With the first pre-season test mere days away, questions are being asked about the 2016 season. Specifically, what exactly do we have to look forward to? Of course we’ll know more after pre-season testing, but here are a few things we suspect might happen in 2016…
A closer title fight
2015 was once again completely dominated by the Mercedes team, who won both the Drivers and Constructors championships. Between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg the team won 16 of the 19 races, 12 of which were 1-2 finishes. Hamilton took the Drivers title, controlling the top of the points table since the first race of the year, and managing to secure his third world title with three races to spare. Rosberg then fought back, and in the last three races went on to take all three victories. Pundits of the sport have suggested that maybe Hamilton took it easy in the last couple of races, seeing as he already had the championship wrapped up. However, his attitude in Mexico in particular paints a different picture. He directly ignored a team order in an attempt to beat Rosberg. Truly, if Hamilton was relaxing, losing out to his team mate shouldn’t have riled him up as much as it did. As well as this, the fight between the Mercedes and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was closer than many expected. The newfound form of Ferrari saw the team take chances to capitalise on Mercedes poor showings. This can be seen most clearly in Singapore, when the team took the only non-Mercedes pole of the year and their third victory. Beating the Mercedes team who seemed to be nowhere that weekend. It’s moments like this that have prompted many to believe that the 2016 title fight will be a lot closer. So what are the chances of a three-way fight between Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel?
Manor finding form
Following the departure of Manor President Graeme Lowdon and Team Principal John Booth, the Manor team have spent the winter rebuilding their team back up from within. And it now looks as if the team, who this time last year were on the brink of destruction, may be about to shake up and target the midfield as well as much needed points. It was announced at the end of last season the team would be running Mercedes engines in 2016. On top of this the team are also receiving gearboxes from the Williams F1 team. Throughout the winter Manor have been hiring some big names for roles within the team. Dave Ryan, is now their racing director, Nikolas Tombazis is the chief aerodynamicist, and Pat Fry is the engineering consultant. They have also hired two promising rookies for the season ahead. Current DTM champion and former Mercedes reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein, and three time GP2 race winner Rio Haryanto. With new engines, gearboxes, drivers, and personnel could 2016 be the season Manor stop being seen as a team who makes up the numbers, and starts being seen as a contender for points?
A McLaren resurgence
2015 was a season to forget for McLaren. And if they haven’t done so already, I suggest the team cover the MP4-30 in petrol, light a match, and torch that car. 12 retirements, two non-starts, and in one weekend alone the team picked up 105-grid place penalties between the two cars. Watching Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, two former world champions, trail around at the back of the grid with their “GP2 engines” has been a tough sight for any fan to see. With just 27 points the team finished second from last in the constructors. A fifth place in a topsy-turvy Hungarian Grand Prix from Alonso was their best result. However, the chatter coming out of McLaren over the winter seems to be positive. The team have been quick to play down the advancements on the engines. But it is clear the rate of development on the engine could help them gain the extra two to two-and-a-half seconds per lap they have been targeting, according to Alonso. Performance is key, but Honda also need to work on the reliability of the engine. Though it is clear both Honda and McLaren do not want a repeat of their ninth place constructors finish. We will of course know more after the first of the pre-season tests. But could this be the sign that the McLaren Honda is turning a corner this season?
Rookie teams and drivers dazzling us
Three racing rookies will be making their F1 debut in Australia. Renault driver Jolyon Palmer, and Manor drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto will be taking to the track for their first full F1 weekend. And with competition for a seat fierce on the grid, inspect the rookies to be fighting to show they are worthy of their seat. As well as the rookie driver’s, new team to the grid Haas will be looking for a good result from their first season. Make no mistakes, Haas appear to be the real deal. The team have worked incredibly closely with Ferrari, leading many to call them a Ferrari B-team. A rumour only solidified when they announce their second driver alongside Romain Grosjean, would be none other than Ferrari reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez. Regardless Haas have brought as many parts as they legally can from Ferrari, which should provide them with a good starting base for development for the season ahead. So could Haas provide one of the biggest upsets of the season in terms of scoring points?
Verstappen to take it to the ‘Max’
I’m so sorry for the pun. But it’s true. One of the biggest interests in 2015 was the Toro Rosso talent of Max Verstappen. Critics were quick to question promoting the then 17-year-old, to a full time racing positon for 2015. However, it’s fair to say a year on those critics are now singing their praises for him. Verstappen went onto make history as the youngest driver to ever start a Grand Prix when he made his debut at the season opener in Australia. Since that race he has shown his talent, particularly in regards to overtaking. With daring overtakes, brave decisions, and a good run of points to show for it. Verstappen has been a dream to watch with two 4th place finishes in Hungary and the USA, as well as consistent points scoring throughout. One of the numerous awards he picked up this year was “Action of the Year” at the FIA prize giving ceremony in December, for his move on Felipe Nasr through the Blanchimont corner at the Belgian Grand Prix. For 2016 Verstappen will have a year of F1 experience under his belt, which will surely help him iron out the very few rookie mistakes he made last year. On top of this Toro Rosso have Ferrari engines in the back of their cars this year rather than the Renault engines of last year. The question is, can Verstappen use this new found power and his overtaking skills to possibly score his debut podium this season?
New rules on tyres
2016 sees a host of new tyre rules being brought in to spice up the racing. Last season, teams were given two compounds for a race weekend, both of which had to be used during the race. Now, teams will have three compounds available to them each weekend. Pirelli will decide ahead of the race which compounds will be available to the teams. They will also nominate two mandatory compounds for the race itself. These can be any of the three compounds chosen for the weekend. At least two of these mandatory compounds must be used during the race, but the team can choose which ones they wish to use. (If you wish to know more about the new tyre rules you can find an article about it here.) Also new for 2016 will be the purple marked ‘Ultrasoft’ tyre. The hope is the mixed up compounds will add a bit of diversity in the strategies. Especially in the midfield, where points will be seriously up for grabs.
And perhaps the one we’re waiting with bated breath over. Which ‘gate’ will rule 2016?
Spygate, Liegate, Crashgate, Tyregate, Hatgate, F1 sure loves a good ‘gate.’ An over the years it seems to have become harder to separate the politics from the racing. So the burning question, which ‘gate’ will come up this year? Top suggestion in the office, Whinegate: Bernie will bring in a rule that’ll see Constructor’s points docked from drivers and teams who whine about the current state of F1. Obviously that last one is a joke.
But who knows, anything could be possible in F1 in 2016.
Feature Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2015_Malaysian_GP_opening_lap.jpg