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F1 2017: 10 stories to look out for in the second half of the season

Vettel v Hamilton continues, a crucial few months for Kubica and what next for Alonso? Get ready for the conclusion to F1 2017

Sebastian Vettel celebrates his win at the Australian GP with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Baottas

The 2017 Formula 1 season has already been one to remember, and we still have nine thrilling races to look forward to. Here, Sky F1 rounds up the 10 stories to keen an eye out for between now and the end of the year.

Vettel v Hamilton: The battle continues
Considering they've been competing for world championships for 10 years, it's somewhat surprising it has taken this long for a true title battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton to take place.

But while their 2017 rivalry started out with wheel-to-wheel racing and the upmost respect, it has led to deliberate shunts and calls for disqualification.

It's certainly been worth the wait - and there's sure to be more to come in the second half of the season.

The German may hold a 14-point lead, but the pendulum in the Drivers' Championship has been swinging at every grand prix. Indeed, neither Vettel nor Hamilton has been able to maintain significant momentum in their charge.

That unpredictability has added to the excitement of this duel, along with the fact that both these drivers are fiercely competitive, quick and in the prime of their racing careers. So what more can we expect?

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Sebastian Vettel hits into back of Lewis Hamilton at the Azerbaijan GP, then remonstrates with Hamilton by bumping into the Mercedes whilst alongside him.

Vettel hasn't led into a summer break since 2013 but holds the ominous record of having never been beaten to the title in a season in which he has led the championship, and is desperate to add to his four world titles while bringing glory back to Ferrari.

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But his Azerbaijan GP eruption proved just how much a championship battle with Hamilton could get to him - and that was in June. What will he be like come November?

Hamilton, meanwhile, is coming off one of the most disappointing title defeats of his career, and will be eager to show Nico Rosberg's triumph was a one-off.

Throw in the fact that Valtteri Bottas is also in the fight too, just 19 points adrift of Mercedes team-mate Hamilton, and we're set up for a fascinating finale.

Ferrari v Mercedes: No one-horse race
If the fight for supremacy between Vettel and Hamilton has been difficult to call, so too has the constructors' battle between Ferrari and Mercedes. After three years of dominant success, the Silver Arrows finally have a fight on their hands.

The fact Mercedes still hold a 39-point lead over their closest rivals indicates they have finally got to grips with their 'diva' of a W08, but Ferrari have still been consistently quick - and the track-by-track differences between the two teams and cars have been illuminating.

For Mercedes' horror show in Monaco, see how Ferrari's SF70H was blown away at Silverstone. Hamilton and Bottas had a pace deficit in Hungary, but were far too quick for Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in Canada.

Perhaps they still have the quicker car, but Mercedes have led by well over 100 points in the standings at this stage of the season in each of the last three years. It looks like Ferrari aren't going anywhere this time around - and surely this development war will continue.

A charging bull?
It was Red Bull, not Ferrari, who were expected to be Mercedes' major threat in 2017, armed with the aerodynamic wizardry of Adrian Newey and an exciting set of drivers in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. But the former world champions then proceeded to start the season nearly a second per lap off the pace.

But there have been shoots of recovery in recent weeks to suggest Red Bull can join the fight at the top. Ricciardo's five-race streak of successive podiums pre-British GP, which included an unlikely victory in Baku, is testament to that, and the team will be upbeat despite Verstappen's reliability woes.

A major Renault engine upgrade may not be forthcoming but Red Bull seem to be making small improvements at every race, with only a first-lap collision at the last event in Hungary halting a possible shot at victory.

Team boss Christian Horner has already talked up out-scoring Ferrari in the final months of the season, and Red Bull will fancy their chances at high-downforce tracks in Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Watch this space.

Time for silly season
As things stand, Haas and Red Bull are the only teams who have confirmed they have both drivers under contract for 2018. That means there's a lot of moving to be done in the transfer market.

Mercedes and Ferrari are expected to announce Bottas and Vettel's renewals soon, but there are still high-profile teams on the lookout, with McLaren and Renault both unsure of their line-ups for next season.

And there are many highly talented drivers who have doubts over 2018, too. Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Pascal Wehrlein, and…

What next for Alonso?
For Fernando Alonso, what could be the most crucial decision of his 16-year Formula 1 career is fast approaching. But while the Spaniard had a glint in his eyes when speaking about his 2018 options and a possible third world championship a few months ago, doors are now closing in front of him.

Mercedes look set to hand Bottas a new deal, a Ferrari return is unlikely with Vettel primed for a contract extension, while Renault insist they won't be challenging for titles next year.

Alonso's F1 career choices

Alonso says he wants to stay in F1 - but could staying at the under-performing McLaren be his only option? Or will he try a new racing series altogether?

The 36-year-old had previously claimed the summer break would be key to his future, but has now extended his decision-making process. The Alonso saga will rumble on…

Could Kubica really return?
Wherever Alonso goes next, it won't be as newsworthy or dramatic as this move should it come off. Six years after suffering life-changing injuries in a rally crash, Robert Kubica is closer to a Formula 1 return than ever before.

Renault claimed the Hungary in-season test would give them a chance to properly assess the Pole's capabilities and fitness levels, and it's safe to say Kubica delivered on both counts - posting the fourth fastest time while racking up well over 100 laps on Day Two.

There have even been reports that Kubica could replace the under-fire Jolyon Palmer before the end of the season but while they seem wide of the mark, he is certainly in with a chance of a 2018 seat. And that's remarkable in itself given what he has been through.

However, competing for that seat alongside him could be Sainz, Perez and even Alonso - so the Renault/Kubica story is certainly one to look out for.

Will McLaren stick with Honda?
From drivers, to engines - and a look ahead for McLaren. The 'will they, won't they' ditch Honda debate has been rumbling on for some time, with the two outfits looking set for divorce earlier this year.

But Honda remain, perhaps more by luck than judgement.

Honda have certainly improved since the start of the season but that they have only just reached their early-2017 pace target in August proves just how far off it they were. Surely, if McLaren had viable alternatives they would have ended their long-standing contract already.

F1 2017: What the numbers tell us

But Mercedes and Ferrari are currently both unwilling to supply a prestigious rival, while Renault do not want to provide engines to more than three teams. After talks between Toro Rosso and Honda broke down, that could mean McLaren are stuck with Honda.

The Woking team are certainly more optimistic about a Honda future now than they were a few months ago, but will be relying on a huge upgrade in the Japanese firm's 'Spec Three' engine, expected in October, to generate real race-winning confidence for 2018 and beyond.

And that, of course, is crucial to keeping hold of Alonso.

Order, order...
Could team orders, or the lack thereof, have an influence in the title race?

The Hungarian GP gave us a first glimpse of Mercedes and Ferrari at differing ends of the spectrum when it came to protecting their 'leading' driver.

While Hamilton relinquished what could be a crucial three points by giving up a podium place for Bottas at the final corner, Raikkonen was kept behind Vettel for the whole race despite the German's faulty steering.

Toto Wolff, the Silver Arrows' chief, claimed they were respecting the team "values" and "ethos" by instructing Hamilton to let Bottas through in Budapest.

But it will be interesting to see if they stick to that mantra towards the business end of the season, and if Hamilton will be quite so forthcoming and gracious in moving out of the way.

A mad October
Four races, two continents, one month. Grands Prix in Malaysia, Japan, USA and Mexico all take place in October, all live on Sky Sports F1.

With just two races of Formula 1 2017 to come after that bumper stretch, the title could truly be won and lost in a matter of weeks. Don't miss it!

Midfield mayhem
The biggest compliment one can pay Force India now is that it is no longer a surprise they are the 'best of the rest' in F1, sitting pretty in fourth in the constructors' standings.

The advantage they hold over usual midfield rivals Williams, however, is certainly concerning for the Grove team. Force India are some 61 points ahead, looking up the road to Red Bull rather than over their shoulder.

Williams have the same engines and a bigger budget, but just haven't been able to consistently match Force India in 2017. The bedding-in of teenage rookie Lance Stroll will surely help that.

A challenge from further back, however, with crucial prize money up for grabs, is perhaps what they should be focusing on. Toro Rosso, Haas, and especially McLaren and Renault could all make huge strides between now and the end of the year.

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