The A to W of F1 drivers in 2017

Kenny Campbell

The new F1 season is nearly upon us, with lots of new rules and aggressive looking cars that can corner faster and lap faster.

But what of the drivers? There’s no defending champion this year, after Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire at the top, but there are 20 drivers at the pinnacle of the motorsport mountain all battling for glory.

Here’s an A-Z – well, A-W – of them all.

Alonso, Fernando

Look, it hasn’t broken… yet: Fernando Alonso’s 2017 McLaren was slow, unreliable and frankly embarrassing in testing

Nationality: Spanish

Team: McLaren

Age: 35

Car No: 14

 

Alonso started racing in his sister’s kart as a three-year-old. At the age of 24, in 2005, he became the sport’s youngest champion and followed that up with another win in 2006.

After that, not so good … a huge blow-out with McLaren and Lewis Hamilton in 2007, a falling out – an utterly epic falling out – with Ron Dennis over the ‘Spygate’ scandal and the beginning of the second phase of Alonso’s F1 life, pockmarked with unfortunate career decisions, underperforming cars and repeated appearances on lists of great drivers who never won as often as they really could have.

Despite Alonso’s frustrating (ie miserable) last decade, 2017 is, quite remarkably, shaping up to be the worst of his career, his Honda-powered McLaren showing all the signs of being a steed that would struggle to win a three-legged donkey race – if it was still breathing when the race started.

 

Bottas, Valtteri

Stepping up: Valtteri Bottas got his shot at driving for world champions Mercedes after Nico Rosberg retired

Nationality: Finnish

Team: Mercedes

Age: 27

Car No: 77

 

There are two ‘t’s in Valtteri, two ‘t’s in Bottas, two ‘t’s in fortunate and two ‘t’s in fortuitous.

After a perfectly respectable F1 career in which he has been a reliable performer, with his best results a couple of back-to-back second places in 2014, Bottas found himself catapulted into Constructors’ Champions Mercedes after world champion Nico Rosberg decided to quit the sport while he was ahead.

Bottas was the best available option for Mercedes and, even though there is no doubt he got lucky thanks to Rosberg’s unexpected departure, don’t underestimate his ability to get that Merc home in first place.

He may not be as fast as team-mate Lewis Hamilton but, then, neither was Rosberg, and look where he finished last year.

 

Ericsson, Marcus

Slow but sure: Marcus Ericsson’s 2017 Sauber may well be the slowest car on the grid

Nationality: Swedish

Team: Sauber

Age: 26

Car No: 9

 

He’s a handy driver to have, Mr Ericsson. OK, he may never have lived up to his potential as a Formula BMW and Japanese F3 champion but, then again, he’s been stuck in F1’s Caterhams and Saubers, managing to score nine points with the latter in 2015.

However, what Ericsson does bring is financial leverage, from some of the biggest names in Swedish business and, for a team such as Sauber, that is the difference between life and death.

If pre-season testing is anything to go by, Ericsson is driving the slowest car on the grid – but its Ferrari power looks reliable, so perhaps he may just snatch an odd point on days when others are struggling to finish. Perhaps.

 

Grosjean, Romain

Happy in his work: Romain Grosjean launching the 2017 Haas entry in Barcelona

Nationality: French-Swiss

Team: Haas

Age: 30

Car No: 8

 

How to describe Grosjean’s F1 career? Like a disco on a trampoline, up and down and up again and down again ad infinitum.

He clattered and banged his way through the second half of the 2009 F1 season, getting a drive for Renault as the team unravelled thanks to the ‘Crashgate’ scandal. Grosjean may have scored no points but the 2009 season gave him invaluable experience in finding excuses for spinning, crashing and generally looking out of his depth – his F1 seat went to Vitaly Petrov.

But all credit to this likeable individual. He took a deep breath, covered himself in glory in Auto GP and GP2, and pulled off an unlikely return to the F1 grid in 2012 with the Lotus-Renault operation.

This season, it’s all about whether Haas can mix it meaningfully with the midfield teams, like they did early last season. Special mention to Grosjean for one of 2016’s finest quotes, after his Malaysian Grand Prix ended in an excursion into the gravel. A somewhat surprised Grosjean said simply: ‘The brakes breaked!’

 

Lewis Hamilton

Mellow yellow: He may not have been fastest but Lewis Hamilton seemed happy with pre-season testing

Nationality: British

Team: Mercedes

Age: 32

Car No: 44

 

The triple world champion who could, with a tiny smile from fate in 2007 and 2016, have already been a five-times world champion, remains the predictable favourite for this year’s drivers’ title.

The headlines from pre-season testing may all have been about Ferrari looking red-hot and McLaren looking red-faced, but Hamilton looked relaxed and was happy to pay tribute to the Maranello team’s progress.

He will be happy if Ferrari are able to push Mercedes harder this season – as well as making for more exciting racing, it will also ensure Mercedes give him clear No.1 status within the team to ensure they don’t miss out on a drivers’ title by letting Bottas and Hamilton take points off one another. Unless, of course, fate frowns on Hamilton’s title race one more…

 

Nico Hülkenberg

Hulking presence: Nico Hulkenberg has been tipped for F1 greatness many times but the 2017 Renault is still a midfield offering

Nationality: German

Team: Renault

Age: 29

Car No: 27

 

A perennial fans’ favourite, the Hulk has long been considered championship material but has never had the machinery to challenge for a title.

With drives at Williams, Sauber and, for five of his seven years in F1, Force India, there is no doubting his experience. Time and again, he has shown top-notch racecraft, a knack of humbling the best drivers with his overtaking ability, and textbook defending against faster cars.

This season, with Renault, he should have a package that can keep him finishing in the top ten – as he has been doing since 2012 with Force India. But it will take all his skill and probably a bit of bad luck for the front-runners if he is to snatch the odd top-five finish.

The Hulk has never finished on the podium – proof, if ever it was needed, that a cracking driver in an average car has no chance of F1 glory.

 

Daniil Kvyat

The survivor: Daniil Kvyat may have had a rough ride from Red Bull but he’s kept his F1 seat this year

Nationality: Russian

Team: Toro Rosso

Age: 22

Car No: 26

 

A year older, a year wiser. After last year’s brutal demotion from Red Bull to Toro Rosso, Kvyat gets to continue his F1 adventures in familiar surroundings, albeit with a new Renault engine instead of the old Ferrari power of last season.

It’s a given that the most important competitor a driver must beat is their team-mate and this is doubly true for Kvyat.

Understandably, Kvyat was second-best to Carlos Sainz in the months after his Toro Rosso switch but he put up a much better fight in the latter part of last season.

Maintaining that momentum is the least he must do – as his replacement at Red Bull, Max Verstappen, matures and cements his F1 reputation, Kvyat needs to rebuild his – and competence will not be enough. It’s a tough old game.

 

Kevin Magnussen

Many happy returns: Kevin Magnussen got his break in F1 thanks to a letter from McLaren supremo Ron Dennis

Nationality: Danish

Team: Haas

Age: 24

Car No: 20

 

In 2008, with nothing more exotic than Formula Ford for experience and no money to speak of, Kevin Magnussen took work as a welder.

His father, Jan, had broken into F1 but saw his career wither at Stewart GP – but that F1 link would prove crucial. When Kevin was a toddler, he received a birthday present from McLaren boss Ron Dennis and a letter saying he should give him a call if he ever got as good as his dad.

Which is exactly what a friend did, on his behalf in 2009, after Magnussen Jnr landed sponsorship to let him compete in Formula Renault.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Magnussen made his McLaren debut with style, finishing a remarkable second at the season’s opening Australian Grand Prix.

But… he finished the season a lowly 11th, despite having Mercedes power, and McLaren took his seat away. His F1 return, with Renault in 2016, was sufficiently competent to land him a drive with Haas for this season but you get the feeling Magnussen is going to have to start delivering on that early promise soon if his F1 career is not to stall, like his father’s did.

 

Felipe Massa

Wave goodbye, say hello: Felipe Massa is back for yet another final season in F1 with Williams

Nationality: Brazilian

Team: Williams

Age: 35

Car No: 19

 

If F1 ever puts on a festive pantomime – and, let’s face it, there’s been plenty of panto around the sport in recent times – then the Ghost of Christmas Past will be played by Felipe Massa, presumably stalking the Scrooge-like figure of Bernie Ecclestone (with a guest appearance by Max Moseley, in Jacob Marley’s chains).

What F1 fan can forget Massa’s emotional farewell to the sport in 2016, followed by that uncomfortable return as Williams sought to find an experienced driver to replace Bottas, as he was spirited away to Mercedes on the stroke of midnight.

This will be an odd season for Massa, mentoring the Ghost of Christmas Present (in terms of the money he’s bringing, at least) Lance Stroll and helping Williams develop their new car.

Ideally, Williams would move Massa into a testing role to blood another new driver before the season’s end but they’re a conservative bunch at Grove. Will Massa set the F1 world on fire? Oh no he won’t, sadly.

 

Esteban Ocon

Friends in high places: F1 figures as senior as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believe Esteban Ocon is the real deal

Nationality: French

Team: Force India

Age: 20

Car No: 31

 

Success in F3 and GP3 set Ocon on the course to an F1 drive, and he replaced Rio Haryanto at Manor midway through last season, getting plenty of experience of battling at the back of the field.

It’s a big step up to a Force India drive for the French youngster but, as we’ve seen recently, even younger drivers have taken even bigger steps successfully.

He’s rated highly by the likes of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and is already an accomplished operator out of the car as well as on track.

Ocon is filling big shoes – he is the replacement for Nico Hulkenberg – but it’s fair to say it will be a disappointment if he doesn’t score many points in 2017.

 

Jolyon Palmer

Hanging in there:Jolyon Palmer has done well to stay in F1 after a patchy debut season

Nationality: British

Team: Renault

Age: 26

Car No: 30

 

It was touch-and-go whether Palmer would get a second season in F1 after a less-than-stellar maiden season with Renault.

His British Grand Prix, in particular, summed up much of his season: an encouraging drive, passing his team-mate, a botched pit-stop by Renault and a penalty that dropped him to last, blue flag misery and, finally, mercifully, terminal gearbox problems.

Palmer’s biggest challenge by far in 2017 will be his team-mate. Finishing ahead of Magnussen last year was difficult enough, but finishing ahead of Hulkenberg will be a far tougher task.

And, if he is to retain an interest in F1 driving, finishing ahead of Hulkenberg on occasion, outqualifying Hulkenberg on occasion and attacking and defending like Hulkenberg regularly are the least Palmer has to do. He has a tough season ahead – and also an opportunity to show just how good his best is.

 

Sergio Perez

Rub of the rubber: Sergio Perez can make tyres last an inordinate time – but whether that will help in 2017 remains to be seen

Nationality: Mexican

Team: Force India

Age: 27

Car No: 11

 

In Mexico, they call him Checo – in Mexico, they call most Sergios ‘Checo’, to be fair – and he is a hero.

He’s a driver who has tamed his excessive aggression (occasionally against team-mates, as Jenson Button will confirm), has out-qualified and out-scored Hulkenberg as a team-mate and has a quite remarkable talent for making his tyres last.

If there is one challenge Perez will face this season, it could well be that rule changes make tyre management less critical, robbing him of his greatest advantage over other drivers.

Having said that, the ability to drive quickly without wearing your car out should guarantee some success (ask fans of the great Jim Clark about that) and Perez will be expecting to score points regularly, however this season’s tyres behave. Watch also to see how his relationship with young team-mate Ocon develops, particularly if the Frenchman proves to be as fast as some anticipate.

 

Kimi Räikkönen

Nice Ice, baby: Kimi Raikkonen will be hoping the 2017 Ferrari performs as impressively at races as it has in testing

Nationality: Finnish

Team: Ferrari

Age: 37

Car No: 7

 

When Raikkonen started in F1, it was 2001 and Shaggy was No.1 with It Wasn’t Me – the year’s best-selling single, if you please. It really was that long ago.

Shaggy wasn’t the coolest guy in town, though. That was Kimi Raikkonen, Ice Man in the making, who received his F1 Super Licence having driven in a grand total of 23 races, mostly Formula Renault 2000 affairs, and is said to have been asleep half-an-hour before his F1 debut in Melbourne.

Since then, he’s become World Champion, had a break from F1 to race rally cars and trucks, and established himself as the hardest interviewee around. Respect.

If his F1 career is in its twilight years, 2017 may well be Raikkonen’s best chance at finishing on a high. The new Ferrari has impressed in testing and, whatever Mercedes and Red Bull have up their sleeves, tifosi everywhere will be hoping that Kimi can get back on top of the podium at least once – his last victory was in a Lotus at the start of the 2013 season, and his last win in a Ferrari was way back in 2009.

One other thing. He was fastest in the pre-season tests. He’s still got it.

 

Daniel Ricciardo

Charging Bull: Red Bull are quietly confident that their 2017 car will get Daniel Ricciardo closer to the Mercedes

Nationality: Australian

Team: Red Bull

Age: 27

Car No: 3

 

That Ricciardo has had only four wins from 109 F1 starts speaks volumes about Mercedes’ dominance in recent years, and shows how the record books can so easily fail to measure talent.

Behind that sunrise grin of his, you know that he is as frustrated as any non-Mercedes driver with genuine championship ambitions, and you wouldn’t bet against him taking the title if his Renault power unit was even close to a Mercedes in output.

Ricciardo and team-mate Max Verstappen were the only non-Merc drivers to win a race last season, and Ricciardo was the only one who won when a Mercedes was still in the race. He was also the only driver to enjoy drinking champagne from a sweaty race boot, on more than one occasion.

Although pre-season testing didn’t show the Red Bulls in a winning light, the team were happy – design god Adrian Newey ‘has his mojo back’ and Red Bull have a habit of bringing all manner of car upgrades for the opening race of a season. Watch this space, as they say.

 

Carlos Sainz

Fit for purpose: Carlos Sainz has a new, super-tough, fitness regime to get him in peak condition for the challenges of 2017 F1

Nationality: Spanish

Team: Toro Rosso

Age: 22

Car No: 55

 

This year’s new regulations allow cars to corner much faster and Carlos Sainz believes this gives him an advantage over the most experienced pilots on the grid.

Faster cornering puts more stress on the body, and Sainz has said peak physical condition occurs around the age of 22 – his age. He’s also said he has trained much harder for this season than any other, to maximise any such benefit.

Sainz, lest we forget, is no slouch in a car. He may have been the driver left behind when Verstappen got punted up to Red Bull but he managed three sixth-place finishes last season, in a car that wasn’t top-six material.

And he finished testing (albeit running so light he ran out of fuel approaching the pits) ahead of Ricciardo’s Red Bull and Hulkenberg’s Renault, and well ahead of team-mate Kvyat. If he carries on like this, the question is: what team will be his next home?

 

Lance Stroll

Quick cash: Lance Stroll brings money and pace to Williams – exactly how much pace we will find out soon

Nationality: Canadian

Team: Williams

Age: 18

Car No: 18

 

He’s the newbie with his age on the car and a very rich dad. Lance Stroll has certainly done what he can to get an early shot at an F1 seat, with titles in the Italian F4 championship, New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series and, last year, utterly dominating the European F3 competition.

His supporters say he deserves a chance with that sort of record; his detractors say his victories have come against relatively weak competition, and his father’s billions have ensured he always has the very best equipment on the grid, as well as sponsorship money to wave at teams.

Either way, he’s shown he can take his chances when they appear – now he’s got the chance to show what he can do in a competent car against the very best opposition.

Expect spins and bumps in his rookie season and watch to see how the guiding lights at Williams, and Felipe Massa in particular, help him towards his first F1 points. F1 eats through money like a drunk eats through kebabs and Williams will be desperate for Stroll to last the course – and in a season that will be extremely physically demanding as well as mentally demanding for even the most experienced and able drivers. Game on Lance, and good luck…

 

Stoffel Vandoorne

Good news, bad news: Stoffel Vandoorne gets an F1 drive … only to find that Honda’s engines are still crippling the McLaren

Nationality: Belgian

Team: McLaren

Age: 24

Car No: 2

 

There are high hopes for Vandoorne in his first full F1 season … well, there would be if he wasn’t being asked to drive that McLaren with its Fred Flintstone power unit.

With impressive results at Formula Renault and GP2 level, and a job as McLaren’s third driver since 2014, Vandoorne found himself called up to replace the injured Fernando Alonso at last season’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Boom. He outqualified team-mate Button and finished tenth, making him the first reserve driver to score debut points since one Sebastian Vettel back in 2007.

Vandoorne can walk the walk and, regardless of how McLaren and Honda address their challenges this season, he will be judged against team-mate Alonso. The early signs are encouraging – Vandoorne already has the feel of a driver who’s going to be in F1 for the long-run.

 

Sebastian Vettel

Back to the front? There are signs that Sebastian Vettel may finally have a Ferrari that can challenge for race wins

Nationality: German

Team: Ferrari

Age: 29

Car No: 5

 

Ferrari’s quadruple world champion needs to bring his very best this year.

With the Prancing Horse looking stronger than it has for a long time (nb, terms and conditions apply) this should be Vettel’s best chance to take a non-Red Bull title.

And, boy, do Ferrari need to deliver the goods. If their 2017 car is genuinely competitive once the racing starts, then Vettel will be under more pressure to perform perfectly than even he has ever experienced.

There’s nowhere for him to hide, especially as his team-mate Raikkonen looks to be just as comfortable with the new car as Vettel is – even out-performing him in testing.

The tifosi will not be happy unless they see Vettel’s infamous ‘winning finger’ putting in some appearances this year. And, to be honest, most F1 fans would like to see Vettel – or any other driver – give the Mercedes crew a run for their money at the business end of the grid. If – and it’s still a big if – Maranello can deliver the required performance and reliability in 2017, it’s going to be a memorable season for Vettel, one way or another.

 

Max Verstappen

The history boy: Max Verstappen has broken plenty of records but he is no longer the new kid on the block

Nationality: Belgian-Dutch

Team: Red Bull

Age: 19

Car No: 33

 

He’s no longer the baby on the grid and we know how good he can be.

The 2017 season marks a new phase of Verstappen’s career, where his age is no longer remarkable even if his talent is.

On a grid where it’s not exactly difficult to tell the No.1 drivers from the No.2s, Verstappen is in a team that simply can’t give one driver priority over the other.

He and Ricciardo are the most exciting team pairing in F1 and, while that ramps up the pressure on each of them, it also makes them work ever-harder for those crucial tiny improvements that are key to success in this sport.

If Red Bull and Renault can get their cars within striking distance of Mercedes (and, potentially, Ferrari) then F1 crowds will be treated to some genuinely hard racing. This year’s technical changes have allowed cars to corner far faster and, surprise surprise, made overtaking even more of a challenge.

If there is anyone who can exploit those changes, it’s Verstappen – fearless, confident, cocky, precocious and, crucially, no longer a newbie to F1’s sharp end.

 

Pascal Wehrlein

The only way is up: Pascal Wehrlein’s pre-season testing ended with him posting the slowest fast lap of all the first-team drivers

Nationality: German-Mauritian

Team: Sauber

Age: 22

Car No: 94

 

Poor Pascal, fresh out of the now-defunct Manor team. Someone had to finish bottom of the tables after testing and, of all the first-team drivers, he was the one who posted the slowest fast lap.

To be fair to him, the car looked a handful – it was oversteering, understeering, and seemed to be short of downforce and grip – despite all the rule changes to improve these variables.

Looking on the bright side, Sauber’s year-old Ferrari engines appear reliable, even if they’re substantially down on power compared with the 2017-spec units.

Don’t forget, Wehrlein has had less opportunity to drive his 2017 car having missed the first test sessions thanks to an injury he picked up in a Race Of Champions crash – motorsport is dangerous, kids.

Still, 2017 already looks like it’s going to be a long, hard season for Wehrlein and Sauber. Pascal picked up a single point for Manor last season – if he equals that modest achievement in 2017, he’ll deserve a round of applause.

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