Hamilton vs Vettel: How the war was won

With Lewis Hamilton the champion in comfortable fashion, the circumstances surrounding the finish of the 2017 Formula 1 season could hardly be more different from when it started.

A resurgent Ferrari, spearheaded by Sebastian Vettel looked for all the world like providing our first inter-team battle in half a decade, and yet it ended in just as dominant fashion as the four ones before it.

So how did we end up here? Read on for a look at the key moments

Nevertheless, it was a fascinating tale while it was still alive. With the momentum swinging from Ferrari to Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel to Lewis Hamilton, until… well, it landed back with the latter and stayed there.

So how did we end up here? Let’s take a closer look at the key moments in the 2017 world championship.

Australia and China – Opening Salvoes

After three years of almost complete Mercedes dominance, 2017 started off on very different footing. Having impressed in testing, Ferrari and Vettel backed it up in Melbourne, by splitting the Silver Arrows in qualifying before taking the win in the race. In what would become a common theme throughout the season, the margins were razor thin, and while Mercedes superior possessed superior raw speed, Ferrari showed a better ability to manage its tyre temperatures, and therefore its race. Nevertheless, Hamilton managed to bounce-back with a particularly brilliant Grand Chelem in Shanghai, Vettel settling for second. A win apiece, clearly this was no one-team championship.

Monaco – Has Ferrari got the Edge?

Following their win in Melbourne with another in Bahrain – plus a clearly faster car in Russia – things were looking good for Ferrari heading into the European season, but even they couldn’t have predicted what would transpire in Monaco. Kimi Raikkonen on pole, Vettel and Valtteri Bottas behind him, but more importantly Hamilton not even in the top-10 after a disastrous Q2. Come Sunday all it took was a little bit of tyre-strat chicanery to give Vettel the lead, and the German left the principality ahead by an entire race win’s worth – 25 points.

Canada – Mercedes Fights Back

Every student knows what it’s like to pull an all-nighter as the big test looms, and after flunking out in Monaco, Mercedes found themselves in a similar predicament before Montreal. Working ‘24/7 for 10 days in a row’ according to team boss Toto Wolff, the Silver Arrows showed up to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and managed to right the ship, Hamilton pulling out an incredible pole (even by his standards) on Saturday, with Bottas joining the party on Sunday to make it a trademark 1-2. That said, their fortunes were certainly helped by the fast-starting Max Verstappen taking a chunk out of Vettel’s front wing but regardless, it was a massive morale boost for a team and driver that desperately needed it, and they would retain their advantage for the next three races.

Hungary – Ferrari Halts the Slide

After the highs of Monaco, Vettel’s lead at the top had almost evaporated by the time he arrived in Hungary, leading the WDC by a solitary point over Hamilton, 177-176. As such, the trip to Budapest could hardly have been better timed, with the Hungaroring’s heat and dustiness causing Mercedes’ tyre-temps problems to resurface, allowing the Scuderia to take a Vettel-Raikkonen 1-2 on both Saturday and Sunday. Entering the summer break on a high, we seemed primed for a titanic second-half clash for the championship.

Belgium & Italy – Hamilton Takes the Lead

Despite the encouraging signs for the Scuderia entering the summer break, the two races coming out of it were always going to favour the extra grunt of the Mercedes engine, and Hamilton was sure to make that advantage count. At Spa Vettel was able to keep things close, twice getting alongside his rival, but eventually falling 2.358s short. Monza was a different story, with a poor qualifying in the wet never giving Vettel a chance, finishing 36 seconds adrift of the leaders, and moreover, behind on points for the first time all season, Hamilton leading 238-235.

Singapore – From One Extreme to the Other

A race that could hardly have gone more differently than its qualifying, Hamilton managed an unlikely victory thanks to a particularly disastrous start for the Ferrari boys. Starting on pole and P4 respectively, Vettel and Raikkonen took each other out at the first corner after inadvertently sandwiching Max Verstappen in a fight for the lead. Hamilton and Mercedes could hardly believe their luck, just 24 hours earlier having to settle for the third row of the grid, wallowing in their own misery amidst the realisation they simply didn’t have the pace in the tropical conditions. Widely expected to lose his lead, Hamilton now found himself in the reverse of Vettel’s position in Monaco, leading the German 263-235.

Malaysia & Japan – Ferrari Blows It

The disaster in Singapore may have been all their drivers’ doing, but there’s no denying the sequels were all about the car for Ferrari. Like Singapore, Malaysia should have been a race they won, but a turbo failure meant Vettel didn’t even set a lap time in qualifying and could only manage P4, two places behind Hamilton. Out of the tropics in Suzuka, Mercedes were once again at their best, but Vettel wasn’t even given a chance to challenge, forced to retire at the start with a faulty spark plug. What was a three-point deficit three weeks ago was now a 59-point one, Vettel’s championship chances hanging by a thread.

United States & Mexico – Hamilton Seals the Deal

Now assured his fourth world championship barring any blow-ups of his own, Hamilton essentially sealed the deal with another spectacular display in Austin, pipping Vettel in qualifying before blowing him away in the race, even with the German jumping him at the start. Coming to Mexico City Hamilton only had to not be outscored by more than 16 points to take the title, which was ensured almost immediately as the two tangled with each other and Verstappen, sending both to the back of the grid. Finishing P4 to Hamilton’s P9, Vettel was unable to do enough to keep the fight going, and what was easily his worst finish of the season was also the Briton’s coronation – the championship decided with two races to spare.

Conclusion

Once again a driver’s champion, there’s no denying Lewis Hamilton’s fourth title was well deserved. The car wasn’t quite as dominant as it had been in years past, but when the Briton was fully in-sync, no one was better – which happened to be more often than not.

However, given the circumstances of Vettel and Ferrari’s capitulation, it’s impossible not to think there was an opportunity missed. Presuming Vettel had won the very-winnable races in Singapore and Malaysia, and backed it up with a P2 in Japan, the German would currently be leading the championship 333-326, and we’d be talking about a very different championship.

Maybe he would’ve lost anyway, maybe not, but the margins are a lot closer than they appear, and if there’s any misconceptions when people look back at this season in the history books, well… Ferrari have no one to blame but themselves.