Welcome to the first in our annual feature looking back at the previous year, in our first article the team have looked back at some of their competitors of the year.
The Monegasque driver was often in a different class in 2017, and became the first GP3 Series champion to add the FIA Formula 2 (nee GP2 Series) crown to his resume.
Replacing 2016 champion Pierre Gasly and runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi on paper looked like a difficult proposition, but straight from the start of the season, Leclerc was superb, as shown by his sprint race win in Bahrain that saw him victorious despite making a pit stop! He won his first Feature race next time out in Spain, and was so close to doing the double in Azerbaijan but for a controversial penalty.
Wins also came at the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone as well as Jerez and Abu Dhabi, the latter coming after a fantastic and ambitious overtake on long-time leader Alexander Albon on the final lap.
Leclerc also took eight of the eleven pole positions on offer, and but for a disappointing home weekend in Monaco, the crazy weekend in Monza and a disqualification for a technical infringement in Belgium, he would have been even further ahead in the championship than the 72 points he ended up ahead of Artem Markelov.
He now moves on into Formula 1 with the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, and there are many already lining him up as the next Scuderia Ferrari driver. With his results from the past two seasons, you can certainly understand why.
– Paul Hensby / Chloe Hewitt / Megan Cantle / Jordan Groves
The title may have eluded him, but what a year 2017 proved to be for Andrea Dovizioso. Ducati had brought in Jorge Lorenzo on a multi-million pound contract, but it was their existing rider who pushed Marc Marquez all the way.
The Italian would win six races in 2017, the same as Marquez, including the Italian GP at Mugello. An Italian rider, on an Italian bike, winning the Italian Grand Prix! Dovi would also win two head-to-head battles against Marquez, in the sunshine of Austria and the torrential rain of Japan.
The reception that he received as he retired in the final race of the season at Valencia showed the respect and admiration the paddock had for Dovi. If the Ducati had worked better at Philip Island and Aragon, who knows, Dovi might have come out on top.
If Ducati can make their machine competitive at the circuits they struggled at this season, then 2018 might be even better for Dovi!
– Josh Close / Rachel Hack / James Eagles
There was only one candidate in my mind for this award. Jonathan Rea completely dominated the 2017 World Superbike Championship and ripped up the record books while he did it. The Ulsterman won 16 out of a possible 26 races, despite a new reverse grid format that was essentially introduced to make his life more difficult.
Instead, the new-look race two provided a stunning showcase of Rea’s talents as time-after-time, he would slice the field from ninth on the grid, often doing so within the space of a single lap. 2017 proved beyond any doubt that Rea is the best superbike racer in the world by a considerable distance. If anything, Jonathan now has a legitimate claim to be the greatest WorldSBK rider of all time, and as far as I’m concerned, there are very few riders on the planet that are better, even in MotoGP. He’s that good.
– Louis Suddaby / Emily Macbeth / Nick Smith
The rise of Lando Norris has been quite incredible in recent years.
From a young karter aged seven, his car racing career has risen from Ginetta Junior race winner to McLaren Formula 1 reserve driver in just three years.
It was a worthy promotion from the Woking outfit, Norris having won five championships in just three seasons since 2015. His most recent title triumph came in one of the most hotly contested FIA European Formula 3 Championship seasons of recent times, claiming nine wins, eight poles and 20 podium finishes with British team, Carlin.
Beating the next generation of Schumacher was another scalp for Norris, who backs up Lewis Hamilton in keeping British very much on the F1 radar.
– Dan Mason
There are so many options for competitor of the year. We’re fortunate to be witnessing some of the finest competitors in motor racing there has ever been. Lewis Hamilton is one of the greats and Marc Marquez has talent beyond belief. Ash Sutton, the new BTCC champion, is something special too. But you know what? Sometimes it’s about more than results. It’s about attitude and spirit and for that reason, my competitor of the year is Billy Monger.
I was there when Billy had the horrific accident that cost him both his legs and the pessimist in me was convinced he’d never race again; at seventeen a stubbed toe would render me pathetic for at least a week, but within days Billy was sat upright in a hospital bed discussing his return to racing. A few months later he was behind the wheel of a hand-control race car and the months in between he impressed the motor racing world with his positivity and mental approach to life and racing. In short, Billy Monger is an inspiration and I can’t wait to see what he achieves in the future.
– Craig Venn
This kid reminds me of someone I used watch as a Formula One fan back in the eighties. A young extremely talent driver who is driving a Formula One car that could be termed as slightly unreliable (seven retirements at the time of writing) and yet has taken two wins this season.
For me, there are similarities to Ayrton Senna in Max Verstappen and he is destined for greatness. Completing his third season in Formula One, the young Dutch driver has three wins to his name and has already shown he will be the next big young talent to win the World Championship. Verstappen is fast, dynamite fast and the likes of Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso should be warned…
– Phil Kinch / Tom Jeffries
While he failed to retain his FIA World Rallycross Championship title in 2017, Ekström had a fantastic start to the year taking three victories on the bounce, including one at Hockenheim which saw him run fresh from the podium, still dripping champagne, straight to the pit lane to jump in the Audi R5 DTM as he doubled up on his duties, a true embodiment of someone enjoying motor sport to the maximum. Unfortuantely for the Swede, the middle part of the WRX season saw him struggle a little as the PSRX team dominated, this wouldn’t stop him trying though as he fought back with a victory in the penultimate race of the year.
On the flip-side his DTM season was great and despite only taking one victory at the Red Bull Ring, the double-DTM champion was consistant throughout, only losing out to eventual champion René Rast in the last race of the season. At the age of 39 Ekström is showing no signs of slowing down!
With experienced hands returning to the grid alongside exciting prospects from 2016 and a number of talented new drivers to the series, it wasn’t supposed to be easy to win last year’s Renault UK Clio Cup title, but that’s how Mike Bushell made it look at points on his way to an historic second crown.
The Team Pyro man’s qualifying record was pivotal. Twelve pole positions for eighteen races set him up perfectly for the races, keeping him out of the unpredictable midfield action and giving him a relatively clean run to no less than fifteen podium finishes across the campaign.
An incredible summer run of seven poles and six wins in eight races showed Bushell at his peerless best, and after piecing together such a commanding and consistent march to the Clio title, it’s fair to say the Kent racer could make a real impact on his deserved return to the BTCC grid this year.
– Simon Paice
Back in 2015, Ticktum’s crash was my moment of the year and I assumed that’d mostly be the end of his professional career. Since then though, the Red Bull driver has been on a road of recovery. I, like many others wrote him off, claiming that 2015 will forever mar him.
Let this be my withdrawal of that statement, with Ticktum proving not only is he a changed man, but still a very talented one, as his Macau double overtake proved on his way to victory, before claiming the MABA a few weeks ago.
– Connor Jackson
He put in one of the most remarkable performances of a rookie driver that I can remember in recent years. Despite being completely new to Formula E at the beginning of the season he was quick from the off, and immediately looked like he had the measure of his far more experienced team-mate in Nick Heidfeld. He went on to take Mahindra Racing’s first ever win in the series, and would have made it two were it not for a mistake in the pitstops for which he was entirely blameless. He’s undoubtedly got a bright future ahead of him and could even challenge for this year’s title if he has a good enough car beneath him.
– Scott Douglas
Martin Truex Jr.
He was consistent to get into the playoffs, and was often near the front during it too. It was why he was able to become champion.
– Tim Lumb