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    ANALYSIS: Story of the Year - The Junior Drivers It was a brilliant season o...

It was a brilliant season of racing for the Mercedes-Benz Junior Drivers, Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon and George Russell - let's see how each of them got on in 2017!

Pascal Wehrlein

When you're scrapping for points and wrestling with a problematic car, it's tough to show your worth. Despite a difficult second season in Formula One, Pascal Wehrlein fought hard and scored Sauber's only points of 2017.

From the very start of on-track running, at a chilly Barcelona circuit in February, it was clear Sauber's season would be far from easy. But, that was made more difficult when Pascal pulled out of the first test after injuring his back in a Race of Champions crash in January.

The injury severely hampered his pre-season preparations and training, and while Pascal returned for the second test, he was forced to pull out of the opening two rounds in Australia and China, not feeling his fitness levels were at the right level.

The German driver worked hard to prepare himself for the next weekend in Bahrain, out-qualifying his team-mate Marcus Ericsson and making it through to Q2 - one of Sauber's rare appearances in the second session.

He finished 11th on his return to the sport, but Sauber had a challenging time in Russia and Pascal could only manage 16th. Bouncing back in the best possible style, Pascal secured Sauber's first points of the season and best result of the year in Spain, coming home seventh (eighth after a five-second time penalty).

It was a remarkable drive and result, in a car that was rarely a top-10 challenger, was a crucial result for the team. A few difficult races followed in Monaco and Canada but he was back in the top 10 in a crazy Azerbaijan race, picking up a point.

That was Pascal's final race of the year in the points, as Sauber continued to struggle with the development of their car and with the year-old Ferrari Power Unit. As other teams made considerable leaps forward, Sauber were taking small steps.

Nevertheless, Pascal didn't give up and was fully focused on getting the maximum from what he had at his disposal. Following a dip in form at the start of the second half of the season, the team gained some ground later in the year, but by that time, it was too late.

Pascal wasn't as happy with the handling of the car in the last part of the year, but still out-qualified Ericsson 11 times and finished ahead seven times over the course of the season. He also capped off the season with a feisty, memorable charge in Abu Dhabi.

It's easy to underrate his year-long performance, with only five points to his name, but Pascal did a superb job with the equipment at his disposal. 

Esteban Ocon

While most of the attention was on the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the field, the bout between the Force India drivers was one of the best on track. Sergio Pérez and Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon were very evenly matched but, at times, got a little too close for comfort for our friends over at Force India.

While this was Esteban's first full season in F1, he was no stranger to the paddock after completing half a year with Manor in 2016 alongside fellow Mercedes junior Pascal. So, it's unsurprising that he turned up the heat on team-mate Pérez once F1 returned to tracks he was familiar with.

He got off to a steady start with three consecutive 10th place finishes, before seventh and a fantastic fifth in Russia and Spain. Monaco was one of two races that he failed to score at, but he bounced back with a pair of sixth places in Canada and Azerbaijan. Not a bad start to the season, at all!

Sixth in Baku was a decent result but Esteban was left wanting more, after early contact with team-mate Pérez compromised both of their races and denied them a stronger result. It was the first sign of the inter-team Force India battle reaching boiling point.

The run of points continued all the way through to Brazil, featuring brilliant drives to sixth in Italy, Japan and the USA, before a stunning fifth-place in Mexico - of course, benefitting from the early drama on the first lap.

He was not only on an impressive run of points finishes, but in Austin broke a new record for the most consecutive race finishes since debuting in F1. The previous record-holder was Max Chilton, and the remarkable record helped Esteban pick up the nickname 'Oconsistency' by some.

He extended that milestone further in Mexico, but it all came to an abrupt end in Brazil when he was taken out by Romain Grosjean on the opening lap. "I'm not happy to retire from the race," he said, afterwards. "I knew this day would come at some stage, but I wasn't expecting it to be today. It's a shame because it has been three years since my last retirement in single-seaters [in 2014]. There was nothing I could do.

Thankfully, the season didn't end there and he concluded 2017 with eighth place in Abu Dhabi. It proved to be an outstanding first full campaign in F1 for Esteban. He took the fight to Pérez and finished just 13 points behind his team-mate, despite his limited experience.

It was a mature season from Esteban and he'll be hoping to keep the momentum going in 2018. 

George Russell

Following on from his second season in European Formula 3, George caught the eyes of the Silver Arrows and joined the team mid-way through January as a Junior Driver. The Brit also announced his move to the GP3 Series with front-runners ART and was one of the clear title favourites heading into the campaign.

George started the season on the right foot by topping the opening day of pre-season testing, but the first round didn't quite go to plan, with fourth and fifth places in the two races. But, when you consider that was one of the worst weekends of his entire season, it hits home just how impressive a year the young Brit had.

George bounced back from his podium-less Barcelona weekend with one win apiece in Austria and on home soil at Silverstone, but he failed to score at all in Hungary. He didn't start the first race and finished 11th in the second, yet still had a nine-point lead in the Championship.

It wasn't home time just yet for George, though, with his first Mercedes Formula One test to complete - sampling the W08 for two days at the Hungaroring. "I was very pleased with the test," he said. "It's obviously extremely tough driving the 2017 car. I was playing it safe because I knew I had two days in the car with lots of mileage planned. I wanted to do a good job for the team and tick of all of their test items. We came away from this test learning a lot."

The summer break was the perfect time to reflect on the first half of the season and he returned to the track with a bang at Spa-Francorchamps, taking victory in the first race and crossing the line as runner-up in the second.

Next up was a chaotic weekend at Monza. The first race was pushed back to Sunday morning due to heavy rain pushing back F1 qualifying on Saturday, and the second race was cancelled as a result. It was a typically chaotic feeder series race, but George kept his cool out front to take a controlled victory.

Second and fourth at Jerez was enough for George to wrap up the GP3 title with two races to spare, and he rounded off the year with the exact same result in Abu Dhabi - finishing 79 points clear of his nearest rival, a massive and almost unheard of advantage in a feeder category.

His end to the season also featured a rather significant milestone; his first laps in an F1 car at a race weekend. George had two FP1 outings with Force India in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, placing 12th and 11th. What a way to sign off the season!

The 19-year-old is now gearing up to take the next step on the feeder series ladder and has his sights firmly set on adding more silverware to his collection.

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