McLaren stung as Lowe follows Hamilton to Mercedes

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Mercedes’s appetite for signing up staff from rival teams seems not to have been satisfied yet.

In the past two years the Silver Arrows have hired Aldo Costa (ex-Ferrari), Geoff Willis (HRT and previously Honda), Bob Bell (Renault) and Toto Wolff (Williams).

Their top-heavy management structure also includes Niki Lauda who was hired last September. And it is set to be further bolstered by the anticipated arrival of Paddy Lowe from McLaren.

McLaren confirmed on Monday that Lowe will leave them at the end of the year. The move that looked likely following his absence from the launch of the team’s 2013 F1 contender, the MP4-28.

Lowe is widely expected to follow ex-McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton to the Brackley-based team. Mercedes’ vision is fixed firmly on preparing for next year’s new regulations.

The move raises three questions. First, does this confirm that Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is being moved out of the picture? Mercedes have already jettisoned long-serving vice-president Norbert Haug during the off-season after scoring just one win in the last three years.

Second, what are the consequences for McLaren? In six months they’ve lost their protege and one of their top designers to Mercedes.

Having once been Mercedes’ only Formula One team their status has been diminished to the role of engine customer. Martin Whitmarsh must rue the assistance he gave Brawn in landing a supply of Mercedes engines when Honda quit the sport at the end of 2008.

And third, who will McLaren hire to replace their lost technical director? Suspicion has already fallen on Lotus technical director James Allison, though earlier this month he said he has a “long contract” with the team and “intends to honour” it.

According to McLaren, a “telephone number salary” was used to lure Lowe away. Are they prepared to do the same to replace him?

Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic. Follow F1 Fanatic on Twitter.

F1 2017 driver review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 20
Wins: 5
Podiums (excluding wins): 8
Pole Positions: 4
Fastest Laps: 5
Points: 317
Laps Led: 286
Championship Position: 2nd

2017 was supposed to be the year Sebastian Vettel finally fulfilled his ambition of emulating Michael Schumacher by returning Ferrari to its championship-winning heyday.

Instead, it ended in disappointment and frustration – once again.

Ferrari arguably made a greater step across the change in technical regulations for 2017 than any other team, living up to its pre-season tag as favorite by winning the opening round in Australia in fashion.

Vettel and Ferrari led their respective championships following the Monaco Grand Prix as the German ended a 16-year win drought for the Prancing Horse in the principality, and even heading into the summer break, a shot at both championships was looking good.

However, cracks had started to appear. Vettel’s remarkable antics behind the safety car in Baku sparked controversy after driving into Hamilton, suggesting the tension of the title fight was beginning to take its toll on the German.

The final run of flyaways was where things really fell apart for Vettel, though. Singapore looked to be a slam-dunk win, only for a start-line crash also involving teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen to put 25 free points in Hamilton’s pocket.

Reliability woes then struck in Malaysia and Japan – two more races Vettel could realistically have won – to make it game over in the title race, with Hamilton wrapping things up in Mexico.

Vettel only finished the year 46 points back from Hamilton, proving the impact the three bad races in Asia had. Realistically, this was a title race that should have gone down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Instead, Vettel remains a four-time champion, level with Hamilton, who had just one to his name back in 2013 when his rival secured his fourth.

Ferrari’s internal issues will come under the microscope over the off-season, and Vettel himself knows there is plenty to work on. Staying cool under pressure and not letting things boil over as in Baku is the most obvious area for improvement.

But there is reason for hope. If Ferrari can keep up with Mercedes and repeat its impressive step into 2017 through the upcoming off-season, we may well be treated to another Vettel/Hamilton scrap at the front of the field, perhaps settling once and for all who is the greatest driver of the post-Schumacher era.

Season High: A crucial win in Hungary despite battling with a broken steering column.

Season Low: Letting tensions flare in Baku and hitting Hamilton behind the safety car.