The 2017 Formula 1 season is drawing towards its mid-point and we have had plenty of talking points so far. From Ferrari's sudden resurgence to the dilapidation of Max Verstappen, this year has so far been a thriller - and it's set to get even hotter.
The major talk in the last four months has been the battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes entered this season once again favourites to take home the constructor's title, despite a major overhaul in the regulations coming into effect.
Ferrari, however, has surprised everyone with how its shot out of the gates and risen to the challenge. There has been tension growing within the Maranello outfit in the last number of seasons after years of poor results. The team failed to produce a car consistent enough to deliver another world title and badly needed the new regulations this year to work in its favour.
Winning two out of the first three races of the season was a good start, with Vettel stating his intent. Hamilton got the better of new teammate Valtteri Bottas in the early stages of the season and still holds an advantage in the standings.
It's clear now that Raikkonen is a number two driver at Ferrari - 88 points behind his teammate, he'll fall into a support role for Vettel. At Ferrari, that may make the mood much more relaxed, as many are effectively ruling the Finn out of title contention.
Raikkonen's compatriot Bottas has done a pretty stellar job at Mercedes when you consider the factors. Bottas has joined a team of championship-winning potential after spending four years in the midfield. He's partnering a three-time world champion, who many consider to be one of the fastest drivers of the modern era.
Like I said, much of the talk this season has been on the battle between Hamilton and Vettel, and yet while talk of Raikkonen's championship hopes is dying away, Bottas' are starting to light up...
|Out-qualified teammate||Average qualifying position||Average gap to teammate|
It may be important to note that Hamilton's fast lap in Monaco had to be scrapped when he came across yellow flags meaning he had to start P14, however, above is a table showing the cold, hard, undeniable facts of qualifying so far this season. In terms of outright speed, it is clear to see the difference between the Ferrari drivers compared to Mercedes drivers.
We can't take into account the "what if's" in cases like these, but from further analysis, it is clear to see where the consistency lies in qualifying.
|Times Qualified 1st||Times Qualified 2nd||Times Qualified 3rd||Times Qualified 4th|
*Both Hamilton's and Raikkonen's tallies add to eight as both qualified 14th and 5th at Monaco and Bahrain respectively.
Bottas' speed is undeniable, and he is moulding himself into a racer worthy of winning more than just races. While some feared in recent races he would simply play a support role for Hamilton (not unlike what Raikkonen is doing for Vettel), it now appears that he has some fight in him.
Accustomising himself all the time to his new found success, Bottas will only get stronger and may yet be a key factor in this year's championship. He is certainly an underdog but stranger things have happened. At 27, Bottas has many more years left in Formula 1 to win a championship which I'm sure he will one day do.
He shouldn't worry about getting a contract extension and just keep a relaxed head entering each weekend, letting his two legs and arms do the negotiating. An extension shouldn't be far away, but it may be well past the summer break before we hear an announcement.
Raikkonen's future is more in doubt. With Sergio Marchionne starting to pile the pressure on Kimi, something needs to budge. If Ferrari feels that Raikkonen is not scoring enough points to cover the constructor's table, then his days could be numbered. Expect no announcement until after the Italian Grand Prix, which will give the 2007 world champion a chance to pull back some form.