As with 2014 and 2015, Mercedes are widely expected to be at the forefront of the title battle, with their engine standing stronger than the rest of the pack and the WR07 representing a quiet revolution of its predecessor. As testing has only just begun at the time of writing this, it’s hard to judge how competitive (or not) Mercedes will be compared to the rest, but they are already racking up a lot of laps and so it would appear reliability won’t be an issue. Mercedes play their cards close to their chests in testing, only hinting at their true form.
Their driver line-up is unchanged since 2013, with reigning champion Lewis Hamilton paired with Nico Rosberg. Their relationship has been strained in recent years, with the two battling unencumbered by other teams for the title, and should this continue for a third year, it might put one of them in jeopardy of losing their seat.
Ferrari’s offering for 2016 is the SF16-H, with a revised nose and paint job. Ferrari were Mercedes’ sternest challengers in 2015, pushing forward by quite a jump compared with 2014. In terms of resources, Ferrari are comparable to Mercedes and will have been drawing upon their considerable expertise and experience to close the gap in performance. It remains to be seen whether the gap will be closed or not, but if anyone can do so, it’s Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are once again the drivers for the team, and it’s my own personal view that Raikkonen (who has been roundly beaten by his teammates the past two years running) will call it quits if he is once again eclipsed by Vettel. Vettel impressed me last season, and with a car closer to the Mercedes, could be a serious challenger.
Like Mercedes, Williams have designed a car that’s externally very similar to its predecessor. The FW37 was quick in a straight line but struggled on slower circuits – Williams are hoping the FW38 will be a better all-rounder, as they aim to fight off challengers for 3rd spot in the constructor’s championship.
As with Mercedes and Ferrari, Williams are keeping faith with their drivers from the previous season – once again Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas will be at the wheel of the car.
It’s my own humble opinion that Williams need to aim for a win or two if they are to be considered as having made progress from last season. They have the engine power – can they produce a chassis to match?
The RB12 is sporting a somewhat bolder livery going into 2016, but whether Red Bull themselves are going to be on the front foot remains to be seen. 2015 was a miserable year for a team that has gotten used to running at the front, with no wins and few podiums to enjoy. A protracted and very public falling out with engine suppliers Renault saw Red Bull attempt to leave the French company – but after failing to secure either Mercedes or Ferrari engines, Red Bull are keeping with Renault after all – just in re-branded, Tag Heuer form.
Given that aerodynamically Red Bull are capable of producing superb chassis’, even a moderate improvement to the engine might yield dividends. With Renault having taken over Lotus and developing engines directly for their own team, that extra investment might help Red Bull as the season wears on. They too have retained last year’s duo – Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kyvat.
I quite like Force India. They are a team that have grown progressively stronger down the years, producing some good-looking cars and ones that have grown from middle pack runners to ones capable of snatching the occasional podium. The second half of 2015 was a strong one for them, and the team have developed the VJM09 off the back of that progress – like with nearly all the teams, their new car looks very similar to their old one.
Nico Hulkenberg stood out for them during the middle phase of 2015, but it was Sergio Perez who ultimately won the inter-team battle, finishing the year very strongly. The duo are retained for 2016 – who will push on ahead this time?
Now armed with Ferrari engines (albeit 2015 spec ones), Toro Rosso are in serious danger of outpacing their senior Red Bull team, at least in the early phases of 2016. The STR11 is a good-looking car, and Toro Rosso have plenty of experience within the team, married now to the more powerful Ferrari engine and two young, yet talented drivers who now know a little more about the tracks and the expectations of Formula 1. Max Verstappen may have taken most of the plaudits last year, but Carlos Sainz Jr acquitted himself extremely well, and but for some technical issues, might have run Verstappen a lot closer.
2016 will be a big test for both young men, as the honeymoon period is over – expectations will rise now.
Formerly the Lotus team, Renault’s buyout means they are back as a factory team, on the back of a difficult past couple of years. Under-powered engines have led to the Renault-powered cars struggling, especially in 2015 when reliability took a turn for the worse.
Renault are the first team on this list to have an all-new driver lineup – Romain Grosjean left to join the new Haas team, whilst Pastor Maldonaldo’s F1 career has, for the moment, come to an end. Jolyon Palmer is a newcomer to Formula 1, but spent last season testing for Lotus, and prior to that competed in GP2 (including winning the GP2 title in 2014). Kevin Magnussen raced for McLaren in 2014, and thus is no stranger to the genre.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Renault. The engine is not going to offer up much raw power to begin with, and so it will be down to the car to do most of the work.
Sauber have been the last team to turn up to testing, having delayed the C35. 2015 wasn’t great for them – they were ahead only of McLaren and Manor – and so they will be hoping for better things from 2016. Their car is, like most, similar to what they offered up in 2015, though the nose appears to have been revised a little more than other teams. Powered by Ferrari engines, they should have reasonable straight line speed, but I don’t think there’s much chance of revelations from Sauber this year.
Sauber have retained Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr for 2016.
The MRT05 is Manor’s new offering and it’s a bold statement. With a Mercedes engine and transmission developed by Williams, along with an up-to-date design, Manor are determined to move up the pack. Having re-used their 2014 car in 2015, 2016 should be a very different year for them. With new drivers (Pascal Wehrlein, formerly Mercedes’ test driver, and Rio Haryanto, who I have never heard of), Manor might creep up the pecking order this season.
They can’t endure another season of pure misery, can they? McLaren’s second year of their renewed partnership with Honda surely cannot be as bad?
With the MP4-31 McLaren appear to have once again built a chassis that nails the aero aspects of the car. Honda have voiced optimistic thoughts that the engine will be better than last year, though this has not been apparent from testing (so far). Fernando Alonso and Jensen Button are two experienced, talented champions who will almost certainly lose patience if they endure a second season of breakdowns and running toward the back of the field, so McLaren must show progress if they are to hold onto their men.
2016 welcomes a completely new team to the grid – Haas. The newcomers have received a great deal of assistance from Ferrari, to the extent that the rules have been rewritten to prevent such close collaborations in the future.
It’s virtually impossible to gauge how well Haas will do in their first season. They are targeting points, and this is certainly possible – but it is too early to tell what is a realistic goal for them. The VF-16 will be raced by Romain Grosjean (formerly of Lotus) and former Sauber driver Esteban Gutiérrez, so they are not without racing experience.
So there you have it, the completely preview of the 2016 F1 season! I hope you enjoy following the season with me!