Yesterday’s announcement that Nico Rosberg was retiring from Formula 1 sent shockwaves through the sport and it also occurred just as our lucky JA on F1 readers were enjoying a tour of the Mercedes factory in Brackley.
The tour was a competition prize courtesy of our partner Tata Communications, via its F1 Connectivity Innovation prize, which featured an in-depth look at Mercedes’ F1 headquarters.
After stopping off at the team’s ever-expanding trophy cabinet we were taken past the Race Strategy Room – where Lewis Hamilton’s engineer Pete Bonnington and Rosberg’s former engineer Tony Ross were working away – above the vast machine shop, and then through to the carbon composites area and product assessment rooms.
The tour finished at the team’s racebays, where the very monocoque that Hamilton had used throughout 2016 and had taken to victory less than a week earlier in Abu Dhabi was resting after it had been stripped down.
Over a lunch a short time later, we asked our guests a few questions about the 2016 F1 season and their thoughts on the future direction of the sport.
Q: Who would you pick as your top five drivers of 2016?
Gemma Russell (above): I’d probably put Hamilton first because I think he’s more exciting to watch as a racer, and then I’d say Nico because he won. Then Verstappen, for similar reasons to Hamilton – he’s always good to watch. Then Ricciardo and I’d probably go for Perez too, as he’s good to watch too and is a good racer.
Adrian Wolfson: Nico first, since he won. Then Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Alonso.
Guy Osborn: I’d put Alonso first for always putting in a good performance at McLaren, no matter what, and despite his comments on the cars. Then Nico Hulkenberg for what he is going to be doing next year, then Hamilton for his end of year performances, Verstappen for what he’s done since the start of this year, and also Ricciardo for his performances.
Lindsay Scott: You’ve got to put Lewis first. Verstappen is second because he has got what it takes and I can’t wait to see him in the future. Then Ricciardo, Wehrlein and probably Hulkenberg because he’s earned Force India more money again.
Javier Jiminez: Verstappen has had the most exciting year, Hamilton – because I think he is the quickest. Then Nico, who needs everything properly in place to win. Sainz has made another great year, and Perez too.
Brian Marsh: I think Nico has to be the driver of the year because he won and held it together under pressure at the end. Second is Verstappen for changing teams and because he’s a massively exciting new talent, and then Alonso for outperforming his car. Then Wehrlein, for being good at the back, and then Gutierrez because he went to a new team and showed Grosjean how to take that car. Those last three are all pretty much level.
Adrian (above): I want Lewis to win and I want it to be just a lot of fun, with a lot of close racing.
Gemma: I’m really hoping that more teams like Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren are a lot closer together with Mercedes, and that there is a lots of better racing.
Guy: Hamilton’s new teammate! And how McLaren performs next year with Honda.
Lindsay: It will be interesting to see how Adrian Newey does with the aero on the Red Bull, which should bring them into the frame with Mercedes. Winter testing might be pretty interesting.
Javier: I would like to see ten cars within one second of the ultimate pace, at least by the end of the year. At the beginning it’s not going to happen because the cars will be really spread out, but I would like to see them close up.
Brian: I’m most looking forward to a competitive Red Bull because I want to see Verstappen and Lewis fighting.
Lindsay (above): I would say there is a chance for the both of them, depending on who Lewis’ new teammate is.
Adrian: Yes. It’s hard, but Vettel is more likely.
Gemma: I would say possibly not for Vettel, and maybe Alonso, yes. I think he’s still got the hunger and I’m not sure about Vettel.
Guy: Vettel, no. Alonso, yes if McLaren can put a good car out there.
Javier: I don’t think they are going to win again.
Brian: Neither. Unfortunately I think McLaren has too many problems. It’s losing sponsors, hasn’t got enough money and will not make the most of a good future Honda engine.
Javier (above): I would solve the tyres. I think the tyres have to be more consistent and they have to be able to be pushed to the limit.
Adrian: Make it free for everyone to watch on TV.
Gemma: I think they should try and share the funds among the teams a bit better if they can because then perhaps we’ll have better racing.
Guy: I’d say the same – but with more British tracks on the calendar.
Lindsay: They should try and get the prices down for the spectators. Prices are way beyond a lot of people’s reach now [and] although they say general admission is ok, if they want to fill the stands they’ve got to bring it down.
Brian: I think there should be more emphasis on mechanical over aero such that it creates more overtaking and more interest. DRS is fake, they need to find a mechanical way to achieve what DRS has done.
Brian (above): Yes, they’ve got the best engine and it will still be the best engine next year.
Adrian: I think they can.
Guy (below): With the infrastructure they have, yes.
Javier: Yes, they have had the time to prepare the car. They haven’t been pushed to the end of this year so I’m sure they have been able to move resources over for next year.
What do you make of our panel discussion? Do you agree or disagree with their opinions? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.