Martin Brundle: F1 2017 could be a classic with three very different characters in title contention
Sky F1's Martin Brundle on why opposites attract in the title race...
Last Updated: 03/08/17 1:56pm
The Austrian GP may not have been a classic race but the last few laps very much rewarded the patient. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that 2017 could be a classic season for Formula 1.
What really struck me last weekend is just how different the three leading title contenders are. There's always a lot of chat about F1 needing 'characters', but it's hard to imagine three more divergent characters than Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses and it's going to be fascinating to see how those different characteristics will play out through the rest of the season.
Let's start with the title leader. Sebastian has a trait which I've seen in a number of champion drivers over the decades - namely, a total inability to accept they can be wrong and a conviction they are always right. Ayrton Senna had it, Michael Schumacher definitely had it, and Nigel Mansell too.
Even in the face of hard facts they never deviate from their inner self-belief. It's a quality which marks them out as winners - although not always universally popular winners.
It was interesting to hear Vettel after the race complain about Bottas' start without any irony or embarrassment in light of events in Baku.
Baku, along with the subsequent fall-out, should have hurt Sebastian. By Sunday night l had reached the firm conclusion that those shenanigans had impacted on Lewis more.
Actually, I'm not sure that it impacted on Sebastian at all. We now know that Ferrari did tell him they weren't impressed with his bumper cars tactics because it cost the team a victory, but otherwise it all just seemed to bounce off him like he bounced off the Mercedes.
I've said it before but it's a conclusion I've reached with increasing conviction that Lewis' mood and demeanour affects his weekend on-track performance. The two things are inextricably linked. When he's in a happy and outgoing mood Lewis is just invincible. Which wasn't the case in Austria.
He was untidy in qualifying, when l think Mercedes made a mistake by trying to do something clever with strategy by putting him on the supersofts for Q2, and pre-event he already knew he was facing a grid penalty. The Baku fallout was clearly still lingering and his demeanour just seemed to compound the problems he had in the race.
Listening to Lewis' radio messages on Sunday, the impression was that he was struggling throughout.
In fact, he was overall the quickest driver on track, especially through the second half of the race, and for me Lewis was 'driver of the day'.
After being moved down to eighth on the grid, he had to pass both Force Indias, Grosjean and Raikkonen and then his strategy, designed to make him run long though the first stint, became unstuck when he surprisingly was the first of the leading cars to pit on lap 31. Eleven seconds behind after eleven laps, he was just seven seconds behind Bottas at the finish 60 laps later.
Lewis' pace was mighty and that was despite him having to follow cars and coax a set of blistered ultrasoft tyres for over forty laps along with an aerodynamic imbalance.
Had he started from third he could have undoubtedly won the race. Nevertheless, he was complaining all the way to the end which I believe coerces his pit wall to make decisions their data and race knowledge doesn't always support, and gives the competition too much information and confidence. He acknowledged he should have been more aggressive with Daniel Ricciardo too.
And then there's Valtteri.
Over the years he's someone who I've got to know quite a bit. Particularly during his Williams years, Valtteri and I had a habit of bumping into each other. Same flights, hotels, and restaurants. As you might have seen, we also bumped into each other a couple of times last Sunday evening - once on the podium and then again in the paddock for an interview on Sky F1 - and he remains exactly the same Valtteri: rock solid with total calmness to anything and everything. Looks you straight in the eye.
Winning and being in contention for a world championship hasn't changed him one bit. He might seem low voltage, but his life is firmly focussed on F1 and he knows exactly who he is and what he stands for. That reminds me of particularly Mika Hakkinen very much.
He's just not going to get caught up in the same aggravations that the other two - Seb because of his belligerent self-belief, Lewis because of his emotional swings - will do.
So we have this fascinating mix of three very different characters all going for the same target and right now I just can't tell how it is going to end.
Make no mistake, Valtteri really is in the mix, although he was a bit lucky at the start, there's no doubt that somehow he anticipated the lingering red lights.
Skilful or lucky, it was just within the boundaries - before the podium, l was shown a graph of his start which showed he was within fraction of a penalty. It also interested me that both Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo picked up on Valtteri's start even though they had their own start sequences to think about. There's an awful lot going on in an F1 cockpit off the line.
Valtteri avoided a penalty on this occasion but Lewis wasn't so fortunate with his broken gearbox. It's an age-old debate but it's just not right for drivers to be punished in these circumstances.
I fully understand why the rule is there: it prevents the rich teams from introducing new engines and gearboxes for every race. But there has to be a way to stop the teams from doing that without hurting the drivers.
It's important to define the scenarios we're talking about. If a driver crashes out in a race, or the car fails in a race, it's impossible to differentiate between driver and team. But for a technical fault like this, occurring between races, a team should be allowed to prepare a healthy car without the driver suffering pain at the next event.
The solution is something like a constructors' points penalty if they are currently in the top three in the championship
Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo continued his great run by holding off Lewis for the final podium. He's doing a terrific job for Red Bull again and, equal with championship leader Vettel, has scored the most points (85) from the last five races.
The same, unfortunately, can't be said of Max Verstappen but through no fault of his own. Five retirements in seven races (one of which was contact in Spain) is the sort of unreliability that went out of fashion in the 1980s.
Let's hope his luck turns at Silverstone because judging by some of their sector times the Red Bull should be mighty fast there.
Incidentally, I really can't recommend warm champagne from a leaky sweaty race boot.
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