2014 & 2015 saw Mercedes AMG F1 flatten all opposition that came in their way of winning both the Drivers' and the Constructors' Titles.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have dominated with race victories, the former winning 2 World Championships.
2016, the 3rd year of the Turbo Era boasts of being the longest season in F1 with 21 Races. Baku, Azerbaijan is the New European GP. Haas F1 Team is the new entrant and hired the services of Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez. Lotus F1 became Renault Sport F1 ( Works Team ), Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer joined their ranks. Marussia became Manor Racing, DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlein and GP2 Driver Rio Haryanto joining them.
A Lot is new in F1 this season but is there a new force to reckon with in the sport? we have completed 11 races of the season and its time to take a quick peek into how the season has unfolded.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Its no secret that Mercedes spent a lot of time developing the cars for the new turbo era. Experts tipped them as favourites for 2016 and the team has not disappointed again. They have dominated both in Qualifying and in the Races. Barring one race ( Spain ) where both the drivers took each other out, the team has won every Grand Prix up until now. Lewis Hamilton suffered with reliability issues and he might have to take a 10 place penalty in the near future. Rosberg had strong start to the season but his challenge has faltered somewhat since Spain. 3 Podiums in 7 races meant losing the Championship lead to Hamilton going into the mid season break. Hamilton on the other hand was riddled with reliability issues but rose among them. 6 Race Victories to 5 of Rosberg's mean he leads the Championship by 19 points. Hamilton looks in ominous form. However he is playing down his chances for the Championship cause of Penalties coming his way. Its hard to catch Hamilton when he gets into such a rhythm and how Rosberg approaches the upcoming races would be intriguing to watch.
Mercedes have enough in reserve and can easily extend the gap when they need to against their opposition. Frankly, I don't see anyone challenging them for the 2016 Crown. Again!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari had a lot of positivity about them going into 2016. They really believed the SF-16H had what was needed to dethrone the Mercedes from its perch. Sebastian Vettel had some blistering starts in the races. Kimi Raikkonen followed suit too. However both have suffered with Reliability issues ( Vettel more often ). Bad Strategic calls in some races added to the woes. The Team seemed to be the sole challenger but the challenge has somewhat fizzled out since the British Grand Prix. A Lot of updates and tokens have been used throughout the season but they have yielded mixed results.
Kimi Raikkonen, the more consistent of the two drivers, sits 4th in the Championship, 95 points adrift of Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel is 5th, a further 2 points away. Raikkonen's performances improved from those in 2014 and 2015 and suffered only 2 retirements up until now. Vettel suffered from 2 DNFs and one DNS ( Did not start ). However has 5 podiums to Raikkonen's 4 till now.
Ferrari sit in 3rd in the Championship standings, Red Bull having jumped above them with strong results in the last 3 races. There is a lot of work to do for the Maranello Based Outfit. Beating Mercedes for the Constructors seems like a far fetched idea. Their battle is with Red Bull now, to be the best of the rest.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull sport a new name on their car in 2016. They formally broke their alliance with Renault at the end of 2015 but they sport a Tag Heuer branded Renault engine at the back of their car. Their lineup remained unchanged in Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat until the latter's mistake in Russia brought about a decision to demote him to Scuderia Toro Rosso ( Red Bull B Team effectively ) and promote the Young Max Verstappen up into the A Team.
What followed next is the stuff of dreams. Max Verstappen won the Spanish GP in his debut race for the team holding of the challenge of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. He also became the youngest driver to win a GP. Ricciardo on the other hand did what Ricciardo does best - Maximize results. It seemed that his time to win had arrived as well when he was leading in Monaco. However a botched pit stop handed victory to Hamilton and Ricciardo was distraught. He gathered himself and put in some really strong performances. Max Verstappen won a race and finished on the Podium thrice ( since his joining ) while Daniel Ricciardo has 3 podiums to his name and sits 3rd in the Championship.
Red Bull have got a measure of Ferrari now it seems. They have emerged as the primary contender to Mercedes for the 2nd half of the season. True, Renault's power deficit still needs to be address but the aerodynamic efficiency of the car is powering them ahead, maybe to more race victories.
It may be a little too late for Red Bull to fight for the Constructors' but the Milton Keyes based 4 time Constructors' Champions has made its presence felt!
Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :
Williams sit 4th in the Constructors, the deficit too big to cover to get into the top 3. They are looking nervously over the shoulder since Sahara Force India F1 is breathing down their necks. It is really intriguing to see how fortunes have changed for Williams. 2014 was a very strong year for Williams. 2015 saw a wane in form but in 2016 they seem to be totally off the pace. They still are the "Fastest Mercedes Customer" Team but this title might not last long with them.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa continue with the team in 2016, Bottas 7th and Mass 9th in the Championship. Bottas the more consistent of the duo bagged 3rd place in Canada, the best finish for the team till now. Massa's best finish is 5th ( twice ). The car is clearly struggling on multiple fronts. Should the team invest and try to improve this year or focus attention to 2017 and hope to stave off the challenge by other customer teams? I think they don't have enough in their arsenal to hold off the chasers and a certain amount of investment is needed this year to garner any hopes of being 4th in the Championship. Bottas is settled in the team but Massa seems a bit lost with the uncertainty of his driver contract for next year. Such issues need to be cleared asap so that the weightier matters can be addressed.
Sahara Force India F1 Team :
Force India had a strong 2015 after the B-Spec Car was launched. 2016 has been no different. They have carried the momentum and confidence into 2016 and I don't see any team stopping them from attaining 4th Place in the Constructors by the end of the year. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg continue racing for the Team in 2016. Perez finished on the podium twice this year while Hulkenberg's best finish is 6th. The team picked up the pace after the first 3 races and it will be interesting to see how their season pans out in the 2nd half.
Perez sits 8th in the Championship finishing in the points 5 times. Hulkenberg has 7 points finishes to his name and is 10th in the Championship. Its clear that it is a faceoff between the Williams and the Force India. My money is on the latter.
Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :
Toro Rosso with a Ferrari Engine powering them have had a mercurial season so far. Their strengths came to the fore in the rains but have work to do in the dry. They can be proud of the fact that they lead the McLaren Honda team by 3 points but the next 2 races would be pivotal in maintaining their hold on P6 in the Standings. The Extra Money coming their way ( should they finish in 6th ) will aid in the car development to a great extent. The Team has a talented set of people working for them and the days ahead promise a lot of joy and excitement.
Carlos Sainz Jr. and Max Verstappen kicked off the 2016 season, the latter being promoted to Red Bull Racing from the Spanish GP. Daniil Kvyat took Verstappen's seat in Spain. Many people were unhappy with this premature decision. Some also questioned the reason behind choosing Verstappen over Sainz. Max outscored Sainz comfortably in the first 4 races and his performances for the A team have silenced all the critics. However one has to feel for Kvyat whose demotion initially left him distraught but the Russian has gathered himself and wants to prove his mettle in F1 again. Sainz leads the team-mate battle, having finished 8 times in the points and is placed 11th in the standings. Kvyat has a podium ( 3rd ) to his credit but that was with Red Bull, post that his performances dipped and he has only 3 other points finishes to his credit. Hopefully, the 4 week break has helped him sort out his problems and his results should improve from Belgium.
Toro Rosso is a great contributor to F1 and the fact that they boast such a young driver lineup, one can be rest assured that the future of F1 is in safe hands. All the Best to him for the second half of the season.
McLaren Honda F1 Team :
"Oh how the Mighty have Fallen". These are the words that come to mind when I think of McLaren. 2014 was a mediocre year. 2015 was rekindling an old partnership with Honda. What conspired after that was a nightmare. Everyone in the team hoped for a better outing in 2016. Honda made promises of addressing all the issues of their power units. McLaren sit 7th in the Constructors at the midpoint of the season, having scored one-tenth of what the Mercedes have scored. Honda is still finding its feet in the new era but this is nowhere near the standards set by the Woking based outfit in their yesteryears.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button continue their partnership into 2016 and both are working hard to iron out issues in their cars. Alonso is ahead in the team-mate battle on 24 points to Button's 17. They are placed 13th and 15th in the Drivers' Standings respectively. Alonso finished thrice in the points, 5th place being his best finish, Button has 5, 6th place being his best. In the aftermath of a collision with Gutierrez in Australia, Alonso was unfit to race in Bahrain and Vandoorne raced in Bahrain bagging a point for the team.
McLaren have their work cut out. They need to finish the 2nd half of the season on a strong note so that the same momentum is maintained going into 2017. Developing the 2017 car simultaneously would also be a wise decision. There are technical changes coming in 2017 and with the financial prowess they possess, development shouldn't be a problem.
Haas F1 Team :
Haas, the new boys in town roped in the services of Romain Grosjean and Estebaan Gutierrez. Ferrari supplied the engines and the team works closely with the Prancing Horse. Haas can boast of a strong debut in F1. Their performances and results have impressed many in the Paddock. The gap to McLaren is not much but I don't think that they would be able to finish ahead of them at the end of the year. Nevertheless if they produce strong results in the 2nd half of the season, 8th in the Constructors' can easily be cemented.
Grosjean has been the sole points earner for the team with 4 Points finishes and 12th in the Championship with 28 on the board. Gutierrez's return to F1 has been riddled with mistakes, misfortune and reliability issues. He is yet to score this season. Gutierrez needs to get off the blocks soon since performances this year and the next could decide who drives for Ferrari in 2018 ( should Raikkonen call it a day ). Grosjean seems happier than he was at Lotus. I see this team going from strength to strength and they should be regularly featuring in the points in the 2nd half.
Renault Sport F1 Team :
Renault had been a works team with Red Bull. However the struggles of 2014 and 15 brought about a storm that led to the separation of the two. Renault acquired Lotus F1 Team again and fans dreamt of the glory years of 2005 and 2006. The Road ahead is pretty arduous though. The acquisition was announced not too long before the Pre-Season Tests and as a result Development was hampered big time. The 2016 challenger is essentially the 2015 car with a lot of upgrades. Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen became the new driver pairing. As expected, the team has struggled to perform well. Magnussen's best finish of 7th in Russia are the only points that the team has achieved till now. Palmer's best finish was 11th in the Season Opener in Australia.
Renault Sport F1 is a team very close to my heart and I know there are lots of challenges along the way. However I am confident that one day the team would be back at the top contending for the crown. They have to recruit the right personnel with the necessary expertise and experience.
Manor Racing F1 Team :
Manor, the new name of Marussia ( from last year ) came into 2016 as supposedly the "slowest team" on the grid. Rio Haryanto ( GP2 Driver ) and DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlein signed up for them. Pascal got the drive thanks to Mercedes being the engine supplier for the team. Pascal managed to finish 10th in Austria and bring home the solitary point of the team so far. Haryanto has come up second best and sadly due to sponsorship issues has lost his seat to DTM driver and Renault F1 Reserve Driver Esteban Ocon. It would be a great feat for Manor to finish 10th in the Championship. Onwards and Upwards from there if they can manage more finances.
Sauber F1 Team :
Sauber an old yet famous in F1 is responsible for bringing in some of the fastest racers in F1. All that remains now is a mere shadow of their past. Riddled with Debt and short on finances, the team soldiers on. There have been news of a takeover doing the rounds since some time and if it comes to pass, a lot of issues would be addressed for the team. Its sad to see them struggle and I don't see any improvements happening in the near future. Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson are yet to score a point this season and both need to move up a few gears in terms of performances. Frankly, their sponsorship backings are keeping them in F1..but for how long...the question remains..
Mercedes AMG F1 Team seem unstoppable in 2016. Red Bull Racing have rediscovered their Form. Scuderia Ferrari need to work hard to stay in touch with the Table Toppers. The Constructors' Championship seems done and dusted while the Drivers' Championship should be a faceoff between the Mercedes Team-mates.
The Season returns in Belgium this weekend. F1 returns and so does sanity! Enjoy the rest of the season friends!