The first half of the 2017 season has seen the spotlight firmly fixed on the top of the championship table. It’s hardly surprising considering we’ve got a title race featuring more than just one team for the first time in three years. Before I give my assessment up at the top of the table, I’ve examined the fortunes of positions 20th through to 11th in the first half of my 2017 F1 half-term report.
20th: Marcus Ericsson, 0 Points. Best Finish: 11th x 2.
There’s plenty of talk in the forums about Marcus Ericsson and if his financial backing will be enough to keep him at Sauber next year, especially with talk of the Swiss outfit becoming the Ferrari B-Team. In a year when Sauber has been so uncompetitive with their year old Ferrari engines, the only benchmark us spectators can really measure Ericsson off is the performances against his teammate. Ericsson trails Wehrlein 7 – 2 in the qualifying race and has failed to score any points so far this year.
I can’t see the second half of the season becoming any easier for Ericsson or Sauber and am becoming more and more certain that this could be his last in F1. I don’t believe he’s done enough to warrant a seat for next year, especially with some very talented Ferrari youngsters waiting in the wings.
19th: Jolyon Palmer, 0 Points. Best Finish: 11th x 3.
Now, I’m actually a huge Jolyon Palmer fan but to be completely honest if the second half of the season goes like the first I think it will be curtains for Palmer’s career at Renault. He’s been unfortunate on more than one occasion this year, and three 11th place finishes show just how tantalisingly close Palmer has been to some points in Monaco, Canada and Austria. However, the facts are there for all to see. Palmer has failed to outqualify his teammate Hulkenberg at any of the races so far this year, and the pace difference between the two in Hungary once Hulkenberg was ordered by Palmer was alarming.
You don’t become the GP2 Champion without possessing incredible amounts of talent, but in a team and car which is now quite clearly very capable of scoring regular points, it’s going to need a remarkable turnaround in the second half of the season for Palmer to have any chance at all of retaining his seat. Especially with Kubica now also being seriously considered by Renault.
18th: Stoffel Vandoorne, 1 Point. Best Finish: 10th x 1.
There was a huge fanfare surrounding Stoffel Vandoorne’s arrival as a full-time McLaren driver, especially after a stunning point scoring debut early on in 2016 where he deputised for the injured Fernando Alonso. Now, I wouldn’t say Vandoorne’s debut season in F1 has been a disappointment by any means, but he’s also not set the world alight like many thought he would.
Hardly helped by the woeful Honda engine in the back of the McLaren this year, Vandoorne’s 10th place finish in Hungary was a great way to go into the summer break after being close to the points in Azerbaijan, Austria and Britain. I do expect Vandoorne to improve significantly over the rest of the year, and with his McLaren seat safe for another season at least I expect more points finishes before the season is out.
17th: Daniil Kvyat, 4 Points. Best Finish: 9th x 2.
Looking back now, I don’t think you’d find anyone would say Red Bull’s decision switch Kvyat and Verstappen last year was incorrect. Kvyat has had a mixed season so far at Toro Rosso, not helped by the now familiar splattering of incidents, coming together’s and crashes which have been a regular feature of his race weekends since Monaco. In qualifying, Kvyat trails Sainz 5 -6, and has generally shown to be fast on his day, he just needs to match the consistency of his Spanish teammate
The jury is out on whether Kvyat will last another season at Toro Rosso. I can’t see him ever going back to Red Bull and I think part of Kvyat’s future depends on what happens to Carlos Sainz. If Sainz moves to Renault, then Kvyat may stay at Toro Rosso alongside newcomer Pierre Gasly. But if Sainz stays then I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kvyat looking for another drive for 2018.
16th: Pascal Wehrlein, 5 Points. Best Finish: 8th x 1.
If you believe what you read on the forums, Wehrlein is a driver who could perhaps surprisingly find himself out of an F1 seat next year, especially if Ferrari take Sauber under their wing. Like with Ericsson, in such an uncompetitive car it’s difficult to really judge just how good Wehrlein has been so far in 2017 but judging by the way he has dispensed with his teammate, and his 7 – 2 lead in the qualifying it’s safe to say he’s been reasonably good.
Points finishes in Spain and Azerbaijan remain Sauber’s only points of the year, in a season where the now look certain to finish 10th in the constructor’s table. If Wehrlein does leave Sauber at the end of the season I fully expect Mercedes to find him a drive elsewhere. With a reunion with Esteban Ocon at Force India one possibility, Wehrlein’s time at a top team will come, but his F1 career should certainly be safe for now. Occasionally bettered by Ericsson in the races this year, Wehrlein needs to ensure his reputation continues to grow by consistently out-racing Ericsson in the second half of the season.
15th: Fernando Alonso, 10 Points. Best Finish: 6th x 1.
After two and a half years languishing around the lower reaches of the grid, it’s still no easier to watch Alonso on race weekends without becoming a little bit saddened and frustrated. Alonso has demonstrated time and time again this year that he still remains one of F1’s fastest drivers in a league with Vettel and Hamilton and it’s such a shame that we can’t see a three-way fight between three legends of F1 for the title. Sixth place in Hungary last time out was Alonso’s best finish of the year so far in a year where Alonso has failed to finish four of the nine races he has started.
His stock has continued to rise after his 9 – 1 destruction of the highly rated Vandoorne in qualifying, and whilst I do expect Alonso to score more points in the second half of the year, I’m unsure where we’ll see him next. With Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull no longer options to drive for Alonso’s choices are either stick with McLaren, move to Renault (potentially) or retire from F1 altogether. So much depends on Honda producing a competitive engine, and we’ll know much more in September. My gut feeling is he’ll stay at McLaren Honda for one more year, or will wait until after testing in 2018 to assess the speed of the new Honda engine.
14th: Kevin Magnussen, 11 Points. Best Finish: 7th x 1.
Magnussen has had a solid season in the Haas, and has kept his highly rated teammate Romain Grosjean honest. Seventh place in Azerbaijan remains his strongest race weekend of the year so far and he trails Grosjean 4 – 7 in the qualifying race. I think Magnussen’s year will be more remembered for his post race conversation with Nico Hulkenberg in Hungary than for anything else! Magnussen has been solid, consistent but not spectacular and I would expect him to finish in the points a few more times before the season is out.
13th: Romain Grosjean, 18 Points. Best Finish: 6th x 1.
I’m not surprised is slightly ahead of Magnussen in the points table, but I don’t think we’ve seen the vintage Romain Grosjean we saw carrying his Lotus team a few seasons ago. The Haas has been good but firmly planted in the extremely competitive midfield battle. I’m expecting more of the same from Grosjean in the second half of the year, and I can’t see him not beating Magnussen in the qualifying battle a points table come to Abu Dhabi at the end of the season. Solid, reliable but also slightly underwhelming are the three words I’d use to describe Grosjean’s season.
12th: Lance Stroll, 18 Points. Best Finish: 3rd x 1.
After what can only be described as a disastrous start to his F1 career, young Lance Stroll is certainly improving. His podium finish in Baku will surely be the highlight of this year but the improvements in Stroll’s fortunes started before that in Montreal where he scored his maiden F1 points with a 9th place finish. Another strong 10th place finish followed his Baku podium in Austria before 16th and 14th place finishes in Britain and Hungary. All of these represent great improvements on the opening flyaways where he didn’t take the checkered flag until race four in Russia.
There can be no doubt that the Williams is not as competitive as it has been in the past, and Massa’s 9 – 1 annihilation of Stroll in qualifying highlights an area where the young Canadian can make big improvements. However, I think Stroll will continue to improve over the second half of the year, with the potential for more points finishes at tracks like Spa and Monza a real possibility. It was a difficult start, but we’re most certainly seeing progress.
11th: Felipe Massa, 23 Points. Best Finish: 6th x 2.
Drafted back in to replace the departing Valtteri Bottas, Massa has enjoyed a solid-ish season back at Williams, scoring regular points in a car that is some way off what he was used to during his first three years at the team. Whether Massa is still the driver he once was back in his 2008 heydey is an argument for another day, but he’s scored valuable points for Williams this year and can be relied upon to bring the car home when it matters.
I’m sure Massa will have also been an invaluable resource for Stroll to learn from this year, but I think 2017 may be his final season in F1.
Check back in tomorrow when I cover positions 10th through to 1st in the second part of my 2017 half-term review.