The tyres are snug in their blankets, the engines have powered down (insert obvious Honda joke here) and the teams’ out of office messages are on. Yes, it’s the infernal F1 summer break. Pah! But is Dancing Petrolhead moping around whining about the injustice of it all like, er, Jolyon Palmer? Hell no!  I’ve put finger to keyboard and chosen my award winners for the 2017 season so far.  

Read on to find out the drivers, teams and moments I believe deserve a nod for their contributions – good, bad and ugly, on and off the track.  

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE

Winner: Ferrari is back

GP UNGHERIA F1/2017
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER FERRARI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

I’m not gonna lie. I was not expecting the Scuderia to be leading the drivers’ championship at the half way stage. And only a smidge behind Mercedes in the battle for top team honours to boot. After several woeful seasons and endless management reshuffles, the team has got its head down, blocked out all unnecessary distractions (like talking to those pesky media types) and designed themselves a bloody quick car. That’s not just great news for the Tifosi; it’s brilliant for the fans, the competition, sponsors, Liberty Media, the whole darn shooting match. Grazie Ferrari. Ti amo. (But I still want Mercedes to win!)

Other nominees: Valtteri Bottas in championship contention

TOP TEAM

Winner: Force India

Sergio Perez (MEX) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 leads team mate Esteban Ocon (FRA) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10.
Canadian Grand Prix, Sunday 11th June 2017. Montreal, Canada.

No brainer this one. This little team continues to punch above its weight, regularly scoring double points finishes in the experienced hands of Sergio Perez and the super impressive Esteban Ocon. You can bet your house they will finish ‘best of the rest’ after the Mercedes, Ferraris and Red Bulls. On a good day, they are mixing it up front and grabbing extra points when the usual suspects falter. And all for a fraction of the eye-watering budgets enjoyed by the big guns. And heck, their car is PINK. Kudos to the Force!

BIGGEST LET DOWN

Winner: Max Verstappen’s Red Bull

Image: Red Bull Racing Media

Hang on. Let me explain. I am not disappointed in the Dutch boy wonder. Far from it! He is the most impressive, mind-bogglingly talented new driver to grace our sport in a decade. His astonishing win in his maiden race for Red Bull is already the stuff of legend. But frankly, his 2017 season has been underwhelming. The lion’s share of mechanical cock-ups has been on Max’s side of the garage leaving fans feeling bereft. We want to see Max in contention at every race, unleashing that fearless overtaking skill in places most other drivers wouldn’t dare attempt. So far, Max hasn’t been given the opportunity to build on his stellar 2016 season and that’s a crying shame. Because when he has the car underneath him and isn’t being shunted off track by others (yes, yes – I know he has been guilty of that too), he always lights up the track. Not to mention the grandstands with his legion of adoring, orange-shirted fans. Fingers crossed for bulletproof reliability for the rest of the season. We want Max attack!

Hotly contested category this one!

Other nominees: Honda, Jolyon Palmer, Halo announcement, Williams

MONKEY OFF THEIR BACK AWARD

Winner: Lance Stroll

Teen rookie Lance Stroll came in for a lot of stick before he’d even turned a wheel.  Slagging off pay drivers has practically become a sport within a sport and Monsieur Stroll was at the top of the insult list from the off.  Was this a classic case of dollars over talent?  Would he be anywhere near an F1 car without daddy’s moolah? His performance in the early rounds certainly didn’t do much to silence the critics.  But Lance knuckled down, listened to his team and learned from his inevitable rookie mistakes. His reward?  Points at his home race in Montreal followed by that dazzling podium finish in the chaos of Azerbaijan.  Monkey jettisoned. But where did it go….?

…Monkey firmly clinging onto back award – winner: Jolyon Palmer!

STORY OF THE YEAR

Winner: Fernando does Indy

Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _O3I2974

I swear the internet almost melted when our ‘Nando dropped this little bombshell. Fed up to the back teeth with his underpowered Honda, Alonso jumped at the chance to cross the Atlantic and have a pop at the iconic Indy 500. Yes, he would still be driving a Honda, but at the hallowed Brickyard of Indianapolis. Plus he would be missing the Monaco Grand Prix to make it happen. Monaco! No one makes that call lightly. Fernando has his sights firmly set on winning the motorsport triple crown; the Monaco Grand Prix (done), the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hours. Why wait until he has retired from F1? Why indeed.

Our Atlantic cousins went crazy for him and he conducted himself like a true champ.  His first crack at oval racing was astonishing, but his off-track performance was off the scale. He was intelligent, charming, funny and went above and beyond to engage with fans and media alike. The F1 and Indy paddocks spoke of nothing else for weeks, a true measure of Fernando’s pulling power. Nice work, senor. Don’t leave us.

Other nominees: Kubica’s comeback quest, Silverstone invokes contract break clause.

TOP DRIVER

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

Image: Red Bull Racing Media

Daniel has been a star this year. I always love watching him drive. He’s everything a pure racing driving should be; gutsy, fair, thrilling to watch and a demon at overtaking. He’s just as brilliant out of the cockpit. Straight-talking but reasoned, occasionally emotional but that trademark smile is never far away. For me, he has been the most consistent driver on the grid this year despite the obvious speed and reliability gap to the Mercs and Ferraris. He wrings every ounce of performance out of that Red Bull and never stops fighting. That surprise win in Baku was a pleasure to behold.  Plus he brought us the shoey. Ripper!

DEFINING MOMENT

Winner: Baku Bash Up

Image: Octane Photography

It was all respect and bromance. Until Baku. Things started friendly enough with Vettel and Hamilton trading wins and gushing compliments – a refreshing change to the Nico-Lewis axis of hatred. But where’s the fun in that? We’d much prefer a full throttle, daggers drawn, bitter rivalry, right? Our warped prayers were answered in Azerbaijan when Sebastian Vettel lost the plot with Lewis Hamilton’s apparent dawdling behind the Safety Car. He nerfed the rear of the Mercedes, claiming he was brake tested. Then the red mist descended and he deliberately pelted the side of Hamilton’s Mercedes in frustration. That was the moment the gloves came off. A friendly fight? Forget it!

It was one of the most blatant instances of dirty driving I’ve ever seen. Lewis was right to call out his despicable behaviour and Seb was a lucky boy to get away with such a lame penalty.  Baku showed that both drivers want the title and they want it bad. And if the bromance has to be put on ice to get there, so be it. Juicy!

Other nominees: Hungary team orders

And finally…

BEST SPAT

Winner: Suck my balls!

No further words required! 

Do you agree with my choices? Who would you pick as your half-term winners?  

Enjoy Part 2 of the season folks!  Here’s to a grandstand finish in Abu Dhabi. Without team orders. One can but dream.

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