An F1 Season Review

While many of us hoped that the F1 season would come down a thrilling, final race, the Drivers Championship was actually decided in Mexico at the end of October. As a result of this, the Brazilian and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix meetings have essentially been dead rubbers, with little left to race for apart from personal pride and accomplishment.

This should not detract from what has been an exciting season, however, or the string of brilliant performances that enabled Lewis Hamilton to open up a decisive championship lead during the second half of the year.

In this article, we’ll review the F1 season as a whole, and ask how Hamilton managed to vanquish the competition to record a fourth world title success?

From humble beginnings – A tough start for Hamilton

Hamilton has cut a frustrated figure in 2016, as driving inconsistencies and several engine failures saw him lose out in the title race to his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. The German’s retirement confirmed Hamilton’s status as the team’s number one driver for the new season, however, with the relatively inexperienced Valtteri Bottas subsequently joining Mercedes from Williams.

Despite this, Hamilton and Mercedes would face a new threat in the form of the quicker and increasingly reliable Ferrari. With a superb team led by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and including the 2007 title winner Kimi Räikkönen, it was clear that Mercedes would no longer dominate the season as they had done during recent years.

This was borne out during the first race of the season in Australia, when Vettel beat Hamilton in a straight fight to record his first win as a driver since the Singapore Grand Prix in September 2015. Hamilton responded two weeks later with a dominant win over Vettel in China, in a race where the Brit was able to showcase his outstanding natural talent and ability to master wet conditions.

The next two races were disappointing for Hamilton, who came in second behind the faster Vettel in a close-fought battle at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Then came a disastrous race in Russia, where a poor performance in qualifying and a lack of speed saw the Brit finish fourth as Vettel opened up a 13 point lead at the top of the championship. In fact, Hamilton was grateful to his teammate Bottas for winning the race, as this at least kept him in touch with his rival.

Hamilton continued his trend for delivering inconsistent performance, as dominant victories in Spain and Canada (where he has won more than any other driver) sandwiched a poor performance at the Monaco Grand Prix in which he failed to reach the podium. Vettel won the race in Monte Carlo, and was able to sustain his championship lead through the summer.

The turnaround – Hamilton on the comeback trail

July saw Hamilton close the gap on Vettel to a single point, as the Brit secured a quite brilliant and record-equalling fifth career win at the British Grand Prix. The Mercedes man led from start to finish, romping home with a 14 second advantage while Vettel failed to make the podium.

While some hoped that this would prove a turning point for Hamilton, they hadn’t banked on the driver’s continued inconsistency. In Hungary two weeks later, the Brit endured a torrid qualifying session that saw start the race in fourth position, before failing to improve on this by the time Vettel had taken the chequered flag after a close contest with teammate Räikkönen. Hamilton also made the decision to honour a promise he made to Bottas after the Finn had let him pass earlier in the race, relinquishing third position to ensure that he fell 14 points behind Vettel as the season entered its four-week break.

This break seemed to be the turning point for Hamilton and Mercedes, as both returned to the circuit with renewed energy and motivation. This heightened sense of focus proved crucial during a tense Belgian Grand Prix, in which Hamilton secured pole position and managed to secure a much-needed win over Vettel despite never leading the German by more than two seconds. Not only did this close the gap at the top of the championship to seven points, but it was also the first of four wins in five races that ultimately turned the tide in Hamilton’s favour.

Vettel’s meltdown – 3 disastrous races in Asia

By the time Hamilton had beaten Vettel into third at Monza at the beginning of September, he’d opened up a three-point championship lead and was in front for the very first time in the season. Still, Vettel and Ferrari were the clear favourites to dominate the three subsequent races in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, due to their raw pace and conditions that competitors were likely to face in Asia.

Vettel endured a disastrous start in Singapore, however, as he attempted to perform an aggressive defensive manoeuvre at the first corner and collided with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and teammate  Räikkönen. As he’d only qualified in fifth place on the grid, Hamilton was able to avoid this pile-up and lead within the first four corners, while he eventually won the race by four seconds from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. This allowed the Brit to build a 28 point lead over Vettel, while the race also highlighted the German’s increasingly fragile mental state.

Things got worse for Vettel in Malaysia two weeks later, as he had to start from the back of the grid and could only finish fourth in a race dominated by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Hamilton, whose Mercedes was at a huge disadvantage, drove conservatively to secure a vital second place that extended his championship lead to 34 points. When Vettel completed a miserable trilogy of races by retiring with an engine problem just four laps into the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton romped to another impressive win that left him 59 points clear and all but confirmed as the world champion.

The coronation – Heralding Britain’s most successful F1 driver

After a ninth win of the season in Austin, Texas, Hamilton secured a fourth championship crown in a topsy-turvy Mexican Grand Prix. After the collided dramatically at the first corner, both drivers dropped down the grid and were forced to battle through the pack to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately for Vettel, he was unable to finish any higher than fourth, while Hamilton secured a ninth place finish that confirmed his title win.

In doing so, he became the single most successful British driver of all time, while few would bet against Hamilton chasing down Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. The Brit truly deserves his success this season, having four more races than Vettel during the season and six out of eight events between July and October.

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