The 2016 Formula 1 season is nearly upon us, and we’ve taken a look at our crystal ball to see how the season will play out.
Having already predicted how the various drivers and teams will do, we’ve now made some bold predictions regarding other aspects of the season.
Will the Renault engine be any better in 2016?
On the engine front, Renault-powered teams endured a season to forget in 2015, as it quickly became clear that the French manufacturer’s power unit was some way off those of rivals Ferrari and Mercedes. Indeed, the German team went on to dominate the season, with the works Ferrari team securing a respectable three victories, while Renault-powered teams won no races and found even minor podium places difficult to come by.
The result was a general sense of unhappiness from Renault’s customers, in particular from the previously-dominant Red Bull outfit, who felt that their otherwise excellent RB11 challenger was being hampered by a lack of horsepower and that, given engine parity with Mercedes, they might have been able to challenge the dominant Silver Arrows outfit.
While this is a bold claim to make, it is certainly true that on circuits that relied less on raw power and more on aerodynamic efficiency, the Red Bull RB11 performed admirably. The rumors and comments surrounding Renault’s 2016 engine have been generally positive, which provides a welcome contrast to a year ago.
Of course, performance gains in Formula 1 are always relative, and Ferrari and Mercedes have certainly made progress of their own. The result then, will probably be an improved Renault engine that is not quite at the level of the Mercedes or Ferrari power units yet. Better? Yes. Good enough? Probably not. Still, with Red Bull confident that they will taste success in the second half of 2016, there are reasons to be positive.
When will the Rosberg/Hamilton feud erupt again?
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have had their share of disagreements both on and off-track since becoming stablemates at Mercedes in 2013.
Despite their much-discussed childhood friendship, the friction between the two has only intensified as Mercedes have continued their domination of Formula 1. This is completely understandable; Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and at this level, opportunities for success tend to come around only once in a while and must be taken at any cost.
While the winter break will have allowed both of them to cool off a little, it has become clear that the new Mercedes W07 is an impressive car, which implies more hotly-contested battles at the front, which in turn implies more friction between two talented and ambitious drivers.
While Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has done an admirable job of keeping his drivers in check over the past few seasons, grumpy faces and awkward press conferences are sure to make their appearance at some point in the season.
The sense of euphoria produced by having a competitive car will fade over the course of the first few races of the year, and by Spain, when the championship battle begins to shape up and the season is in full swing, the cracks are sure to start appearing.
How will the maiden Azerbaijan Grand Prix go?
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix (officially the Grand Prix of Europe) will make it’s debut this season when Formula 1 visits the Baku City Circuit from 17 to 19 June 2016.
As a street circuit, it shares some characteristics with Monaco and the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore: there are several 90-degree corners and some tight and twisty sections. However, the circuit will feature a unique 2.2 kilometer straight down Neftchilar Avenue next to the seaside, which is expected to produce speeds in excess of 340 km/h.
In addition, Baku’s surrounding architecture will be a sight to behold, and with the race starting at 18:00 local time, the surrounding ingredients are in place to produce a thrilling and memorable spectacle.
While Azerbaijan’s lack of motorsport history may be a slight concern, Malaysia and China found themselves in a similar situation a decade or so ago and have since gone on to enjoy a long-term home on the calendar, with some thrilling races in tow.
On the whole, the race around the streets of Baku is something to be excited about and represents an exciting new frontier for a sport that has become truly global over the past few years.
Which race will be the most exciting?
The relative excitement of a Formula 1 race depends on many factors, such as the weather, overtaking opportunities and reliability concerns, to name but a few. In light of this, even Monaco (which amounts to little more than a procession during dry weather) may produce a thrilling spectacle if it rains.
However, based on past experience, the most exciting race is likely to be either the US Grand Prix at Austin, Texas, or perhaps the Belgian Grand Prix. The Mexican Grand Prix enjoyed a successful return to the calendar last year and was touted as an all-round thrilling spectacle and is likely to do so again this year.
Will the new qualifying format work?
Formula 1 has gone through a variety of qualifying formats since the turn of the century, with the most recent, three-part system in use for roughly a decade.
For 2016, however, the FIA has decided to implement a new, “elimination-style” format that will see a driver eliminated from qualifying every 90 seconds after a “safe interval” has passed. This move forms part of an effort by the sport’s governing body to ensure more unpredictability on Saturday, which could in turn lead to more exciting racing on Sunday.
While there is nothing wrong with the new format in terms of the actual concept, many would say that there wasn’t really much wrong with the old format either. The new format is likely to throw up a few surprises and result in a less predictable grid order.
Will it work? Probably. Was it necessary to implement the new format? Probably not. However, over time, the new format is likely to be embraced by fans and improve the overall spectacle of the sport.
Who will be rookie of the year?
2016’s new batch of rookies includes Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto (both Manor) and Jolyon Palmer, who will drive for Renault.
Of these three, it would be fair to say that Wehrlein is touted as the most-exciting of the three new prospects on the grid. The German youngster is likely to have the measure of Haryanto, and while Palmer will enjoy the added benefit of driving for Renault, he already seems to be consigned to the role of second driver at the French team behind Kevin Magnussen, at least for 2016, with Renault making clear that they are looking at the Dane to play the lead role this season.
Of course, if Palmer proves to be quicker than Magnussen, the focus is sure to shift to him, but until then, Wehrlein will probably be the focus of most paddock observers.