Team By Team
Let’s get straight into it! These are just my general impressions. If you would like a detailed rundown there are plenty of professional journalists offering their own previews!
My pick for the Constructors’ Championship and again easily so. I’m less sure about the Drivers’ Championship. I will pick Hamilton, though I have a feeling Ferrari might be close enough to challenge that Hamilton and Rosberg will be so busy taking points from one another, Vettel might sneak it. I also wonder if Merc have been complacent – in testing they somewhat arrogantly only really used the Medium tyres. They did though do a LOT of laps, so the car is bulletproof. Ferrari won’t be able to count on silver unreliability.
My hope is they are closer to Mercedes. They seem to be throwing everything at it and I’d like to see a hint of a title challenge. (I’m not as anti-Ferrari as some think, especially since the management of 2000-2004 is gone). Kimi now has a front end he should be able to get on with but Vettel will still outscore him. Seb needs this to prove he can win titles with two teams, Kimi needs to prolong his career. Podiums galore and the odd win through the year.
Williams – Mercedes:
I predict 3rd once again. They will have to be a bit more adventurous. The new car looks exactly like the old one. (As does most of the field!) Over the next few years with Renault restructuring and RBR likely to come forward, Williams are going to have to keep on their toes to stay ahead. I hope in ’16 they show evidence of that else they won’t be 3rd for much longer. Massa and Bottas are solid but not particularly spectacular. Very ‘Williams’, in other words! Hard to see them improving on 3rd, which is less about Williams, because the team is in a no-mans land. As a customer team they’re unlikely to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari, but as the frontline Merc customer team they’re ahead of the lesser-funded Force India and Manor or anyone with a Renault or a Honda. I see many podiums.
Red Bull – TAG Heuer (Renault):
Ought to run like clockwork.. The team reckoned to have the best aerodynamic department in the business (as proven in the V8 era) haven’t lost that touch, but they’re heavily reliant on the fortunes of Renault. Relations with Renault have broken down so much RBR can’t even mention them by name any more! Hence the engine-badging deal. Yet this year with token restrictions lessened, the power units should improve all the time. But Red Bull are no longer the factory Renault team, they are but a customer.. They should still get the top upgrades but will it be enough? At least with Ricciardo and Kvyat, we know the car will be running as fast as it can go. They’ll beat the works Renault team probably quite easily.
Force India – Mercedes:
It’s easy to assume FIF1 were 5th purely down to the Mercedes engine and I don’t argue the efficacy of that engine, but don’t also count out how good the guys at Silverstone are. They do a heck of a lot with (relatively) not very much. There’s a lot of spark and agility in this team, a culture developed way back in the Jordan days I’m heartened to see still exists. My real concern is with the funding and ownership. Sahara is in jail and Mallya has his troubles. I just hope it doesn’t impact the team. If it doesn’t, expect them along with Perez and Hulkenberg to do another excellent job to race against and beat teams with more resources. Their fight will perhaps be against the resurgent McLaren. FIF1 may also be able to score well in the early races to pull a gap over Red Bull, for a while.
McLaren – Honda:
I’m going to put McLaren 6th but really nobody knows where they will be! My guess is once again they’ll start the year slow and work hard to pull themselves up the order as the year goes on. But they won’t start as far back as last year, perhaps they might start in the lower midfield and work their way up. McLaren usually improves through the year, even in their good years. Button and Alonso will no doubt be frustrated, but with LMP1 drives closed off it’s hard to see where else they’d go. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne waits and Ron’s patience runs ever lower.. As indicated by my positioning I do think they’ll get solidly into he midfield in the points standings.
A transitional year for the former Lotus team. Renault bought their team back! It’ll take a while for the organisational changes to shake out, and they had to adapt their car back from Mercedes. Last year’s car was pretty good but the team lacked the money to use it and develop it. Development won’t be a problem this year but with the likelihood of new rules for 2017 it may be better to focus wholesale on next season. Magnussen has a point to prove, to Ron Dennis in particular, while Palmer will want to show he’s there on talent and not just because of his dad. More treading water then, but hopefully we’ll see many points finishes.
Toro Rosso – Ferrari (2015):
The new car looks dynamite, better even than the Red Bull. Unlike the parent team they’ve extracted themselves from Renault but only with year-old Ferraris. This gives them a bit more grunt but no power unit development whatsoever, so I expect them to start strongly and gradually drift backwards through the year as everyone else works on their engines and recovery systems. So their new car had better not break down in the first few races, which represent their best chance to build points while everyone else irons out bugs in their 2016 PUs. Sainz and Verstappen were both mightily impressive last year, expect that to continue and Kvyat to sweat heavily.
Manor – Mercedes:
The installation of Mercs should provide an immediate boost. It all depends on the cars now. Manor should finally be able to race with the established teams on merit, or at least the Saubers and STRs. No more excuses. There’s this inescapable feeling though that the new owner has some other motive, is he looking to sell it for profit? Two rookies is an.. interesting choice and not one I would’ve made. Wehrlein did preseason testing a year ago though and as DTM champion should be a solid hire. Haryanto I know less about, he’s spent 4 years in GP2 and for 3 of them was nowhere. If the drivers and cars are up to it, Manor have the real opportunity to out-score both Sauber and Haas, and to worry the Toro Rossos – maybe even get among Renault and McLaren.
Haas – Ferrari:
The new boys are no fools. They’re a professional outfit in NASCAR and they know how to race. They’re also an engineering-led company, the whole point of the team is to promote their engineering machinery to prospective buyers. They elected to defer their entry by a year to prepare and wow has that paid off, immediately setting representative times in testing. They have had help from Ferrari and Dallara of course, quite a lot of it too. Smart thinking. They will be near the back but they possibly won’t be at the very back all of the time, if they are they won’t be the 3 or 4 seconds behind that were the last new entrants. The bigger time losses will come from operational reasons, look for fluffed pit stops and weird pit stop strategies as the team gets used to the ways of F1. Grosjean and Gutierrez are both good drivers needing to get on with their careers, Romain especially, both with an eye on any potential Ferrari drive that might currently be occupied by a Finn. Will they score in year one? With a bit of help from attrition maybe, otherwise not. But there’s plenty of potential here.
Sauber – Ferrari:
Sadly the Swiss team still seems to have money trouble. A late car and stories of late payments to staff are not good signs at any time let alone when about to embark upon a season. When they revealed their new car for the 2nd test it looked so similar to the ’15 car they tested the week before, I wondered if they’d brought the wrong one. I think it is very likely they’ll be last at several GPs and I have a feeling they’ll be last in the points standings, which would be disastrous for their cash supply. That said, Nasr is a hot talent and Ericsson should bring the car home, but both should be in a better car and I wish Sauber could provide it.