The top ten drivers of the 2017 Formula 1 season so far...
As has become a tradition of sorts now that we are in Formula 1's summer break and at (roughly) the season's halfway point, here, Graham Keilloh presents his mid-year top 10 drivers' ranking for the 2017 season...
1. Sebastian Vettel
There are two sides to Sebastian Vettel. If things aren’t all around him he doesn’t always keep up his end of the bargain, as seen last year. Yet if he has the scent of a championship he finds a consistent and sky scraping level to make the absolute best of it. That’s what we’ve got in 2017. Absolutely. He’s shown sheer relentlessness straight from his Red Bull championship winning pomp – maximising final qualifying laps as if flicking a switch then maximising race results as if he is the puppeteer of the whole show.
If he has the scent of a championship he finds a consistent and sky scraping level to make the absolute best of it. That’s what we’ve got in 2017
When his machine is good (which it is), the rear of the car nailed (which it is, in part thanks to the new rules) and there is a peaky, knife edge level of grip for him to daintily dance upon (which this year’s Pirelli seems to provide), Seb is on a plateau. Whether it is dominating at the front (Bahrain, Spain and Monaco), nursing mechanical maladies (Hungary), chasing down foes (Australia, Russia and Austria) or coming through the pack (China, Canada and Azerbaijan). Four wins and a persistent title lead have been his; he might have got two more triumphs without unfortunate safety car appearances. Baku was an extreme aberration, but he got over it quickly. Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton may yet usurp him for the title, but they cannot rely on Seb meeting them halfway.
2. Fernando Alonso
Rarely if ever can such a high quality F1 driver have been coupled with such a poor car as Fernando Alonso with the McLaren Honda – and this year the opposite ends have moved to even further extremes. While in these rankings I place some premium value on fighting at the front the Spaniard’s consistently stunning performance has outweighed this. Particularly as circumstances could not have been more trying.
After two years of incremental progress this year’s machine is a desperately disappointing step back, both in reliability and pace, and this for a driver who is running out of time. Yet Alonso has thrown himself headlong into the task; right from the Melbourne opener he’s performed something like an Indian rope trick, getting his car into places that defy gravity time after time. On track his sheer commitment has never flickered. His qualifying lap in Spain was something from another world. In Silverstone’s qualifying topping Q1, bolting on slicks on a drying track and crossing the line with nanoseconds to spare, typified his spirit. In Hungary he was combative on his way to sixth and – astonishingly – fastest lap. Fast young thing Stoffel Vandoorne has got nowhere near. And with it errors from Alonso are near impossible to cite. Little wonder he described his year so far as “fantastic”.
3. Lewis Hamilton
For years almost no one has doubted that Lewis Hamilton’s peaks are higher than anyone else’s. But in 2017 troughs still have lingered on the chart as well
For years almost no one has doubted that Lewis Hamilton’s peaks are higher than anyone else’s. But in 2017 troughs still have lingered on the chart as well. In Silverstone he stunned, particularly in his final qualifying efforts; in Baku he was in command before misfortune struck. His Spain win was reward for tenacious pace and spirit. Montreal and China were fine wins too. For much of the year he has relished his title battle with Vettel as well as his more exalted position in the post-Nico Rosberg Mercedes squad.
Yet while the Mercedes has been, in Toto Wolff’s words, a “diva”, equally on the days that the car hasn’t got its tyres into range Lewis has been less able to find a compromise than his team mate Valtteri Bottas. His Sochi and Monaco weekends were close to unfathomable while Hungary – usually happy hunting ground – was messy, at least up until the race. So was his qualifying in Austria even allowing that a penalty hung over him. He remains rightful championship favourite, yet with Lewis the suspicion persists that it may not be that straightforward.
4. Max Verstappen
You know the one about not judging books by their covers. The prodigious Max Verstappen’s driving is not at all reflected in his meagre points total; that instead reflects a series of early race retirements – none his fault. And without them, and the resultant diminished evidence base compared with others, he’d likely be even higher in this list, as when circumstances and machinery have not failed him Verstappen has continued the high and rising plots on his graph.
Silverstone reminded us of his ultra-fast and ultra-aggressive credentials, as did his runs in Australia and Hungary and early cameos in Bahrain and Canada. While in China he showed his knack of sheer dramatic flourish – picking off nine rivals on the opening tour in mixed conditions, on the way to a podium finish. He’s also continued his trend started late last year of putting the qualifying manners on his team mate Daniel Ricciardo most of the time. Colliding with the Australian in Hungary showed his impetuous side, but it’s about the only thing in the debit column. Surely in the year’s latter part things can only get better. Particularly given who we’re dealing with.
5. Daniel Ricciardo
A car promising much has been tantalisingly shy of allowing him serial race wins and a championship run. Yet also he’s been outqualified by stable mate Verstappen more often and sometimes by further than he’d be content with
Daniel Ricciardo remains one of F1’s highest rated talents – one with everything, not least speed. But the theme of his time at Red Bull has continued this campaign – that a car promising much has been tantalisingly shy of allowing him serial race wins and a championship run. Yet also he’s been outqualified by stable mate Verstappen more often (Max leads the match-up 7-4) and sometimes by further than he’d be content with – does it reflect that the Dutchman is a phenomenon, or has Ricciardo let something slip somewhere?
It hasn’t helped that he’s added atypical qualifying errors, binning it in Melbourne and Baku. His race runs though have been typically brilliant with only the odd exception, and while his Baku win owed something to fortune it also was reward for an aggressive drive after a setback. His charge through the pack at Silverstone was about as good. Running in the vicinity of the leaders for the distance in Austria perhaps was his best of the lot. There remains plenty in the tank.
6. Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas can feel he hasn’t been done justice by this placing. There was not much to choose between the top six. Coming into the Mercedes team and in unforeseen circumstances one has barely seen the join; indeed he has been the revelation of the season, certainly at the sharp end. Sometimes the pace gap to Hamilton has gaped more than it should, plus his spin behind the safety car in China was ignominious while he was at least clumsy in first lap contact in Spain and Azerbaijan.
But he’s been typically unflappable and improved generally as the year has progressed. His two wins were impressive both in attack and defence while his drives through the pack in Baku and Silverstone also were excellent. His softer turn in has meant he’s tended to be the faster Merc when the car’s struggled with the tyres, and so his results have been the more consistent. All at the team welcome the greater harmony he’s brought compared with the combustible Lewis-Nico Rosberg pairing of before. Plus – bottom line – he’s only 19 points shy of Lewis with an even helping of misfortune across the campaign, and remains an outside title contender. All in it’s much better than many anticipated.
7. Sergio Perez
His being best of the rest behind the big three teams and delivering a maximised result is a positive race-by-race expectation. And he’s racked up the points
It goes to show you should never make your mind up on a driver. Time was we said inconsistency was Sergio Perez’s biggest problem; now he’s the sport’s stick-on, scoring in 21 of the last 25 races. This season he’s wavered even less, with his being best of the rest behind the big three teams and delivering a maximised result a positive race-by-race expectation. And he’s racked up the points. This too with more durable Pirelli tyres, as him being flattered by the previous gumball variety was another accusation we once flung Checo’s way.
Only in Monaco, when his run was scrappy, did he let his standards slip (we can debate whether his stance versus the team in Montreal was the correct one). Yet he remains on a tightrope even so – Checo’s one of many without obvious career progression from where he is. Worse if his prodigal stable mate Esteban Ocon starts to get narrowly ahead rather than narrowly behind as he’s been thus far it could cement Perez’s reputation in the negative very quickly. Strange are F1’s ways.
8. Kimi Raikkonen
In some senses Kimi Raikkonen in 2017 has reverted to the norm for his second Ferrari stint. Pace and points conspicuously off his ‘number one’ team mate. His use strictly that of a useful wingman. Plenty wonder what the host of pretenders could do in a red car. But as seems appropriate to the enigmatic Finn that’s not the whole tale. It is true that on many Saturdays and Sundays he’s not been close enough to stable mate Vettel. But on the other hand pole in Monaco is quite the feather in the cap whichever way you interpret it, and with more benign team strategy he’d have two wins this campaign.
Some of Kimi’s race strategies handed down by the team have stretched credulity and cost better results; in Austria Ferrari hardly concealed that he was being used as a pawn to aid Seb. Once again the German couldn’t live with Kimi through Silverstone’s sweeps. Given all of this, plus the equanimity his offers more broadly, that he looks certain to be retained by the Scuderia for 2018 should not be that much of a surprise.
9. Esteban Ocon
Ocon almost single-handedly gives lie to the view that modern F1, and pointedly F1 in 2017, is near enough impossible for young guys to distinguish themselves in
Ocon almost single-handedly gives lie to the view that modern F1, and pointedly F1 in 2017, is near enough impossible for young guys to distinguish themselves in. His upward trajectory has been smooth and sharp. Now close to a year into his F1 existence he’s yet to fail to reach a chequered flag. And with this there’s not been much wrong with his pace – he’s had two strong yardsticks in Pascal Wehrlein and now Perez – nor with his willingness to attack.
His team speak of a pleasant individual, and his calm as the team instruction storm brewed with Perez in Montreal spoke volumes, but so too did his confident run at the front that day. About his only blot was in the following round in Baku when he pinched Perez into the wall. While there rarely been much between him and the Mexican equally Checo has pipped him in qualifying and races with regularity. Being the one ahead is next on Ocon’s to-do list.
10. Carlos Sainz
As ever the top ten was as much a matter of who to leave out as who to include, and the final slot was a close call between Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg. Sainz sneaks it, but it’s a much narrower shout than most would have anticipated early in the year. The Spaniard’s coming man reputation glowed then, and he continued in that vein in the opening weeks particularly with a fantastic run in China, keeping up with the leaders. But he followed that with a major misjudgement in Bahrain, wiping out Lance Stroll, and later showed more misjudgement on Canada’s opening lap forcing Romain Grosjean off.
It is hardly hidden that he is frustrated with the lack of room at the Red Bull inn – his now testy relationship with his team mate may be indicative of the same thing – and plenty have theorised that this frustration is showing in his driving. Yet he went well at Monaco as he always seems to, plus some likened his effort to get into Q3 in Austria to something from his hero Alonso. And in the nick of time in Hungary before the summer break he reminded us what he’s all about with a superb showing in qualifying and the race.