The Formula One season is as good as over as a contest, with the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championship secured by a dominant Mercedes and their newly crowned four-time champion Lewis Hamilton.
In a highly competitive alpha sport, both parties will know the hard work starts now, as any sign of weakness or dip in performance will be targeted by the chasing pack ahead of 2018.
The gap was frustratingly wide for the best of the rest this year, with Ferrari’s collapse leaving them over 100 points behind the Germans in the Constructors’ Championship.
But, time and again we’ve seen a number of compound issues; iterative improvements in technology, engine supplier changes, or FIA rule changes conspire to make formerly dominant teams also-rans in a short space of time.
One need look no further than the example of Red Bull, whose troubles are a world away from the seemingly unstoppable outfit between 2010 and 2013.
There, a souring of the relationship with Renault, borne of arguments about funding and exposure gradually led to Mercedes stealing a march with the turbo hybrid engine. This season, whilst moderately competitive, Red Bull has managed just one Grand Prix win in Azerbaijan. How the mighty have fallen.
So, whilst Mercedes have had it all their way in 2017, they’ll intuitively know their position at the top is perilous and Ferrari and a resurgent Red Bull, who will formerly split from Renault at the end of 2018, will bring an altogether different challenge in the coming years.
Still, at second practice at the Brazilian Grand Prix, neither took the fight to Lewis in the Mercedes as much as middle-of-the pack Renault and first year incumbent Nico Hulkenberg.
Renault have been off the pace all season long, but their German driver took it upon himself to remind the Brit they were still around with a stunning, albeit risky, manoeuvre.
In the final sector of the São Paulo track, Hamilton uncharacteristically left a yawning gap inside which Hulkenberg duly took advantage of and nipped in ahead. The timing and aggression left the Brit unable to counter and Hamilton was forced to stay wide and ended up driving off the track!
When asked about the incident, Hulkenberg hinted that perhaps it was Hamilton who had invited the challenge
"I don't know, he always like to play around a bit," he said.
"He took a massive gap and I just got him and he decided to stay on the outside and drive off the track. It's not really my thing. That's what he did! I was clearly ahead. If he wants to drive off the track, fine with me!"
Though, later Hamilton reported the move to his pit as “very dangerous", stewards opted not to investigate, deeming it a perfectly legal pass. In hindsight, surely Lewis would have been at least grudgingly appreciative of the sheer spirit and adventure shown by the German.
Hulkenberg meanwhile, would have been hoping to be more competitive in his maiden season for the French team, but Renault’s RS17 car has badly struggled with inconsistencies and power.
Predictably it was Mercedes who continued the trend for 2017. Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas were in no mood for taking it easy, once again setting the pace.
With Mercedes then showing no signs of complacency at the penultimate race of the season looking to finish as strongly as they’ve ruled, it seems for now, small victories is the best Renault and the rest of the chasing pack can hope for.