The 2017 Formula 1 Season edges closer and closer. Major driver changes have occurred over the winter, with world champions leaving and a number of other high-profile changes among the teams.
Some drivers will be looked on to be beating their incoming team mates. Other drivers are coming off the back of a poor season by their respective standards and will be looking to amend that right away when the lights go green in Australia in March. Rookies are also joining the field, and they will be expected to be on the pace right away in the cut-throat world of F1. Here is a pick of seven drivers of the 20 signed up who will need to deliver in the 2017 Formula 1 season.
Seven Drivers Under Pressure for the 2017 Formula 1 Season
Despite losing the world championship crown to his then-team mate Nico Rosberg in 2016, few would argue that Lewis Hamilton produced a better season than the now-retired German. However, Rosberg did push Hamilton much more than in the two previous seasons of the hybrid-era of F1. Hamilton’s new partner for 2017 is Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, who comes in with a relatively small amount of preparation time. Hamilton cannot afford another season where he appears side-tracked by off-track activities and social media. Many will be expecting him to have the edge over Bottas, despite the Finn being unbeaten in F1 across a season by a team mate to date. Never in F1 has Hamilton been beaten by an incoming team mate, and now would be the least ideal time for him to change that. He will also likely be challenged for the title also by arguably the best driver in F1 right now in Daniel Ricciardo and arguably the driver with the most potential within F1 in Max Verstappen. And perhaps another driver will be able to throw his hat into the ring too…
After delivering magic in the 2015 campaign in machinery not up to it, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel often appeared frustrated in 2016. Ferrari simply did not deliver the championship challenge it should have done and Vettel’s frustrations became so very apparent in his driving. He was uncharacteristically poor in qualifying towards the season’s end and often was anonymous by the end of the year. Despite this, as well as numerous failures beyond his control, he finished ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen, albeit just. Both Ferrari drivers are currently not contracted for 2018, and have been told to up their games this year. It’s simple; Vettel cannot afford another poor season by his high standards, otherwise his dream of replicating the Ferrari title success of his hero Michael Schumacher is going to remain nothing more than that.
It is strange that a rookie is coming into F1 with so much pressure on his shoulders but Canadian Lance Stroll has dealt with this pressure splendidly to date. With vast amounts of backing from his billionaire father, Stroll needs to brush off the ‘pay driver’ symbol swiftly. He will have an easier objective than expected in the un-retired Felipe Massa as his team mate at Williams than Bottas. The other issue for Stroll is that he will likely be compared to his two fellow rookies in Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne, both with more experience in and out of F1 and with a few more years in life under their belts. The jump from Formula 3 to F1 is massive, and it is likely that comparisons will be drawn with Verstappen, who made the same jump a few years back. If Stroll has a bad year, then questions over whether he belongs in F1 will inevitably come up.
2016 was a year to absolutely forget for young Daniil Kvyat. From the highs of boldly making his way to the podium in China to being demoted back to Toro Rosso merely weeks later. At times, his body language implied that he was not in a good place either. He was absolutely thwarted by Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso in the 17 races they did together, but Kvyat did suffer the brunt of the reliability problems when he was able to put in a good performance. Ultimately however, he simply overdrove the car far too frequently, and ended up top of F1’s naughty list last year regarding penalty points. For the sake of his F1 career, he needs to start and finish 2017 very well.
The score-line at new team Haas F1 read 29-0 to Romain Grosjean against Esteban Gutierrez, but delve further beyond the statistics and you will see that this was far from the complete story. Gutierrez ran Grosjean a lot harder than many perhaps expected. Grosjean will have a new team mate in Kevin Magnussen, and should be expected to beat his team mate again this year. There were several times in 2016 where Grosjean simply let his emotions get the better of him, or just didn’t look particularly impressive. He also was incredibly vocal over his concerns over Haas’s brakes and if that issue is fixed then perhaps we will see more of the best from the Frenchman.
Nico Hulkenberg is on course to become F1’s most experienced driver of all time without a top-three finish. That will be an unwanted statistic for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours victor. He finally gets a shot with a works team in the well-backed Renault team, but missed out on the seat which became vacant at Mercedes to Bottas. 2016 also saw the first time since his rookie campaign that Hulkenberg finished behind his team-mate in the points standings. His partner at Renault, Jolyon Palmer, may have shown much improvement as the year progressed last year, but would cause an upset if he beat Hulkenberg at the first attempt. Podium chances may be infinitesimal at Renault this year, but if one pops up, Hulkenberg needs to finally deliver one.
After missing out on both the vacant Force India seat and then the most coveted seat in motor racing at Mercedes, Pascal Wehrlein has ended up at Sauber, where he will be partnering the experienced-but-improving Marcus Ericsson. With Bottas on a one-year deal at Mercedes, a seat there may open again sooner than expected, but Wehrlein hopping in will only be a reality if the German is ready for it. He arguably had relatively easy competition in Rio Haryanto at Manor, and then had the advantage of experience over Mercedes stablemate Esteban Ocon. Ericsson will be a decent yardstick for Wehrlein, but he will need to beat his team mate to keep his Formula 1 dream alive, let alone his dream of a Mercedes seat. The sort of performance he put in at Austria last year is the standard of drive he should be looking to put in at every event. With experience at every race on the calendar now, it should be expected that Wehrlein will iron out the rookie mistakes and be consistent in his drives. 2016 showed us some of his potential, but now we need to see just how good he is.