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2016 Silly Season
For the first time in a while, every single seat barring three are locked out at the time of writing - right after the flag fell in Abu Dhabi. To give a quick rundown:
Mercedes AMG Petronas [chassis - W07 Hybrid; engine - Mercedes]
Rosberg 6 - Hamilton 44
Scuderia Ferrari [chassis - SF16-T; engine - Ferrari]
Vettel 5 - Raikkonen 7
Williams Martini Racing [chassis - FW38; engine - Mercedes]
Massa 19 - Bottas 77
Red Bull Racing [chassis - RB12; engine - TBC]
Ricciardo 3 - Kvyat 26
Aston Martin (formerly Force India) [chassis - TBC; engine - Mercedes]
Perez 11 - Hulkenberg 27
Lotus (ownership/name TBC) [chassis - unknown; engine - unknown]
Maldonado 13 - Palmer ?
Scuderia Toro Rosso [chassis - STR11; engine - Ferrari (2015 spec)]
Verstappen 33 - TBC (likely Sainz 55)
Sauber F1 Team [chassis - C35; engine - Ferrari]
Ericsson 9 - Nasr 12
McLaren [chassis - MP4-31; engine - Honda]
Alonso 14 - Button 22
Manor [chassis - MR04; engine - Mercedes]
TBC - TBC
Haas F1 Team [chassis - Haas 116; engine - Ferrari]
Grosjean 8 - Gutierrez 21
Aside from the chaos at Enstone, the grid is looking remarkably static. Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull, the possibly rebranded Force India/Aston Martin, Sauber and McLaren have all confirmed the same drivers again. Toro Rosso are likely to confirm Sainz in the near future and Manor will likely be forced to follow the money, although that could well see Stevens get another year, possibly alongside Rossi. Maldonado is contracted at Enstone, but 2015 teammate Grosjean has departed for Haas, in a move that reminds this fan of Fisichella’s defection from Renault only a year after their dominant 2006 season to the then-new Force India team. Although it was effectively Fisichella’s swansong, it did see him luck into a Ferrari seat to replace the injured Felipe Massa for a few races. If Grosjean can get his foot into the same door, then perhaps a 2017 Ferrari seat isn’t out of the question. Regardless of what happens after 2016, however, Grosjean’s departure from Enstone likely shows how bad things are within the team. They showed up to Yas Marina with taped-up front wings that had obviously seen better days. Grosjean leaving likely costs them their Total sponsorship, although PDVSA is worth a lot more to them. I for one hope Palmer brings sufficient money to keep the team ticking over until we know what is happening in 2016.
Tufty’s Shack: 2016 Predictions
Mercedes: The titles should be a matter of course once again. The engine has an obvious advantage, and no matter how much Ferrari improve, Mercedes should retain at least some of their lead. The big question is how the drivers will work together, with tensions high at a few races this year. For me, this is the crucial flaw in the team. There is nothing wrong with the dominant team having two fast drivers, that gives the fans a show (in theory, though I’ll concede Mercedes’ policy can often strangle that a bit). But with Ferrari advancing on them, being outright faster at certain tracks already in 2015, Mercedes may need one or other of their drivers to play second fiddle and give their teammate a cushion against Maranello’s finest. If that happens, things could get very interesting in the garage. Think McLaren in 2007, minus Spygate itself. Conflicted opinions, conflicted loyalties, one very frustrated and thus volatile driver. Is this worth risking? We’ll find out next year. I’ll stick my neck on the line and say that Hamilton will take a third consecutive title, while Rosberg is swallowed up by team politics and Vettel having a blinding year to wind up 3rd.
Ferrari: Vettel has Raikkonen largely under control. Only strategic and mechanical problems really put Raikkonen ahead of Vettel through 2015, and anyone would be mad to bet against that. However, the interesting thing for 2016 will be to see how Ferrari stacks up in terms of raw power against the Mercedes engines. The chassis should be up there with the Silver Arrows, but if it doesn’t have the power behind it there is little they can do. They won’t settle for picking up the pieces of Mercedes’ strategic blunders for another year, this is a team who demand nothing but domination. They hired Vettel to bring them back to the glory days of the early 2000s, and neither Maranello nor Vettel want anything less. Raikkonen, meanwhile, will be appeased as much as possible but likely will be quietly retired at the end of the year in favour of Ricciardo, Bottas or Grosjean. I foresee 2nd and 5th in the standings, Vettel beating Rosberg and Raikkonen struggling to match his teammate as his interest slowly wanes.
Williams: It was a close year between these two, and with both Massa and Bottas contracted for next year I think it will be another tight fight. Given his age I can see Massa slowing down ever so slightly, while the car won’t improve relative to those around them leaving the slower driver in the doldrums more than ever. As a result I expect Massa to be 6th overall, although not far off Raikkonen. Bottas will narrowly beat his fellow Finn for 4th, but in the process will take a lucky win after Mercedes go into meltdown at a track where Ferrari are fairly weak.
Red Bull: Kvyat surprised a lot of people this year by beating Ricciardo, who had beaten Vettel a year earlier. I do rate the Russian driver but I think this was something of a fluke. Given the engine doubts, I expect Red Bull to rely on their aero to counter this shortfall and take a solid 4th overall in the standings, Ricciardo and Kvyat going 7th and 8th line astern.
Aston Martin: I know, I’m being presumptuous here. But the brand has been linked with a couple of different teams which says to me they are determined to get involved with the sport. The extra cash injection to a team already capable of putting together a very good car on a fairly modest budget won’t hurt and might even see them closing the gap a bit to Red Bull. Perez has been the better driver recently so I see him finishing 9th, snapping at the heels of Kvyat. Hulkenberg, unless he can really pull himself together again, will likely finish up 11th overall as he loses motivation to a degree. Expect him to go to the WEC for 2017 with Porsche if there is an opening.
Lotus: The uncertainty this year has hurt development, no question. Maldonado will beat Palmer on experience, those two 17th and 18th respectively if they make the grid. There’s not a lot else I can say here without knowing who will run the cars and who will power them.
Toro Rosso: With Ferrari power, albeit an older spec, expect a step forward for these boys next year. Verstappen has matured over the year, and I anticipate him splitting the Aston Martin pair by Abu Dhabi 2016. Sainz started well this year, but tailed off as the reliability came to the team. This doesn’t bode well for me, so whether he will actually take 12th I don’t know. I’ll say he will, but I’m not holding my breath on this.
Sauber: Thanks to the Lotus debacle I see these two having a better car than Maldonado and Palmer. Nasr has impressed me this year, so 15th should be his in my view. Ericsson I expect will be 16th, but not far ahead of Maldonado who only loses out on countback.
McLaren: Honda. They are the key to McLaren’s position next year. I am rating them based on the hopes of a huge step forward. Any aero flaws are being masked by the lack of power, so a few aero blunders shouldn’t be ruled out. As a result I only expect them to be 7th best, Button beating a demoralised Alonso as Jenson takes 12th or 13th from Alonso’s 14th.
Manor: It’s impossible to say who will be 21st and who will be 22nd, but this is where I see their drivers ending the year unfortunately. With the loss of the dream team at the helm who dragged the team back to the grid after going into administration, they will be stuck in the wilderness and fighting to make 107%.
Haas: Ferrari assistance, Ferrari power and Romain Grosjean are a promising combination, but Dallara have a woeful track record recently with chassis construction. As a result I anticipate 19th for Grosjean and 20th for Gutierrez.
As usual, I await a face-full of egg sometime next year.