The season so far: the good, the bad and the downright unusual
How quickly time flies when travelling in excess of 300 kilometres per hour.
After 11 rounds of the 2017 Formula One season we have our defining narratives, with a long-awaited multiple-driver, multiple-team fight for the title and plenty of intrigue in the midfield, even if the two groups are far further apart than is ideal.
But as much as the season overall has been a boon for Formula One after three years of Mercedes domination, it too has had its twists and turns.
First to those things positive to have sprung from the season, and of them none is greater than Ferrari’s return to the front.
On one level is that old — perhaps Ferrari-backed — truism that what’s good for Ferrari is good for Formula One, and certainly there’s no doubting that enthusing the world’s most famous car brand’s equally famous fans can only be good for the sport’s overall energy.
But more important is that the red cars are challenging reigning constructors champion Mercedes. At the halfway mark the numbers are finely poised: Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel leads the drivers standings while Mercedes sits atop the constructors table.
Some circuits suit one car and others the other, meaning guessing how this story ends really is anyone’s guess.
There’s plenty of action to be thankful for in the midfield, too, where the closeness of 2017 has sparked that motor racing mana from heaven: intra-team rivalry.
Flashpoints already litter Force India’s season, where Sergio Perez is desperate to impress the big teams while Esteban Ocon is carving out a name for himself relative to the Mexican’s impressive form.
So too are the ordinarily amicable Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo embroiled in a spat at Red Bull Racing after coming to blows in Hungary, when the former punted the latter out of the race on the first lap. Put the opportunity for race wins into the mix later in the season and it’s not hard to see why an increasing number of commentators think this relationship is unsustainable in the long term.
Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat remains an awkward rivalry for both drivers, while Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson are desperate just to stay in the F1 frame by the end of the season.
The midfield isn’t all action, however. Just ask Jolyon Palmer, who remains one of only two regular drivers yet to score a point and the only regular driver yet to outqualify his teammate.
The Briton’s performances have been criticised by Renault management, who lament that his lack of points has turned fifth in the constructors standings into a lowly eighth, and with Robert Kubica tantalisingly close to making a previously inconceivable comeback, the 2014 GP2 champion’s F1 career looks near an end.
But not cutting it among the 20 best drivers in the world is no racing career-ender, and Palmer knows that F1 drivers come and go — Honda’s continuing lack of competitiveness, on the other hand, is far more dire a thing.
Incalculable sums of cash have been poured into the McLaren-Honda project, but the once great partnership sits second last in the standings with just nine points.
The team dared to dream after the relative positivity of finishing sixth with 76 points last year, but a reinvention of the engine dropped Honda into arguably its worst season since its 2014 debut.
Honda says its power unit is now performing about where it expected at the start of the year, and it has set the ambitious target of surpassing Renault by the season’s end — but we’ve heard these targets before; Honda promised Mercedes 2016-levels of performance in the preseason, which proved cripplingly incorrect.
Performance and reliability have been so woeful that McLaren is still looking for a way to end its long-term contract with the Japanese company, leaving Honda to frantically sort out a deal first with Sauber — which has since cut ties — and now with Toro Rosso, talks about which remain ongoing.
Formula One’s usual sporting machinations continue apace, then, but unusual is that none of it is taking place against a backdrop of crisis or controversy, for so long the sport’s preferred way of doing business — all the more impressive in light of the spectacular collapses of rival series WEC and the DTM.
Bernie Ecclestone’s removal as CEO at the start of the year and the ushering in of new commercial ownership has left the sport in an unfamiliar state of calm and — whisper it — positivity.
F1 Live London, an F1-backed street demonstration, was unimaginable under the old regime, which was loath to promote the sport, and behind the scenes the new-look Formula One Management is working cooperatively with the FIA to develop new regulations to improve racing without resorting to gimmicks.
Looking the least basket case of the world’s premier motorsport categories? The 2017 season really has so far delivered beyond our expectations.