The 2017 Formula 1 season was notable for a number of reasons. The rule changes introduced by the FIA prior to the season commencing were fairly dramatic: wider tyres, wider chassis, larger spoilers, more downforce, more powerful engines…the cars were going to be quick and look great. In fact the cars were around 3 seconds a lap quicker on average as we discussed recently in Why F1’s Pursuit if Speed in 2017 had a Dark Side.
Sure, T-wings and Shark Fins detracted somewhat from otherwise fantastic retro looking cars but thankfully these elements have likely been given the boot for 2018.
Quick, good looking cars – what more could we want? Well, some good wheel to wheel racing and a closely contested championship would be nice! Is that what we got? And just how well did 2017 measure up compared to some of the best seasons the sport has ever seen?
HISTORY’S BEST SEASONS
Early last year F1 Bytes conducted a detailed analysis of every Formula 1 season right back to the very first season in 1950. We measured each season across eight different quality factors, applied a scoring system and then tallied up the results.
If you haven’t yet seen the analysis check out The Best Season in Formula 1 History to see which seasons came out on top. The results may surprise you!
With the 2017 season now completed it seems only fair that we measure it on exactly the same basis to see how it compares. What follows is a detailed look at the 2017 season through the lens of our eight season quality factors. We then calculate the total factor score and see how well it ranks against history’s top seasons.
See here to recap on our factor choices, definitions and factor results from the Best Season in Formula 1 History analysis. As we mentioned at the time, overtake analysis is a notable omission from our factor model. Expect to see more from F1 Bytes on overtaking in 2018.
FACTOR 1: Highest number of winning drivers in a season
Five drivers won Grand Prix in 2017: Lewis Hamilton, Valterri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. All exceptional drivers and well deserved victories. Unfortunately five winners was not quite enough to put 2017 in the points for this factor. 1982 managed a stunning 11 unique winners and points were award to seasons with at least six unique winners.
2017 Factor 1 Score: 0 points
FACTOR 2: Highest number of drivers to lead the World Drivers Championship during a season
Only two drivers were ever leading the Championship in 2017: Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Once again this puts 2017 out of the points on this factor. 2010 was top of the pops for Championship leaders with six different leaders during the season. Points were awarded down to 3.
2017 Factor 2 Score: 0 points
FACTOR 3: Most changes in championship leader during a season
So we know there were two championship leaders in 2017. How many times did the lead actually switch over the course of the season? Only twice – and note that we count the first leader following the first race as a lead change.
Seb Vettel came out of the blocks strongly and held the lead right through to the mid-season break. We analysed the German’s chances of winning the championship at that time here. The stats were in his favour to win the championship but Hamilton managed to steal the lead at the Italian Grand Prix and never looked back.
This puts 2017 in the bottom 25% of seasons for championship lead changes – no points.
2017 Factor 3 Score: 0 points
FACTOR 4: Highest number of marques to win a race in a season
Mercedes, Red Bull Racing and Ferrari each won races in 2017. This compares to the top score of 7 unique winning marques in 1982 (the year Keke Rosberg won the title). Points were awarded down to 4 so once again, 2017 doesn’t trouble the scorers.
2017 Factor 4 Score: 0 points
Factor 5: Smallest average delta in top 10 qualifying times
This is the only factor where data limitations constrained the analysis. Only seasons from 1994 onwards were analysed. How did 2017 compare?
The new 2017 regulations certainly made the cars quicker and we saw a number of new qualifying records set. But raw pace does not necessarily translate to good competition. Especially if the better funded teams are able to disproportionately harness the opportunities presented by new regulations.
As it turns out 2017 ranked only 17th out of 24 seasons when looking at the gap in qualifying time between the first and tenth cars. The average gap of 2.33 seconds compares to just 1.1 seconds in 2001. 2017 is way out of the points on this factor.
2017 Factor 5 Score: 0 points
FACTOR 6: Smallest average delta in race time for the podium places
While the cars may have been spread out in qualifying they were relatively close at the front of the pack. The gap between 1st and 3rd over race distance averaged 22.2 seconds in 2017. Far larger than the 13.5 seconds recorded in 2012 but enough to put 2017 in 10th place overall for this factor. 2017 scores its first factor point!
2017 Factor 6 Score: 1 point
FACTOR 7: Highest number of drivers to get a podium in a season
Our five winning drivers from Factor 1 are joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Lance Stroll to make up the list of drivers to score at least one podium in 2017. Stroll memorably became the youngest driver to make the podium in their rookie year and the second youngest ever behind Max Verstappen.
Heart-warming stuff but was it enough? In a word, no. 2017 joins four other seasons on the bottom of the ladder for number of drivers to score a podium in a season. This compares to 1982 where 18 drivers managed to climb the podium steps over the course of the season. 2017 – no points.
2017 Factor 7 Score: 0 points
FACTOR 8: Highest number of drivers who could have won the Championship in the last race
This is perhaps our favourite factor. To have intense competition right to the final chequered flag of the season makes for great sport. In fact we like it so much we decided to give it double points in our scoring system.
Unfortunately 2017 didn’t deliver on this factor. Lewis Hamilton won the championship in Mexico making both Brazil and Abu Dhabi effectively dead rubbers. Contrast this to 2010 when Vettel, Webber, Alonso and Hamilton each had a shot at the title as they lined up on the grid for the final race of the season in Brazil.
2017 Factor 8 Score: 0 points
2017 TOTAL FACTOR SCORE: 1 POINT
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
2017 was objectively not a spectacular season by historical standards – but we enjoyed it. Who are we kidding, we loved it! We always enjoy F1 and overall there was a lot to like about the 2017 season.
But there are a range of ongoing issues that continue to challenge minds at the FIA and Liberty media in trying to develop a set of rules that promotes close racing. To some extent these issues have been borne out in our analysis.
The 2017 season earned a paltry single point on our scoring system compared to 53 points for the overall winner: 2012. On the other hand 2017’s poor showing highlights just how great the top seasons really were.
WILL 2018 PROVIDE BETTER RACING?
So should we be expecting more of the same in 2018? Or can Formula 1 get back to the glory days? Well, consider these points for a moment:
- Since the inception of the current hybrid era Mercedes have been totally dominant…until 2017. Ferrari broke the drought last year and seriously challenged Mercedes for the Championship. They will have learned from their mistakes and continued their development over the winter. We expect them to be very competitive again this year.
- Mercedes is …well…Mercedes. They’ll definitely be up the pointy end again and Lewis Hamilton will be gunning for a raft of new world records. But his Finnish teammate won the last two grand prix of the 2017 season and will be working very hard to prove he’s not simply the “Number 2 Driver”.
- Red Bull Racing were plagued with reliability problems in 2017 but still managed to put both their drivers on the winner’s podium. The Renault works team are taking engine development very seriously and with a reliable power train, RBR may just find themselves within striking distance of the Championship in 2018
- McLaren. Ah McLaren. It’s been a (very!) tough few years with the disastrous Honda partnership but a new age is dawning. Despite being woefully underpowered McLaren appeared to have a very competitive chassis last year. With the new Renault partnership they will effectively be on a level playing field with Red Bull Racing. Like RBR they may actually be a chance to take the title this year – now wouldn’t that be something! And with Fernando Alonso, perhaps one of the greatest drivers of the modern era, anything could happen.
- Renault have been rebuilding their works team over the past few years and should now be in a position to start moving toward the sharp end of the field. While we wouldn’t expect them to have quite matched RBR this year in terms of overall package development they may just surprise us and start really bringing the fight to the lead teams. With the Hulk and Chili Sainz pushing each other the Renault works team could just be the dark horse of 2018.
Of course there are many other great stories and rivalries unfolding amongst the remaining teams too. But what we are really talking about here is the degree of genuine competition for the Drivers and Constructors championships. The signs look positive for 2018.
While some positive steps were taken last year 2017 did not rank highly in our factor model. Will 2018 bring improved racing and challenge the Best Seasons of F1 History?