Mercedes 2017 Season So Far: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas closer than anyone predicted

For Mercedes, the hybrid era beginning in 2014 had meant unbridled success and Formula One domination which for three years had seen just eight non-Mercedes victories to the end of 2016.

For 2017, the aerodynamic regulations changed plenty about F1. The cars were lower, faster, wider. And Mercedes were no longer having it all their own way.

They’ve more than played their part in a season-long two-team battle with Ferrari that arguably rivals the McLaren-Ferrari duels of 1998-2000 and 2007-08.

Großer Preis von Australien 2017, Sonntag – Wolfgang Wilhelm – Mercedes AMG F1
Mercedes were given a warning by Ferrari in Australia

They were served notice at the Australian Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton was edged out by Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari despite the Silver Arrows claiming a familiar pole position. New recruit Valtteri Bottas was a close third.

Hamilton’s victory in China confirmed what the watching motorsport world hoped they knew: That 2017 was going to be a grand battle between two of Formula One’s living greats. Vettel was second while Bottas managed sixth after a chaotic race.

It was a second 2-3 in three races as Hamilton headed Bottas in Bahrain, while in Sochi Bottas took his first Grand Prix win as Hamilton toiled with handling issues all weekend.

Hamilton restored order at Mercedes to win well in Spain ahead of Vettel after earlier falling behind the German as Bottas first collided with Raikkonen and Verstappen before retiring with an engine failure.

Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.
Sunday 14 May 2017.
World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _ONZ6499
Vettel got his elbows out in Spain but Hamilton eventually took an important victory for Mercedes

Vettel’s consistency was a thorn in the Mercedes side, and at the Monaco Grand Prix he stretched his lead over Hamilton to 25 points. Bad luck in qualifying left Hamilton starting 13th and he did well to recover to seventh, while Bottas could manage only fourth behind the Ferraris and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

The Canadian Grand Prix was a throwback to the good old days of 2014-16. Lewis Hamilton swept all before him to handsomely head teammate Valtteri Bottas, who in turn was well clear of Ricciardo’s Red Bull.

Bottas drover arguably his greatest race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but his drive to second having been a lap down was overshadowed by a controversial incident involving Hamilton and Vettel. Infuriated at what he perceived to be brake-testing, Vettel rammed Hamilton under the Safety Car.

Vettel would finish fourth after a stop-go penalty, which would have seemed severe had Hamilton not had to pit to replace a loose headrest. He would finish fifth.

Bottas took his second career win at the Austrian Grand Prix, holding off Vettel by the slimmest of margins in an impressive rearguard action while Hamilton recovered from eighth on the grid following a gearbox penalty to finish fourth.

Mercedes AMG F1 – Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes-Benz F1 W08 Hybrid celebrates at Formula One World Championship, Rd10, British Grand Prix, Qualifying, Silverstone, England, Saturday 15 July 2017.

At the British Grand Prix, everything went right for Hamilton as it so often does. He took his fourth straight win at Silverstone to head the charging Bottas, who went from ninth to second. HE was helped by both Ferraris suffering tyre failures, with Raikkonen third and Vettel only seventh.

Ferrari were back on song at the Hungarian Grand Prix just before the summer break and secured a 1-2 finish, while Bottas and Hamilton were third and fourth. Bottas had allowed Hamilton through to attack the Ferraris on the condition that should he not pass them, the Finn regained third. Hamilton honoured this agreement at the very end.

Three-time World Champion Hamilton has not bowled the calm Bottas as many had predicted at the start of the season. Bottas has outraced Hamilton five times from eleven starts and sits just 19 points behind the Brit and 33 behind Championship leader Vettel.

Unlike Ferrari, Mercedes have both drivers in title contention at the halfway stage of the season. They might have a difficult decision in the coming weeks.

Sebastian Vettel Verdict – FIA Right Not to Undermine Their Stewards

Happy Birthday, Sebastian Vettel.


It certainly will be one for him to celebrate, as on his 30th anniversary he avoided being hit with more sporting penalties following his rash clash with title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Vettel was angered by what he saw to be a brake-test on lap 19 at the end of a Safety Car period, and ploughed into Hamilton.

While gesticulating wildly, he then ploughed into the side of his rival and sparked a mass debate over whether he is in fact mad, bad and dangerous to know.

For this, he received a 10-second stop/go penalty, costing him 30 seconds and almost certainly the race victory.

The FIA has noted Vettel’s sincerest apologies and his commitment to devoting time to educational courses over the next 12 months.

They have also warned that a repeat of this behaviour would immediately herald another tribunal, and most likely worse consequences.

In not punishing Vettel any further they have avoided turning themselves into a laughing stock across the wider motorsport world.

It would have sent a bad message out to the stewards to overrule them on something not as cut and dried as many would have you believe.

The debate about whether they awarded the right penalty will no doubt rage on through to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

No doubt partisans on both sides will claim it either to be the biggest injustice of human kind or that in fact it is a victory for the golden old days where “men were men”.

The issue of whether the stewards got the decision right or wrong is not easy to resolve.

The incident does set a bad example to younger drivers, but the fallout following the handbags should act as enough of a pointer to show that a driver must always stay in control.

While mindless and daft, it is difficult to believe Vettel would deliberately risk damaging his car and putting himself out of the race, even at 30mph. This was pointed out by of all people Mercedes chief Toto Wolff.

Hamilton was right to be aggrieved, angry and upset at the outcome of the race and Vettel’s impromptu dodgems ride.

However, much of that stemmed mostly from his own dramas and had he not had to make an unscheduled pit-stop to replace a broken headrest, he’d have walked home.

It would have been wrong to punish Vettel based on others’, including Hamilton’s, misfortune.

Far more dangerous and indeed pivotal acts have been committed in the heat of F1 battle.

Michael Schumacher in 1994 cutting across Damon Hill’s Williams to after earlier contact with the wall at the title-deciding Australian Grand Prix to ensure that if he couldn’t finish, neither would Hill.

And then we have the infamous first corner of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, where Ayrton Senna made sure that Alain Prost didn’t the corner ahead of his McLaren – whatever the cost.

Yes, Vettel’s silliness was under controlled conditions but that just adds to the stupidity of the incident, not the danger.

The FIA have rightly avoided changing the result of the football match because the referee awarded a free-kick instead of a penalty.

With the fall-out from this decision, the Austrian Grand Prix now has more needle than it already had.

Now, let’s get on with racing and watch this intriguing, absorbing title fight play out over the next twenty weeks.

Maybe we’ll all then have our (birthday) cake and eat it.