European Grand Prix

Formula 1 2016: 5 Bold Predictions

It’s around this time every year that anticipation begins to build for another season of Formula 1. After what feels like a very long winter break, the teams are back at it with pre-season testing in Barcelona! With the season opener in Melbourne a month away, here are my 5 bold predictions for the 2016 season:

Lewis Hamilton will not be World Champion in 2016

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After dominant success the last two seasons, Mercedes would not be wise to underestimate their competition. Heading into year three of the new technical regulations means the playing field has been leveled and the likes of Ferrari are tired of playing second fiddle to the Silver Arrows. In 2016, Mercedes may face their most challenging season yet, both internally and externally. Lewis Hamilton has gone to great lengths to build his brand outside of Formula 1 and with the most dominant car two years running, the balance between racing and celebrity has been manageable. Across the garage however, a very motivated Nico Rosberg, one who showed excellent pace winning the final 3 races of 2015. Some would argue the team gifted Rosberg the wins after Hamilton wrapped up his second consecutive World Championship in Austin. Rosberg wanted it more and that’s a very dangerous thing for Hamilton, who spent most of the offseason in the public eye while his teammate and rivals at Ferrari have quietly been developing their strategies for 2016. Winning back-to-back championships is one of the most difficult feats in sports, winning three in a row, a rarity. Look for Rosberg and Vettel to fight for the honors in 2016.

Max Verstappen will win his first Formula 1 Grand Prix

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Any doubters of Max Verstappen’s place in Formula 1 were silenced early into the 2015 season. Verstappen wrapped up his rookie year with 10 top 10 finishes and 49 points. With Toro Rosso back to using Ferrari engines, expectations are for a more competitive car. Verstappen’s willingness to go for it will find him taking advantage when opportunity strikes. Talk of a drive at Red Bull was premature last season, but the same narrative will likely find it’s way into the headlines again in 2016. Depending on how the RB12 performs this season, we may see more occurrences of the junior team showing up big brother. If a victory is to come, expect it early in the season while the teams work out their teething problems. Could we see something in Melbourne?

Three World Champions are racing in their final Formula 1 seasons

Fernando Alonso.

Formula 1’s changing of the guard started with Mark Webber’s departure in 2013. The former Red Bull driver experienced an excellent transition to the World Endurance Championship, a transition not gone unnoticed by the Formula 1 paddock. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg further emphasized the WEC’s appeal by winning the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 919 Hybrid. Formula 1 has since responded by scheduling this year’s European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on the same weekend as Le Mans. This has many including Fernando Alonso questioning if the Formula 1 circus is even worth it anymore. After a dismal 2015 back with his former team McLaren, the veteran World Champion may seek greener pastures. He’s not alone and 2016 could also be the final Formula 1 season for his teammate Jenson Button. Button was rumored to be out at McLaren midway through 2015, but the team seemingly kept the veteran as a courtesy after sticking it out and being a consummate professional. That courtesy will likely last for a season alone and unless the unthinkable happens and McLaren win a Constructor’s Championship, they’ll be keen to rebuild at least one side of the garage with the surplus of young talent including Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings. The same scenario seems likely for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Despite the chemistry with teammate Sebastian Vettel, Raikkonen’s at times disinterest with the sport and a lack of pace may open the coveted seat for many others vying a drive for the Scuderia.

McLaren will go another season without a title sponsor

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Less a racing prediction but nonetheless telling of what McLaren has become. The last couple years have been the most challenging in the team’s long history. The transition to Honda power units was fractured to say the least, but apart from the expected technical road blocks, instability behind the scenes seems to be where McLaren are the most challenged. Ron Dennis put himself back in charge of the team after the departure of Martin Whitmarsh in 2013. Many have argued that Dennis isn’t up to the the task and that his old school philosophy has done more harm than good. McLaren now enter their third consecutive season without a title sponsor after ending their relationship with Vodafone in 2013. With the reveal of the 2016 MP4-31 earlier this week, the lack of a title sponsor is apparent and highly unusual for one of the biggest teams in the sport. Lets hope for better things to come in 2016 as McLaren inch ever close to becoming the Manchester United of Formula 1.

2016 will produce better racing

There’s little chance this season will produce such a predictable outcome for a couple reasons. Firstly, the teams are finally beginning to refine their approaches to the new technical regulations. Secondly, the sport as a whole cannot afford to have another repeat of last season.

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Mercedes did their homework well in advance of the new technical regulations taking effect. Their preparation paid off in the form of World Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships two years in a row. However, now the other teams are catching up, specifically Ferrari. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel was the only non-Mercedes driver to win. Expect to see more of Vettel on the top step this season and perhaps a handful of other drivers.

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As a sport, Formula 1 is facing it’s biggest challenge ever and continues to fight for relevancy amidst tumbling viewing figures. With series’ like the World Endurance Championship offering greater technical innovation and excitement, the pinnacle of motorsport now finds itself on the defensive. Gestures like scheduling the European Grand Prix on the same weekend as Le Mans isn’t the way to keep the fans favor. However, better racing on track and more reliance on the drivers’ abilities will help repair some of the damage to the sport’s reputation. Ultimately we all want to see the top drivers in the world doing what they do best, fighting for every position at the absolute limit. With yet more technical regulations proposed for 2017, Formula 1 may be wise to reconsider. While better viewing options and ticket prices have a long way to go, the first step is good racing. We should be seeing some of that again in 2016.

There we have it – 5 bold predictions for 2016. I’m keen to hear your predictions in the comments. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s great to see the start of another Formula 1 season!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

The Grand Prix Of Europe

I can honestly say, this is the first Formula 1 recap, I haven’t wanted to write. How can I possibly begin to summarize the events of Sunday’s European Grand Prix? There’s so much to talk about, not only concerning the race itself, but all the rumors swirling around Sebastian Vettel’s (rumored) move to Ferrari, in 2014 and Lewis Hamilton’s contract negotiations with McLaren. On top of that, I’ve just heard Mark Webber, was nearly disqualified for using suspension, that was (almost) outside of the regulations.

For the last 5 years, Valencia Street Circuit has been home to the European Grand Prix. I’ve never been a fan of this race, if you could call it that. It’s mostly come off as a glorified testing session, that just happened to contribute to the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships. The drab affair has provided little in terms of passing and wheel to wheel excitement. Despite this, all of the cars are built with this track in mind and once it’s no longer on the F1 calendar, teams can begin to use smaller fuel tanks, which may affect other races throughout the year. However, 2012 was a much different affair. Would you expect anything less in such a competitive and unpredictable season?

Saturday qualifying saw more of the usual suspects on the front row for Sunday’s race. After a single, balls out lap from Sebastian Vettel in Q3, pole position was his. Lewis Hamilton, despite struggling with the MP4-27, managed to come in just behind Vettel. It was looking like Sunday’s race would be another Red Bull-McLaren shoot out. Ferrari was nowhere to be found, as neither of their drivers made it out of Q2. Fernando Alonso would start from 11th.

Lap 26 of the European Grand Prix. Ask anyone, who was going to win and they would’ve told you Sebastian Vettel. He was in his element all weekend. A typically brilliant start, had him 2 seconds a head of Lewis Hamilton, by the end of the first lap. The lead would keep increasing to 20 seconds, by the middle of the race. With the right tire strategy, Vettel would surely drive to his second victory of 2012; the first driver, in this most historic of seasons, to do so.

Vettel’s Abrupt End

A collision between Jean-Éric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen, saw the arrival of the safety car in lap 27. Vettel was able to maintain the lead, after the race resumed in lap 34, but coming out of turn 10, his pace began to slow. There was no visible damage to the RB8, which Red Bull later alluded to a failed alternator. Vettel’s race was over. It’s a scenario we haven’t seen since Korea in 2010. A seemly flawless race from the World Champion, ended on no account of his own.

McLaren Out Of Sync

On Saturday, Lewis Hamilton seemed surprised by his success in qualifying. He mentioned that the team had a lot of work to do and he was struggling with the car. McLaren’s brilliant 2.9 second pit stop, earlier in the race, was the fastest of any team this season. It was beginning to look like the team were finally sorting out their issues. Maybe we all spoke too soon because Hamilton’s next trip to the pits was of a more typical outcome. Not 1, but 2 broken jacks, slowed Hamilton’s stop, as the mechanic’s struggled to change his tires. It cost Hamilton 2 positions and ultimately the race.

Jenson Button continued to be the invisible man on Sunday. I don’t think we’ve seen this little of him since his Honda days. Pirelli’s new tires, not only seem to have Button perplexed, but his engineers as well. For Valenca, he began using Hamilton’s tuning setup, which seemed to benefit him. What I can’t understand is why Button’s engineers have struggled so much to find a solution. The driver has always been known for his amazing ability to conserve tires, while winning races. Could this be a case of McLaren showing favoritism to the more successful of the pair? You can tell it’s another contract year at McLaren as the team tries to woo Hamilton into an extension. Button is locked in for the next 3 years.

Scuderia Year Book

The outcome of Sunday’s European Grand Prix was one for the ages. Who would’ve expected 3 of Ferrari’s greatest past and present driver’s to finish in the top 3? In many ways it was a look back in time, with Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher (both out of retirement), joining race winner Feranando Alonso on the podium.

Fernando Alonso continues to silence all naysayers. He’s proven that tools will only get you so far and in a car, that no one thought would be successful, Alonso is 2012’s first repeat winner. A stunning drive saw him work his way up from 11th to 1st, in front of his home crowd. An emotional Alonso, took some extra time on his victory lap, to celebrate the occasion with his fans and some of the race marshals. It was a fantastic sight; typically the drivers are rushed through the podium ceremonies, for post race interviews. At this point, my money is on Alonso to win it all this season. While his qualifying has been mediocre at times, come Sunday the driving has been consistently brilliant.

Kimi Raikkonen had a good drive in the Lotus, which was quick all weekend. As Hamilton struggled with his tires, Raikkonen was quick to pass, securing 2nd. But if there was anyone to steal Alonso’s spotlight, it was Michael Schumacher, who celebrated his first podium finish with Mercedes. While many will say his 3rd place finish was due to the various retirements, Schumacher was there at the checkered flag.

Grosjean & Hamilton Retired

Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton were two of the top contenders, who failed to finish, alongside Vettel. Grosjean was forced to retire his Lotus in lap 41 because of an alternator failure. The Renault-powered RB8 of Vettel, is presumed to have suffered the same demise. At the time of the incident, Grosjean was in 2nd, behind Alonso. Were he able to finish the race, we probably would’ve seen a different Lotus driver on the podium. Grosjean continues to impress each race weekend.

Lewis Hamilton’s race went from bad to worse, in the final laps. His tires began to falter, forcing Hamilton to struggle for grip, with Raikkonen and Pastor Maldonado closing in. Raikkonen eventually passed Hamilton, who’s tires were shot at that point. The ensuing battle for 3rd, between Hamilton and Maldonado, resulted in a collision and a 20 second penalty for Maldonado. Hamilton’s car was unable to finish the race; his first major error, in an otherwise mistake-free season. The debate over Hamilton and Maldonado’s contact, has been hotly debated, as many believe Hamilton was at fault. While I tend to agree with both arguments, the stewards made the right decision, in penalizing Maldonado. With that said, Hamilton was overly aggressive and should have moved aside, especially since he knew his tires were done. Ultimately my blame is once again on McLaren. Had Hamilton’s second pit stop, not been riddled with problems, he wouldn’t have been forced to push his tires so hard. This one was definitely on the team.

The European Grand Prix certainly threw a curve ball and ended up being one of the best races thus far. It’s impossible to think that Formula 1 keeps getting better and better, with each race. Fernando Alonso’s lead in the World Championship is only 20 points. Next in line is Mark Webber (of all people), so it truly is anyone’s game. The British Grand Prix is next weekend, the home race for most of the teams. It’s great to see Formula 1 back in Europe. The season proper is in full swing!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.