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F1 2016 Mid Season Report

2016 has seen plenty of action, controversy, and overtakes galore. With 12 races down there’s another 9 races to go in the longest season in F1 history. If you’re a little rusty after summer break about the state of play going into the second half of the season fear not. Overtake has put together a comprehensive team by team half term report for you to read before the second half of the season gets underway in Belgium tomorrow.

Mercedes

Once again Mercedes has dominated the 2016 season as they have done the last two seasons. Winning 11 of the 12 races so far, scoring 11 poles, and 16 podiums between their two drivers so far this season. Lewis Hamilton has mounted an impressive fight back on team mate Nico Rosberg for control of the drivers’ championship, and that ballet looks set to rumble on into the second half of the season as they are both gunning for that title of world champion. But it has to be said, it is not quite the flawless performance we saw from the team last season. The team haven’t been as dominant this season as they were in 2015 or 14. In 2015 the Mercedes duo had 6 1-2 finishes from just 10 races. In 2016 they’ve only had three 1-2 finished, and yet they’ve even had an extra two races to improve on their 6 from last year. It’s also fair to say the team have lucked into a few of their victory due to other teams bad strategy calls, most notably in Australian and Canada where Ferrari’s bad calls cost them. During Pre-Season testing the team looked bulletproof in terms of reliability. But this invincible image has slowly unravelled over the first half of the season, with Hamilton bearing the brunt of the bad reliability. These faults have highlighted the second key area of weakness for the Mercedes, the car is not as dominant in the pack. Mercedes expect their car to be running at the front in clean air, not in the turbulent air of the chasing pack. In the pack the car cannot show what it’s capable. Mediocre performances from Rosberg in Monaco and Canada highlighted the issues of the Mercedes in the pack. And if reliability continues to be an issue they may need to look into improving their car in the pack. By far though the biggest criticism of Mercedes so far this season has been their driver management, or lack of in some cases. Three incidents in five races have arguably cost the team two 1-2 finishes, and caused a double DNF for them as well in Spain. Throughout the team’s domination in the hybrid era it’s been clear their drivers haven’t gotten along, and at times the team has needed to intervene on occasion. But it has got to the extreme now where they are clashing way too often and are costing the team good points. Toto Wolff has explained their drivers have been briefed about the rules of engagement and that they are on their last warnings. But if the team really want something to improve on for the second half of the season, driver management is a key area, time to go to a teamwork workshop day guys.

Red Bull

It’s fair to say Red Bull are back. After a floundering season last year where they finished 4th in constructors, they now sit pretty in 2nd with the only other victory and pole position of the season so far. As well as 7 podium finishes compared to just two they had this time last year. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have put in some standout performances this half of the season. The team is not beyond simple mistakes though. A delay in Ricciardo’s tyres in Monaco arguably cost the team a victory at the most prestigious event of the season. But by far the biggest controversy surrounding them was their driver line up swap. At the Chinese GP Daniil Kvyat made a daring overtake on the Ferrari’s that would ultimately secure him a podium finish. Fast forward one race and after taking out Sebastian Vettel and the Russian GP he was unceremoniously demoted to Toro Rosso in favour of Max Verstappen, who then went on to win the Spanish GP. He has produced some good results, so does that justify Red Bulls decision? The Red Bull young driver program is ruthless in its approach to young drivers and racing. If you don’t perform, you’re gone. Kvyat arguably didn’t get the chance to show off his talent. But the result Verstappen has brought in can’t be overlooked either. The reality is Red Bull are in a fight for 2nd in the championship, they need two drivers to bring in the results. There really isn’t the time right now to hold the driver’s hand and hope they get the results. For the rest of the season Red Bull need to look at staying ahead of Ferrari in the championship by carrying on their form. Currently they have a slim advantage over Ferrari. But that can all change in just a race or two.

Ferrari

Oh Ferrari, where did it all go wrong? Pre-Season testing looked so promising. They were regularly topping the timesheets and seemed up for the fight with Mercedes. This time in 2015 they’d won 2 races. This season they’ve failed to even win a race so far. The team seems to be in a state of disarray, especially as the season has progressed onwards. Drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have done their best, but things have been working against them in terms of reliability. While bad strategy calls ultimately cost them possible victories in Australia and Canada. Things appear to have gotten so bad, Vettel has now taken the strategy into his own hands at several races. Most notably the European GP and the German GP when he ignored the calls to pit. It has lead to the question who is really calling the shots at Ferrari right now. And left many wondering if Vettel’s rather defiant approach to team orders is in the best interest of the team right now. The team have hoped to stabilise their second driver Raikkonen by resigning him for 2017, putting an early end to speculation this might be the Iceman’s last season in F1. But it’s clear he will now need to repay Ferrari by keeping the results coming in. For the rest of the season the team look to be in a fight with Red Bull, a team who despite their driver swap, seem to be very together right now. If Ferrari want to take the fight to Red Bull and sustain a battle for 2nd in the championship they really need to unite and stop this infighting amongst themselves. It’ll do them no good to have one driver fighting the team the way Vettel is doing right now. Stability is key for them. A lot of people have been speculating Ferrari may carry on their recent trend of firing the Team Principal after a bad season. But I would strongly discourage them from getting rid of Maurizio Arrivabene. They need stability during their rebuilding process, and that is something I feel Arrivabene strives at.

Williams

What can you say about Williams, in 2014 they were the team everyone said would take the fight to Mercedes for a win. In 2015, everyone said they were the team to take Ferrari on for a podium. Now in 2016, they don’t even seem to be capable of that, with just a lone third place from Canada. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa have got some decent results this year. They’ve just been flying under the radar quite a bit compared to the previous two seasons. The team have been making headlines for their sub two second pit stops, as well as an OBE for team boss Claire Williams. But otherwise it’s been an underwhelming season for the team. They’ve fallen back once again from the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull towards the clutches of Force India. The main issue was they failed to capitalise at the circuits that suited them such as Austria, Great Britain and Germany, which have all been happy hunting grounds for them in the past. It’s clear the team focus has shifted from this season to next season with the big rule changes for 2017. During the in season tests the team were running a modified rear wing to generate the same levels of downforce the car will be running with in 2017. What is important to remember is Williams are still in their rebuilding stages and are still trying to find their footing at the top of the grid again. They really do need to keep ahead of Force India in the second half of the season though. And more importantly finalise their drivers for next season if they’ve already shifted focus to that car. Felipe Massa’s seat is currently the fuel for many silly season rumours. Finalising their line up early like Ferrari have may bring the team some more stability. Which is what they need in their long slog to be the best again.

Force India

It’s been a huge turn around in form for the team since this time last year. In 2015 the team had failed to secure a podium and had a string on no points finishes to their name. Now they have two podiums and are sitting 8th and 10th in the drivers’ championship. It really is a tale of two drivers right now at the team. Sergio Perez seems to be enjoying something of a career resurgence. Everyone thought his best days of racing were behind him after he was dropped by McLaren after only one year. But he has proven time and again this season that he is not afraid to fight. Scoring two 3rd places for his efforts and once again being tipped as a driver with a career at a top team. As for team mate Nico Hulkenberg, it’s been a much quieter season. He’s not had the same success levels of his team mate due to a number of reasons. Once touted as the next big driver for a big team, especially after him Le Mans win last year, he’s had to deal with living in the shadow of his more successful team mate. That has to sting. With more podiums you would have thought Force India would be ahead of Williams in constructors. The issue is this, when they have a good race, it’s a very good race. When they have a bad race, it’s a shocking race Take Bahrain, they slid back through the field and finished well out of the points. They’ve been on the podium at this race before, but this year they simply lacked pace If they are serious about maximising their chances against Williams they need to reduce the number of bad weekends where they’re nowhere. And have more weekends where they scrap and beat their rivals.

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso have had one of the more unsettled seasons so far, but despite this hey continue to show improvement. Their drivers have been bringing home some good points and have put in some interesting performances. A switch from Renault power to a 2015 spec Ferrari engine seems to have helped them a bit in terms of performance. But there’s no getting away from the fact the team have been unsettled slightly by the drama surrounding Max Verstappen. The team lost Verstappen to Red Bull, but at the same time the team lost several key personnel on his side of the garage. Toro Rosso have kept quiet on why they left. But the suggestion is they were fired after a falling out with Verstappen’s father Jos. Daniil Kvyat has returned to the team, though he has looked very unsettled since his return, which is unsurprisingly really. For the second half of the season the team need to nurture Kvyat. The driver is clearly talented, and I’m sure Toro Rosso support and look after Kvyat, he will reward them with some dependable points and solid results. The team have been able to keep a hold of young drivers Carlos Sainz Who continues to build on an impressive debut season. The big issue is going to be holding on to this talented young driver till a space opens up at Red Bull. And with both Ricciardo and Verstappen under mulita year contracts, Sainz may get board of the midfield, and see what the other top teams can offer him. Whatever happens Toro Rosso need to stay cool and keep producing good, solid results in their battle to stay ahead of McLaren in the constructors.

McLaren

I think I speak for a lot of McLaren fans when I say this time last year all I really wanted to do was torch the car. So it has been refreshing to see the improvement the team has made. For the first time since the McLaren Honda partnership started the car was able to get inside the top 10 in qualifying. Even getting as high as a P3 start for Jenson Button in the changeable conditions of the qualifying for Austria. The team haven’t been without their issues as once again reliability needs to be worked on, following several failures of key engines components. However, the team have done well to come back from the dreadful season in 2015, and the rather dramatic start to the 2016. Where drive Fernando Alonso fractured his ribs at a huge crash in the season opener in Australia. He had to sit out the Bahrain GP leaving McLaren young driver Stoffel Vandoorne to drive the car. Vandoorne showed why he is a talent of the future by securing the first point for McLaren that season. Following on from this both Button and Alonso have scored good points. The team now need to focus on making the next big jump to get them ahead of Toro Rosso in the constructors, and closer to Force India.

Haas F1

There was a lot of hype and controversy surrounding the American team as they came to the grid. With many accusing them of being a Ferrari B team. Many seemed to question whether the team would be able to hold their own. But as Romain Grosjean brought home the car in 6th and 5th in the first two races, many suddenly started saying this was the dream debut. And slated the team as the surprise threat for points in 2016. Sadly, for Haas the dream seems to have turned into a nightmare, as what has followed is only two low scoring points positions and a lot of pain for the new team. They really have had a tough start to the season, with a baffling lack of pace from China onwards. As well as a few DNF’s for good measure. A reoccurring failure of their front wing and nose mounting pillars has been something we saw in pre-season that’s followed them to the races. The key thing for Haas is to remain calm right now. They are simply going through the teething troubles all young teams go through when they come to the grid. They cannot let something like that stop them, they need to find solutions and fix it. The other key thing they need to do right now is support their drivers, and assure them that they are there for them right now as they fix these issues. On the whole it’s been a positive start for the team. They just need some more solid results to add to their base they have already.

Renault

With a new name, new look, and new driver line up, you would have thought Renault may be on the way up. Alas this isn’t the case for the Renault team. They’ve had a very difficult start to the season, with just a handful of points from Kevin Magnussen to show for their efforts. And a pointless season so far from Jolyon Palmer. There are two big issues regarding the car right now. Firstly, due to the financial situation of Lotus last season, development on this year’s car would have stopped early on if it even started. And because Renault didn’t announce the take over till very late on in the season there really wasn’t the time to catch up with the development of the car for this season. The other big issue was the Lotus car was built around a Mercedes engine, not a Renault one It’s not as easy as simply bolting in a new engine to the car, there’s a lot of complex issues switching the engines. These two major reasons could be used to explain why the team are much slower this season. The team likely have already switched focus to the 2017 car, like Williams, seeing it as their best chance to leapfrog the teams. Drivers wise Magnussen has shown some promise following a year out of the sport. However, Jolyon Palmer has failed to really deliver a great performance so far. The focus on the second half of the season for the team should be getting the performances out of their drivers. While Jolyon really needs to show he’s worth the chance the team took on him.

Manor

In my things to look out for in 2016 report I highlighted Manor as a team on a mission to improve. And I suspected they would be challenging for and secure at least a point. And I do love it when I’m proven right. The team added to their points Jules Bianchi scored in Monaco 2014, with Pascal Wehrlein picking up a point for the team in Austria. The team have shown an improvement in form the season and wholly deserve that point for the hard work they’ve put in. Wehrlein has put in some impressive performances to show he is worth the hype around him. Team mate Rio Haryanto cannot be forgotten in all of this as well though. It’s hard to prove yourself when your running around towards the back of the grid. But he put in some solid performances. However, due to finance issues he will be replaced with the second Mercedes young driver, Esteban Ocon. Ocon is not as heavily rated as Wehrlein, but he’s had some experience driving test sessions for Renault this season. The big thing for the team now will be controlling their drivers. Both will want to show Mercedes what they can do. And unless Manor want a mini Mercedes problem on their hands, I suggest they start the team bonding trust exercises now.

Sauber

Oh Sauber, the years have not been kind to you. Once again the Swiss team finds themselves pointless and at the bottom of the constructor’s championship. The team has been dealing with some serious financial difficulties this season. With suggestion of wages being paid lake and a lack of funds to develop the car. They missed the first of the Pre-Season tests owing to the fact the car was simply not ready for testing. And the drivers have suggested there has been very little change in the car from last year. Both Marcus Ericson and Felipe Nasr have been trying. But they simply haven’t been able to produce a points finish with the car they have yet. But it appears there is light at the end of the tunnel as the team have announced a new financial backer. The team now needs to refocus and draw a line under the last chapter They now need to start developing their car in an attempt to get the points they need to overtake Manor in the constructors once again.

The second half of the season is all ready to begin tomorrow. Nine races and a straight race to the finish. There’s a chance for each team to make improvements, for drivers to show they’re worth a seat next season, and for what we can only hope is a nail biting finale to the drivers championship. And you can keep up to date with every drivers signing, every race, and any more F1 related news and debate at Overtake.

Feature Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2015_Malaysian_GP_opening_lap.jpg

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