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2021 F1 Season Preview - New Circuits, New Lineups, but the Same Goal!

2020 was the "Year of the Pandemic". The entire world went into a state of lockdown, and the Formula 1 season, which was due to kick off in Australia in March, got pushed back to July. The pandemic intensified, and more races got postponed or cancelled altogether. The FOM worked tirelessly, and new tracks got added to the revised calendar. The majority of the season got held in Europe with many double-headers and triple headers. Eventually, the 2020 season featured 17 races over six months.

Come 2021, and the pandemic still threatens the world, but the world is fighting back! Vaccination programmes have gotten underway, and even though certain regions have gone back into lockdown, humanity is pushing on to bring normalcy back again. 

The FIA and FOM have left no stone unturned in ensuring that nothing hampers the start of the 2021 season.

The calendar for the 2021 season would feature a record-breaking 23 races, with the season kicking off at Bahrain and ending in Abu Dhabi and the Australian GP getting rescheduled to November. Imola ( Emilia Romagna GP ) and Portimao ( Portuguese GP ) are retained from the previous season, while Zandvoort ( Dutch GP ) and Jeddah ( Saudi Arabian GP ) make their debuts in 2021. The technical regulations overhaul got pushed back by another year, and teams had a small window to ready their 2021 challengers.

Two teams went through a rechristening - Renault F1 changing to Alpine Racing F1 and Racing Point becoming Aston Martin Racing F1, switching from pink to green livery! Aston Martin has joined Mercedes in sharing Safety Car duties at races. 

There were personnel changes up and down the grid - Ferrari hired the services of Sainz to partner Leclerc, Ricciardo took the Spaniard's seat at McLaren. Alonso returned to F1 with Alpine Racing while Perez made the jump to Red Bull Racing, relegating Albon to a reserve driver role. Vettel joined Stroll in the newly inducted Aston Martin Racing F1 Team. Kvyat lost his Alpha Tauri seat to Honda protegee Yuki Tsunoda. 

Haas F1 introduced an all-new lineup in Nikita Mazepin and current F2 Champion and son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, Mick Schumacher!

There have been changes in the regulations, and here are some of them :

1) The maximum spending limit for teams is reduced to $145 million. 

2) Teams will be limited in the modification of the components in the season. McLaren gets special dispensation to accommodate the switch from Renault to Mercedes power. Teams get a series of tokens that allow them to introduce specific component upgrades.

3) The DAS System designed by Mercedes is banned for 2021. 

4) The race time limit ( with the inclusion of Red Flags, if any ) reduced to three hours from four.

5) Reduction in the duration of a race weekend from four to three days with media events and interview formalities from Thursday getting shifted to Friday morning. FP1 and FP2 will be 60 minutes long ( instead of 90 ), and FIA will enforce parc-ferme conditions at the end of FP3 instead of after Qualifying.

The pre-season test got held in Bahrain instead of Catalunya, with only three days of running for the teams. How did the teams fare, and how do they stack up going into the season? 

Time for an assessment before the bout begins!

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes, the most successful team in the Turbo Era, has been setting new records each year. Mercedes has also been the pioneer of innovation, as seen in the DAS system, which unfortunately got banned for 2021. They are known to mask their pace at the pre-season tests, but this year they have had one of the most disappointing and underwhelming displays. Mercedes managed only 304 laps over three days as they tackled reliability issues and a problematic rear end on the W12. Bottas wasn't pleased with the overall balance and quipped that "they had work to do". Mercedes, by their admission, believe they can't match Red Bull in terms of race pace, but only an amateur would write off their chances before the season has even commenced. They might not be "sandbagging" like the earlier seasons, but the divide is not as big as it used to be.

Mercedes have persisted with their lineup of Hamilton and Bottas. Hamilton took his time in renewing his contract, albeit only for another year. Bottas, on the other hand, knows that his chances of winning a title are dwindling with each passing year. Hamilton has been flawless in his title defence, Bottas has been inconsistent with his results but done enough in helping Mercedes retain the Constructors' Championship every year. Mercedes protegee Russell is waiting for his chance at Williams, so Bottas can't afford any slip-ups. Lewis Hamilton will become the most successful driver of all time if he wins the title in 2021. Will Bottas be able to dethrone the reigning Champion? Highly doubtful!

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull Racing F1, the best of the rest, lost their title sponsor in Aston Martin ( for 2021 ). They are also going to lose the company of Honda at the end of 2021. However, this hasn't dampened their resolve to win. Verstappen led the charge in 2020 and was left fighting both Mercedes cars more often than not. Albon's performances came up short, and Red Bull announced their decision to assign him a Reserve Driver role for 2021. Sergio Perez, whose contract didn't get renewed at Racing Point ( now Aston Martin ), landed the drive. 

Verstappen will look to get even closer to Hamilton and Bottas, hopefully having fewer reliability issues. Perez's performances in 2020 justify him a seat at Red Bull, and he will be more than a handful once he gets up to speed. Will he able to challenge Verstappen for number one at Red Bull? Time will tell, but the team will have both their cars sparring for wins regularly. 

The RB16B has been a revelation at the pre-season tests. Red Bull seem to be in the class of their own, with no reliability issues whatsoever. Perez is also progressing well with his new ride. Mercedes is known to mask their pace until the appropriate time, but the battle looks closer than ever at the top. Red Bull is serious about winning titles again, and Verstappen and Perez might bring their hard work to fruition.

McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren won the midfield battle in 2020 but was 117 points adrift of Red Bull, who finished 2nd. The Woking-based outfit decided to switch back to Mercedes power from Renault from 2021. The iconic partnership of "McLaren Mercedes" is back! 

Lando Norris gets a new partner in Daniel Ricciardo, making this one of the strongest pairings in F1. Ricciardo is an accomplished racer with race wins to his name and is the right man to help get McLaren back to winning ways. The Australian himself yearns to be a World Champion, and McLaren might be the answer to his prayers. 

Norris is a talented racer and has been improving since his debut in 2019. The Briton bagged his first podium at the season-opener in 2020 and will be hoping to repeat this feat more often with a more potent engine at the back of his car. The intra-team battle will be a close affair.

The MCL25M, McLaren's challenger for the 2021 title, had a decent outing at the pre-season tests. While Ricciardo used testing to familiarize himself with his new car, Norris carried on with the job of providing feedback to the team, highlighting the strengths and flaws. Reliability has been McLaren's forte, and it will prove pivotal in close battles. McLaren might not be able to dethrone the top two teams but have the knowledge and resources to cement 3rd place in the Constructors' again.

Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :

Racing Point F1 changed its name to Aston Martin Cognizant F1 and its livery from pink to green for 2021. Team owner Lawrence Stroll acquired the brand, ensuring its return to "the pinnacle of motorsport" after a gap of 51 years. The team roped in the services of Sebastian Vettel, who would partner Lance Stroll. The brand further increased its presence in F1 by introducing the New Vantage as the safety car for many races. 

The team had a fantastic 2020 with one victory and three podium finishes. They came up short in the final race, which robbed them of the chance of finishing third in the Constructors'. 

However, their 2021 campaign seemed to have made a stuttering start. The pre-season test got hampered by problems ( gearbox and loss of boost pressure ) with the drivers stuck in the garage for extended periods. The limited running means that there will be a lot of learning happening going into the early rounds of the season. Vettel would need to settle in quickly since the team can't afford slip-ups in a hotly contested midfield. Stroll has a great mentor in Vettel, and the Canadian is building a reputation for himself with his consistent drivers. Aston Martin should be able to replicate the form of 2020, if not better it.

Alpine Racing F1 Team :

Alpine Racing, formerly known as Renault Sport F1, begin their challenge in 2021, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon taking the wheel of the A521. They will sport a striking blue livery with dashes of red and white. The performance division of the French marquee, Alpine Racing, had a decent showing in 2020, finishing 5th in the Constructors' Standings. 

Ricciardo left Alpine for McLaren in 2021 and got replaced by Fernando Alonso, the former Double World Champion. Alonso is well-versed with how the team operates and spent his most successful days in F1 here, so it is a win-win for both. Alonso's racecraft is hard to match, and the Spaniard can bring home unlikely results. 

Ocon continues with Alpine for the second year and will only become better. The Frenchman is an exciting prospect and will capitalize when an opportunity comes. Team chemistry will be pivotal if Alpine desires to come out on top in the midfield battle. The A521 didn't have a great outing at the pre-season tests, with the team trying multiple things over the three days. They are yet to find the perfect setup and balance, and this will continue going into Practice for the Bahrain GP. Nevertheless, as a works team, they have the resources to fund their quest to make it back to the top. 

Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari had a torrid 2020, the team failing to win a race for the first time since 2014. The ban of their fuel flow sensor meant the engine was down on power. The team's focus was on improving downforce, and that added to their troubles. Vettel, who got replaced by Sainz, had a forgettable final year, a year mired with controversies and friction with the Team Principal. 

2021 is a new beginning for the Maranello-based outfit as they try to make amends for the disappointments of 2020. They looked like the third-best team at the end of testing, the upgraded power unit reducing the straight-line speed deficit. The amount of mileage clocked by the drivers was also commendable. 

Sainz joins forces with Leclerc in 2021. The Spaniard is one of the top drivers of the sport and will play a pivotal role in getting Ferrari back up. Leclerc, Ferrari's protegee, has already proved his worth and will enjoy preference at the start of the season. The Monegasque produced some unbelievable results in 2020 and will continue to build on those this year. Both Leclerc and Sainz are ambitious, and how the team manages the duo remains to be seen. Qualifying is one area that Ferrari will hope to address this year.

Victories might still be a challenge, but Ferrari should be a lot closer to those at the sharp end of the grid.

Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :

Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's sister team, had an exciting 2020 with a win for Pierre Gasly in Italy. Daniil Kvyat hadn't done enough to warrant him a drive, and the Russian got replaced by Honda protegee and F2 runner-up Yuki Tsunoda. The team's 2021 challenger AT02 clocked the same amount of mileage as the Alfa Romeo, and Gasly was ecstatic with the progress made. The Frenchman, who is now the team leader, had a trouble-free pre-season test. His younger team-mate Tsunoda suffered from multiple issues. The height differential between the two drivers led to problems with the pedals too. Nevertheless, the rookie was able to get up to speed quickly and was setting competitive lap times. Tsunoda has shown his calibre, rising rapidly from F4 to F1 in just four years.

Alpha Tauri has been going from strength to strength, and the data collected from the tests suggests that they could feature in the upper half of the field more often than not. The intra-team battle will also be a close affair, although I believe that Gasly will prevail, eventually.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo had a disappointing 2020, the turned-down Ferrari power unit being the primary cause of their lack of performance. Fredric Vasseur, the team principal, tested positive for COVID-19 before the pre-season test, but that did not hamper the team's programs. They racked up a tally of 422 laps over three days, a sign of encouragement for them going into the opening round. The midfield was a tightly contested affair in 2020, and it seems like Alfa Romeo will be a part of that mix this year. 

The team persisted with its lineup of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi. The latter won the intra-team qualifying battle and scored the same number of points as Raikkonen. Raikkonen was more consistent at finishing races, and Giovinazzi would aim to do the same in 2021. The duo enjoys a healthy relationship, and this augurs well for the team. The team needs its drivers to qualify higher to better their chances on race day. The upgraded Ferrari power unit should add more substance to Alfa Romeo's challenge in 2021. 

Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 has been going backwards since the past few seasons and had a forgettable 2020. Haas bid goodbye to Magnussen and Grosjean, opting for an all-young lineup in Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher. 

Mick Schumacher, the son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, won the F2 Championship last season. Mazepin, who was brilliant in parts in F2, brings in the financial influx that the team so desperately needs. His inclusion attracted a lot of criticism from the fans, especially after a controversial incident that happened over the winter. Nevertheless, the Russian would be hoping to correct the wrongs on track and help the team get further up the grid. Schumacher takes a couple of races to find his feet, but once he settles in, he is unstoppable, just as his father.

Haas' 2021 challenger faced a few gremlins on Friday but racked up some mileage on Saturday. However, based on the data collected from the tests, Haas was the slowest team and will remain a backmarker in 2021. Gaining experience is paramount for Haas' rookies. They need clean races, and slowly but surely, the team will make gains in 2021. 

Williams Racing F1 Team :

Williams F1, under its new owners Dorilton Capital, will be looking to offload the tag of "backmarker" in 2021. The lack of sponsorships for the team means that the new owners need to be wise with their investments and set realistic targets. 

The team has developed their 2021 challenger, the FW43B, with improved downforce, but its sensitivity to the wind can make or break their plans. George Russell and Nicolas Latifi renew their partnership for 2021, and Williams would be hoping to see them finish in the points more often, thanks to the improvements made in the car over the winter. Russell had an eventful 2020 and would hope to iron out the errors that cost him some valuable points. Latifi will aim for more consistency in 2021. The Bahrain GP would be a good indicator of their fortunes for 2021. 

An exciting season awaits us in F1. The divide between Mercedes and Red Bull has reduced, and we could see a new champion at the end of 23 races. Iconic names like Aston Martin and Alpine will feature on the grid, and the midfield will feature a close contest again. It will be hard to predict who will win the "B" Championship. 

Who can forget the return of a "Schumacher" to the grid! All eyes will be on young Mick to see how he matures and what he can accomplish in a Haas. 

The pecking order will be clear after three or four races, but whatever that may be, we are just glad to have F1 return and return with a bang!

The battlegrounds change, the contenders change, but the goal remains the same - to Win and Lift the Crown!

Bring on 2021!

2020 F1 Season Preview - Now or Never!

The 2019 F1 Season saw new challengers to the crown. It even produced some stunning races at Germany and Brazil where the title favourites came up short. However, at the end of it all,  Mercedes AMG Petronas and Lewis Hamilton reigned supreme..for the sixth time.

The sport celebrates 70 years of racing in 2020. It is the last year before there is an overhaul of technical regulations by the FIA to bring more parity to the playing field. 2020 also sees a couple of driver changes - Esteban Ocon comes in to replace Nico Hulkenberg at Renault while Nicolas Latifi, 2019 F2 Championship Runner-up ( a rookie ) replaces Robert Kubica at Rokit Williams F1 Team who took up a reserve driver role at Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team. Sadly, Nyck de Vries, the reigning F2 Champion couldn't make a place for himself in the world of F1 and left the McLaren Driver Program to race with Mercedes in Formula E.

The Vietnam GP ( to be held in the capital city of Hanoi ) and the Dutch GP at Zandvoort are the new tracks added to the F1 Calendar. The German Grand Prix, unfortunately, made its exit for 2020.

So what has changed on the Regulations side for 2020?

1) Teams will be allowed to use one more MGU-K unit compared to 2019 to compensate for the increased demands of contesting twenty-two races.

2) Pre-season tests are shortened from 4 days to 3 and the mid-season tests of Bahrain and Spain have been done away with to ease the strain of a longer season.

3) Teams aren't allowed to hide their cars / put up screens during the Test Days.

4) The Hours of Curfew are extended from Eight to Nine, allowing mechanics some more rest on Race Weekends. Teams, however, are allowed to break the curfew twice in one season without attracting a penalty.

5) The rules surrounding jump-starts and missing the weighbridge procedure ( in-session ) have been softened. This will allow stewards to dish out less severe punishments ( based on steward discretion ). 

6) The "Waving of the Chequered Flag" makes a return. The Chequered Light Panel has been done away with after a glitch caused the Japanese GP to end a lap earlier in 2019. 

7) Drivers will have more control at Race Starts. 90% of the engine’s torque will be controlled directly on the driver’s command with their clutch paddle or paddles ( which the rules now stipulate to be “pull-type” paddles ). Drivers will still have stall prevention and bite point finder functions available to them – but the onus is now even more on them to make sure they get a good getaway.

The pre-season tests are done and dusted. The Season Opener in Australia is next. 

Let us have a look at the report card of each team post-testing!

Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

Mercedes AMG Petronas has been the strongest team in the Turbo Era. They have snapped up all the titles on offer since 2014. The pre-season tests in 2020 suggest it might be no different. Mercedes always find novel ways to stay ahead of the competition and the latest addition to their arsenal was the Dual Axis Steering system or DAS. 

So what is DAS? I quote "The DAS system works by Bottas and Hamilton pushing and pulling on the steering wheel in the cockpit of their W11, the action affecting a change on the car’s front wheel toe angle – with conjecture remaining about the exact benefits the system brings." They will be using it in Melbourne as the tests revealed the system works brilliantly. 

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas stay with the team for 2020. They enjoy an amicable relationship with a fair bit of competitiveness on track. Bottas had a better outing in 2019 and will be hoping to mount a bigger challenge for the title. Lewis Hamilton is chasing the dream of equaling Michael Schumacher's record of 7 World Titles! Hamilton had a near-perfect 2019 but in 2020 Bottas won't be the only challenger to the title. Max Verstappen and the Ferrari Duo will be gunning for it as well. Hamilton has been there, done that on 6 he has an edge.

Mercedes clocked the highest number of laps in the pre-season tests while Bottas was the only driver to go set a 1min 15s lap. The only hiccup came in the form of a breakdown in the power unit during testing ( something they will address before Australia ). Their pace on track is also backed up by brilliant strategic calls, something that was a regular feature at races where they weren't the quickest. 

Mercedes are once again the team to beat in 2020. Period.

Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

Red Bull had a challenging start to 2019.  Max Verstappen brought home a chunk of points, podiums and victories up while Pierre Gasly, the recruit that replaced Daniel Ricciardo found it hard to make things work in the A-team. He was eventually demoted ( at Spa, Belgium ) and replaced by Alexander Albon who hit the track running with very strong performances. His finishes in the second half of the season warranted him a seat for 2020, to partner Max Verstappen. If Mercedes boast about their DAS System then Red Bull have some innovations of their own - a clever new steering and double bulkhead arrangement that is seen on their challenger RB 16.

Max Verstappen will be the leader at Red Bull while Albon will provide a solid supporting role. Verstappen's Orange Army will be looking forward to flooding the stands for the maiden Dutch GP in Zandvoort. Verstappen even got a few laps on the circuit thanks to a Red Bull event there. It will be interesting to see how the cars cope with the Banking that makes a return after the races at Indianapolis in the US.

Red Bull will need Albon to bring home some podiums and possibly wins that will aid them in the Constructors' fight. Honda proved to be the 2nd fastest engine after Mercedes in pre-season testing, so the signs look promising. They need to ensure that the engines stay reliable though, something that hurt them in the business end of 2019.

Red Bull will be hot on Mercedes' heels. Will they be able to sustain a challenge consistently throughout the season is another question. Unlike 2019, there isn't as much uncertainty about the competitiveness of their drivers and the team can channelize their energies towards reducing the gap at the front.

Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

Ferrari, the most successful team in F1 is going through one of the longest droughts in terms of winning a Championship. They have worked hard to make it back up since the onset of the Turbo Era but their best hasn't been good enough vs the might of the Mercedes. 2019 was going to be their year, with the fastest car and an amazing driver pairing ( mix of experience and youth ). However, it all fell apart with strategic howlers, driver errors, on track skirmishes and reliability problems. They even went on to admit that there was a fundamental flaw in the design of the car, something that couldn't be undone. There were also questions raised and an investigation launched by the FIA over the legality of their engine with regards to fuel consumption and their sensors. A settlement was done recently, something that didn't go down well with the other teams ( the ones not powered by Ferrari ). Nonetheless, they finished P2 in the Constructors' Championship with their drivers finishing 4th and 5th. 

The team already seem to be on the backfoot before the start of 2020. They were consistently lapping half a second slower than the Mercedes on the straights in their effort to improve cornering speeds at the pre-season tests. Some Experts suggest that Ferrari were sandbagging, something that they aren't good at. Based on the results from the pre-season tests, Ferrari seems to be the 3rd fastest team on the grid. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc renew their partnership. It remains to be seen who will enjoy the number 1 status ( although it fell apart after a few races ). Vettel is aware of the fact that this is his last chance at winning a championship with Ferrari; Leclerc wants to establish himself as the driver to back for the title fight. Ferrari function well with a clear Number 1 and Number 2, they must ensure it stays that way if they wish to mount a challenge of any kind this year. There can be no room for politics or in-fighting within the team. The top brass must ensure that they back their personnel in their respective areas of expertise.

Racing Point F1 Team :

Racing Point had a mercurial 2019, finishing P7 in the Constructors' Championship. The bulk of the points were scored by Sergio Perez while the new entrant Lance Stroll took some time to find his feet. The team has been on the rebuild ( albeit with new owners ) and there is no doubt that they are here to stay and are serious about taking the fight to the big boys. The 2020 Challenger has striking similarities to the W10, Mercedes' Championship Winning Car from last year, thereby attracting the attention of many in the paddock. It has been setting swift lap times in the pre-season tests and being dubbed the 4th fastest car ( possibly ) by the experts. Perez too admitted that this was the best car he has ever driven in F1. Perez will be the driver to lead the charge according to me. He is well versed with the way the team works and capable of providing precise information for developing the car even further. It is still early days for Stroll but he will need to bring his A-game to the table if the team wants to move up the grid. This season will reveal his true abilities and hopefully address all reservations that experts had about him. 

Racing Point has been there, done that. They have a really strong contender for 2020. Hopefully, it can deliver consistent performances every race weekend. The unreliable ( for now ) Mercedes Powertrain could be the chink in their armour..time will tell.

Renault Sport F1 Team :

Renault had a good outing in Barcelona in the pre-season tests. They were the 3rd fastest team ( on one lap pace ), even beating the mighty Scuderia Ferrari. The French-based outfit landed the services of the Flying Frenchman Esteban Ocon to partner Daniel Ricciardo for 2020. Cyril Abiteboul, the Team Principal has to start delivering in 2020, especially after the disappointments of 2019 or his place is in peril. The team are also aware of the fact that another mediocre year and they stand to lose their prized asset in Daniel Ricciardo to another team. Esteban Ocon will take some time in settling into the team so the onus will be on Ricciardo to deliver from the word go. The signs look positive from the results in Barcelona but the real capabilities of the car will be revealed in Bahrain ( a power track ). They have an equally good driver pairing, if not better, in their battle with their immediate rivals in McLaren. Both drivers will be pushing each other all through the season and if they can perform at the level that they are capable of performing, then they can be the best of the rest.

I still believe that getting into the Top 3 won't be possible, even though the deficit has reduced. The Team have the resources, the personnel, the facilities to keep developing their challenger throughout the year. Hopefully, 2020 is the Year of Revival!

McLaren F1 Team :

McLaren worked hard in 2019 and reaped the rewards with their 4th place finish in the Constructors' and a 3rd place finish for Carlos Sainz Jr. in Brazil.. their first podium in 2072 days. However, its a known fact that the higher you go up the grid, the tougher it becomes. McLaren will be well aware of the fact that the Renault works team will leave no stone unturned in reclaiming the 4th place that they lost in 2019. Their biggest asset in this battle is their Driver Pairing of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr. The latter finished 6th ( best of the rest ) winning what is known as the "B Championship" in the media circles. while Norris had a great year as a rookie. Both are capable of replicating ( if not going better ) their performances in 2020. The Team will look upon Sainz to spearhead the challenge. They should hope to score more podiums in 2020 to assert themselves as a force to reckon with. Norris has worked hard over the winter break to get fitter and faster. He could be the next best thing for Britain ( after Hamilton ) in racing. 

This year, pre-season tests suggest that it is going to be a close contest between the two Renault powered teams. It is tough to put your money on either. The team was slow off the blocks but came into their own after a few rounds in 2019; but as of now, based on the data received, they seem to be the 6th fastest team on the grid. 

Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team ( formerly Scuderia Toro Rosso ) :

Scuderia Alpha Tauri which was formerly known as Scuderia Toro Rosso had a memorable 2019 with 2 podium finishes for both their drivers, something that other mid-field placed teams weren't able to accomplish. They will be aiming to throw up more surprises in 2020 in their new avatar and livery. They persist with their lineup of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat did a fine job in 2019 and Gasly came into his own after Red Bull decided to demote him down the grid into the B Team. Both the drivers will be hoping to maintain the momentum going into 2020. I hope both get an opportunity to prove themselves with a top team in the future ( if not Red Bull ).

Toro Rosso has always been in the mix, 2020 is going to be no different.  The biggest positive for them will be the mileage they have clocked in the pre-season tests. The Honda Power Unit ( which is getting faster and more reliable with each passing day ) coupled with a potent chassis will pose a serious challenge to their immediate contenders. Team Principal Franz Tost is bullish about 2020 and believes his team can finish in P5 at the end of 2020. McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr. also stated that Alpha Tauri was one of the two teams he feared most for 2020. They finished P6 in will be tough to go better than that in 2020 but in never know.

Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :

Alfa Romeo Racing F1 is now known as Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 after Orlen, the Polish-based Oil Refinement Company came on board as a co-title sponsor. Robert Kubica, the ex- Williams Driver joined the team in the reserve driver role while Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi continue their partnership for another year. It was a good decision to persist with the latter; he has had a very strong second half in 2019 and should be able to maintain the momentum in 2020. In Kimi Raikkonen, the team has the wise old head and he will always be a force to reckon with. ( This could be his last year in F1 though ). He is adept at eking out results while Giovinazzi with his revived form could be auditioning for a potential seat in 2021 at Ferrari. Both share a great relationship, the Italian Stallion learning the trade with the Iceman as his mentor.

Alfa Romeo's performances in the pre-season tests have been somewhat of a hit and miss. The low-fuel runs were good but race simulations a disappointment. Both drivers reiterated the need to make changes before the Australian GP and the Hinwil based outfit must ensure that they don't lag in the ever-so-tight midfield.  Strategic calls will also be a big make or break in the races, something that the team struggled within 2019. 

It is early days for a prediction but I do hope to see the team battle hard in the points scoring positions, possibly even for a podium.

Haas F1 Team :

Haas F1 had a season to forget in 2019; after the highs of 2018, the team weren't able to break the rut of mediocrity in 2019. Their decision to persist with their current pairing of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2020 came as a big surprise. The only logical reason behind this seems to be their desire for continuity and working with people who are well versed with the functioning of the team. Pre-season tests suggest that the car is nowhere near the level of performance they expect it to be. Some experts believe that this will be the slowest car on the grid in 2020. The Ferrari power unit has also been through an overhaul and all isn't well on the powertrain side either. It might end up being a very long season for the team.

Gene Haas, the team owner has made it clear that he will reconsider his decision to continuing in the sport should their results not improve in 2020. Roman and Kevin must ensure that they work together, as one, in propelling the team forward, maximizing results as and when the opportunities arise. This year will decide the fate of both, the drivers and the team. They can't be sparring team-mates, they have to justify their status as F1 drivers.

Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

Williams was the slowest team on the grid in 2019. The team also lost a sponsor ( Orlen ) which left with Robert Kubica who moved to Alfa Romeo ( as a reserve driver )They have roped in the services of F2 Driver and 2019 F2 Runner-up Nicolas Latifi to partner George Russell for 2020. Russell will have his hands full since Latifi isn't a slouch. He will eventually come out on top I feel.

Williams was the first car out on track for the pre-season tests.. a big step from not running on the first 2 days last pre-season. They even put in a considerable number of laps albeit with a few hiccups on the powertrain side. They are in the thick of the lower half ( 7th to 9th ) of the field and must work hard throughout the year to ensure they don't lose touch of their immediate rivals There seem to be better days ahead with a slightly faster car, a young and fast driver pairing but the biggest challenge will be finances and their ability to bring in upgrades throughout the year. 

2020 is an important year for the team and its top brass..they can't be stuck in this vicious cycle of staying last every year..something drastic will have to be done then.

The outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus :

The start of the 2020 F1 Season is less than a week away and the entire sporting spectacle is under serious threat due to the global outbreak of the COVID - 19 Coronavirus. The virus, whose origins were in China has spread rapidly claiming the lives and infected many globally. 

Moto GP, Formula One's counterpart on 2 wheels, had to cancel their season opener in Qatar and some other GPs also seem to be impacted.

In F1, the Chinese Grand Prix ( 4th Race on the Calendar ) has been postponed due to the outbreak. The Bahrain Grand Prix Organisers have declared the race to be a "Participant - only" event. The Maiden Vietnam GP could also be cancelled if the situation fails to improve. There are logistical hassles as well due to these schedule changes. The Australian GP ( as of now ) proceeds as planned.

Travel Restrictions and Quarantine procedures have been enforced by various countries to control and contain the spread of the virus. Italy is one of the countries badly hit and this will impact the number of personnel that teams like Scuderia Ferrari and Scuderia Alpha-Tauri can deploy for a race weekend. 

Praying for all those affected by the virus and wishing everyone a speedy recovery...

F1 returns ( hopefully ) and so will sanity! This will be Kimi Raikkonen's last year in F1 and I hope he has a great end to an illustrious career. I plan to be at 4 races to support him and Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo Orlen colours! 

Ferrari gets another shot to make it to the top. Is Ferrari sandbagging and trying to hide their cards until the last moment? We shall know soon.. Haas F1 and Rokit Williams F1 need to have a decent season in 2020 to deem it favourable to stay beyond 2020 ( for Haas ) and keep the team alive and potentially grow ( for Williams ). Red Bull need to ensure their challenger gives Mercedes a hard time and keeps Verstappen convinced that this is the team to be in for 2021. Renault Sport F1 Team can't afford to get it wrong again..they have a lot at stake besides holding onto Daniel Ricciardo.

Title Number 7 beckons for both Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes AMG Petronas F1... probably the year of completion of their fruitful partnership. He might look at other pastures post-2020...

A lot will be revealed throughout the season. It is the year of "Now or Never" for so many!

Bring on F1 2020!

2019 F1 Season Preview - Win the Battles, Win the War

2018 was a great year for Mercedes AMG F1 and Lewis Hamilton as they lifted the title for the 5th time. 2018 also saw Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 do a fabulous job, be it Fan Interaction and Access Trackside or coverage off it. 

2019 is upon us and the Pre-season tests have finished. The First Race is merely 10 days away and the excitement is already building. 2019 will see Sauber rebranded as Alfa Romeo, Sahara Force India as Racing Point F1. 

The sport will also have rookies like George Russell ( reigning F2 Champion ), Lando Norris, Alexander Albon while Daniel Kvyat and old gun Robert Kubica return from their sabbaticals!

2019 is also a teaser for the Technical Regulations overhaul in 2021. A lot has changed in terms of Front Wing Design, Barge boards, Brake Ducts design, Rear wing width which will affect downforce and promise to improve wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking. 

Lets have a quick look at the Rule Changes for the Season ( source : )

Technical Regulations :

1) The front wing endplates are reshaped to alter the airflow across the car and reduce the effects of aerodynamic turbulence. Winglets above the main plane of the front wing have been banned. 

2) The slot in the rear wing is wider, this will make DRS more powerful. Two additional rear lights, one on each endplate to improve visibility in poor weather conditions. These must be illuminated at all times when a driver is using intermediate or wet-weather tyres.

Pre-season tests also saw green coloured tail-lights on Albon's car; these indicated that the driver didn't have the required super-license points ( for a Grand Prix ).

    3) Smaller – and repositioned – barge boards to make them less powerful and less aerodynamically disruptive.This ultimately helps make the flow coming off the rear of the car less problematic for following drivers, meaning they should be able to get closer to the car in front. 

    4) Simplified Brake Ducts design to reduce the aerodynamic exploitation of brake ducts.

    5) Maximum fuel levels are raised from 105 kg to 110 kg so as to minimise the need for drivers to conserve fuel during a race.

    6) Driver weights are no longer considered when measuring the minimum weight of the car. Drivers who weigh less than 80 kg will have to make up this weight with ballast, located around the seat to minimise possible performance gains. This will aid Drivers who have a taller or larger frame, Nico Hulkenberg for example.

    7) New Standard for helmets and stricter crash helmet specifications

    8) Biometric Gloves for drivers so that their vitals can be monitored at all times and valuable information can be relayed in the event of a crash.

    A lot more is explained in this Video Link :

    Tyres :

    Pirelli complied with the FIA and FOM's request to simplify the naming conventions for Tyre compounds for race weekends. Dry Tyre Compounds will be termed as "Soft, Medium and Hard" besides the Intermediates and Full Wets. Now each Grand Prix will feature simply a white-marked hard tyre, a yellow-marked medium, and a red-marked soft. However, the actual compounds used for those three designations will change depending on the circuit, with Pirelli having five treads to choose from – C1 being the hardest, C5 the softest ( Tyre Treads and characteristics mirror the range from Hypersoft to Hard from 2018 to some extent ). 

    Marc Priestly has done a fabulous job at explaining the Tyre Changes ( Video Link ) :


    So how do the teams stack up and what are their chances for 2019? Here are my 2 cents..

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

    Mercedes retain their lineup for 2019 with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. The Latter will have to prove his worth to warrant a seat in 2020. Lewis should be able to maintain the edge over his team-mate and I see him as a favourite for the title. Bottas will have a stronger 2019 and should aim to win races first to make a strong case for himself in the Title Fight. 

    Mercedes was not the fastest car on the grid for the major part of 2018. 2019 seems to be a similar story based on the results of the pre-season tests. However they were always there to capitalize on the mistakes made by their competitors. They managed the Drivers' Title Fight in a professional way, prioritizing results for Lewis who they believed could bring the trophy home and the 5 time World Champion didn't disappoint. They also need to improve results at street circuits and ensure optimum engine performance at higher altitudes, the Achilles' heel of their car. Mercedes cannot afford to be complacent in 2019. The Gap at the front is now non-existent.

    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    Ferrari the most successful team in the History of F1 is yet to lift the title in the "Turbo Era". The Talent has always been there, be it off the track or on it but they have come up second best. 2018 was their best shot at both titles and sadly they blew it with strategic blunders and some driver mistakes. Ferrari replace Kimi Raikkonen with Charles LeClerc for 2019. It is no secret that he is the next big thing and will eventually be champion...whether he will be able to beat a 4 time World Champion in Sebastian Vettel is a completely different story.  The Team has stated that they will favour Vettel in the opening few rounds, a logical decision considering LeClerc will need time to adjust to his new team. LeClerc posted some blistering laps during the tests and if he does manage to outdo his more experienced team-mate, things might get fiesty. The bosses have to be clear and precise in their decision making, we all know what unfolds when the team-mate battle heats up. Vettel must ensure that he doesn't repeat his mistakes on track, his greatest weapon will be his experience.

    The team has also gone through a Management Overhaul over the winter while some have left to move to greener pastures. Ferrari are the team to beat based on the results of the tests. They have the strongest driver pairing on the grid according to me. The Constructors should be well within their grasp. The people should be allowed to carry out their respective roles without any hindrance or interference, something that they failed to adhere to in the past year. Will they prevail in 2019 or will team politics be the cause of their undoing? Only time will tell.

    Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull had a tough time with Renault since 2014 and decided to switch to Honda Power for 2019. Daniel Ricciardo bid adieu to the team and Pierre Gasly was promoted to partner Max Verstappen. Max had a strong second half in 2018 and will be hoping to maintain the momentum. Gasly isn't expected to be as quick as Max ( the team believes so ) and might have to play second fiddle for the majority of the season. Max is another contender for the crown, the chink in his armour would be the reliability and performance of the Honda power unit. The car put on some decent mileage in the tests and both drivers agreed that there was a performance deficit to the cars in front. The team is capable of overcoming that with a better aerodynamic package and are they sandbagging? We shall know soon.

    Red Bull have always been there when the top two teams slipped up. They know how to win Championships and with 2 drivers hungry for the title, they can make it a reality. They are serious contenders for 2019. 

    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    Renault got the prize catch of Daniel Ricciardo from Red Bull for 2019, that in itself has been a huge morale booster. Nico Hulkenberg is the other driver for the Enstone based outfit while Carlos Sainz Jr left to join McLaren. Renault was P4 in the Championship and will aim to go one better in 2019. They have a race winner in Ricciardo and Hulkenberg is a consistent points scorer. Ricciardo knows that he has taken a challenging decision. He is in a place where he has to rear the team back to the top of the pile. Hulkenberg will have a good point of reference and his performances will improve too. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team will be a force to reckon with.

    Renault's goal should be to finish P3 in the Championship. Finishing on the podium will be as good as a win. Their rise to the top is about to get tougher now. They have the funds as a works team and I do hope they accomplish what they set out to achieve.

    Sportpesa Racing Point F1 Team :

    Sportpesa Racing Point F1, the new name for the Force India F1 team preserves the livery from 2018 ( well almost ). They have relieved Ocon of his services and roped in Lance Stroll to partner Sergio Perez. Stroll's appointment was no surprise since his father spearheaded the acquisition of the team and saved it from going into administration. It wasn't smooth sailing between Ocon and Perez in the last 2 seasons, hopefully things change in 2019 with a new entrant. The team must focus on maximizing finishes in the points if they want to be the best of the rest. The car isn't without flaws but Racing Point is known to come into its fore once the European leg kicks off. Perez will be the better performer according to me. It will be a steep learning curve for Stroll. 

    The team has a considerable number of sponsors ( funding ) and with the Mercedes engine at the back, they can be the fastest  customer team on the grid.

    McLaren F1 Team :

    McLaren a name that is synonymous with wins and titles. The last few years have been anything but that. Life in the Turbo Era has been an uphill struggle for them, first with Honda and then with Renault. The switch to the latter revealed the design flaws in the car and the team had to start afresh for 2019. Thankfully the signs look positive after pre-season testing. I still don't think they will be in the sharp end of the grid but more as a strong midfield team. McLaren sports a completely new driver lineup with Stoffel Vandoorne making way for Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso taking a sabbatical to be replaced by Carlos Sainz Jr. 

    McLaren won't have much in terms of Drivers' experience but with Alonso allowed to participate in some tests, they should get constructive feedback . Norris is the future and hopefully he can showcase his talent in 2019. Sainz Jr has been in the sport for sometime now and will know how to maximize results whenever the opportunity arises. A lot is riding for the team in 2019. They simply can't have another mediocre year.

    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 is the only other team to retain its driver lineup in 2019. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen had a decent 2018, the former still suffered from braking issues. Pre-season tests yielded productive results and Haas should be able to remain the fastest Ferrari customer team. The main challenge for Haas will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1. They do need more financial influx and sponsorship deals to improve on the R&D front. Lets hope 2019 opens up new vistas for them.

    Alfa Romeo Racing F1 Team :

    Alfa Romeo, the iconic Italian brand makes a return to the sport after a long hiatus. The Sauber F1 Team got officially rebranded as Alfa Romeo Racing. They have roped in the services of the Iceman Kimi Raikkonen, who swapped seats with Charles LeClerc and Antonio Giovinazzi. Life in F1 has come full circle for Kimi, returning to the team where his journey first began. Kimi will also have the freedom to race and express himself, a freedom he rarely experienced in Ferrari. The Team Factory is also pretty close to his home in Baar, Switzerland, so its a win win for both parties. For Antonio Giovinazzi its a make or break year. This is his chance to showcase his talent and convince the top bosses at Ferrari that he has it in him. He will be well trained under the watchful eyes of Kimi who is also a mentor in the team.

    The team ended 2018 on a good note and will have a strong base going into the 2019 season. There is work to be done but pre-season tests have given us a hint of the car's true potential. Hoping the best for the Iceman, who knows maybe a podium this year!

    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso had a mediocre 2018 and they will be hoping to better things in 2019. Toro Rosso re-hire Daniil Kyvat alongwith rookie Alexander Albon for 2019. There is a lot of inexperience in the lineup but then Toro Rosso have always been the auditioning team for Red Bull. Kvyat has a second shot at F1 and will be hoping to justify his appointment. Albon was an accomplished racer in Formula 2 but F1 is a totally different ball game. However I do see him getting the better of Kvyat over the course of the year.

    Toro Rosso don't have the plethora of resources like their big brother. They will have a potent chassis as always and will be hoping for races of attrition to end up in points scoring positions. I don't see them go better than P9 in 2019.

    Rokit Williams Racing F1 Team :

    Williams Martini Racing got rechristened to Rokit Williams Racing F1. Rokit, their title sponsor is a global telecommunications company. They also showcased their new livery, a White and Blue combination. The car was launched on schedule but it wasn't ready in time for testing! Their challenger eventually made it to Barcelona on Wednesday, 2 days later than the rest, not to mention the valuable mileage lost. The First couple of days were essentially shakedowns before they actually got down to business. They seem destined to be backmarkers for the start of the season. The team lost a couple of sponsors to Racing Point ( after Lawrence Stroll acquired Racing Point ) A team that has so much history about it, its sad to see them devoid of finances, sponsorships and direction. Will the team be able to turn their fortunes around? I really hope! 

    Reigning Formula 2 Champion George Russell and the veteran Robert Kubica are the drivers hired for 2019. The Latter's selection came as a surprise since he has never been at the same level of racing after his horrific accident. He had to leave the sport and after a lot of hard work and dedication, he has made it back to the grid so kudos to him. He has a loyal fan base from Poland so I am sure that Liberty wouldn't be complaining.  It will be intriguing to see how he copes with the physical and mental strains of a full season. Russell beat Norris with some fabulous performances in F2 and will have an edge in the intra-team battle. 

    Lewis Hamilton faces one of the toughest tests in his F1 career. Sebastian Vettel is thirsty for his 5th Title. Charles LeClerc wants to join the elite club of Drivers to win the Championship in their maiden year with Ferrari ( Kimi Raikkonen was one of them ). Max Verstappen will leave no stone unturned in his challenge. Valtteri Bottas cannot play 2nd fiddle again, his ride is on the line. Ricciardo in a Renault and Raikkonen in an Alfa Romeo will make life tough for the true contenders. 

    F1 has always seen periods of dominance throughout its history. We had the McLarens and the Ferraris in the late 90s and early 2000s, Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 and then throne was usurped by Mercedes AMG F1 who are yet to be beaten. The battle in the front has gotten intense with each passing year but the three pointed star always found a way to prevail at the end. Ferrari seem to be the fastest ( like in 2018 ) but they need to win the smaller contests first to eventually win the war. The competitors must rally their troops and ensure minimal slip-ups else the status quo will remain. 

    2019 will be a spectacle to behold.

    The neutrals want a new king..Will it happen in 2019? Only time will tell.

    2018 F1 Season Preview - Halo, F1 is back!

    The 2017 F1 Season was a closely contested affair up until the Mid-Season Break. The season ended in style in Abu Dhabi and as the F1 fraternity headed into the winter break, the sport turned a page in the Chapter of the "Turbo Era". 

    Liberty Media, the new owners of F1 ensured the return of the French Grand Prix ( Paul Ricard Circuit ), German Grand Prix ( Hockenheimring ) thus making 2018 the longest season in F1 History.

    The iconic logo made way for another, "Grid Girls" make an exit from the sport and these garnered mixed reactions from fans but the concept of having "Grid Kids" was welcomed by one and all!

    A Summary of the Changes in the 2018 F1 Season ( source : ) :

    Technical regulations:

    - T-wings and shark-fin style engine covers outlawed
    - halo cockpit protection device mandatory
    - suspension systems that could alter the car’s aero performance over a lap not allowed

    Sporting regulations:

    - drivers allowed three rather than four power units per season
    - simplified grid penalties for power unit changes
    - wider range of dry tyre compounds

    The greatest technical change is the addition of a new safety measure to closed cockpit racing - something which extends to the feeder series as well - The Halo!

    Incorporating the device into the monocoque has created many engineering problems and increased the mass of the car. Driver escape time has been adjusted to seven seconds to leave the cockpit and twelve seconds for escape and replacing the steering wheel. Frontal crash test standards will also be higher with the objective of improving the protection against carbon elements breaking through the chassis.

    Different iterations of the Halo were tested by teams throughout the 2017 season but we saw the final model at the pre-season tests :

    ( Pic credit : XPB Images )


    Pirelli remain the official tyre suppliers for 2018 and have increased the available dry weather range from five to seven variants. They have also introduced a superhard and a hypersoft option.

    The side wall colour designations are as follows: Hypersoft – Pink Ultrasoft – Purple Supersoft – Red Soft – Yellow Medium – White Hard – Blue Superhard – Orange.

    Pirelli will supply three dry weather compounds per race and intermediates and full wet weather tyres when required.

    So how have the teams fared at the tests? What are their prospects for the season? Time to find out!

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :

    Mercedes retained Valtteri Bottas for 2018. Bottas played the perfect team-mate to Hamilton in 2017 and the decision to extend his contract was a no-brainer. The team flexed their muscles and were the fastest in the pre-season tests. They have a lot in reserve and will be the team to beat in 2018. 

    Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have been raking up the miles and the car is very reliable. It will be interesting to see how Mercedes' latest challenger performs at circuits like Singapore which were unforgiving in the past. "Damage Limitation" is a rare occurrence for the fastest team in the Turbo Era and they seem to be favourites to lift the Constructors' Crown. Lewis' aim will be to become a 5 time World Champion but will Bottas pose a threat? I believe his challenge will fizzle out towards the business end of the season. Lewis remains my favourite to retain his championship crown.

    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    Ferrari had a strong 2017 and Sebastian Vettel was a contender for the crown until the coming together in Singapore derailed his chances. The results after the Mid-Season break hurt the team badly and it seemed that they had lost the plot. The Team has lost its Title sponsor for 2018. However the results from pre-season tests prove that the car is no slouch. It is more than capable of challenging for the title. 2017 was a solid base to build on, its time to go one better in 2018.

    Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen renew their partnership in 2018. Its no secret that they share the healthiest relationship between team-mates on the grid. Kimi is a team man and the team sees Vettel as their main challenger to the title. Kimi might be calling it a day at the end of the season and will be pushing all the way. Hope to see him win some races this year. Vettel's biggest challenger is Hamilton. The prospect of two 4 time World Champions facing off is too good to miss! Ferrari need to ensure that they don't repeat the tactical errors of 2017. They must remember that they have 2 cars racing and have competitive strategies for both. Its a long road ahead but it will be a start..

    Aston Martin Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull kicks off 2018 with Aston Martin becoming a major shareholder in the team. Its nice to see the presence of a new manufacturer on the grid ( although the team uses Tag Heuer branded Renault engines ). Red Bull had a strong second half in 2017 and will look to build from there. They seem to be the 3rd fastest from the pre-season tests but then the tests are just indicators of what is to unfold. There are certain tracks on the calendar where the car is far superior to its rivals and then there are tracks where the power deficit simply cannot be compensated for. Red Bull will be hoping that the power disparity isn't as much as it was in 2017. They will definitely have Ferrari nervously looking over their shoulders in 2018.

    Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the dynamic duo drive for Red Bull in 2018. Daniel had a good outing in 2017 but Max's campaign was riddled with reliability issues. Red Bull wouldn't want a repeat of 2017 since its no secret that Max with his abilities and racing acumen, is hot property in the driver market. Ricciardo too is yet to clarify where his loyalties will lie beyond 2018. So its a make or break year for the car. Red Bull boast of a very potent lineup, 2 drivers who can pounce at the tiniest of slip-ups. Beating the Mercedes and Ferrari will be no walk in the park but they have the personnel and the power to make this a reality.

    Sahara Force India F1 Team :

    Force India F1 had quite an eventful winter break - first news of a name change and now news of a possible buyout. Pre-season tests yielded grim results and the team must address issues as soon as possible to minimize the damage that could happen in the first few races. McLaren, Renault will be stronger this year so retaining P4 in the Constructors will be a tough ask.

    The Relatively Volatile partnership of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon might damage the team's chances in 2018. The team must ensure that wheel to wheel racing between the team-mates is kept clean and incidents such as those in 2017 aren't repeated. Will Force India remain the fastest Mercedes Customer Team in 2018? I have serious doubts.

    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    Renault made their return as a works team in 2015 and since then its been an uphill task. Renault retains the services of Nico Hulkenberg along with the loanee Carlos Sainz Jr. from the Red Bull Driver Program. Renault's focus has been on improving reliability since 2017 and it seems to be paying dividends now. The Pre-Season tests yielded decent results and initial reports suggest that the team should be able to finish consistently in the points at the races. They must capitalise on any slip-ups by the front runners. I believe their battle with McLaren ( now a Renault customer team ) will be a closesly fought one and they should prevail at the end of the year.

    Hulkenberg and Sainz Jr. are an interesting duo. They will be pushing each other throughout the year. Both are clean racers. Its hard to put one's money on who could win the Intra-team battle. Renault should also explore the possibility of signing Sainz Jr. on a long term contract. It will help them in their quest to make it to the sharp end of the grid. I really hope the best for them!

    McLaren Renault F1 Team :

    McLaren Renault, 2 names that were never seen together in the lifespan of F1. McLaren had some amazing battles with the Renault works team in the early 2000s but after breaking off from Mercedes and joining forces with Honda ( returning as an engine supplier ) in 2015, McLaren went into a downward spiral. Their partnership with Honda was a disaster leading existing sponsors away from the brand and pushing them into making the big decision of becoming a Renault  customer team from 2018 ( for 3 years ). Reliability and lack of pace hurt the McLaren Honda assocation. McLaren has to rebuild itself from 2018 and strive to return to the glory days of old..

    McLaren have the perfect combination of experience and youth in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. Alonso is still one of the best and getting a competent car under him is long due. Alonso will be instrumental in improving the car throughout 2018. Vandoorne is an exciting prospect for the future and will bring home the results. Reliability still seems to be the challenge for the team but pace has improved drastically. The signs for 2018 are positive. Lets hope it stays that way!

    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso broke away from Renault and signed a deal with Honda engines for 2018. Many questioned the thought behind such a decision. They also lost a sponsor to Renault Sport F1 ( after Sainz Jr's loan deal ). However the top brass in the team seem to know what they are doing. Ironically Toro Rosso was the team to clock the most number of miles in the pres-season tests while McLaren was riddled with mechanical failures and driver errors. The big question for the team : Can they sustain this kind of reliability through the year. I have my reservations.

    Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly will drive for Toro Rosso in 2018. Both are relatively inexperienced but how they fare would determine whether they can make it to the A team, should a spot open up in 2019. Hartley will be the man who will lead the charge according to me. Gasly will enter the fray eventually. Toro Rosso boast of a potent chassis. Consistent point finishes should be easy for them. 

    Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

    Williams retain the services of Lance Stroll for 2018. Sergei Sirotkin, a rookie joins their ranks alongwith Robert Kubica who will take up the spot of Reserve Driver. The choice has been an interesting one considering the fact that Sirotkin has big financial backing. Williams has a strong car for 2018 but will the inexperience of their drivers cost them in the long run? The absence of Felipe Massa who called it a day ( this time for good ) means Stroll will be bearing the burden of scoring points while Sirotkin finds his feet in the sport. 

    Williams must fare better in 2018. They had 3 torrid years and a good 2018 is very important to ensure that they have a title sponsor for 2019 ( Martini leaves at the end of 2018 ).

    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 continue their quest to become the best with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the wheel. Grosjean will be the more reliable, Mangussen's performances were pretty mercurial in 2017. Grosjean will be hoping that the braking issues he suffered in 2017 wouldn't repeat itself. The main challenge for Haas will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1. They do need more financial influx and sponsorship deals to improve on the R&D front. Lets hope 2018 opens up new vistas for them.

    Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team :

    Alfa Romeo a name that was associated with the sport for long, now makes a re-entry in 2018 alongwith Sauber. The Swiss team, which has struggled financially for a number of years, will be rebranded as Alfa Romeo Sauber from 2018 after a technical and commercial partnership was agreed. The Italian manufacturer will have their logo carried on the car, although it will still be powered by year-old Ferrari engines. Sauber released Pascal Wehrlein and aquired the services of GP2 Champion and rookie Charles LeClerc for 2018. LeClerc is an class act and I believe he will outperform Marcus Ericsson in 2018. The Swede retains his seat thanks to the sizeable sponsorship deals he brings to his employers. Ferrari will definitely have an influence and say in this team since Alfa Romeo belongs to FCA of which Ferrari is also a subsidary.

    The F1 Season kicks off this weekend in Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia! 

    Mercedes are still favourites to retain the crown but Ferrari are close on their heels. The results in Bahrain and China will tell the true story. Reliability will be the deciding factor again and it wont be a surprise to see drivers serving grid penalties in the latter half of the season.

    I am hoping to see Kimi Raikkonen on the top step of the podium in a few races!

    I am looking forward to being a guest of Scuderia Ferrari F1 in Silverstone, Belgium and Abu Dhabi.  

    Wishing all the teams and the drivers the best for the season...

    There are many contenders to the crown..however...There can only be One!

    2017 F1 Season Preview - Changes, Changes Everywhere!

    F1 starts a new chapter in 2017. The Ownership changes hands from Bernie Ecclestone to Liberty Media and Chase Carey, there is an overhaul of regulations and the winter break was full of speculations and theories about who would replace the Retiring Reigning World Champion Nico Rosberg.

    The calendar is truncated to 20 Races after Germany hosts no race this year. Manor unfortunately won't feature on the grid after the team folded up and had to withdraw their official entry for the season. As always, there is a lot of excitement about the season. The F1 Faithful have a lot of expectations from the new owners be it Fan interactions, Fan Access, Ticket Pricing and Race Weekend Events but first there is a season to look forward to!

    A Quick Look at the Regulation Changes for the season :

    1) Teams are restricted to 4 power units per season regardless of the number of Grands Prix in the season. Engines and power unit supply costs will be reduced by 1m Euros in 2017 and by a further 3m Euros in 2018. There will be a lot of unpredictability and unreliability might play a big role in the title fight. More importantly F1 are moving towards cost cutting, the very reason for the switch to smaller power units.

    2) The engine token system will be scrapped from 2017 onwards and a boost pressure constraint will be introduced.

    3) Any outfit who could not agree a power unit deal must be supplied by the manufacturer which supplies the least amount of teams, which is currently Honda, at a stipulated rate. Everyone have their suppliers locked down, so doesn't apply to anyone.

    4) Tyres are around 25 percent wider than in 2016, with rear width up from 325mm to 405, and front width raised from 245 to 305. Tyre diameter has also increased very slightly, though wheel rim size remains unchanged at 13 inches. ( Source : ). This would mean better grip levels, extra downforce translating to faster lap times.

    5) In the event that a race is declared wet and must start behind the safety car, the grid will follow normal starting procedures and once conditions are declared satisfactory for racing, drivers will line up on the grid for a standing start once the safety car pulls into pit lane, although any laps completed behind the safety car will count towards the total race distance. Finally we can have a proper start in the wets. Just like the good old days!

    6) From 2017, teams will only be able to use one new component over their quota per race, with any additional components incurring further penalties. This change will prevent teams from "stockpiling" spare power unit components. Quite an interesting move considering the fact that everyone - from Mercedes to Honda took advantage of serving a combined penalty of all components in a single race.

    My understanding of the rule is this : The team can only replace one component on a weekend..should they choose multiple, the incurring penalties will have to be served in the following rounds. So the Teams have to choose what to replace and when.

    I am pretty intrigued to see how the FIA is going to enforce this rule ( specifically near the business end of the season )

    7)The minimum weight of the car including the driver being raised by 20 kg to 722 kg, with teams allowed to use 105 kg of fuel to account for the increase in minimum weight. More Fuel means less fuel saving periods and a greater chance for drivers to push at the races but knowing F1, most would take the cautious approach.

    8) There are multiple changes to the looks, dimensions of the cars. We have also seen Shark Fins, T Fins, New Barge Board designs at the tests. I choose not to get into the technicalities of it, but for those who do, here is a table which explains the transformation of the cars from 2016. ( Source : )

    Proposed bodywork changes for 2017

    2016 2017
    Tyres Front 245mm wide thread 305mm wide thread

    Rear 325mm wide thread 405mm wide thread
    Suspension Track 1800mm 2000mm

    Legs +/- 5 degrees profile incidence +/- 10 degrees profile incidence
    Front Wing Wing 1650mm span 1800mm span, swept plan view shape

    Simplified endplate legality
    Rear Wing Top wing 750mm wide, 950mm high 950mm wide, 800mm high

    Endplates Rectangular endplate Swept endplate in side view and tucked in front view
    Floor Steep plane 1400 max width; 1300mm min width; Edge radii <50mm constant 1600 max width; 1400mm min width; Edge radii <100mm variable

    Reference plane Starts 330mm behind front axle Starts 430mm behind front axle

    Plank Homogeneous Plank Pocketed plank for weight saving

    Diffuser 125mm high, 1000mm wide, starts at rear axle 175mm high, 1050 mm wide, starts 175mm ahead of rear axle
    Bodywork Width 1400mm max width 1600mm max width

    Sidepods No constraint Swept leading edge in top view

    Bardgeboards Big exclusion zone behind front wheels Reduced exclusions zone allowing for larger bargeboards
    702kg max weight 722kg max weight + tyres (est 5kg)

    The FIA claim substantial gains of over three seconds are expected in 2017 through the "aerodynamic rules evolution, wider tires and reduction of car weight". The 2017 cars are more difficult to drive and the drivers will need to be at their fittest to handle these machines. Overtaking might still be a concern ( according to Hamilton and Massa ) but we shall know once we get to the high speed circuits.

    So how have the teams fared at the tests? What are their prospects for the season? Time to find out!

    Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

    Mercedes, the undisputed kings of the Turbo Era marched to another title in 2016. Nico Rosberg came out on top to win his maiden Drivers' World Championship only to shock the world with his decision to retire a week later. Rosberg stated that he had achieved his dream and it was time to move on to more important things in life. The decision led to a big contest to grab the best seat in the sport for 2017. Alonso, Wehrlein, Bottas, Ricciardo were the contenders. Alonso would have been an interesting choice. He is the best driver on the grid according to me and we all know what conspired in 2007 between Lewis and Nando. Did Lewis have a say in this? Maybe. Bottas, the experts' favourite got the job, his close association to Toto Wolff ( his manager ) giving him the edge. The Team had to part ways with Paddy Lowe who went to Williams F1, a fair trade for both parties. James Allison who left Ferrari midseason following the death of his wife joins Mercedes as their Technical Director for 2017, a fantastic addition to the squad. Mercedes remain favourites to retain the crown in 2017 although Testing suggests that Ferrari will make it a very close affair. The Team is known to mask their true pace so the competition should be wary.

    Bottas is a very calm and composed racer under pressure. Lewis Hamilton will look to reclaim his lost crown and I believe his competition will come from another team. Bottas will be strong but not capable to fight Lewis for the title. Nonetheless both will have to be the top of their game to ensure competition is kept at bay.

    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    Ferrari have played second fiddle long enough. They have flattered to deceive in the Turbo Era. 2014 was a fiasco. 2015 saw some improvement. 2016 started off well only for Ferrari to lose the plot towards the end. 2017 Pre-season Tests portray an encouraging story - Ferrari are right up there with the best and might be able to beat the best in the business this year. Ferrari's pace at the Tests have been a revelation. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel scorched the Circuit of Catalunya with record laptimes on supersofts which suggests the team has something in reserve. Kimi and Seb praised the efforts of the personnel at Maranello and both believe that the SF70H is much better than its predecessor. Neither chose to comment on the possibility of race wins but the initial vibes coming out of the camp are extremely positive. The Team looks ready and raring to go. Kimi Raikkonen beat Sebastian Vettel in the Qualifying faceoffs in 2016 and would look to better him in the Championship as well. Both the drivers will push each other to the limits and that will augur well for the team who know that the battle at the sharp end of the grid is no cakewalk. Ferrari did lose out on the services of James Allison but if this car brings about a change of fortunes, then they've done well without him.

    Ferrari needs to return to that winning mentality again. The aggression is there, the talent is there. They only need to plan and execute it well. They need to have confidence in their tactics and not react to what others around them are doing. As a Fan, I want to see Kimi Raikkonen have an exceptional season. 

    Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull one of the most successful teams in F1 made a strong resurgence in 2016 and snapped up 2 wins and P2 in the Constructors' Championship. They were pretty close to Mercedes AMG F1 at the end of the season. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen made for a fantastic pairing and retaining them for 2017 was absolutely paramount for the team. Ricciardo had the temptation of switching to Mercedes but the Australian chose to stick with the boys from Milton Keynes. Max and Dan are the best pairing in F1 according to me and their positive approach at the races will definitely throw up many surprises in 2017. Red Bull might not be at the level of Mercedes or Ferrari based on whats been seen at the Tests but wasn't the start of 2016 the same? I really believe they are hiding their true pace and even if they aren't, they have all the resources and the personnel to upgrade and field an aerodynamically efficient and quick RB13 at the races. Would they be able to beat Mercedes while keeping Ferrari at bay? I highly doubt it. One thing is for certain though..P3 is the least that Red Bull should manage at the Constructors.

    Williams Martini Racing F1 Team :

    Williams had a poor 2016. Massa retired at the end of the season only to return for another year after Valtteri Bottas moved up to Mercedes AMG F1 to replace Rosberg. Lance Stroll, the 18 year old F3 Champion joins Massa making him the newest entrant into the world of F1. Williams finished P5 in 2016 and they lost their way in their battle against Force India. However with the New Regulations and Changes in place, its status quo for everyone but will Williams be able to mount a strong challenge? There is a lot of uncertainty about them from the pre-season tests. I quote "The FW40 shouted ‘hidden potential’ to many seasoned observers. The big question is whether their testing pace was for real, and if so, will it put them at the head of the midfield pack or make them true podium contenders? Only Melbourne will tell."

    Massa's experience will be invaluable in the fight this year. Stroll has been raking up the miles but his inexperience could be the weak-link this year. Williams boast of a glorious history in F1 and their personnel are capable of turning things around. Financially, they are secure too. I would like to see them fighting at the sharp end of the grid in 2017.

    Paddy Lowe joins Williams F1 for 2017 as Chief Technical Director, a move that was on the cards if the Bottas switch to Mercedes came through. Williams will be more than happy to have a man with Paddy Lowe's experience. He has all the expertise of improving the car and if the drivers can deliver the expected results, then they are back in contention.

    Force India F1 Team :

    Force India were a revelation in 2016. Finishing P4 in the Championship the team underlined the fact if one works hard, then the sky is the limit. Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg delivered consistently strong finishes to keep competitors at bay. Esteban Ocon is the new member of the team replacing Hulkenberg who switched to Renault. Force India also sport a new livery..some like it, some don't. Its a Strawberry coloured VJM10 for 2017 and I am sure its gonna stand out amongst the field. Initial impressions show that the car is fairly quick and most importantly reliable. Perez will go from strength to strength..maybe auditioning for a seat higher up. Ocon showed a lot of promise in Manor. This is his "Baptism by Fire". His finishes will be pivotal in deciding Force India's fortunes for 2017.

    Force India will find it hard to better what they achieved in 2016. The likes of Renault, Williams will be vying for P4 so its going to be an uphill battle for the Silverstone based outfit. Lets hope they handle the pressure with aplomb. 

    McLaren Honda F1 Team :

    McLaren and Honda...Prost and Senna...the Golden era..The Partnership was renewed in 2016 and the alliance has been a massive embarrassment. Honda's powertrains have been highly unreliable and the story might not change if one looks towards the pre-season tests. The MCL32 struggled to post a decent mileage..both drivers drove out of the pits only to stop at random times of their runs. Alonso, assessing the situation has reiterated that this might be the only chance that Honda has to turn things around..maybe hinting at greener pastures in WEC with Porsche ( an option hes been eyeing for sometime ). Stoeffel Vandoorne finally got a drive after Jenson Button left the sport ( to take on the role of a "mentor" for McLaren). Mika Hakkinen also joined them as an ambassador but would they be influential in bringing in more sponsorship for a team that is bound to struggle on the field? Tough ask this. Vandoorne and Alonso seem to have a long and arduous season ahead of them. Alonso will eek out every bit of performance. Vandoorne must follow suit.

    McLaren will be fortunate to finish in the points at Australia but a team of their stature have to turn things around asap. Honda claims that all their troubles will be addressed before the start of the full season. Applaud their optimism but lets hope they silence a critic like me. The latest news coming out of the UK is that McLaren are considering their "options" with Honda. Could a shock switch to another engine supplier be on the cards? Time will tell..

    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    Renault, in its 2nd year as a Works Team would look to improve their performances and results from last year. The team ( after a lot of debate ) persisted with Jolyon Palmer while Kevin Magnussen was released to join Haas F1. The team bagged the services of Nico Hulkenberg from Force India and both will look to benefit from the other - Hulkenberg being with a works team and Renault having the luxury of a consistent finisher / performer in their ranks. For Jolyon Palmer, its a make or break year. His performances must improve to justify the team's decision to retain him..else it won't be difficult to find a replacement. Hulkenberg would be hoping for a reliably fast car for 2017 and if they do manage this for the first half, a podium finish shouldn't be a long shot.

    The Team aims to finish P5 in this championship ( based on the "roadmap to success" charted out by Renault ). Testing results suggest a positive outcome for the season. Issues remain to be resolved but the team can gain confidence from all that they learned from testing. I do hope to see them return to success and hopefully to the top step..after all I consider them as family!

    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 had a decent debut year. Romain Grosjean scored all the points for the team while Gutierrez had a torrid return to F1. He was close to scoring points on a few occasions but his performances didn't warrant him a place in 2017. Subsequently he switched to Formula E while Kevin Magnussen took up his vacant seat. Haas has a capable driver in Romain Grosjean, his experience being helpful in the development and improvement of the car. Magnussen is a quick driver but will need time to settle.

    Pre-season tests show that the car is fairly quick and should be a regularly feature in the midfield battle. Haas' close association with Ferrari might turn out to be helpful. Their main challenge will be sporting a balanced chassis for the varied demands of races over the season. P7 seems like the best bet for Haas F1.

    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso renew their partnership with Renault for 2017. I must say they have the best livery for 2017. It should be a lot easier to differentiate between the A Team and the B Team. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. keep their seats for 2017. However Kvyat must perform as the extremely talented Pierre Gasly is waiting in the wings. Carlos had a strong 2016 but I believe he should leave Red Bull's Driver Program for 2018 if he wishes to move up the grid. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo might not leave the A Team if they have a successful 2017. Toro Rosso return to Renault power for 2017 and the initial impressions are a bit mixed. Reliability was an issue but the team seemed to find some pace near the end of the Pre-Season Tests.

    Toro Rosso, under the leadership of Mr. Franz Tost will continue to be a strong midfield team in 2017 and it won't be surprising if they spring up a few surprise results at certain tracks. Lets hope they have a good outing..

    Sauber F1 Team :

    Sauber finished 9th in the Constructors' thanks to an eventful Brazilian Grand Prix. The cash-strapped team had been pushing for a takeover over the business end of last year and the winter. However with nothing concrete coming their way, the best way forward was to have drivers with strong financial backing. Felipe Nasr was relieved of his services while Mercedes bagged the seat for Pascal Wehrlein. This was quite an interesting move since Sauber run the Ferrari powertrains...but then Sauber operate independent of Ferrari. It will be interesting to see how the new team-mates pair up. My money is on Wehrlein. The German through his performances at Manor proved there was little to stop him from coming out on top. Ericsson has a long season ahead of him. The time is ticking for him too.

    Sauber must score points whenever the opportunity arises. It would be difficult for them to keep upgrading the car throughout the season but they must ensure that they don't finish last in the Constructors' to keep their F1 legacy alive.

    The Demise of Manor :

    2017 began with some grim news. Manor F1 Team went into administration after they failed to get an investor. Eventually the team had to shut down and withdraw their name from the 2017 Official Entry List. This explains the logic of moving both Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon to Sauber and Force India respectively; as I had mentioned earlier, Mercedes knew about this well before time and ensured that their protegees don't go without a drive in 2017.

    The Season is less than a week away. Albert Park is ready to kickstart the 2017 season. I would love to repeat my favourite line : F1 Returns and so does Sanity!

    God willing, I hope to attend the Spanish, Belgian and the Abu Dhabi GP.

    Can Mercedes win it all again? Can Red Bull and Ferrari dethrone Mercedes? Will Force India be as good as 2016? Can Renault meet their expectations for 2017? Can McLaren and Honda sort out their issues and move up the pecking order?

    All these questions will be answered over the course of the season.

    Who has the fastest car? I believe we shall know by the Bahrain GP.

    Kimi Raikkonen
    was amazing at the Tests. I hope to see him do the same in-season! Kimi has all my support for the title!

    I wish all teams and all drivers the best for 2017. May the Best Man and the Best Team win!

    Once again thank you all for your support for this blog and I apologize for being away for 3 months from the blog. God Bless you all!

    2016 F1 Season Preview - Battle Royale Beckons

    2016 has begun and the days were counting down for the season opener in Australia. We are less than 24 hours away from Free Practice 1 and the 2016 season already promises loads of excitement.

    Teams have come to terms with the new Turbo era now and focus should shift more towards performance.

    There are new entrants vying for the Constructors' crown, new drivers in some teams and yes another revision in some regulations.

    The season will be the longest in F1's history, having a total of 21 races with Baku, Azerbaijan being the latest entry under the guise of the European Grand Prix.

    A quick look at some rule changes : ( Source : )

    1) Tyre supplier Pirelli will introduce a 5th tyre compound known as "ultrasoft",with the manufacturer stating that they would only be available on street circuits.Pirelli will change their approach to tyre supply in 2016, bringing three dry compounds to races instead of two. The compounds will be made public two weeks before each event. Pirelli will assign two "choice" compounds, and a third set (the softest available regardless of Pirelli's selection) will be given to teams reaching Q3. Drivers will select their remaining ten tyre sets for the event between the three compounds and must use at least any two dry compounds of their choosing during the race, so long as at least one set is of the two Pirelli "choice" sets.

    Video Link explaining the new tyre rules by Chain Bear F1 :

    A Very Complex Rule change but it will definitely spice things up in both Inter and Intra Team battles as drivers mix their tyre strategies in order to find the right balance between pace and longevity.

    2) The FIA has opted to increase the number of tokens available for power unit development starting in 2016. While the initial plans would have given manufacturers 15 tokens for the season, the number was raised to 32, the same number as 2014, in order to allow struggling manufacturers such as Renault and Honda to improve their development. This decision also allows further development on parts that were initially planned to be closed off, including the upper and lower crankcase, valve drive, crankshaft, air-valve system and ancillaries drive.

    A Welcome Change to bring more parity in the field ( in Honda's case ) and hopefully an opportunity for Renault to catch up.

    3) Any driver who causes the start of the race to be aborted will be required to start the race from pit lane at the restart.

    Quite Harsh on the driver in case of a Technical Failure.

    4) The procedure for issuing gearbox penalties will be amended so that penalties are applied in the order that they are awarded, bringing the system in line with the wider grid penalty system.

    The Penalty System has become interesting and clarity will come when it comes into effect during a race weekend.

    5) The Virtual Safety Car system will be used in practice sessions as well to avoid the unnecessary use of red flags and session stoppages.

    An Important change in the sessions and will allow continuity in the case of minor incidents like stoppages on track.

    DRS which is deactivated when under Virtual Safety Car periods and full-course yellow flags, will be available as soon as a Virtual Safety Car period has ended allowing drivers to start racing immediately after green flag conditions are restored.

    6) The process new drivers go through in order to qualify for F1 for a super license has changed.

    7) Qualifying has seen a big change.

    The qualifying process was heavily revised two weeks before the season opener. The Q1, Q2, and Q3 format that has been in place since 2006 will be retained, but with a progressive "knock-out" style of elimination. Drivers conducting a lap at the end of each session will still be allowed to complete their lap, though this does not apply to mid-session eliminations.

    a) Q1 will last 16 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 7 minutes until 15 cars remain.

    b) Q2 will last 15 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 6 minutes until 8 cars remain.

    c) Q3 will last 14 minutes, with the slowest driver being eliminated every 90 seconds after the first 5 minutes until pole position is determined.

    This means that no driver will have a respite and everyone has to be on the limit to stay afloat. Its going to be a lot of fun. I am reminded of the now defunct A1 GP Series which ran a similar qualifying format.

    As Stated earlier, Baku is the new entrant making this the longest season in F1. The Calendar has gone through some revisions as well. Malaysia has been pushed back to October while Russia moves up into May becoming Round 4. Germany will be the last race before the Mid Season break in July.

    On the Teams side, Lotus F1 Team has been rechristened as Renault Sport F1 Team, Haas F1 make their debut and Red Bull Racing will sport a Tag Heuer Branded Renault Engine after Renault and Red Bull parted ways ( sort of ) at the end of 2015. Manor Racing is the new name for Marussia for 2016.

    2016 will not feature the reckless Maldonado, Roberto Merhi, Will Stevens & Alexander Rossi.

    So who drives for who? How did the teams fare in pre-season tests? Who are the contenders for the crown? I hope what follows does justice and addresses these questions.

    Mercedes AMG F1 Team :

    Favourites to win it all this year again, Mercedes have flexed their muscles, although not completely in the pre-season tests. The Team has the most number of laps to its name and reliability doesn't seem to be an issue for now. The team does have something in reserve and maybe masked their true pace. Their pace advantage, if any will come to the fore in China and Bahrain.

    Hamilton and Rosberg will be at it this year and both have worked hard in the pre-season tests. Its a very close call between the two for 2016 again. Hamilton does have an edge when it comes to statistics but Rosberg had the momentum at the end of last season. Can the German recreate that form? Its a tough ask but he is capable. On his day the German is unbeatable. Will those days outnumber Hamilton's? I have my doubts.

    The Mercedes duo
    don't just have to contend with each other...

    Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :

    had a strong 2015. "Strong" is a word not good enough at Ferrari. You have to win it all and you don't rest until your goal is reached. 2016 should be that year. Ferrari have played second fiddle long enough. Pre-season results promise a fantastic 2016. The SF-16H is more than just a strong contender. Vettel and Raikkonen have been fastest on their respective days ( albeit on Ultra-softs ), Raikkonen being the fastest overall but just. Ferrari didn't clock the same number of laps as the Mercedes but they will be the only worthy contender according to me. The Car is also kinder on its tyres so the team could adopt more aggressive strategies and match the Mercs on pace.

    Vettel had an edge over Raikkonen in 2015, the Finn being riddled by misfortune and reliability problems. 2016 should be a more even battle between the two. As a Raikkonen Fan I am confident that he will justify Ferrari's decision of retaining him in 2016 and will be a strong contender for the Drivers' crown.
    Vettel has been on the pedestal 4 times so he is no stranger to winning it all. Vettel will be on the limit right from day 1 and has the knack of getting under the skin of the Mercedes duo.
    Both drivers have to be consistent throughout the season to maintain pressure and I am confident that the Prancing Horse will shine again.

    Williams F1 Team :

    were the best of the rest ( excluding Mercedes and Ferrari ) in 2015 and the strongest Mercedes Customer Team. Pre-season Tests suggest that challenging the Works teams would be difficult and Williams would have to be wary of other customer teams breathing down their necks. Both drivers haven't been particularly quick on the softer compounds but could Williams be holding back? Only time will tell.

    Massa and Bottas
    stay with the team for 2016. It was a well contested battle for supremacy between the two, Bottas getting the better of his team-mate. Massa had a not so memorable second half of 2015 and has to step up his performances to not lose his seat to younger drivers. Bottas on the other hand has to optimize results if he garners hopes of making it into a Works Team in the future. Bottas should have the edge in this year's team-mate battle according to me and if Williams can bring him close to the Mercs and the Ferraris, he will be more than a handful.

    Red Bull Racing F1 Team :

    Red Bull
    had an eventful 2015. Reliability issues and a misfiring power unit bogged the team down. The boss Christian Horner was extremely critical of Renault which led to their eventual fall-out at the end of the season. The search for a new engine supplier never materialized after talks stagnated with Mercedes and an understanding could never be reached with Ferrari. Finally it was agreed that the team will run a Tag Heuer branded Renault engine for 2016. Aston Martin has also joined the long list of sponsors for the team. Something brewing? Maybe. Red Bull will be strong at street circuits but making it to the top 10 could be quite challenging elsewhere. Aerodynamically Red Bull are brilliant but the Power Differential is too big to bridge the gap with the Mercs or the Ferraris. They could spoil the party though with aggressive tyre choices.

    Kvyat and Ricciardo finished 2015 with just 3 points between their respective tallies, new graduate Kvyat outshining the Honey Badger. Red Bull would be really pleased with their driver choices as the duo were instrumental in holding off Force India's challenge with consistent finishes. 2016 will see a close quarter battle but Ricciardo should pull this off this time. I eagerly wait to see Red Bull return to the sharp end of the grid and this duo is capable of capitalizing when the opportunity comes knocking at the door.

    Sahara Force India F1 Team :

    Force India
    a team that came close to beating the mighty Red Bull in 2015 will hope to carry the momentum into 2016. However the bosses have dominated headlines in News Dailies for all the wrong reasons. There is a Management Reshuffle on the cards and how it will affect the team remains to be seen. That said, Force India have been flying in Pre-Season Testing as the 3rd Fastest Team on the timesheets. Powered by Mercedes again, 4th place in the Constructors' should be achievable but Force India have to maintain a steep development curve and stay in touch with the bigger spending teams. Do they have that Financial Prowess? I hope they do.

    Perez and Hulkenberg continue their partnership and both are quick and reliable. My Money is on Hulkenberg although Perez pipped him to 9th place in the Championship last year. Mr. Consistent Hulkenberg is on the shortlist of bigger teams but his height and lack of sponsorship works against him. Perez on the other hand is pretty mercurial in his performances but on his day is unbeatable. I can't wait to watch the 2 battle it out on track.

    Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team :

    Toro Rosso
    the sister concern/B Team of Red Bull Racing had an exciting 2015. 2 youngsters who jumped the ranks to land themselves a F1 Seat bowled over fans and experts alike with their amazing performances in 2015. Toro Rosso switch to Ferrari power for 2016 and this year should be no different. Toro Rosso had a very potent chassis in the rain and caused a lot of upsets last year. Ferrari power should help them make a few more places in 2016. Toro Rosso were the 4th Fastest team in Pre-Season Tests ( Albeit on ultrasofts )

    Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. have learned a lot about the sport in 2015. Both have to raise the bar in 2016 as this year will test their maturity and guile in F1. Both have the desire, the fire, the passion and the pace. Now to bring home the results. I am sure either one could get a call to move up within the next couple of years. Verstappen won the team-mate battle last year and might do the same again but I promise you this will be a hotly contested and well followed battle. Bringing home strong finishes should help the team fight for 5th place in the Constructors, probably with the Mother Red Bull team.

    Renault Sport F1 Team :

    parted ways with Red Bull Racing at the end of 2015. Renault then took over Lotus F1 Team to ensure not just their presence in the sport but also save the team from certain bankruptcy. Renault have a roadmap for making their way back up the grid and its no secret that they are here to stay. A Little Birdie told me Renault's plan for the coming years : 2016 will be a struggle, 2017 aim for 7th place, 2018 aim for 5th, 2019th 3rd and 2020 be a Championship Winning team.

    Lotus on the other hand had a decent outing in 2015 with Mercedes Power and had to terminate its contract with Mercedes due to the takeover. Renault's 2016 Challenger is the 2015 Car with loads of upgrades. It was too late to build a new car due to the delayed process of the takeover.

    hired Kevin Magnussen to join 2015's reserve driver & 2014 GP2 Champion Jolyon Palmer. Magnussen was released by McLaren midway through 2015. Palmer on the other hand might only remain with the team for one year but you never know what conspires over the duration of a season. Magnussen with his past experience of F1 should fare better than Palmer. He was quicker during the pre-season tests as well. 2016 will be a tough year for the team according to me due to the under-powered Renault unit but I would be overjoyed if the team ( the  I love so much ) grabs some podium finishes.

    McLaren Honda F1 Team :

    had a horrendous 2015. Honda struggled to come to terms in their first year of the New Turbo era. Reliability problems bogged the team down all season long. 2016 Pre-Season did see them clock a considerable number of kilometres but the latest challenger isn't flawless. Both drivers had their fair share of breakdowns. The power disparity might cost the team valuable points as reliability remains priority in 2016. The team is addressing every gremlin one at a time and when they finally iron out these issues, they would be right up there with the high-fliers.

    Alonso and Button form a formidable partnership. Their vast experience will help the team optimize points scoring. Button outscored Alonso but only just in 2015. 2016 will be an even contest. Alonso is a driver who can extract everything from a car so beating him consistently will be tough. Alonso has backed his decision of switching to McLaren this year, hope the stance doesn't change at the end of 2016. The increase in the number of tokens should help Honda improve their power units throughout the season.

    Sauber F1 Team :

    had a torrid 2014 & 15. The Lack of Funding hasn't helped their cause either. However Sauber keeps soldiering on and a big salute to their indomitable spirit. Sauber retained the services of Nasr and Ericsson for 2016. Nasr was faster of the duo in the pre-season tests and agonizingly close to McLaren's fastest time on a slower tyre. Initial reports suggest that Sauber should be the 8th fastest team on the grid. Nasr will be the stronger of the two ( personal opinion ). I do hope Sauber brings in efficient upgrades throughout the season to help propel them up the grid and maximize their point scoring chances. It won't be easy sailing in 2016 either.

    Manor Racing F1 Team :

    Manor, formerly Marussia
    sport a brand new lineup of drivers in GP2 graduate Rio Haryanto ( First Indonesian in F1 ) and DTM Champion / Mercedes Protegee Pascal Wehrlein. Manor switch to Mercedes power for 2016 and have undergone a huge management reshuffle. Scoring points and finishing races are of paramount importance for the team. Both drivers are well funded and should help the team stay above water. For Pascal this is like an internship, for Rio his hope to move up the grid. Pascal might just pip Haryanto as the lead driver.

    Haas F1 Team :

    Haas F1 garnered a lot of interest even before their formal entry into the sport. The New Kids on the block have hired the services of 2 experienced drivers in Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez. Grosjean left Lotus ( now Renault ) at the end of 2015 wanting a new challenge. Gutierrez, ex-Sauber and Reserve Driver for Ferrari will be auditioning for the prancing horse seat with Haas it seems. Both are intelligent drivers and will provide valuable feedback for the team. Its going to be a steep learning curve for the team ( as Pre-Season results suggest ). Reliability first, performance later should be the approach. I do hope Haas finish some races in the points, which for now seems a long shot.

    To sum it all up, Tyres are going to dictate play over a race weekend. Aggressive Tyre Strategies will throw the cat amongst the pigeons at many races. I am sure we shall see drivers out of position more often trying to make right the wrongs done during qualifying.

    There isn't much to choose in terms of pace between the Williams, Force India & Renault. Can McLaren return to the sharper end of the grid this year? Haas F1 would hope for a strong start to the season. Renault likewise.

    God willing, I would like to attend 3 races - Barcelona, Hungary and Abu Dhabi again ( if Kimi does leave at the end of 2016 ) this year.

    Ferrari is closer to Mercedes than ever. Battle Royale Beckons!

    I can't wait for the season to being. F1 returns and so does sanity.

    We have waited long enough! Its time for the 2016 Formula 1 Season!!!

    C'mon KIMI!!