As the desert sun goes down on another Formula 1 season, there was only one question on everyone’s lips. Which of our favourite drivers would triumph at the Yas Marina Circuit? I’m not talking about standing atop the podium, of course. Much more importantly, who put their marker in the sand to claim the final Top Dog spot of 2017?
This wasn’t an easy choice, I’m not gonna lie. Not because the drivers weren’t trying. They were all doing their damndest to make the best of a badly-designed track that rarely delivers thrilling racing. Ah-boo Dhabi more like! I swear the sound of my yawns drowned out the commentators, even at their most animated. But through the blur of my drooping eyelids, I just about saw enough to award Top Dog honours to…
I love giving the prize to a midfielder. It hasn’t happened much this season, although there have been a good few occasions when a hard charging bod in the middle of the pack has come close. Throughout this year, Ocon, Perez, Sainz, Stroll, Massa, Grosjean and Alonso have been contenders at several races – and managed to win it the odd time too. This week’s Top Dog has been in the Deputy Dog mix more than once, so Badger is delighted to finally be able to hand over the doggie chocs to the Hulk himself.
Top Dog earns Team Top Dollar
Yes, there might be more obvious choices (see race winner Valtteri Bottas – an absolutely perfect race weekend) but Nico’s performance was just as commendable, particularly given what was at stake for the Renault team. His 6th place was admirable enough in itself, especially as he finished ahead of both Force India cars. But that result was enough to pip rivals Toro Rosso to 6th spot in the constructors’ championship and bag the Renault team a significant whack of extra prize money to boot.
All hope had rested solely on Hulkenberg’s shoulders after teammate Sainz retired on Lap 33 with a wonky wheel problem. And he rose to the challenge in style. It didn’t start so well, mind you. After a three-way dice on Lap 1 with the two Force India’s, the Hulk pulled off a spectacular pass on Perez. However, Checo was quick to point out that Hulkenberg had left the tracking the process (I love a good old whinge fest on the radio!) and the stewards duly agreed. With a 5 second time penalty to contend with, Nico drove superbly in the early phase to keep the gap to Perez beyond the margin needed to maintain overall track position.
Things almost came a cropper at his pit stop on Lap 18 when a stubborn right rear wheel refused to play ball. Crucially, Hulkenberg still made it out ahead of Perez and set about catching Grosjean to gain another crucial place. There followed a good old, wheel to wheel ding-ding between the two. Nico did pass Romain, but it was another ‘off-track’ assisted overtake, so he quickly let the Frenchman by again. With that crucial championship position at stake, Nico wasn’t going to let him get away and finally made a pass stick on Lap 21.
Results like this really matter to the drivers and teams concerned, especially when extra prize money is at stake. Nico kept his head in a tense situation and drove what team boss Cyril Abiteboul described as an amazing, smart and clever race to finish ahead of the Force Indias who have been superb all season long. No doubt there was some nervousness about the Renault engine, not the most reliable contraption on the grid this year. But it held together for Nico to deliver one of his most impressive drives and give the Renault team a well-deserved boost going into 2018. A heartwarming tale in an otherwise dull old race.
So lucky Hulky gets to keep the Top Dog trophy on his Monaco mantlepiece until lights out in Australia. Look after it, Nico – Badger needs it back! But meantime, bask in the glory of being our final Top Dog winner of 2017. Well done!
So that’s it. It was a season that promised so much early on but didn’t quite manage to live up to that billing. Let’s hope Ferrari and Red Bull up their game for 2018 and sustain a season long battle with multiple champs Mercedes.
Thanks for reading along this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed Badger’s Top Dog musings. It’s been a lot of fun!
Until Oz, my friends xx