Thoughts on the Formula 1 year that lies ahead in 2016
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Posted By: James Allen  |  02 Jan 2016   |  11:21 am GMT  |  127 comments

Happy New Year to all readers!

The turning of the page from 2015 into 2016 offers new opportunities for some, while others will face new struggles and there are some big changes for the sport in the pipeline. So let’s take a look at what lies ahead this year in the F1 world.

Toto Wolff

Mercedes in a dilemma over driver favouritism
Mercedes has dominated F1 since the change to hybrid turbos in 2014 and looks set to start ahead in 2016 again, with all hopes pinned on Ferrari bridging the gap of around 2/10ths in race pace and 6/10ths in qualifying pace, which we saw at the end of last season.

The weak point of this team is the relationship between the drivers and its potentially negative effect on team spirit.

Over the Christmas break Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has acknowledged that Mercedes domination has been bad for the sport and even floated the idea that they could change policy on race strategy if 2016 looked like being another Mercedes whitewash; he would sanction a free-for-all on strategy during races, allowing Hamilton and Rosberg to do what they wanted. This is very much against the way Paddy Lowe and strategy chief James Vowles have run things thus far.

“I want the dominance to continue but if it were to continue like this, I need to think what to do so we do not become the enemy and how we can help the show,” Wolff said.

“Maybe it’s about unleashing the two of them completely. Make them have their own strategy. That would be a solution.”

This is dangerous talk as far as the team is concerned and the resolution of this matter is likely to be one of the key themes of 2016.

Mercedes F1 team

Both drivers at various points last year asked for a special strategy to get one over on the other and were refused. The team’s policy is to try to find two strategies which give both drivers an equal chance to win, but without favouring either. Sometimes during a race a strategy opens up that gives one driver a clear advantage over the other. Mercedes has been reluctant to go down that route because they know it always leads to recriminations and bad blood after the race.

We saw the return of the feud between Rosberg and Hamilton towards the end of the season and if the team changes policy and sets up two independent strategy teams, while it will lead to better racing for the fans, it will also split the garage down the middle, ramp up the hostility and divide the team.

It will be very interesting to see what Mercedes decides to do.

Ferrari F1

Pressure at Ferrari
Former Mercedes engineer Jock Clear starts work at Ferrari this month in his new role as head of race operations on the engineering side. The first thing he will notice is the pressure inside Maranello to win.

The Italian squad has not won a championship now since the 2007 Drivers’ and 2008 Constructors’ and last season’s renaissance with three wins and 16 podiums gave them back their belief. But that can be a dangerous thing at Maranello, because for them it’s a short step between belief and pressure to deliver a title, which historically has proven to be the point at which things start to go wrong.

This time Ferrari have some great assets: a very strong technical leader in James Allison, for whom this will be the test he has spent his career building towards and they also have a strong leader in the cockpit in Sebastian Vettel, who has four world championships behind him to back up any big call he makes.

Jean Todt Maurizio Arrivabene

New team boss Maurizio Arrivabene gained some admirers in 2015 and has to build on that this year. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses. But the key strength he needs to show this year is the ability to protect the team from excessive expectation from above – especially from its ruthless chairman Sergio Marchionne – and not interfere. If he does that, Ferrari has a chance.

Guenter Steiner, Romain Grosjean

Reasons to be cheerful
F1 always reinvents itself, even during lean years and for 2016 we have two “new” teams on the grid, or rather one brand new one in Haas and one ‘retread’ in the Renault team. The grids will therefore feature 22 cars.

Haas has had a controversial build up to its entry with the row over Ferrari’s clever use of its wind tunnel to develop the car without the restrictions that face existing teams.

But no-one begrudges Haas taking the benefits of its clever strategy. The car will be pretty solid, with a good engine and at least one very good driver in Romain Grosjean. The jury is out on Esteban Gutierrez, but the next couple of seasons give him a chance to show what he’s got, up against one of the fastest drivers in F1.

I’d expect Haas to race against Sauber as a benchmark, as both are powered by the same Ferrari engine. If they are consistently ahead, they have done a very good job. If they are behind, then catching them is their target.

Sauber scored 36 points last year. Haas would be very happy with a total like that in their first season. Haas’ relationship with Ferrari could well lead to Sauber breaking with Maranello and going with Honda power from 2017 onwards, keep an eye out for that.

Jolyon Palmer

As mentioned on these pages earlier this week, Renault is now rebuilding the team after the lay-offs and redundancies at Lotus in the last couple of years. It’s a popular place to work and the core group of engineers is largely still there, so they should have no problem recruiting talent. Then it’s about improving the Renault power unit, which will happen now that they’ve decided to turn the money tap on and commit properly to F1. Renault’s involvement has been badly mismanaged in recent years, but the hope is that now they can show that ingenuity and flair which brought them the 2005 and 2006 titles.

In Pastor Maldonado and Jolyon Palmer they have one of the weaker driver line ups, but both have a chance to show what they can do in a manufacturer backed team, for one year at least, before the Regie makes some bold moves on drivers for 2017 and beyond, which is good news for some of the young talent.

The Toro Rosso pair will continue to excite. Max Verstappen was 2015’s most prolific overtaker and Carlos Sainz showed great speed. This year with a well sorted Ferrari 2015 engine in the back, the cars will be reliable and that means both drivers will get plenty of chances to see the chequered flag in points paying positions. I’d expect one or both to get a podium, perhaps early on in the season, while others are still sorting out their packages. They will lose out in the second half of the season, due to engine development, but by then both drivers will be in the thick of discussions about their next teams with Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault all in the market, potentially.

XPB.cc Bernie Ecclestone Jean Todt

Reasons to be worried

Off track, this will be a heavy year politically, possibly the heaviest since 2009. Last year closed with the FIA World Council giving Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone a mandate to do whatever is necessary to bring down the cost of engines and that puts them on a collision course with Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda. The first two in particular will take on the challenge.

Like the battle in 2009, which nearly ended in a teams’ breakaway, this battle is about the same things; money and excessive manufacturer control. It will be handled differently by a different generation of team bosses, but you will read some apocalyptic headlines and hear some heavy threats in 2016.

It all starts with a deadline of the middle of this month for the manufacturers to come up with a plan to dramatically reduce the cost of engines to customer teams and to make F1 engines simpler and more fan friendly.

Then we have some external forces that could shake up the sport; the European Union will decide in the next few months whether there is a case to investigate in F1, after Sauber and Force India made an official complaint that the money is unfairly distributed and that this skews the competition in F1. They have a strong case.

If the EU decides to investigate and finds against F1, then the winners will be Bernie Ecclestone, who loves operating amid uncertainty and chaos, and the smaller teams, who ultimately should get a fairer slice of the money. The losers will be fat cat teams like Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren as well as F1’s majority owner CVC Capital Partners, which has decided not to sell F1 at present but to hold on for around two more years.

Start F1 British GP 2015

What do you think? What are you most and least looking forward to in 2016? Leave your comments in the section below

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127comments

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1

But there is a lot of favouratism in F 1 with mercedes
Last year mercedes had illegal tyre pressures nothing happend for both, but in gp2 race just before same happened and they had start from back of grid as penalty for tire pressures being illegal (same rules for mercedes?)
Then bahrain 2016 Lewis illegal reverse nothing happens (mercedes not same rules)
Then bottas incident where bottas where in lewis inside and he get the drive through penalty, we say racing incident or even Lewis as he left all wide open on right hand sideand bittas took it fairly lewis cut into him (mercedes always first option to be correct?)
Then everytime mercedes is not in front then a saferty car is out when there is the smallest accident always at time to favour them again to get back in front (is it luck or timing all perfect for mercedes)

Something not right
Well i dont care in watching anymore as i know mercedes gets away with anything and they just have the most money as team to have best development,
Put someone else like Alonso in Hamiltons car and he will smash his times Vettel too
Formula one too much on money which mercedes has the most so can stay there in front, not the drivers its ther cars

2

Why are the likes of Bernie and The moaning Minnie’s at Redbull SO against Mercedes having a good run of fortune? Are they forgetting that Red bull had more than a few years of dominating the pack? For it to be announced that new qualifying formats are geared towards knocking Mercedes off the top step is of itself somewhat unsporting. The offering today was BORING to watch and removed the thrill of seeing drivers work their way through the pack to move up positions. The whole charade looked like something out of a mediocre dance competition at a holiday camp!! PLEASE PLEASE just let the guys race And demonstrate their skill sets. If you want the Disney experience RACING EVENTS ARE NOT FOR YOU!!!!

3

Least looking forward to:

The point at which it starts becoming apparent that the power unit cost cap regulations have a key (and quite familiar) flaw. i.e. technical changes to power units have been pushed back to 2018 at which point they will be frozen for the next three seasons – no doubt freezing in advantages/disadvantages for much of the field…. again.

4

I like Gene Haas and hope he does well in F1 but I’m worried about his gangster looking friend. He looks like he might have a sixgun in a shoulder holster.

PK.

5

hello

I’m looking forward to the first test day and seeing an improvement in Honda McLaren….hopefully

6

Same here! I’d love to see Button take his second WDC, too! But only one can hope.

7

Lets hope so. They should make an improvement as they are way down there at the moment but we shall see. As long as they’re in the mix a bit it’ll be good for the “show”.

8

Merc have to let the two boys race. It would be good for the brand as Mclaren have been dinning out on Prost/Senna since then. At the time they might think it’s negative for the brand but it will just add mystique.

Let them off the leash, please.

9

I always look forward to the F1 season, even if it’s a year of domination by a single team, there’s always stories and excitement somewhere in the field.

I fully expect that this year will be a bit closer, but that Mercedes will once again walk away with both titles at the end of it. I expect something along the lines of 2003. Close, but not close enough from the challengers.

And, I may be the only one, but I’m looking forward to seeing what C4 have to offer!

10

2003 was 2pts and Raikkonen would have beat Michael but for reliability. If 2016 is half that close we’re in for a cracker!

11

Last year l watched 10 races live and only 2 replayed. This year will be much the same and most likely the last time I watch F1 since the early 80’s. Until Bernie & Co make the sport accessible to people directly they may as well pack it in their wallets and take it home. I dont mind paying for direct viewing but no way on earth am I paying for other rubbish I dont watch from broadcasters I dont like.

So whilst I love F1 and want to see real changes in 17/8 that makes only men drive the cars :/ more downforce, more grip, more power- less gimmicks and interference by the engineers reality it is- nothing matters if I cant watch it & with the last of the real racers retiring this year it makes it even less worthwhile.

12

Not Sure if youre in the Uk or not but if you are NowTV is available. You pay £10 for 7 days of Sky Sports. So £10 per race…. None of the “other” fluff you mention….. that’s what I do anyway.

13

@KRB

No, I don’t watch that, but he has been in a few other things that I have seen.

Doesn’t really surprise me though – Half of American actors seem to be either Australian or British, but I will give kudos to Max Martini for playing a doing a very good job playing an Aussie in Pacific Rim 😉

I think we may have gotten slightly off topic, but it’s all good 🙂

14

Elie, Random 79, and kenneth are all part of the JAonF1 Aussie contingent.

Anyone watch Longmire? I just found out the lead actor is Australian; found that surprising.

15

@Dean-No Im in Aus. Still wouldnt pay that to watch anything on tele. Maybe half that would be a consideration. I think F1 has lost touch with the real world. It went from zero to $500 a year almost overnight when it went to pay tv.

Bernies mentality is “oh they’le come around and pay”.. But the reality is people have mouths to feed and theyve just said goodbye to F1 and it will continue- regardless of the how good or bad it is… Its a question of priorities and there are more sporting options viewed online these days..UFC is one Im watching more of. MotoGp is insanely good, and most other motor sports are free.

16

Many thanks for the continuing excellent reports and sometimes hilarious responses. Happy New Year to JA and everyone contributing. I hope James and his team had a Relaxing holiday and are ready for the fray again.

Mercedes could easily make a set of rules to cover who gets priority to box when. It’s time someone grasped the nettle and allowed the drivers to actually compete 😉

17

For the sake of F1, I do hope they get their act together. Both on and off the racetrack.

The automobile industry is on the verge of an unprecedented paradigm shift. I hope F1 does not lose track of this in their quibbles.

18

My wishlist for 2016 is to see Bernie Eccelstone go for the betterment of F1.

19

Looking forward to the progress hopefully by RBR. Least looking forward to the biased commentary by SkyF1. (more to this sport than Hamilton).

20

I think bringing back refueling would make the Qulaifyings and the races very interesting.

“F1 since the change to hybrid turbos in 2016”

You mean 2014?

Happy New 2016 Year!

21

Hny2016

I will drop out this year

If the only way to watch is paying the foxsky guy

When will I be able to pay f1 direct to watch

Or am I behind the times already

And in need of a tutorial

22

Well I do think the tyre choice could make it more interesting. I have not read JB comments about everyone will make the same choice, but yes I do think they will in terms of the cars looking at winning the races. Mid pack I am not so sure especially as you can set up the car to suit it strengths.

roll on 2016 testing

23

There is rarely a change in the pecking order the year before a relatively big rule overhaul, as they are talking about for 2017, so I expect more of the same. I think that Mercedes played things quite conservatively in 2015 and chased reliability above ultimate pace, but I think that this year they’ll be working hard to maintain a performance advantage and taking a few risks with the car design.

24

Great article. Happy new year James.

Thanks for all your hard work last year and looking forward to another season

25

Cheers and thanks for your support

26

am surprised at how many fail to understand that the f1 rules were written fairly and all teams had a fair chance of building the race cars and engines?

the only unfair part of f1 is the distribution of money. so long as one team earns more money, they’ll be more likely to be more successful..

many teams have dominated in the past and yet f1 has failed to recognise that unfair distribution of funds is the root cause…

27

The answer lies in the last paragraph, the most important thing for 2016 is to get fair money distribution. I don’t think DRS rules will be changed for this year, but at least the power of “Strategy group” should be reduced as soon as possible. For 2017, both illnesses should be cut out completely.

Another positive change is the addition of Haas team. Hopefully this trend continues and soon we will see full 26 car grid again.

28

I don’t understand why there can’t be different strategies between Mercs. I dont know the reasons, or if this was a one off for the circumstances, but see link.

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2014/04/06/2014-bahrain-grand-prix-tyre-strategies-pit-stops/

Merc allowed the drivers to split the strategy and Rosberg went the other way (O,P,O). The result was arguably the best race of the new era with a great battle for the finish between two dominant cars. People saying it won’t make a difference to the racing, i urge you to watch that race again…

29

That’s a different matter, that’s giving the guy in second place a chance to run a different order of tyres to offset himself against his team mate the leader and maybe have a chance at the end.

Two separate strategy teams would go much more aggressive and do things like undercut each other. It would get very intense if it were a free for all and there would be recriminations which Mercedes would have to deal with.

Or in a scenario like Hungary last year, where Rosberg saw that Hamilton was coming through the field and was told what tyre he would be taking at his next stop, so asked to come in first for the same tyre, in order to effectively ‘block’ Hamilton. That’s not good for a team, it would be good for the individual.

So is this about the team or the individual? They’ve won 32 races from 38 starts and two WDC and two WCC using the team approach. For all his complaints at the end of the season about wanting split strategies, Hamilton has been the main beneficiary of the team approach… it has protected his natural pace advantage

I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it, just that no-one should underestimate how hard that will be to manage the drivers.

30

HP, I did read it thank you. I particularly enjoyed the “natural pace advantage” part. I assume you think you have found something critical in there, as that seems to be your only motivation for visiting the site. Would you care to share it with the group?

31

Thank you for that reply James!

Hope all the Hamilton fans read it

32

Thanks for the response, James. See what you are saying in terms of the offset and i know that the race was close due to a late safety car, but the excitement of having them on different tyres was what made it for me. If they can’t go all out on strategy then maybe thats something they could consider as a compromise?

I guess Toto is just playing the game and being seen to look like he cares about the show. Ultimately his job is to ensure Mercs keep winning.

The best way to get split strategy then might be a consistent challenge from Ferrari and an in form Kimi. Fingers crossed they pull it out of the bag. Maybe a much improved Honda engine this year will add some spice to the Red Bull / Williams fight too?! .

33

There is what I really want to happen and there is what realistically will happen

What I desperately want is Williams to be back up there, with a new world champion in the form of Bottas or Massa. That is in daydream fantasy land. Whilst it is technically possible, it is technically possible for Haas or Marussia to be Constructors champions next year.

What I will settle for – Williams at least 3rd in constructors and a win under their belts (a 1-2 would be better but a win is a win). I would prefer the win to be on merit rather than circumstance but will take what they get

What I think I want to happen most of all this year, and this must happen otherwise F1 viewership will in my opinion go right down the toilet, if the Mercs are going to win all the races they must at least have to fight hard for it.

Every year, every rule change someone will master it perfectly, I don’t mind seeing one team win all the time if they have been made to sweat for it (bit like Brawn vs. RBR in 2009).

Oh and I also want to see less postulating from Hamberg (Hamilton/Rosberg) whenever things don’t go their way. Just less postulating from everyone on the grid.

34

Brilliant analysis James. Can’t add a thing.

35

Happy 2016 guys. 3rd year of these hybrids and we should start to see the PU come closer together. I think we will see Mercedes challenged more often with Ferrari and I wont be surprised if a few silver arrows PU go pop as they pushed to use strat mode Z more often. I expect an epic battle between no5 & 7 & 6 and 44. Meanwhile Mchonda will build a top 6 car but I cant wait to see it scrapping with a TR with a year old Ferrari PU in the back and a certain spaniard spitting japanese euros at the press when 2nd season drivers get the better of him yet again.

36

F1 at it’s satirical best :

Spend millions developing highly efficient ‘Power Units’ and then complain they cost too much money and are too complicated for the fans to understand and need to be made more simple… Please can we have some credit; we love the tech – give or take the noise argument – thats a question of taste.

Give us the tech and tell us about it, and how its going to make everything a little less screwed up in a few years time. Surely the manufacturers have done the hard yards on development, at some point the gains on investment will tail off and they can all go racing at a more predictable cost, esp for the small teams who are justified in their screams about cost. So limit the price they pay already and give them a break, its technology R&D after all.

Bring on the EU investigation, a bit of transparency and humble pie will be a good exercise and F1 will come out of healthier with better recognition of the mid pack.

37

I’m not particularly looking forward to the 2016 season, as I think it will be another Mercedes steamroller. For me the main interest will be the 2017 regulation changes and hopefully something will happen with regard to engines in 2018. I don’t know how long f1 can sustain this rather curious marketing strategy where the fans, who want flat out racing, speed, noise, drama and excitement, are instead being fed fuel- saving economy tests in far-flung countries.

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