Formula 1, Round 1, Testing Round-up
Round 1 of testing is now complete and we’ve been treated in the main to the new cars. We’ll start with the teams which haven’t changed a great deal in their set up, of course they’ve all evolved their packages to be faster, more reliable and if you believe their press releases, they are all going to be World Champions when the chequered flag falls in Abu Dhabi on November 27th of this year!
2 Horse Race?
The “big 2” of Mercedes and Ferrari are an evolution of last season with the same driver pairings and the same engine/chassis combination. 3 time World Champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resume hostilities in their Mercedes again with 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel and World Champion Kimi Raikkonen chasing them in their Ferrari. There is hope from everywhere that Ferrari might be more of a challenge to Mercedes this season, would be interesting for all viewers to see more competition in the sport, might it even be Ferrari who set the pace? Little change too at Williams with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas still pushing the Mercedes powered team towards 3rd in the Championship. Sauber too keep their two drivers from last season (although at one point they had 4 drivers contracted for 2015) with Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Their engine package from Ferrari might see them become a more serious mid-field team.
McLaren change personnel as do Honda
And whilst there is “no change” with McLaren’s drivers & engine supply, World Champion Jenson Button and two time Champion Fernando Alsonso still trying to get the best of their Honda powered car, there is some change with their engine supplier removing their top F1 man, the engine programme is now being overseen by Yusuke Hasegawa. The CEO of the McLaren F1 operation has also changed from Jonathan Neale to VW motorsport boss Jost Capito. There cannot be an F1 fan alive who doesn’t hope for change at McLaren for this season, one of the most successful teams in the sport with not one but two World Champions, Honda clearly underestimated the challenge last year, hopefully they’ll be closer to the pace this season.
The Bull Pen
Toro Rosso are sticking with the same drivers, the exciting pairing of Carlos Sainz (jnr) and Max Verstappen. The two sons of ex-racing-drivers provided a lot of the excitement on-track last season and with a 2015 Ferrari engine package powering the car, they might be an even more serious threat to their stable mate Red Bull Racing. RBR, whilst seemingly desperate to change engines last season remain as they were with Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat piloting the “Tag” powered Red Bull, more of that later. It is essentially a re-branded Renault engine, with some input from Ilmor to make tweaks, however, Renault engines they are with the French engine supplier proclaiming that should they have an upgrade, Red Bull will have this upgrade at the same time. Somewhat maligned since the V6’s were introduced, it would be a mistake to underestimate the Renault team’s ability, one only has to look at their pedigree in the sport to know they mean business.
Lotus become Renault
Some of the more significant changes revolved around the other main manufacturer in the sport with Renault now being back to a full factory outfit as a manufacturer and engine supplier. The remnants of the “Lotus” team, or the “Enstone” team which has its roots in Toleman, Benetton, Renault and latterly Lotus are now back to being Renault. An interesting development that Renault have come back as a full-on team again given their V6 hybrid engine has not been on the pace at all, Red Bull’s spectacular falling out with their engine partner of some 8 years deteriorated very publicly last season and there was a time that Renault looked like taking their ball home! RBR were rumoured to have secured a Mercedes deal, then a Ferrari deal and lastly a Honda deal – before all those deals evaporated and they’re back to using Renault’s branded as “Tag” engines. For those who have watched for a while, it was Tag who sponsored McLaren back in the 80’s branding their V6 1.5 turbo Porsche derived engine, to great success from 1983 to 1986 with the MP4-2, MP4-3 & MP4. Does anyone else find it a little cheeky that not only have Red Bull ‘stolen’ McLaren’s sponsor of 30 odd years (Tag Heuer) they’ve also ‘stolen’ their engine branding idea?
Back to the ‘new’ Renault team, one of their first actions (once they got rid of last years Mercedes engine) was to somehow or another get rid of Pastor Maldonaldo and replace him with the highly rated Kevin Magnussen. Kevin having only one year in the sport with McLaren is back alongside F1 newcomer Jolyon Palmer. So, as “new” goes, a new engine, a new (returning) team and two new drivers, one of whom has never raced in F1 before.
However, whilst that’s considerable change at Renault, F1 also welcomes a brand new team! Not a team which has taken over another team re branding it, a full-on brand spanking new team. Back in 2010 we had “Virgin”, “Hispania” and “Lotus” join the fray with only “Virgin” still sort-of in operation as Manor Marussia – although their history in the sport is peppered with insolvency and buy-outs, less said soonest mended. As for the brand new Haas team, which unlike those 2010 models has some real motor-racing pedigree behind it.
NASCAR takes on F1
American NASCAR team owner Gene Haas (no relation to IndyCar boss Carl Haas) (we thought they were related too!) has enjoyed considerable success across the Pond with his NASCAR team and is now taking on the F1 challenge. With considerable chassis input from Dallara, with a strong partnership with engine supplier Ferrari, of all the new teams to come to F1 latterly there is air of well founded optimism about this particular outfit, with the much improved and solid Romain Grosjean at the helm alongside ex-Ferrari tester Esteban Gutierrez, we could be witnessing the birth of a serious American led assault on F1. That they didn’t bring with them an American driver when there are a couple of talented pilots in the wings has been criticised, however, the experienced Grosjean and Ferrari backed Gutierrez is a logical opening pairing for the team.
Lastly, perennial back-markers Manor have a new engine deal with the Mercedes lump. They also have two new drivers with Mercedes reserve Pascal Wehrlein and rookie Rio Haryanto at the helm. Mercedes is widely acknowledged as being ahead of the other engine suppliers so perhaps this new engine partnership will see Manor close the gap, but we’re not expecting them to be a top 10 finisher. So, both Ferrari with Gutierrez and Mercedes with Wehrlein have done engine deals with teams to give their young drivers proper “race” time, whether this leads to a promotion to the “A” team remains to be seen, but an interesting way for teams to get their drivers into the sport with such limited testing.
That’s a round up of what has and has not changed for the 2016 F1 season as far as teams and drivers are concerned, with only one more track on the calendar with Baku is Azerbaijan on June 19th. Another street track to go alongside the iconic Monaco Grand Prix (May 29th) and the fantastic night-time-spectacular Singapore Grand Prix, (September 18th) this might be another winner for the sport.
There are some rule changes for this year too, and some proposed rule changes too, more of that in our next post.
© Grand Prix Adventures 2016