Since January 16th and the simultaneal announcements of Sauber, Williams and Mercedes, almost the whole 2017 Formula One field is officialised except for Manor whose presence in the world championship for the upcoming season is compromised. After a silly season full of surprises, it is now time to see who gains the most of silly season and who lost the most in it.
THE TOP OF SILLY SEASON:
The Finnish driver inherited of the most wanted F1 seat of the decade – close to Webber’s one in 2013- while replacing Nico Rosberg within Mercedes which, despite the upcoming regulation changes, appears once again as the team to beat.
The day Rosberg announced his retirement, many fans and several experts called it that Pascal Wehrlein would be the one joining the team he often tested for. Other founds themselves daydreaming about Vettel, Alonso or Verstappen joining Lewis Hamilton for an explosive line-up. However, following the last disagreements between the drivers and the Mercedes management, it was safer to pick a driver from their family instead of a top driver who could prove himself unpredictable.
Bottas has a big advantage to Wehrlein in F1: his experience. Despite staying in the same team for four years, Bottas followed Williams’ progression since 2013 while Wehrlein only has one season behind him in the smallest team of the field. The choice was logical for the Finn whose manager is Toto Wolff.
Yet, Bottas won’t have it presented on a golden plate before him. But for the one who is described as “the most overrated driver” in the field, having a three times world champion as a teammate and being in the reigning three times world champion team, it obviously is something great for him which makes him the great winner of the silly season.
More than taking the role of youngest driver in the field in 2017 to Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll has his future getting settled in Williams for the upcoming years following Massa’s come-back from “retirement”.
Indeed, with Felipe Massa’s come-back for one year, Lance Stroll settles his position in Williams and might expect to stay more years than on his initial contract. Furthermore, with Martini’s requirement to have a driver over twenty-five-year-old to promote the brand, this eliminates some serious clients for 2018 such as Wehrlein (again), Sainz or Kvyat who both know they are in their last year with Toro Rosso.
Also, having Felipe Massa as a teammate instead of Valtteri Bottas eases Stroll’s integration to F1 as it is more difficult to compare a rookie with a veteran than with a rather fresh driver. Alongside with the chance of getting a titular F1 seat at eighteen year-old, Stroll is one of those who benefits the most from Rosberg’s retirement.
Esteban Ocon confirmed his 2017 plans before the end of the season, leaving Manor for Force India within only three months, which proves his direct trajectory to the top.
Despite a short and bitter-sweet DTM career, Ocon has a very strong single-seater pedigree with a F3 and a GP3 title, both claimed in his rookie year. Set to be Renault’s third driver in 2016, he took advantage from Rio Haryanto’s lack of financial support to take his place in Manor and disturb Wehrlein’s dynamic (always him).
Within the very small young driver programme of Mercedes, Wehrlein and Ocon have been put in concurrence since 2015 and the Frenchman’s addition to the programme from Lotus. Thanks to his fast promotion to Force India, Ocon gains the momentum over Wehrlein in order to get to the top in replacement of Hamilton or Bottas.
THE FLOP OF SILLY SEASON:
As I mentioned him a few times already, Wehrlein appears as the one who lost the most during the Rosberg gate. Already overtaken by Ocon for the Force India seat before the end of the season, Wehrlein had his hopes crushed again during the management of Rosberg’s retirement.
As Mercedes’ reserve driver, Wehrlein appeared as the natural choice in case of a defection within the Silver Arrow’s team. But the more the time passed and the less his chances to get the seat were real.
Today, Wehrlein has to settle for a seat at Sauber, whose superiority over Manor is disputable, and whose car is already handicapped by the use of a frozen 2016 Ferrari engine. But with Manor’s current juridical situation, it is more prudent for Wehrlein to settle for 2017 and wait for a better opportunity for 2018.
He is the other great loser of the silly season. The choice of downgrading from Force India to Renault was risky – despite the deplorable working conditions in SFI– but that choice was motivated by the presence of his single-seater mentor: Frédéric Vasseur. Yet, the latter decided to quit Renault and this will only add to the frustration of the one qualified as the most wasted talent in F1 of those last few years.
This adds to the frustration of not being able to claim the Mercedes seat and missing another top team after the 2013 Ferrari gate. If the perspective of first podium in F1 seems compromised, the German driver should not find too much difficulties to beat his teammate this year.
As he is not on the grid for 2017, Alex Lynn is the last big loser of the silly season. The former Red Bull driver had found a shelter in Williams and had his eyes focused on the GP2 title and Massa’s seat. But his frustrating seasons with DAMS and Stroll’s F3 title finished his ambitions as he announced halfway through the season that it would be his last year in junior formulae.
After some testing in Formula E where Mitch Evans was preferred to him, Lynn saw a chance to get to F1 following Bottas’ departure but did not fit into Martini’s requirement of 25+ of age, as the British driver is only twenty-three-years-old.
I could have named a few other winners like Lewis Hamilton or Daniil Kvyat, or other losers like Daniel Ricciardo or Pierre Gasly, but in the current state of things, the destiny of those six drivers was interesting to decrypt.
The 2017 Formula One championship field
|Team||Driver 1||Driver 2|
|Mercedes AMG (Mercedes)||44 Lewis Hamilton (UK)||77 Valtteri Bottas (FIN)|
|Red Bull Racing (Renault)||3 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS)||33 Max Verstappen (NED)|
|Scuderia Ferrari (Ferrari)||5 Sebastian Vettel (GER)||7 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN)|
|Sahara Force India (Mercedes)||13 Sergio Perez (MEX)||31 Esteban Ocon (FRA)|
|Williams Martini (Mercedes)||19 Felipe Massa (BRA)||18 Lance Stroll (CAN) R|
|McLaren (Honda)||14 Fernando Alonso (SPA)||2 Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL)|
|Scuderia Toro Rosso (Renault)||55 Carlos Sainz (SPA)||26 Daniil Kvyat (RUS)|
|Renault F1 Team (Renault)||27 Nico Hülkenberg (ALL)||30 Jolyon Palmer (UK)|
|Haas F1 Team (Ferrari)||8 Romain Grosjean (FRA)||20 Kevin Magnussen (DAN)|
|Sauber F1 Team (Ferrari 2016)||9 Marcus Ericsson (SWE)||94 Pascal Wehrlein (GER)|
|Manor Racing Team (Mercedes) ?||?||?|