Another season of Formula One has entered the record books, but before 2017 can be laid to rest there’s a rather prestigious award to hand out. That’s right, it’s Reject of the Year time once again.
The new aero regulations for 2017 gave us a genuine two-horse race between Mercedes and Ferrari for both titles, with Red Bull joining the battle for top honours as the season progressed. Emotions and controversy ran wild as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel traded wins throughout the year, a title battle which sadly petered out when the German’s chariot suffered a bout of rather typical Italian reliability at the worst possible time.
Every team managed to put points on the board, with Sauber going home with the wooden spoon this time. Deciding the official Reject of the Year podium proved tricky as there were a number of early contenders who noticeably improved by season’s end, and vice versa. Nonetheless, through heated discussions across the Grand Prix Rejects forum and chatroom, we’ve managed to come up with our top three.
3rd – Scuderia Toro Rosso
2017 started brightly for Faenza, with Carlos Sainz Jr notching up a series of consistent points finishes. However it all unravelled by season’s end, with the team reduced to scrapping with Sauber at the wrong end of the field.
While Sainz shone brightly, Daniil Kvyat was hamstrung by a lack of support within the team, causing the Russian to overdrive and get involved in silly incidents. After throwing away a good finish in Singapore, Kvyat was benched for Malaysia and Japan in favour of reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly, before being installed in the car again for Austin while Gasly challenged for the Super Formula title. A last gasp tenth for Daniil was rewarded by being handed his P45, with many in the paddock lamenting at how badly Red Bull had treated the Russian over the last two seasons.
As Sainz upped sticks to Renault, Toro Rosso managed to prise former Red Bull Academy driver and endurance ace Brendon Hartley from his recently signed IndyCar contract as a replacement. The new lineup of Gasly/Hartley struggled immensely, not helped by a seemingly endless array of engine problems while Renault and Red Bull blamed each other for the mess.
In a sign of how sour the relationship had got, Renault seriously considered withholding engines for Abu Dhabi, the dirty laundry being aired to all and sundry. In a final kick in the teeth for Farenza, Renault’s works team managed to scamper away with sixth in the constructors, a place Toro Rosso had occupied for most of the year.
The move to Honda power for 2018 is a gamble which may possibly pay off. It all depends whether Honda can get their house in order, which neatly segues us to the next step of the ROTY podium.
2nd – McLaren-Honda
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After two years of strife, everything should have come good for Woking in 2017. However, Honda produced an utter pup of an engine, one that was seemingly worse than their 2015 unit. A familiar sight in testing and during the early season was Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne parking their cars in the pits or at the side of the track. Even making it to the chequered flag was seen as an achievement.
Indeed, the only positive publicity McLaren generated in the first half of the year was by letting Alonso participate in the Indianapolis 500, a move which would’ve been unthinkable during the Ron Dennis era. The Spaniard relished his time stateside, getting up to speed quickly and mastering the Brickyard. His day was cut short by a Honda engine failure, in a bout of irony that Alanis Morissette would no doubt approve of.
With Alonso in America, McLaren managed to coax an unwilling Jenson Button out of retirement for the Monaco GP. No doubt annoyed at having his autobiography writing sessions interrupted, the former champion phoned in his performance, which ended in a comical yet rather dangerous clash with Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber.
It took until the chaotic race in Baku for McLaren to trouble the scoreboard, and from then on in a steady stream of minor points finishes trickled in, enough for the team to leapfrog Sauber in the standings. By season’s end Honda had managed to achieve a modicum of respectability, in contrast to the litany of failures plaguing the Renault teams.
By then though the Honda/McLaren relationship had spluttered past the point of no return. For 2018 it’s customer Renault power for McLaren, a move which should see Alonso and Vandoorne heading towards the sharp end of the field. However, it remains to be seen whether the team can absorb a £60 million hole in their budget, a consequence of Honda’s departure.
1st – Jolyon Palmer
Jonathan Palmer’s son was confirmed at the factory Renault squad for 2017 in a manner which suggested the team didn’t actually want him. This was an omen for how his season would pan out.
To give Palmer his dues he had managed to match Kevin Magnussen over the course of 2016, and it wouldn’t take a huge amount of imagination to believe he would be able to perform similarly against new team mate Nico Hulkenberg. The reality was rather quite different.
In sixteen attempts, Palmer never outqualified his team mate. Over this same period Hulkenberg racked up 34 points and several appearances in Q3. Renault were embroiled in a tight battle for sixth overall with Toro Rosso and Haas during the season. Palmer’s impression of a boat anchor effectively meant Renault were showing up to fight with one hand tied behind their back.
The only bright spot was Singapore, where Jolyon navigated his way through terrible weather and heavy attrition to bring home sixth, his best finish in Formula One. It was too little, too late though.
Renault had negotiated a deal for Carlos Sainz Jr to partner Hulkenberg for 2018. This was then brought forward to where the Spaniard replaced Palmer for the race in Austin. Which leads us to the kicker; Sainz was immediately up to speed in an unfamiliar car and scored points on his Renault debut, giving Hulkenberg a serious wake-up call in the process.
A reserve role in Formula One or a Formula E race seat appears to be Palmer’s most likely destination for 2018 and beyond.