When the checkered flag flew at Abu Dhabi just a few short months ago, for the first time in my life I was happy to see a season come to an end. Mercedes were celebrating their 32nd win over the past 38 grands prix and F1 had never been more processional or predictable. Only Ricciardo with 3 wins in 2014 and Vettel with 3 in 2015 have provided any sort of resistance to the Silver Arrows 1.6 litre, V-6 turbocharged hybrid parade. It’s an extremely complicated formula, one that an automotive engineer must find fascinating, but for the common fan who wants to see a fight on the track, the past two seasons have been a letdown. Seriously, enough with this formula! Quiet F1 cars that are aerodynamically unable to follow each other, where the goal of the driver is to save fuel, tires and energy should be crushed into a large cube and recycled immediately. Shame on you FIA. This is a sport that is supposed to evoke passion and stir the soul. Senna, Schumacher, Mansell, Ferrari, Villeneuve, Monza, V-12’s screaming, impossibly late breaking, mind numbing acceleration, adrenaline, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Somehow, sadly, F1 seems to have moved away from it’s core. I get it, the world moves on, interests change and a business has to keep up with the times or face extinction, but I feel like a quiet F1 car being raced at 8/10’s has been stripped of it’s identity and may as well be an LMP1 sportscar. Have you ever punched the air and let out a battle cry at the sight of an Audi quietly whooshing past? Neither have I.
But it’s Spring again and optimism abounds. Here is my worst case/best case scenarios for F1 2016.
Let’s start with the negative: The worst case scenario is simple, it’s 2015 all over again. Mercedes domination, Nico unable to mount a challenge to Lewis, Vettel playing the lone role of occasional spoiler, Kimi in the woods (or in the bar), Williams and Red Bull unable to challenge Ferrari, Renault down on power, McLaren Honda bringing up the rear. Repeat- Fernando Alonso in a McLaren Honda bringing up the rear! That almost feels difficult to type and makes me nostalgic for the short lived ‘94 McLaren Peugeot partnership. There’s also the little issue with money, or lack thereof, and the threat of Sauber and Force India going the way of Simtek and Forti Corse is a very real possibility. And with wholesale changes coming again in 2017, we may see a freeze on development after Barcelona in May and be stuck for the remainder of the year with a spaced out field.
Let’s be real here, Mercedes are going to win the Constructors and Drivers championships again but maybe, just maybe, Nico will ride his three straight win momentum into the new year and he will take the fight to Lewis all the way to the finale. And maybe Ferrari really has an engine equal to Mercedes and a chassis so kind to it’s tires that Vettel becomes a legit rival and ups his win tally to 5 and occasionally splits the podium on merit. And if Ferrari have dialed out their 2015 understeer woes and give Kimi a car where he can say, “Don’t talk to me I know what I’m doing,” the Finn may just be able to keep Vettel within in sights and pounce when there are issues. That is my hope for the front.
Where I really think we may see an improved show is in the four team battle for 3rd in the constructors championship. This is now year three with essentially the same rules and regulations, so Williams, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Force India have been fine tuning their package and improving upon their weaknesses now for some time and my hope is that they start the new year on equal footing. Think about it, with the exception of Old Man Massa, Bottas, Ricciardo, Kyvat, Max, Sainz Jr, Perez and Hulkenberg will be fighting for 5th in the championship and more importantly, Kimi’s seat at Ferrari. The 21 race audition to partner Sebastian at Ferrari in 2017 will be fierce and should provide some great racing throughout the season.
In the fight for P13, I have faith that Renault and Magnussen in particular will be up to the task and McLaren, Sauber and occasionally American newcomers Haas with their 2016 Ferrari powerplant will be mixing it up and fighting for the occasional point or two. If McLaren-Honda find a way to improve and graduate into the pack above, then we are in really solid shape.
And Manor… Yes even Manor is cutting the gap to the front and it will be interesting to see if Mercedes protege and reigning DTM champion, Pascal Wehrlein, looks like the next big thing.
What is New:
Pirelli will now have 5 compounds of rubber, Ultra Soft, Super Soft, Soft, Medium and Hard, that they will be bringing into the mix. Drivers will have to select the 3 compounds that they want to use for a race weekend weeks in advance so there is the possibility for varying strategies, at least in the beginning before everything is worked out to a science. There may also be more pit stops in the cards. What will undoubtedly be a crucial decision made by brilliant engineers sounds to me like ……..wait for it……..toilet paper shopping at the local mart. Hmm let’s see, ultra soft, super soft or soft?
Pit to driver radio communication has been restricted in an attempt to put more control into the hands of the driver. I love this one. Citing article 20.1 of the sporting regulations, the FIA has drawn up a 32-point list of permitted transmissions from pit to car. The thought of Toto Wolff and Christian Horner looking over their allowed 32 point list during a race is comical. And how is the FIA going to police this? “Ah Christian, yeah, we have you on tape adding the words Eagle Nine to sentence number 18 on your last call so we are going to have to bring Daniel in for a 10 second stop and go.” Only in F1. And I can guarantee you that an allowed transmission will become codeword for “Multi 21 Seb.”
Knock out qualifying now has more knocking out. The basic format of three sessions over the course of an hour remains, but now in the second half of each segment, a car will be knocked out at 90-second intervals. This sounds fast and furious but I’m hoping the TV producers will be able to find the cars on the knockout line letting it all hang out to advance. And let’s hope the guy most recently knocked out won’t be cruising back to the pits on the racing line as the next guys are going flat out. Sounds chaotic and I can’t wait to see this at Monaco.
Baku, Azerbaijan is on the calendar! In what looks to be a made for TV race where they are only building seating for a few thousand cronies of Bernie, F1 will be racing down Baku Blvd on a track designed by who else, Herman Tilke. I’m sure it will look cool on TV with the Caspian Sea as a nice backdrop and we will get to see scantily clad women in hot tubs just yards from the track on yachts with names like The Jolly Oiler, but come on now, let’s get a GP back in France.
There are now 21 races! This almost seems like over-saturation to me. My fear is it will start to feel like Nascar where the driver says things like, “Well the 24 car was about a 9th place car today so we’ll just move on to the next one.” A Grand Prix used to feel like a rare and wonderful thing, where one bad race could make or break a championship, and I fear that the sense of urgency derived from a 16-18 race calendar may vanish. Plus how am I supposed to explain to my wife that I now have to watch 21 GP’s on Sunday and Qualifying on Saturday?
The yellow cars are back. After stepping into the shadows as an engine supplier over the past 5 years, Renault are back as a full blown factory effort after purchasing the Lotus team. This year will likely be low profile season as they gear up for 2017, but the French team has a history of winning and will hopefully be giving Baby Dietrich and his Red Bull team the bird soon enough. And for the good of the sport, let’s hope they can find the next Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. The motorsports world is a better place with flamboyant Frenchmen driving F1 cars.
The Americans Are Coming! I’m not sure how many card carrying Americans are actually a part of the new Haas F1 team, but the team is backed by American businessman Gene Haas and based in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Seldom does a first year team ever have any success in F1, but Haas has gone the practical route by having Dallara design the chassis and integrating it with a 2016 Ferrari powerplant. On the driver front, the team pulled off a coup by hiring the experienced and fast Romain Grosjean and pairing him with Esteban Gutierrez. My hope is in addition to scoring a world championship point in year one, they employ a crew of local North Carolina Good ‘Ol Boys to work as tire changers with the flyaway race team. The F1 pit lane could use a little dose of redneck to spice up the show.
I feel like the pecking order this year is pretty predictable with Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams leading the way, but the one dark-horse is Toro Rosso. For some reason I’m getting some buzzard vibes that this team may break out big time. Their switch to a 2015 spec Ferrari engine came very late in game as far as designing the car for this year, but they racked up the second most miles to Mercedes in testing and I love that driver pairing. Max got all of the accolades last year and rightly so, but Sainz Jr is ridiculously fast and just needs more reliability. I won’t be surprised if either of these guys finish in the top 6 at Melbourne on pure pace.
One the subject of future stars, I’m expecting the Big 3 in 2022 to be Verstappen, Sainz and Van Doorne.
Where are the sponsors? I’m looking at the sidepods and wings of these cars and I’m scratching my head wondering how any of these teams are still in business? I know that the annual payout is substantial, ranging from $150 mil to the top teams down to $50 mil for the likes of Sauber, but where is the rest coming from? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I miss the days of big tobacco racing!
Will this be the final race in Austin? When new government officials were elected last year they slashed their annual Grand Prix subsidy from $25 mil to $19 mil, thus placing the future of the race in severe jeopardy. But hey, they are having a T-Swizzle (Taylor Swift for you unhip people) concert this year on the Saturday after qualifying so there will be plenty of people pouring through the gates.
Finally, is there a Ladbrokes over/under for how many races it will take before Alonso finally loses his mind? I’m predicting at Hockenheim in July, Alonso will pull the car off the track, chuck the wheel, slam his helmet against the sidepod, karate kick the engine cover and walk off into the forest never to be heard from again.
- Hamilton – 10 wins
- Rosberg – 6 wins
- Vettel – 4 wins
- Ricciardo – 1 win