16 March 2016
A Preview of the 2016 Formula 1 Season
With winter testing done and dusted, the eyes of the Formula 1 world are firmly fixed on the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. The off-season has been quintessentially Formula 1, full of the controversy, confusion and uncertainty that we’ve all grown used to. The sport is at a strange crossroads, where one team’s and one driver’s, dominance has led some to fear a lack of excitement while at the same time the tragic loss of another Formula 1 driver has prompted calls for increasing driver safety.
After a winter of introspection, the drivers, teams and fans will be champing at the bit for the real business to get underway.
Winter Testing – What did we learn?
1. Mercedes are favourites, but Ferrari are a genuine challenge. The Mercedes car has been so reliable in testing that they’ve racked up lap after lap after lap. Lewis Hamilton, for one, cannot wait to get started with the racing as he’s been, quite frankly, bored. But Mercedes can’t afford to rest on their laurels as Ferrari have been extremely quick. Quickest, in fact, on 5 of the 8 days of testing. So, in Nico Rosberg’s words, heading into the Australian Grand Prix “we don’t know if we’re in front or behind”.
2. McLaren have made huge progress. It is too much to expect a genuine challenge from McLaren given their engine problems last year, but it is more than likely they’ll get some drivers on the podium. Their two hugely experienced former World Champion drivers, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, both heaped praise on their team and their Honda engine partners and expect to be, if not at the front of the grid, at least, the front of the middle.
3. Safety is not always pretty or popular. Testing in Barcelona saw drivers trying out the new ‘halo’ device, which is fitted onto the cockpit above the driver’s head to provide added protection. Though only a prototype, some drivers voiced their disgust at the look of the halo, questioning whether it changed the very character of Formula 1 as an ‘open-cockpit’ sport. But with safety a key topic after the deaths of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson, it is due to be fitted to F1 cars in some form at the start of 2017.
4. Kimi Raikkonen is always “OK”. Rudyard Kipling’s If reminds us to treat the twin imposters of triumph and disaster just the same, and he may have found a personification of this ideal in the form of Kimi Raikkonen. The cold, unflustered Finn was “OK” after his huge crash at Silverstone in 2014 and “OK” when he won the world title. How was the view from his cockpit when he tested the halo device mentioned above? “OK”.
Predictions for 2016
1. We’ll start in Confusion. Among the rule changes designed to make the sport more exciting is an adjustment to qualifying, where in all 3 sessions, at 90-second intervals, the slowest drivers will be eliminated. This change was announced, then retracted as the software was not up to speed, but now it has been re-implemented. For now. Whether we’ll see it in Australia is anyone’s guess!
2. Ferrari are Back. We saw glimpses of improvement at Ferrari in 2015 and winter testing has proven that they are quick. When Lewis Hamilton glances in his mirrors he may well see the red nose-cone of Vettel or Raikkonen rather than his partner’s Mercedes. This prospect is hugely exciting: four of the best drivers on the grid going wheel-to-wheel in very competitive cars. That is what Formula 1 is about.
3. Hamilton’s Year, but down to the wire. No-one wants a repeat of 2015 when Lewis had the title wrapped up in September and allowed his partner to cruise to 3 dead-rubber victories at the end of the season. Fortunately, the renewed and re-invigorated challenge from Ferrari is a cause for genuine excitement. Where 2015 was a procession to the title with a bit of a tiff between stable mates to keep things interesting, 2016 should be a hard-fought, adrenalin-fuelled, hybrid-busting battle of at least 4 cars with a real chance. Ultimately, the most naturally gifted driver on the grid will be inspired to his 4th World Championship at the season-ender in Abu Dhabi with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari nipping at his wheels.
That would be a victory, for Hamilton and the sport, to celebrate.
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