 overtakes was the lowest recorded in the post-2011 DRS era.

    But so too did the tense battle for victories continue to the end of the year. Ferrari and Mercedes duked it out, the former with a more consistent car and the latter with higher highs but lower lows. After 13 rounds just three points separated Hamilton from Vettel.

    The next chapter has been comprehensively chronicled as the most decisive of the year. Hamilton grew that three-point advantage into a commanding 59-point lead in the three-round Asian leg of the season as Ferrari and Vettel imploded.

    The Briton ended the season with a 46-point lead over Vettel, putting those crucial three weekends into context.

    Was the tense and psychological championship battle thrilling enough to counterbalance the step backwards in racing overall?

    “Some races are boring, so what?” Vettel said, reflecting on the data. “I don’t see the problem in that.

    “I don’t think we need another record every race, to have more overtaking and more overtaking.

    “Overtaking should be an achievement and not handed to you.”

    Sebastian Vettel press conference

    (Photo: GEPA pictures/ Daniel Goetzhaber)

    There’s understandable truth to Vettel’s philosophy, certainly considering what will go down as a broadly memorable season featured little on-track sparring between its two protagonists.

    Indeed think back to the Belgian Grand Prix, where Vettel harried Hamilton for the entirety of the race. He wasn’t able to execute a pass, but it was regardless compelling.

    “To be fighting a four-time world champion who you respect, you expect nothing but the best from them,” Hamilton said. “It’s really down to one of you making the smallest mistake, and none of us did.”

    In the battle for Formula One’s soul the desire for a pure sporting challenge is perpetually at war with the need for spectacular action. In 2017, under these new regulations, the former won convincingly.

    Now consider that after 20 grands prix the back of the field was already lapping within 3.84 per cent of Mercedes. Add to the calculation Red Bull Racing, which has rebounded from its slow start to regulatory era to win two races on merit by the end of the season.

    Lewis Hamilton celebrates in front of a sell-out Mexican crowd. (Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

    (Photo: Mercedes AMG Petronas)

    Mix in McLaren and perhaps Renault next season threatening to vie for podiums and – whisper it – wins, the former after ditching Honda power and the latter as its Formula One return continues maturing impressively quickly, and you start to get a sense of why the 2018 sequel promises to be better than the original.

    More leading roles will be written into the script. Fernando Alonso, as always, will be in search of his third world championship, while rising stars Carlos Sainz and Stoffel Vandoorne may get their chances to take centre stage. Nico Hülkenberg, too, will at last have the opportunity to make good on eight years of speculative hype.

    Formula One will continue striving to meet that balance between sport and spectacle, but with ten of the grid’s best drivers racing for five of the sport’s highest profile marques – not to mention the tightening midfield of equal size fighting to join them at the front – the core components lie ready to produce a classic championship.

    Bring on 2018.

    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 (10)

    • Roar Guru

      December 19th 2017 @ 11:50am
      Wayne said | December 19th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

      Going to my first ever F1 Race next season 😀

      In Japan. Because going a short flight from CBR to Melbourne is too mainstream 😛

      Sazuka Circuit and a 2.5 week holiday in Japan sounds awesome

      • Columnist

        December 20th 2017 @ 8:20am
        Michael Lamonato said | December 20th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        Nice one! Japan is my favourite race and also probably my favourite country to visit. You’ll love it.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 4:38pm
      Simoc said | December 19th 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

      Funny how media bunnies blame Vettel for a crash where Verstappen made one of the best F1 starts of all time and put himself equal to 1 & 2 on the grid. It shows how the simpletons need to concoct a story from their prejudice little brains. And that is how the stewards saw it. The creationists needed a big write up though and still run with this simpleton rubbish story.

      • December 20th 2017 @ 2:03am
        Dexter The Hamster said | December 20th 2017 @ 2:03am | ! Report

        Throwing a few insults around there for no apparent reason. Calling people simpletons??? With little brains??? I think you need to go back to the rugby league or soccer pages where this sort of thing is OK.

      • Columnist

        December 20th 2017 @ 8:26am
        Michael Lamonato said | December 20th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        I’m not sure what your point is, Simoc. Verstappen made a great start, but Raikkonen made an even better one, and it was Vettel not seeing Raikkonen as he attempted to cover Verstappen that triggered the crash.

        Sure, it was in the end judged a racing incident, especially because it took place at the first corner, but when you consider the context — Hamilton, the only driver Vettel actually needed to race, started much further down the grid and the Ferrari should have been comfortably quicker than the Mercedes — Vettel made an error of judgement with serious consequences.

        It was his fault he scored no points and his fault he took such a large points deficit to Malaysia. This isn’t some media conspiracy, it’s an inescapable fact.

    • December 19th 2017 @ 9:07pm
      Lo Chi-fung said | December 19th 2017 @ 9:07pm | ! Report

      Nice article. I hope you are right that 2018 will be a fight between 4 teams. Though, the overtaking issue will stay even for the top teams. There’s will be no new regulations regarding aero therefore the dirty air will stay a problem for the follower.
      Besides of that, it wonders me a bit why quite a lot of people expects McLaren immediately at the forefront in 2018 while history shows that building in a different engine isn’t an easy job.

      • Columnist

        December 22nd 2017 @ 8:53am
        Michael Lamonato said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        Yeah, overtaking will still be very difficult, but it seems to me that the frontrunners in 2017 all had different strengths and weaknesses, so over the course of the season things should balance out, which will hopefully produce a close championship.

        It’s an interesting one. People expect McLaren to do well partly because the team keeps saying its chassis is one of the best on the grid, which should of course mean that the car would be in Red Bull Racing territory with the same engine. Changing power units is hard, you’re right, but a team as big and as well financed as McLaren should be able to handle it.

        It’s not exactly comparable because the post-2014 power unit is far more complex than the earlier naturally aspirated engines, but Brawn did manage a very last-moment engine change in 2009 and went on to win the title, so it’s theoretically doable.

    • December 20th 2017 @ 2:09am
      Dexter The Hamster said | December 20th 2017 @ 2:09am | ! Report

      Michael, I just hope the next tier step up and challenge. I felt that this might have happened in 2017 only to be disappointed. If Renault, McLaren, Force India and Williams can step up and challenge the top 3, then we will have a great season. Its what F1 fans need and deserves.

      If the likes of Ocon, Vandorne, Stroll, Hulk and Sainz can be on the podium, then the season will be a success.

      • Columnist

        December 22nd 2017 @ 8:56am
        Michael Lamonato said | December 22nd 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        It’s a nice idea, but I don’t believe Force India or Williams will step up. Neither team has the resources to really maximise these regulations at the same rate as the big teams do. When the sport eventually agrees on cost controls, though, this will become possible, and hopefully that’s on the short-term horizon.

        Renault and McLaren, however, are in the vicinity, I think, so at least we should have around half the grid in the frame.

    • February 5th 2018 @ 6:15pm
      Oingo Boingo said | February 5th 2018 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

      The whole thing should be boycotted in the name of equality for women….. what a political stunt , I hope it backfires and F1 loses Millions.

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