Well, we are three races in to the 2016 Formula 1 season – what have we learned?
Is it Rosberg’s Year?
A strong start to the season has seen Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg win all three rounds of the championship thus far, seeing him open up a 36-point lead over teammate Lewis Hamilton. Such a gap is far from insurmountable (especially with 18 races still to go), but Rosberg will be quietly very happy with how the dice have fallen so far. Strategic errors from Ferrari and a poor start from Hamilton handed him victory in Australia, whilst another poor start from Hamilton in Bahrain and a pre-race retirement for Sebastian Vettel paved the way for an easy win in the desert.
Most recently in China, Hamilton suffered a power failure to prevent him from even taking part in qualifying, whilst a first-lap tangle between the Ferraris kept them out of the picture, allowing Rosberg to ease to win number three. The fates have been kind to him – can he maintain his performances once the opposition sort themselves out?
Whilst Hamilton has put his car on pole position in two of the three races so far, on both occasions he failed to make the most of his position, starting poorly and allowing himself to be swamped. In Australia he was able to recover to second place by virtue of Ferrari’s tactical errors, whilst in Bahrain he took damage to his car at the first corner that compromised his pace (he would still manage to finish third). The error in Bahrain led to him being given a five-place grid penalty for China (that became immaterial given the power failure that put him at the back), but the sloppy starts – are they maybe the result of complacency? I can’t shake the impression that Hamilton has not yet brought his A-game to the scene – he needs to start doing so if he is challenge successfully for the title.
Ferrari Fluff their Lines
In Australia both Ferraris jumped both Mercedes at the start and looked good for a win, but a retirement for Kimi Raikkonen and the wrong tyre choices for Vettel gifted a one-two finish for Mercedes. Spectacular plumes of smoke from the rear of Vettel’s Ferrari on the formation lap in Bahrain ruined any chance he had of mounting a challenge there, and the coming together between Vettel and Raikkonen on the first lap in China prevented either of them threatening Rosberg.
Ferrari may yet have the pace to push and hassle and annoy Mercedes. They might have been a lot closer in qualifying in China but for little mistakes, and their pace in Australia was good. However, the normally astute team need to shake off their early season chaos and produce the sort of composed team efforts that would see them hurt Mercedes.
Given how early into the season we are, it would be foolish to predict Rosberg will win the championship, but every driver to win the opening three rounds has gone on to win the title, so history in Rosberg’s favour. However, he enjoyed reasonable leads in 2014 on more than occasion, and still ended up being runner up that year, so he will know that it’s not as simple as that. The stage is set for a pulsating season.