Motorsport review 2017: from Formula 1 to BTCC
We look back on the last 12 months in the world of motorsport, including F1, the WEC, Formula E, and lots more
Although several familiar names took the titles in the world’s major motorsport championships in 2017, this continuity masked some big changes elsewhere.
Other areas of motorsport have suffered, with Toyota now the only brand in the World Endurance Championship’s top LMP1 class and changes to both the World Touring Car Championship and German DTM series being contemplated in order to assure their future.
Here, we round up all the action on track and stage from a packed 12 months of racing and rallying competition around the world.
Scroll down to read about the highlights of a packed 2017 motorsport calendar...
Hamilton romps home to a fourth F1 world title
In the early part of the season, it looked like Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton would be pushed hard all the way in his quest for a fourth world title by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Seven races in, after the Canadian Grand Prix, the Brit and the German were level on three victories each, with only Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas (who won the Russian Grand Prix) managing to break their stranglehold at that point.
Vettel’s angry swerve at Hamilton in the following race in Azerbaijan showed how much pressure the Ferrari man was under and fans were relishing a vintage battle for the title. But a streak of three wins for Hamilton after the summer break (in Belgium, Italy and Singapore) combined with a dip in reliability for Ferrari in Malaysia and Japan meant Hamilton was able to wrap things up early at the Mexican Grand Prix in October.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were the only non-Mercedes or Ferrari drivers to win during the season. Expect either driver – or both – to be Hamilton’s main opposition in 2018.
Sato wins Indy 500 as Alonso steals headlines
Ex-Jordan and BAR F1 driver Takuma Sato made history in May, becoming the first Japanese entrant to win the Indianapolis 500, the centrepiece of the US IndyCar Series single-seater championship.
But the other major story of the race was Fernando Alonso’s decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix for a one-off Indy appearance in a McLaren-backed car.
The outing initially provided welcome relief from ongoing Honda engine woes for both parties, and Alonso declared his intent by leading for 27 laps, but ironically his chances were ended by engine failure.
Sato took his Andretti Autosport car past Helio Castroneves late in the race to take a popular victory, while his fellow ex-Formula One driver, Briton Max Chilton, finished just off the podium.
Audi’s Di Grassi triumphs in Formula E after a battle with Buemi
After finishing third in Formula E’s inaugural 2014-15 season and then second in 2015-16, Brazilian Lucas di Grassi finally clinched the electric series’ driver’s title this time around.
His battle with Renault e.dams' Sebastien Buemi had a slightly unsatisfactory conclusion, as the latter had to skip the penultimate races in New York to appear for Toyota at the Nürburging World Endurance Championship round.
But di Grassi nonetheless ended the season with just two wins to Buemi’s six – consistent podiums and points finishes having kept him in title contention throughout.
Also taking wins during this season were DS Virgin’s Sam Bird (who did the double in New York) and Felix Rosenqvist, who gave Mahindra its maiden Formula E victory in Berlin.
The championship’s fourth season is already under way, having kicked off last weekend in Hong Kong.
Five-way title scrap in WTCC, but TCR merger could lie ahead
The outcome of the World Touring Car Championship’s 2017 title was decided at the final two races in Qatar, with Volvo’s Thed Bjork coming out on top after five drivers went into the event with a mathematical chance of taking the title.
Elsewhere, thoughts were turning to 2018 and the potential of a merger with the TCR International Series in order to ensure the championship’s future. Citroen and Lada’s departure at the end of 2016 left only Volvo and Honda as full works entries in the WTCC.
TCR’s more affordable cars and customer-racing model are seen as being more sustainable in the long term. In addition to the international series, there are already numerous national and regional touring-car series running to TCR regulations, with a UK championship set to kick off in early 2018.
Ogier wins WRC title again with M-Sport
Sebastien Ogier cemented his status as one of rallying’s all-time greats in 2017 by proving that he could win the world championship in something other than a full-works Volkswagen Polo. The Frenchman’s deal came together late in the day, after he’d had test runs in all the manufacturers’ cars, but ultimately he put his faith in the Red Bull-backed Ford Fiesta WRC run by Malcolm Wilson’s Cumbria-based M-Sport team.
Unlike the last few years, however, the destiny of the title was far from certain early in the season, with Ogier, Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala, Citroen’s Kris Meeke and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville winning the first four events in Monaco, Sweden, Mexico and Corsica.
After that, it boiled down to more of a two-way scrap between Ogier and Neuville, while up-and-comers Ott Tanak, Esapekka Lappi and Elfyn Evans also joined the winners’ circle before the end of the year. This combination of exciting young talent and 2017’s spectacular new-generation cars means the WRC looks in good health heading into 2018.
Kristoffersson dominates World Rallycross for Solberg’s team
Petter Solberg’s deal for VW Sweden to back his World Rallycross team for the 2017 season was one of the big stories of last winter. But not everyone predicted his team-mate, Swede Johan Kristoffersson, would star.
The 29-year-old took the title in Latvia, with two rounds to spare, by scoring his fifth event victory in a row. Solberg’s results across the season were also good enough to ensure he finished third in the points and the squad took the teams’ championship, too.
Outgoing champion Mattias Ekstrom (Audi) finished second in the season’s standings, ahead of Peugeot works pair Sebastien Loeb and Timmy Hansen.
Rast blasts to DTM title in his debut season
Rene Rast’s status as one of the world’s best racers wasn’t in doubt before his 2017 season, but even he’d probably admit to surprise at clinching the DTM title in his first year in the highly specialised category.
Rast was on track for an Audi LMP1 drive in the World Endurance Championship before the brand pulled out of the category sooner than expected at the end of 2016, and was swiftly re-assigned to the German manufacturer’s touring-car programme.
The 31-year-old took the transition from endurance to fast-and-furious sprint racing in his stride, winning a total of three times and racking up enough points elsewhere to see off the challenge of his fellow Audi drivers Mattias Ekstrom and Jamie Green.
Off-track, the series was rocked by the news that Mercedes would leave at the end of 2018 to focus on its upcoming Formula E campaign. Efforts are now under way to establish closer collaboration with the Japanese Super GT championship – which follows similar technical rules – to ensure the DTM’s future.
Departing Porsche wins Le Mans and WEC title
Porsche’s departure, leaving only Toyota in the top LMP1 class, is the story everyone will remember about the World Endurance Championship in 2017.
But before that bombshell decision had been made, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard had taken the Stuttgart marque’s 19th Le Mans 24 Hours win – and third in a row with the latest 919 Hybrid.
The trio went on to take victories at the German, Mexican and US rounds, giving them enough of a points cushion that even a late surge by Toyota’s Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima to win the last three rounds of the season in Japan, China and Bahrain couldn’t close the gap.
The LMP2 title went to Rebellion Racing’s Bruno Senna and Julien Canal, while Britain’s James Calado and the Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi triumphed for Ferrari in the GTE Pro class. Ferrari also won the GTE manufacturers’ trophy, seeing off the challenge of rival brands Ford, Aston Martin and Porsche.
Next year, the WEC is running a ‘super season’ of eight rounds (including two Le Mans) across 2018 and 2019, as it shifts to an autumn-spring calendar.
Subaru’s Sutton is the man to beat in BTCC
Former Renault Clio Cup champion Ashley Sutton added his name to the prestigious list of British Touring Car Championship winners in 2017, at the wheel of a Subaru Levorg. In the process the 23-year-old became the series’ youngest champion since John Fitzpatrick in 1966. Sutton took six wins on his way to glory, while BMW’s Colin Turkington was runner-up in the points, finishing 19 behind.
Speedworks Toyota driver Tom Ingram was the highest-finishing Independent entry, third overall.
What was your favourite motorsport moment of 2017? Tell us in the comments!
Review of the year 2017
• Review of the year 2017: index• Best new cars 2017: the road tests of the year• The BIG car news highlights of 2017• Big car quiz of the year 2017• Head to head: best car group tests of 2017• The long haul: Our greatest long-term test fleet cars of 2017• Inside the world of cars: the best motoring features of 2017• Best car videos 2017• Amazing moments: our year in cars 2017• Motorsport review of the year: from F1 to WRC and BTCC