2016 Formula 1 predictions: Drivers and teams

The 2016 Formula 1 season is almost upon us, and excitement is building. With the lights going out in Melbourne in only a matter of days, we’ve laid our heads on the block and predicted how we see the season turning out…

With pre-season testing done and dusted the whole Formula 1 community anxiously waits for the new season to get underway in Australia this weekend. The Australian Grand Prix will only be the first of a record-breaking 21 races this season, and many interesting and unexpected things are certain to happen before the end of the season.

Because of the unpredictable nature of Formula 1, trying to make predictions about the upcoming season is always a hazardous exercise at best. Still, this has never stopped anyone from trying, so here, without further ado, are the answers (in advance) to some of the most important questions of the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Who will be the 2016 Formula 1 World Champion?

Just in case

The level of competition at the front of the grid is expected to be fiercer than it has ever been since the introduction of the new 1.6 litre turbocharged power units in 2014, with Ferrari quietly bullish about the ability of their new SF16-H to challenge the impressive raw speed and reliability of the new Mercedes W07.

While a strong end to 2015 for Nico Rosberg makes clear that it would be foolish to write him off as a potential title winner, it remains to be seen whether the German has what it takes to produce title-winning performances over the course of a whole season.

Over at Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel is certainly capable of producing the goods in a tight title shoot-out, but the overall performance of his Ferrari will have to be ascertained first. As for stablemate Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn is likely to thrill and infuriate in equal measure and will have to improve his consistency if he hopes to be in the running come November.

In light of all this, the safest prediction at this point in time is that Lewis Hamilton will join the elite ranks of Formula 1 drivers who have triumphed on four occasions.

Who will be the top three constructors?

Just in case

Just like for the previous question, much will depend on how close Ferrari have come to Mercedes. While little doubt remains that these two teams will have the measure of all the other teams on the grid, a small performance gap and the presence of four high-quality drivers in the cockpits of the respective teams could lead to a contest that is too close to call.

However, it is likely that Mercedes have retained enough of their advantage to secure their third consecutive constructor’s title.

As for third place, Red Bull are confident that their new RB12 challenger will come into its own in the second half of the season. Provided that the Tag-Heuer-branded Renault power unit in the back of the RB12 has developed over the winter (and continues to do so during the season) Red Bull should just have enough to see off the challenge of Williams, who came third last year.

Who will win the midfield battle?

Just in case

Formula 1’s midfield is a complicated part of the grid, with performance often ebbing and flowing between the sport’s smaller teams, each of which is desperate to claw their way towards the front of the grid.

This year, the number of teams vying for the position of best-of-the-rest is likely to increase, with Williams likely to lose further ground to the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari and McLaren-Honda starting their steady return towards the front of the grid.

All things considered, however, fourth and fifth places are likely to belong to Williams and Force India, respectively. While Vijay Mallaya’s squad are not yet in a position to trouble the frontrunners, the B-spec car that they used for the second half of the 2015 season has provided them with a solid foundation on which to build their 2016 challenge.

Williams may be a step too far ahead, but with a little luck, Force India could hold off McLaren-Honda and repeat their 2015 heroics by finishing fifth.

On a precautionary note, it would be unwise to write off Renault. While the French outfit are the first to admit that their Formula 1 project will take time to bear fruit, there is no doubting their commitment, nor the resources they have available.

Where will McLaren-Honda end 2016?

Just in case

As can be inferred from the predictions above, not at the front of the grid. It was a habit for the Woking-based squad to overestimate how much progress they were about to make in 2015, with calls such as “podiums by the end of 2015” not uncommon.

Hindsight shows that such lofty successes were not to be for McLaren in 2015, and on the strength of this, it is unlikely that they have found a magic formula over the course of the winter that will see them suddenly catapulting to the front of the pecking order.

It is, however, almost unthinkable that a team like McLaren could spend two consecutive seasons in the doldrums at the back of the grid. The likely result, therefore, is welcome, but not astronomical, progress. As such, the team may find themselves fighting the likes of Force India over the course of the season to be at the head of the midfield battle, resulting in a finishing position of fifth or sixth place.

How will Haas do in their debut season?

Just in case

This may well be one of the most difficult predictions to make, given that Haas have never competed in Formula 1. The team enjoyed a successful first pre-season test that impressed the rest of the paddock, but endured a time to forget the following week as the second and final test saw them struggle with all manner of reliability problems. Regardless, the Haas project remains an exciting prospect for Formula 1 success.

If they manage to beat Manor, they will have achieved more in their first season than the Banbury-based squad have managed in six seasons in the sport. This should be their first target, and given the experience of their drivers (in particular Romain Grosjean) it should be obtainable. If they manage to go one better and finish ninth, their debut season will go down as a success, all considered.

How will Rio Haryanto do?

Just in case

In short, probably not too well. Despite the warm reception enjoyed by Indonesia’s first ever Formula 1 driver, his performance during pre-season testing was slightly underwhelming and it is no secret that Manor make a driver’s financial backing one of their chief criteria for recruitment.

If a team has two pay-drivers, as Manor had last year, and find themselves alone at the back-end of the grid, as Manor did last year, the drivers’ lack of speed is difficult to spot, as they are only really racing each other. However, given that Haryanto is partnered by the exciting prospect that is Pascal Wehrlein (who is the 2015 DTM Champion) 2016 is unlikely to go well for the Indonesian, as any deficiency, either in consistency or raw speed, is likely to be exploited and highlighted by his more-fancied team-mate.