By Ben Woods
The 2017 Formula One season promises to deliver one of the closest races in the battle for the Constructors’ Championship in the last five years.
The dominance of Mercedes in recent history has seen the title become a one-sided affair, with the team winning the crown for the past three seasons on the bounce. However, the rise of Ferrari this term has provided competition at the top, with Sebastian Vettel challenging Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship.
Due to the performances of the German and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the Italian outfit have pressed Mercedes at the top of the Constructors’ Championship, and are now down to 10/3 in the F1 betting to secure the crown this season, which may represent good value when used in conjunction with bookmakers’ £50 free bet offers. The quality of the teams and drivers involved will ensure that the battle will go down to the wire.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the race for both awards will be the reliability of the vehicles, which has already played a significant role thus far.
Red Bull have endured numerous issues with their two cars, which has effectively ended their charge for both Championships. No driver has been frustrated more by issues than Max Verstappen as his progress has been stymied this term after his breakout campaign in 2016.
After a strong practice session in Bahrain, the Dutchman looked on pace to claim a high spot on the grid, only to fail to fire during qualifying. Despite the setback, Verstappen was on pace for a strong finish in the early stages of the meet. However, he suffered a brake issue as his left rear overheated, sending him careering into the tyre wall on lap 12.
The 19-year-old looked to be challenging Hamilton in Canada for the lead after making a bright start to the race, rising through the field from fifth on the grid. On this occasion a problem with the ERS battery led to his demise in the meet, cutting off the entire power supply to his RB13.
Oil pressure was his downfall in Baku, ending his race on lap 12, while his poor fortune continued as a collision forced him out of the Austrian Grand Prix after just one lap. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, his issues are not consigned to just one area of his car, which has prompted suggestions that Red Bull should perform a complete rebuild of the vehicle during the upcoming break. While the cars tend to be broken down to be shipped between races, they are often split into multiple sub assemblies that are wholly checked over rather than completely stripped apart to save time.
Whether that will be enough to turn the tide for Verstappen is another matter, considering that there will only be seven races left in the term.
The Dutchman’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo also suffered an issue with his brakes at the Russian Grand Prix, with his right rear catching fire. The Australian had previously had his home Grand Prix in Melbourne ended with a fuel-cell problem after 28 laps, although he also endured a crash that had dropped him down the grid.
Since drastic changes were made to the Red Bulls before the Spanish Grand Prix to improve the aerodynamics, Ricciardo has remained clean in his outings, including his victory in Azerbaijan, to at least make his presence known in the Drivers’ Championship.
One of the reasons behind Ferrari’s challenge has been the reliability of their SF70H. The car has provided the speed to match Mercedes’ W08, but has also proven to generally have the endurance and the robustness to keep their drivers on the track for the majority of the campaign.
Only a crash sustained by Raikkonen in a collision with Verstappen, caused by Valtteri Bottas, has prevented the Ferrari from finishing every race this season, while Vettel has been a model of consistency leading the Drivers’ Championship.
The team are expected to take grid penalties later in the season after an early spat of turbocharger failures but it appears as if the Scuderia have got on top of this problem for the moment.
Mercedes have benefitted from the same success as their rivals, with only one major engine issue forcing Bottas out of the Spanish Grand Prix that may well have been caused by his crash with Raikkonen and Verstappen. Hamilton had been flawless until the Austrian Grand Prix when a gearbox issue forced a change, dropping him down the grid, with the same problem hitting Bottas a week later in Britain.
It has become apparent that in the quest to find every millisecond Mercedes have been running the seamless shift system too aggressively, resulting in too much torque from the power unit being transmitted into critical components in the gearbox. As a result the team will have to be more conservative with gear transitions – cutting drive from the engine when the driver upshifts is one way of doing that.
Although what might seem a small issue at the time can have huge ramifications in the races for the Drivers’ and Constructors Championship. Speed can make a vital difference, but reliability is the crucial factor in deciding the outcome of Formula One’s top awards.