10 moments that decided the 2017 Formula 1 title

Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 world champion for the fourth time in his career in 2017, fending off a rejuvenated Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari combination to seal the crown with two races to spare

10 moments that decided the 2017 Formula 1 title

Mercedes ultimately topped both points tables for the fourth straight season, but the way this one played out was nothing like the previous three campaigns it dominated.

Vettel and Ferrari properly carried the fight to Hamilton and Mercedes, taking full advantage of major rule changes for 2017 close the yawning chasm between the Silver Arrows and its nearest rivals.

Vettel led the way early on in the title race, but was ultimately undone by a few crucial mistakes and some late-season Ferrari unreliability.

Mercedes produced the out-and-out fastest car on the grid again, but it wasn't always easy to drive or set-up, and Hamilton had to be at his very best to get the job done.

Vettel drove brilliantly too at times, but ultimately came up short. As Vettel licks his wounds while Hamilton basks in the glory of reclaiming the title he lost to Nico Rosberg in 2016, we take a look at the key moments that led to Hamilton's fourth F1 championship.

Vettel in charge as Mercedes wobbles

Hamilton qualified on pole for the first two races. Had he not pressed his DRS activation button prematurely in Q3 in Bahrain, he would perhaps have scored a hat-trick.

But Hamilton came out of those first three races trailing Vettel in the championship, thanks to unexpected defeats in Australia and Bahrain, either side of a comfortable win in China.

What team boss Toto Wolff described as a "perfect storm" of mistakes and problems undid Mercedes in Bahrain, but the W08 also looked tricky and inconsistent.

That impression was rammed home in Russia, where Mercedes struggled to get Pirelli's ultrasoft tyre working properly on the billiard-smooth Sochi track surface.

Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas narrowly won that race, thanks to a fast start, but Ferrari was quicker overall and Hamilton was a distant fourth as Vettel finished right on Bottas's tail.

Having won or finished second in each of the first four races, it was Vettel, not Hamilton, who took charge of this title race early on.

"I just don't think about it right now - it's not important," said Hamilton in Russia. "We need to understand where the speed was this weekend and what went wrong with the set-up, and come back fighting for the next race.

"There's still a long way to go, still second in the championship. It's not the end of the world."

Standings after four races: 1 Vettel, 86; 2 Hamilton, 73; 3 Bottas, 63.

The gap grows

Hamilton hit back by taking victory in Spain, utilising an offset tyre strategy and some help from hampered team-mate Bottas to repass Vettel after a slow start from pole.

But Vettel kept the points board ticking over with another second place, before scoring his third victory of the season next time out in Monaco, to extend his advantage to a season-high 25 points over Hamilton.

Kimi Raikkonen claimed his first F1 pole position since 2008 for that race, but lost out to team-mate Vettel in the pits and had to settle for second.

Mercedes again struggled to make the ultrasoft tyre work and Hamilton was unexpectedly eliminated from qualifying in Q2, thanks to the timing of Stoffel Vandoorne's crash at the exit of the Swimming Pool section.

Hamilton recovered to sixth in the race, while Bottas - who heroically qualified within half a tenth of pole on a tough weekend for Mercedes - was beaten to the podium by Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull.

There were strong suggestions afterwards that Ferrari had deliberately sacrificed Raikkonen's race to bolster Vettel's title ambitions, not least from Hamilton.

"It's clear to me Ferrari have chosen their number one driver," he said. "So they're going to be pushing everything to make sure Sebastian will get the maximum on all of his weekends.

"It's very hard for the leading car to get jumped by the second car [in Monaco] unless the team decide to favour the other car, so that's very clear."

Standings after six races: 1 Vettel, 129; 2 Hamilton, 104; 3 Bottas, 75.

Vettel's moment of madness

Hamilton near-enough halved his championship deficit to Vettel by taking victory in Canada, while Vettel was forced into a recovery drive after getting tagged by Max Verstappen's Red Bull at Turn 1, breaking the Ferrari's front wing.

That left the title battle delicately poised heading to the streets of Azerbaijan, where Ferrari screwed up its tyre preparation in qualifying and poleman Hamilton was more than 1.2 seconds faster than Vettel.

Nevertheless, the way things played out Vettel still could, and should, have won this race. But a moment of madness behind the safety car, where Vettel deliberately drove into the side of Hamilton's car shortly after rear-ending it, feeling (wrongly as it turned out) that Hamilton brake-tested him, cost the Ferrari man dearly.

Hamilton's own victory chances were undone by a loose headrest, incorrectly re-attached during a mid-race red flag stoppage. Vettel finished one place ahead in fourth, so extended his championship lead by two points, but without the 10s penalty he incurred for dangerous driving, he would have won easily.

Vettel later apologised for over-reacting and creating a "dangerous situation", but notwithstanding the post-race backlash he suffered, the points lost to that unnecessary red-mist moment would ultimately have serious ramifications for his championship ambitions.

Standings after eight races: 1 Vettel, 153; 2 Hamilton, 139; 3 Bottas, 111.

Hamilton gets back in the game

July's British Grand Prix was a real turning point in the title race. Not only did Hamilton all but wipe out Vettel's points advantage with a record-equalling fifth British GP victory, but Mercedes utterly crushed Ferrari in the process.

Hamilton was on pole by more than half a second, and had such superior pace in the race that he could afford to back off to "half/60% throttle everywhere" in the closing stages to protect his tyres, as both Ferraris suffered sudden front-left tyre failures from pushing too hard trying to keep up.

Austrian GP winner Bottas recovered from a grid penalty to complete an emphatic Mercedes one-two finish, as Vettel limped home seventh and saw his championship lead slashed to a single point.

"This weekend we've been able to exploit the full performance of our car, more so than any other race we've done so far this year," said Hamilton. "It gives us a strong platform to start from for the second half of the year."

Standings after 10 races: 1 Vettel, 177; 2 Hamilton, 176; 3 Bottas, 154.

Hungary pivotal for Hamilton

On the face of it, the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disappointing one for Hamilton. He qualified and finished fourth, as Vettel led a Ferrari one-two.

Hamilton also gave up three potentially crucial points by allowing Bottas back past on the final lap, after his team-mate had moved aside earlier in the race to give Hamilton a chance to attack the Ferraris.

"The heart tells me the right thing to do was to let him by," said Hamilton. "I want to win the championship the right way. I don't know whether that will come back to bite me in the backside or not..."

Ultimately it wouldn't, but perhaps more significant than Hamilton's sporting gesture was the way he transformed his form through the course of the race weekend.

He struggled in qualifying again on a high-downforce, low-speed circuit, but got himself right on the pace in the second part of the race, while Bottas struggled.

"It's strange," Hamilton explained. "Because of the way our car is you apply a driving style, and it just doesn't like it. It's like trying loads of different techniques, and eventually figuring out that one works, then you can really grab on to it.

"It didn't feel great initially [in Hungary]. I've got to change a bunch of settings, and change my lines, and then eventually the car likes this spot, and you can really start to lean on it. That's where you can really stretch the wings of the car. I loved that discovery."

And it proved to be a crucial one for Hamilton heading into the last part of the season.

Standings after 11 races: 1 Vettel, 202; 2 Hamilton, 188; 3 Bottas, 169.

The 'forest fire' begins

Hamilton returned from August's summer break with fresh vigour and determination, operating at the "top end" of his personal energy levels after spending three weeks "recharging the batteries".

Wolff described Hamilton as coming back from this break "with a great spirit", and the results reflected that, with Hamilton winning the next two races in Belgium and Italy to claim the outright lead of the championship for the first time.

"It's an empowering feeling," said Hamilton. "Because it's been a real constant search and battle for perfection, which is what's been needed to overhaul the Ferraris, because they've been exceptional all year long.

"To come through these last races, they've been real solid races. I've felt more heart and passion within myself. Silverstone was a real empowering weekend, and from then it's sparked a forest fire within me."

Standings after 13 races: 1 Hamilton, 238; 2 Vettel, 235; 3 Bottas, 197.

Vettel self-destructs

Vettel should have won in Singapore, as he did in Monaco and Hungary. Such a high-downforce, slow-speed, street-style circuit was Ferrari territory in 2017. This was expected to be a slam dunk.

As predicted, Mercedes struggled, with Hamilton qualifying fifth, six tenths off pole, behind the improved Red Bulls as well as the Ferraris.

Vettel had everything in his hands starting from pole position, but he threw away a potential 25 points by starting this wet race poorly (in second gear), then veering aggressively across the track to block front row starter Verstappen.

This triggered a three-way collision with the fast-starting Raikkonen, which ultimately took the entire trio out of the race.

Hamilton sailed serenely around the mayhem on the outside line, inherited the lead, and drove on to a comfortable victory, extending his points lead on a weekend when he should have lost it.

Standings after 14 races: 1 Hamilton, 263; 2 Vettel, 235; 3 Bottas, 212.

Ferrari self-destructs

Unexpectedly, the Malaysian Grand Prix proved to be a real struggle for Mercedes, as its updated high-downforce package proved troublesome, leading Hamilton to revert to an older specification for qualifying.

Red Bull was quick enough again to take points away from the leading cars, as evidenced by Verstappen's victory, but Ferrari had the outright fastest car at Sepang and should have come away with a one-two result.

Instead, Vettel's engine failed at the start of Q1, relegating him to the back of the grid, while pole contender Raikkonen failed to start the race after his broke on the way to the grid.

Vettel salvaged fourth in the race, but knew a quality control problem with his engine's turbo/compressor intake manifold - "technical nonsense" according to Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne - had thrown yet more "presents" in Hamilton's direction.

A subsequent spark plug failure on the way to the grid in Japan cost Vettel another potential victory shot there, as Hamilton claimed his fourth win in five races to take decisive control of the title battle.

Standings after 16 races: 1 Hamilton, 306; 2 Vettel, 247; 3 Bottas, 234.

Hamilton's killer blow

Ferrari brought substantial updates to the SF70-H for the United States Grand Prix, including a revised front wing and new floor, in a last-ditch bid to rescue Vettel's title bid.

Hamilton blitzed the field again in qualifying, but lost out to Vettel at the start, as the Ferrari made a blistering getaway from second on the grid to lead into Turn 1.

But Ferrari simply couldn't match Mercedes for pace in this race. Hamilton breezed back past Vettel on the back straight a few laps later, and drove on to his ninth win of the season - his fifth in six races - while Vettel was forced into a second pitstop after chewing through his tyres trying to keep up.

Vettel looked thoroughly dejected afterwards, perhaps as much at the emphatic manner of this latest defeat, as knowing it left Hamilton needing just 10 more points to clinch the championship.

Standings after 17 races: 1 Hamilton, 331; 2 Vettel, 265; 3 Bottas, 244.

Game over

Hamilton only needed fifth place in the Mexican Grand Prix to clinch the championship, so things were looking good when he qualified third, behind Vettel and Verstappen.

But Hamilton's coronation turned into a real slog thanks to a clash with Vettel at Turn 3 after the start. Hamilton picked up a puncture, and damage to his Mercedes' diffuser, and spent much of the race mired in the lower order, even getting lapped by race winner Verstappen.

Vettel had to pit at the end of the first lap too, to replace a damaged front wing. He recovered to fourth, but needed to finish at least second to have any hope of taking the title fight to the next race in Brazil.

So, Vettel's title hopes were finally extinguished as Hamilton survived a fraught late battle with Fernando Alonso's McLaren-Honda to finish ninth and claim the championship.

Hamilton described it as a "horrible way" to win it, but that matters not. As Vettel put it: "it's irrelevant what happened today. Overall, he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that."

Vettel salvaged something from Ferrari's late-season slump by defeating poleman Bottas in Brazil after Hamilton crashed in qualifying, but the world champion's drive from the back of the field to fourth stole the show.

Mercedes then ended the year in style with a crushing one-two for Bottas and Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, firing a warning shot in Ferrari's direction as the season drew to a close.

Final standings: 1 Hamilton, 363; 2 Vettel, 317; 3 Bottas, 305.

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