#F1 Top Ten 2016

It’s that time of year again. The Motorsport.ie F1 Top 10.

From bad starts to engine failures.
Team changes to wet weather maestros.
Grid penalties to 1st lap masterclasses.

Here’s my pick of the top 10 drivers in Formula 1 for 2016.

TEST PRE CAMPIONATO F1/2016 - T2 - BARCELLONA (SPAGNA)

10: Valtteri Bottas (pic via Pirelli)

There were only two stories surrounding the team from Grove at the end of the season. Their slump to below Force India in the standings and the implications of Rosberg’s departure from Mercedes given that Toto Wolff was Bottas’ manager.

Williams failing to get a handle on 2016 Pirelli rubber played a large part in masking the job done by Valtteri Bottas this season. Having utterly dominated Massa 17-4 in qualifying it was a much closer 12-9 on race day. Unlike some teams, Williams would openly admit that the drop off in the second half of the season along with the narrow operating window of the car was the reason behind its problems. (Not the drivers)

Most notable then would be Bottas’ ability to be calm, unflappable & error free for most the season. His clash with Lewis Hamilton being the exception to the rule. 2016 seemed to be a natural shift at Williams. Massa would step aside, allowing Bottas to assume the role of team leader with the arrival of Lance Stroll for 2017.

As we now know things may change dramatically following the retirement of Nico Rosberg.
Whether he is leading at Williams or taking the fight to Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes one thing is for sure Valterri Bottas has the cool (Finnish) temperament to handle either occasion next season.

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9: Sergio Perez (pic via Pirelli)

It was tough to pick between the two Force India drivers. The last time the Silverstone based factory put out a car this competitive it was painted yellow. In qualifying trim it was Hulkenberg who led the way 12-9 vs Perez, but the tyre whisperer had the advantage come race day and was unlucky not to do better than 3rd in Baku. I say unlucky I mean he crashed in practice and a grid drop meant he “only” finished 3rd.

It would be interesting to see how Renault decided to go for the Hulk instead of Checo. Dropping out of Qualifying behind Pascal Wehrlein in Bahrain the stand out example, but when you get 2 podiums and 101 points vs your teammates 0 podiums and 72 points you could argue the point that Renault have gone for the wrong driver. Not that I’d be anything but happy to see Hulkenberg in a factory team, but it begs the question “Is this as good as it gets for Sergio Perez”?

If there are candidates for drivers that maximised the 2016 Pirelli tyres then Sergio Perez is certainly one of them, but it would appear his outright pace is still in question.

ABU DHABI 2017 TYRE TEST

8: Kimi Raikkonen (pic via Pirelli)

The Ice Man returns.

Kimi’s calmness while all others in Ferrari seemed intent on tearing it apart is as impressive as his return to form in 2016. It’s not quite the level he was at with Lotus or his title year at Ferrari, but it seems Kimi is finally getting the car that he wants at Mugello.

He might consider himself unlucky to have lost out on a potential Spain win to the newly promoted Max Verstappen. He might if he wasn’t too busy coining a new catchphrase. (BWOAH) Italian slang for “I don’t know”.

The Finn outqualified Vettel 12-9 over the season and had a far better showing of 186 points vs 212 compared to previous seasons. When the car suits Kimi he’s a formidable foe. The 2017 regulations may very well bring the cars back more to his liking. If Kimi can maintain the consistency he found in some of the latter races of 2016 then Vettel will do well merely to beat his teammate. Seriously.

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7: Sebastian Vettel (pic via Pirelli)

2016 was the difficult second album for Vettel and Ferrari. Much was expected following 3 wins in 2015 but where as Ferrari pounced whenever Mercedes made the wrong call in 2015 it seemed to be Red Bull taking advantage when Ferrari made the wrong call in 2016.

That was up until the 2nd half of the season when Red Bull Racing outpaced Ferrari to the point where Daniel Ricciardo secured 3rd before the end of the season. Frustration crept in to Vettel and it poured out onto the radio, turning the airways blue.

Vettel still took 7 podiums, but 5 were in the first half of the season. He was outqualified by his teammate in the second half of the season but still beat Kimi 14-7 in the races. The loss of James Allison seemed to effect Vettel as he lost somebody he had belief in only to face the prospect of then being told by Arrivabene that his place at the team had to be justified. If there is a priority for what needs to be overhauled at Maranello it’s not the drivers.

There is much work needed on both the car and the inter-team relationships if Vettel and Ferrari are to find the early season form they had.

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6: Carlos Sainz Jr (pic via Red Bull)

There was little to choose between Max and Carlos when the call came through that the former was getting promoted to the senior team. Jr was arguably the more consistent of the two drivers in preseason but there is no doubting that Max Verstappen has lit up F1 in 2016.

Red Bull’s biggest challenge will be how to keep the Spaniard happy beyond 2017. Given it has possibly the strongest lineup on the grid at Red Bull Racing only the prospect of a competitive Toro Rosso will give us a chance to see the true picture with Carlos Sainz Jr. Often his talent was lost to the package that was powered by year old Ferrari units.

Keeping James Key and getting up to date Renault engines should allow us to see more than wet weather prowess on display. Certainly Brazil in the wet showed us that when the opportunity was there the Spaniard was up to the task.

The only question with Carlos is where will he end up. He was a match for Max when the pair were at Toro Rosso and we’ve seen how good Max has proved to be. If Red Bull can’t give him a competitive drive expect the likes of Ferrari to come calling very soon.

GP BELGIO F1/2016

5: Nico Rosberg (pic via Pirelli)

I feel conflicted as I write this. Nico Rosberg has won the 2016 World Driver’s Title and yet I’ve ranked him 5th. What gives? It’s like I’ve joined the ranks of British media.

Normally it’s a simple thing. The guy that wins the title gets driver of the year.
Simple right? I thought so. I’d prove these other people wrong and find the stats that meant Nico was the driver of the year. Well you could point to the fact that he scored more points than anyone else which would be reasonable. Really though it was a Championship of two. Mercedes driver vs Mercedes driver so it’s not that simple.

They tied on race head to heads 10-10 but Hamilton had 10 race wins to Rosberg’s 9. Hamilton had 12 poles to Rosberg’s 8.
Hamilton had 17 podiums to Rosberg’s 15.
Hamilton led 566 laps to Rosberg’s 489.

Rosberg started punchy, winning the first four races of the season. Taking advantage of poor starts and gearbox issues from Hamilton. It came to ahead in Spain. Both drivers had setting issues and while Rosberg adjusted the dial Hamilton pounced. Mindful of how he’d lost out to Hamilton before, Rosberg defended aggressively. Hamilton didn’t lift and moved to the grass in an attempt to make the pass stick. Taking both drivers out in the process. This was an indicator as to new measures Rosberg would take in 2016 as he searched for that illusive title.

If there is a critical point in the 2016 title battle as much as I hate to admit it then Malaysia is that moment. Rosberg was lined up to finish 4th. Hamilton was set for 25 points to Rosberg’s 12. That 13 point gain for Hamilton became a 15 point loss when his engine turned grenade. A 28 point swing.

Mentally Rosberg seemed broken at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I’ll go into that more in the Hamilton section. Sometimes you only get one shot at a title, much like Hayden v Rossi in the 2006 MotoGP showdown. When you do you’ve got to take it and Nico Rosberg did just that. We can see it took its toll on the German and clearly he doesn’t believe he can make the same sacrifices and commitment for 2017.

GP SINGAPORE F1/2016

4: Fernando Alonso (pic via Pirelli)

Baku (6th) and Monaco (5th) gave us a hint that Fernando Alonso smelled blood this season and so it would continue in the 2nd half of the season. The stats don’t show the whole picture of how good Alonso was. It was 15-5 in qualifying between Alonso and Button but seemed closer on paper in the race. 12-8. What that doesn’t show is how Alonso comprehensively outperformed Button in the 2nd half of the season.

From Hungary on, Alonso had 7 top 10 finishes, with 5th in Austin and four 7th place finishes. Given that the McLaren was only the 6th or 7th fastest car on the grid that was a mightily impressive latter half of the season. He outscored Button 54 points to 21. The British driver scoring only 39% of the haul the Spaniard accumulated. In fact, so good was Alonso’s points haul he finished 1 point ahead of Massa’s Williams. Alonso was in the mood for a fight when the car would allow it. Just ask Massa and Sainz Jr what they thought of his drive in America.

We caught a glimpse of vintage Alonso this season, with the agonising caveat that if he had the right car under him Fernando would revel in the fight and deliver the goods in ruthless fashion. There was one thing that was without doubt this season. Fernando Alonso was the King of the opening laps. Largely because he had the most grid penalties of the season (105) we were treated to the regular spectacle of the Samurai slicing his was through the grid. Here was the master at work.

Fernando is arguably the best driver on the grid. If McLaren Honda ever get the car right they have the driver to win them a title. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll be heading to Mercedes any time soon.

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3: Daniel Ricciardo (pic via Red Bull)

Last year we spoke about the elephant in the room for Red Bull Racing and their drivers. The shadow of Max Verstappen looming large. This season we saw it finally come to ahead with Daniil Kvyat making way for the Dutchman at the Spanish GP.

I’m a big fan of the Honey Badger and I was looking forward to seeing how he responded having outclassed Kvyat 4-0 in qualifying. Dealing with the hype train that arrived with Max was going to be a very different prospect.

Daniel is unlucky. He could very well be sitting at Number 1 in this year’s list. It’s arguable that he should have won in Spain if he’d been given the same strategy as Max Verstappen. Red Bull covering off Ferrari was Daniel’s downfall. It’s a definite that a botched pit stop by Red Bull cruelly snatched victory away from him at Monaco. The win in Malaysia after Hamilton’s engine blew would be some consolation, but not much.

He also brings much needed colour to the podium celebrations. Post race “Shoey” being the in thing for 2016. Especially as the other two spots occupied had become increasingly strained affairs. There’s nothing like a Honey Badger podium to lighten the mood.

So why is he only third?

I feel that middle part of the season was Ricciardo at his strongest. The last 6 races belonged to Max. We won’t know for sure until 2017 and hopefully when they do go head to head it’s as part of a title fight.

GP BAHRAIN F1/2016

2: Lewis Hamilton (pic via Pirelli)

2016 arguably delivered the most ruthless version of Lewis Hamilton that we’ve yet to witness. It wasn’t a perfect season and it took a long time to correct the start issues and setting issues that Lewis and Mercedes had.

The now infamous clutch issues meaning Hamilton struggled to get away from the line, especially in Monza where it brought cheers from the Tifosi as both Ferraris passed him. In the case of China struggling to replace a gearbox and then having to start from the back of the grid.

Having lost the first 4 races to Rosberg it was always going to be interesting to see how Lewis responded. Winning 6 in 7 after the double Mercedes DNF in Spain drew Lewis back into it but then Monza, Malaysia & Japan struck critical blows on Hamilton’s hunt for title 4.

After Rosberg’s win in Japan the title was out of Hamilton’s control. He would have to win the remaining 4 races, which he did, but all Rosberg had to do was finish 2nd. Rosberg no longer had to take the fight to Hamilton. It came to a head in the final round in Abu Dhabi. Knowing that merely winning would not be enough we saw a glorious example of how ruthless Hamilton was prepared to be.

Leading the race comfortably, Hamilton knew his only chance of winning the title was to back Rosberg up to Vettel and Verstappen. He did exactly that and it caused chaos in Mercedes. Paddy Lowe gave the instruction to up the pace. Lewis declined. A stressed Nico looked for solutions on the radio as the red Ferrari of Vettel loomed large in his mirrors.

This was a pressure cooker. Rosberg emerged from it as the World Champion but he looked a broken man. That’s the difference between the pair. Hamilton lived for that type of moment. It was what brought out the best of him. If Lewis becomes the clear Number 1 at Mercedes for 2017 it will be very difficult to beat him to the title in 2017.

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1: Max Verstappen (pic via Pirelli)

It says a lot about what we’re dealing with in Max Verstappen when there continually seems to be rules brought in because of him. First it was the Superlicence System. Now it’s “The Verstappen Rule” or moving in the braking zone.

If you wanted to gauge the season on a mean or average across the year then Daniel Ricciardo could very well be down as Number 1. I feel that the Aussie’s moment was in the middle section of the season. If we factor in that Max Started with Toro Rosso and then had to shift across to Red Bull Racing then some allowance should be made for that, and even then he won on his debut in Spain.

For the 2nd year in a row Max has the most overtakes in the season.
For the 2nd year in a row he’s the reason for tuning in to a race.
And for the latter part of the season he was consistently taking the fight to the Mercedes pair. He split the Mercs in Japan and he was masterful in Brazil.

Sure he made some mistakes. It’s probably right that “The Verstappen Rule” was brought in. We saw how a monster crash can result from it with Gutierrez and Alonso so when things got heated between Max and Kimi it was easy to side with Kimi. What it did show, in the interviews with Max, is that here was a driver unwavering in what he believed was right and no established driver or authoritative figure from the sport would make him question his view. Call it cocky if you want. It’s a mental resolve that the top drivers have. That inner belief that drives them on.

If we class this as a growing year then surely we can allow the errors and the odd retirement. It’s only his 3rd year in car racing and yet he’s upsetting the F1 establishment. Pushing the limits of the car and what’s acceptable in racing terms. Always searching for an edge. Exactly like he was in a wet Brazil. Always hunting for the advantage.

It was very nearly disaster for Max in Brazil. Rolling off the brakes to allow the car to turn moments before impact was as close as you’ll ever want to get to disaster. Yet having dropped to 14th to rectify Red Bull’s wrong tyre call (again) what we witnessed was masterful. The karter in him still in there. Still raw. Not stuck to a single line. Searching out the grip and using it against the others as he climbed up the grid to 3rd.

There’s a saying that while you’re arguing over what’s best something else arrives that makes your argument obsolete. For years we’ve argued about who was better. Alonso, Hamilton or Vettel. Now somebody has arrived that has the potential to make that argument obsolete.

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Let us know what you think of the Top 10.
Thanks to everyone who’s followed us and got involved this year.
Have a happy and successful New Year.