I’m not going to lie. F1 2015 wasn’t a vintage year. Pass it on to history as a year of continued Mercedes domination. Of the last two seasons their achievement has been the most impressive thing. When Mercedes crafted the split turbo hybrid it was indeed a power unit fit for the silver arrows. That said, I think we move into 2016 hopeful of something different.
For starters we see the arrival of a new team. Romain Grosjean will be joined by Ferrari’s 2015 3rd driver, Estaban Gutiérrez in what both drivers must surely see as a chance to stake their claim on a 2017 Ferrari seat. I’ll put aside the fact that the team has quickly become one of my favourite F1 teams on social media, but they really have. (
TEAM AMERICA) HAAS stirred things up in Formula 1 long before they ever stepped foot in the paddock. Last year we saw Mercedes seek clarification from the FIA regarding bodywork design and wind tunnel testing by incoming teams.
The inference being that Ferrari could gain an advantage, but it hints at the level of cooperation between Ferrari and HAAS, the latter of which will use an extensive amount of listed parts from the former. If the two look similar this year it will be because a lot of the parts on both cars are effectively the same. Such background might go a long way to explaining some of the reasoning behind Manor getting a 2016 supply of Mercedes engines, along with 2015 Mercedes DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein.
Maybe the white flash on the Ferrari is a throwback to the last time Dallara and Ferrari worked together in F1 with the pair combining in ’92, certainly HAAS will be hoping for better things than the last time Dallara were in Formula 1, 2010 with HRT. For those, like me that had hoped for more colour on the grid you’ll be disappointed. HAAS Automation’s colours are grey and black. Flashes of red is as good as it gets, though the volume seems to have been turned up. The VF-16. Their “Very First” one.
Renault very late in the day last season decided to go all in rather than call it a day. Thankfully that means Lotus has now become Renault Sport F1 and the great people that worked wonders over the last few years with the threat of closure hanging over them now have a fully committed manufacturer behind them.
Good news too for Renault in that the compromise of adapting a chassis that was in the early stages of Mercedes based design might be offset with the knowledge gathered at Lotus over the last season, with a customer engine. If Renault are going to learn where they are going wrong then, if they finance it right, there is no better place to do so. We didn’t see a new car at the launch, and it would appear the livery is for testing only, but there are a lot of very clever people at Enstone. Joining them will be two new drivers. Kevin Magnussen gets a deserved return after being unceremoniously dumped by McLaren, replacing Maldonado after PDVSA funding appeared to dry up. 2014 GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer takes the other seat following the departure of Romain Grosjean to HAAS.
In all the changes it’s good to see “Lotus Twitter Guy” seems to have kept his job and he’s responsible for my favourite Anti launch amid all the engine start up teasers:
— Renault Sport F1 (@RenaultSportF1) February 19, 2016
Keeping on a Renault theme, The STR v Red Bull battle will be interesting to follow as the season progresses, especially for those looking to benchmark Renault’s engine development. Albeit in this case badged TAG HEUER. Far from the STR duo of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz having a difficult second season, this could be an opportunity for the B Team to cause Red Bull some embarrassment if the 2015 Ferrari engine is still ahead of Renault’s early developments in 2016. STR will launch at the circuit prior to testing. We’ve already seen the impact of the Renault/ Red Bull fallout as Red Bull returns to a predominantly blue (matte) livery now that Infiniti (Renault) have left. The pressure will be on this year and nowhere more so than the seats of Ricciaro and Kvyat.
Ultimately though if F1 is to truly get its mojo back in 2016 then what it needs is a title fight. What we don’t want is to be wondering did Hamilton switch off after wrapping everything up in the USGP, left with the what ifs of Rosberg taking 6 poles and 3 wins when it was too late. Even more so what F1 needs is for Ferrari to genuinely enter the fray and allow Vettel to challenge for the title. Arrivabene predicted 2 wins last season. Vettel took three. This year he’s said expectation from above is for a title fight. 10 years without a title is apparently unthinkable at Ferrari. There was a time though many would have said the same about Williams or McLaren.
Look at the detailing on the SF16-H and, more than a nostalgic nod to the past, it genuinely looks like a car that has the hallmark of James Ellison. It’s more sculpted than any of the most recent Ferraris we’ve seen. The engineers even talked of an overhaul on the architecture. The swooping look of the coke bottle rivals that of the “Size Zero” McLaren. The long nose is gone in favour of better airflow provided by a STR/Williams type finger. The pull rod front suspension is gone in favour of more traditional push rod sushpension. If Vettel and Raikkonen, indeed if any of us, are to see an inspirational title challenge then here is where the hope lies.
Starting today we find out can anybody take the fight to Mercedes.
Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona – 22-25 February
Mercedes: Hamilton, Rosberg, Hamilton, Rosberg
Ferrari: Vettel, Vettel, Raikkonen, Raikkonen
Williams: Bottas, Bottas, Massa, Massa
Red Bull: Ricciardo, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Kvyat
Force India: Celis, Perez, Hulkenberg, Celis
Renault: Palmer, Palmer, Magnussen, Magnussen
Toro Rosso: Sainz, Verstappen, Sainz, Verstappen
Sauber: Ericsson, Ericsson, Nasr, Nasr
McLaren: Button, Alonso, Button, Alonso
Manor: Wehrlein, Wehrlein, Haryanto, Haryanto
Haas: Grosjean, Gutierrez, Grosjean, Gutierrez