As Formula 1 enjoys the summer break, the season has passed the halfway mark with just nine races left to decide the championship battle. From Spa next weekend to Abu Dhabi in late November the fight will be getting tougher and more serious, so what will be decisive for the drivers to grab the 2017 title?
It has been experienced throughout the years, that nothing is final in F1 until the chequered flag falls at the final race, whether it be Sebastian Vettel’s first title in 2010, where the German did not top the championship until after the last race, Lewis Hamilton claiming his first championship at the final corner in Brazil in 2008 or Nico Rosberg surviving a tense finale last year.
This year, the Drivers' Championship is headed to one of two locations, Mercedes or Ferrari. Currently leading is Vettel with a 14-point gap to Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas has also been closing the gap lately adding his name to the list of contenders.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of each driver and team? Let's analyse and determine the key factors that will decide who will get the spoils at Yas Marina.
Beginning with the two main rivals Vettel and Hamilton, who lead the way with the number of championships of anyone on the current grid. The Briton will be looking to even the series with the 30-year-old with four titles apiece while Vettel will look to tie Juan Manuel Fangio and go joint-second on the all-time list of championship's just two behind the record held by his compatriot and idol Michael Schumacher.
The Mercedes development curve is what Hamilton will be hoping can give him the edge with the Brackley-based team usually better than Ferrari in this area. Continuing to overcome the tyre weaknesses that have particularly hurt at certain circuits is another key goal as is adapting to every upgrade and getting the best performance out of it. Although the Italian team assured their fan base during the off season that the curve will increase in the remaining races. Vettel will be hoping the promises are kept or else he will be losing in this area to his rival.
Meanwhile, he will be hoping to take maximum advantage of his hardworking and detailed approach which some suggest gives him an advantage over Hamilton. Much like Rosberg last year, the level of commitment he shows to car setup and understanding situations often helps him maximise situations. This will come in especially useful should Mercedes start to get a small pace advantage over Ferrari when the ability to find every bit of performance will be absolutely crucial.
When it comes to passion both drivers are known to be two of the most passionate drivers ever, although each of them has their own way to show that. It remains critical that the extra passion they have doesn't backfire at a certain point, as we saw with Vettel in Baku. Certainly, however, each time the two share the same piece of race track the tension will be palpable.
Perhaps the biggest factor, however, is team interference, which will have a huge effect from now on. Ferrari are always known to have a No. 1 and No. 2 system strategy and this year Kimi Raikkonen, who is struggling down in fifth in the standings, personally admitted he will help his teammate if the Finn’s hopes for the championship were mathematically over.
Heading to the final stages of the year then, Vettel is expected to have his teammate’s support but the situation is much different at Mercedes with Bottas in the championship mix. Mercedes have always announced their drivers are free to race until one driver's title hopes are not longer realistic but is it time they change that to avoid the 2007 scenario, which saw McLaren lose the championship with Raikkonen taking advantage of the in-team battle between Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to clinch the championship? Mercedes will have to sort that out to their own best or else Vettel will take that to his own advantage.
As for Bottas, the Finn has his different case. He is in his first season at Mercedes and has surely exceeded all expectations with constant smooth races during the season while silently closing in on the championship. He also showed he has the ability to win and fight out on the circuit. With no championship expectations from the first season set, Bottas will enjoy a pressure-free approach and that may help his hopes even more.
The identity of this year's F1 world champion is far from determined yet but what is assured is that the upcoming nine races will be nerve wrecking and provide huge entertainment for the fans.
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