Season wrap: What might have been
In the end it looked easy for Lewis Hamilton, coasting home in second behind his Mercedes team-mate in the final race in Abu Dhabi having clinched the title two races previously down Mexico way. But for much of the season the duel with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was visceral.
Indeed Vettel led at the summer break and had Ferrari not self destructed with a combination of mechanical issues and driver error the outcome might have been different. Vettel, to his credit, was having no excuses.
“In the end you can break it down to a lot of details, and this and that, but overall the package wasn’t good enough. In the end Mercedes was better, they were faster. Look at the amount of pole positions, of race wins. It’s a straight fight and they just did better.”
Does Mercedes dominance in Abu Dhabi mean Hamilton starts favourite in 2018?
Far from it. Ferrari had the most consistent car over the first 13 races, making huge strides following the regulation changes that came into force at the start of the year. The Ferrari engineers made best use of the wider cars, fatter tyres and new aero rules to take the fight to Mercedes, who were quicker in a straight line but struggled on slow speed circuits.
In Abu Dhabi Ferrari made Mercedes look more dominant by turning down the wick to ensure Vettel secured second place in the championship. In Australia, where Vettel tabled the first of his five victories this year, expect Ferrari to be on the money again, especially if they can find a qualifying edge to match Mercedes.
And the post summer-break hike in Red Bull’s performance suggests that 2018 might be even tighter still. Over the final six races of the season Max Verstappen won twice and was second only to Hamilton in points scored, and then the deficit was only two, 102 to 100.
What are the big technical changes for 2018?
Here comes the Halo. Reluctantly the drivers have accepted the imposition of the new protection device that sits on top of the cockpit. The secondary roll structure is the sport’s response to the kind of fatal head injury sustained three years ago by Jules Bianchi, who collided with a recovery vehicle after crashing out of the Japanese Grand Prix.
The number of engines available to teams reduces from four to three per car, which according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is madness since it will lead to even more grid penalties and drive up costs.
The expense incurred in making engines more reliable offsets any savings associated with fewer units, he says.
How has the change of F1 ownership impacted thus far?
Liberty Media’s removal of Formula One’s great impresario, Bernie Ecclestone, was the talk of last winter. Their arrival in the paddock co-incided with a more competitive season but Liberty have made it clear that significant change is coming aimed at making the racing even more competitive, with each team having a notional chance to win.
Tentative suggestions as to how they might achieve that, a more even distribution of prize money, more common technology, cheaper engines, has already upset the major players with the those who have most to lose, Ferrari and Mercedes, kicking up the biggest fuss.
Ferrari’s chuntering about walking away is a common refrain whenever Maranello’s heavily weighted financial inducements are threatened. Expect more of that in the next three years as Liberty thrash out the terms of engagement with the teams for 2021, after the present commercial deal has run its course.
What might the cars look like in 2021 when Liberty’s brave new world comes into force?
The suggestions from Liberty’s sporting director, Ross Brawn, point to a radical revision of the cars’ architecture, promising a “sensational” look when aero guidelines for 2021 are revealed next month.
“For 2021 we are going to have great looking cars that can race each other,” he said, referencing the difficulty the present cars have in overtaking at some tracks, which is a consequence of the turbulence created by the wider designs.
With new-look cars powered by cheaper, less complex power units, Liberty hope to return the driver to the centre of the enterprise, making the sport less vulnerable to the inequalities bred by rich teams outspending the minnows in research and development. In this vision Brawn wants the winners to succeed because “they are the best at what they are doing and not because they have the biggest budget.”