Inside Line: Battles to keep us entertained until season end

Barring the unlikely event he retires right now to pursue his music career, the 2017 Formula 1 driver’s world championship is Lewis Hamilton’s, once, his duel with Sebastian Vettel looked like it would go down to the wire, but then Ferrari lodged a .303 Magnum cartridge into its own foot and the fight was no more.

Thankfully, it’s not the only fight on the grid, and while Hamilton-Vettel has cooled off with four races remaining, but these teammate battles are still heating up and remain ones to watch as the season winds down.

Williams: Felipe Massa v Lance Stroll – Massa leads 34-32

One of the more surprising facts so far this season, Stroll is just two points behind Massa despite the Brazilian regularly embarrassing him for outright pace. Obviously helped by the improbable podium in Baku, Stroll has nevertheless improved his composure in races, and has managed better finishes in three of the five races since the summer break. No, it might not quite be to 2008-levels of importance, but with Massa expected to re-retire at the end of this season, you can bet he doesn’t want to ride off into the sunset having lost to a driver still in the throes of puberty, and that could see the tension ramp up considerably. Also it’s worth mentioning the possibility of preferential treatment for the youngster courtesy of Stroll Sr., and you can bet Massa won’t kowtow to that.

Force India: Esteban Ocon v Sergio Perez – Perez leads 82-65

It might not be the closest rivalry out there, but it’s certainly the hottest. The two have come together multiple times this season, and as a result have absolutely no love lost for one-another, with Force India having to actually step-in and disallowed on-track fighting as they did in Suzuka. Currently Perez has a 17 point lead over Ocon, but the Mexican can’t afford to ease up with his teammate having out-qualified him at 4 of the last 6 races, while splitting the race head-to-head over that span. In any case, expect matters to only get tenser over the remaining races, with a flare-up definitely on the cards.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.
Sunday 11 June 2017.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32 Honda, leads Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MCL32 Honda.
Photo: Charles Coates/McLaren
ref: Digital Image DJ5R5616

McLaren: Fernando Alonso v Stoffel Vandoorne – Vandoorne leads 13-10

Not only is this surprisingly close, but it’s actually three points in Vandoorne’s favour. Certainly Alonso’s cause hasn’t been helped by McLaren’s early-season struggles, when he was undoubtedly superior, but credit has to be given to Vandoorne for what is still a considerable turnaround. Since the break, Vandoorne has taken three of the five qualifying battles, and seems rejuvenated from the almost shellshocked figure he cast in the first half of the year. Conversely, it’s hard to gauge if Alonso still possesses motivation at this point in the season, but considering he’s only lost to one teammate before (and never stops hearing about it), it’s unlikely he’s content to let things be.

Ferrari: Kimi Raikkonen v Sebastian Vettel – Vettel leads 247-148

One of these is not like the others… No, Raikkonen-Vettel is not close, but the reason it’s on this list is that it’s not even respectable. Finishing 26 points behind Vettel last year, Raikkonen was more-or-less a solid no. 2 driver, this year that lead has nearly quadrupled to 99 points, and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to justify Ferrari’s decision to bring him back for next season. Now more than ever, Kimi needs to remind us he has the potential to win races, lest we write him off, and the Scuderia’s 2018 constructor’s chances with it.