Formula 1 can be hard to enjoy sometimes, with constant rule changes, complaints about the racing and a sense that the powers-that-be aren’t really sure how to endow the sport with a spectacle worthy of its billing.
But now that all the drivers have seats, the liveries have been revealed and the first race approaches, it’s hard not to hold a child-like excitement about the upcoming season. Can anyone top Mercedes? Has Renault – now in control of the team formerly known as Lotus – fixed its woeful engines? And how will new Brit, Jolyon Palmer, fare in his first season?
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Ferrari engine/Sebastian Vettel/Kimi Raikkonen
As with 2015, Ferrari is probably Mercedes’ closest rival for the 2016 season. And like 2015, it should be Vettel leading the charge. He’s shown confidence in interviews, and Ferrari’s engine and suspension revisions should give the German a strong car from the start. Livery fans will appreciate the splash of white along the car’s airbox, a reference to its success in the mid-70s with Niki Lauda.
Sahara Force India
Mercedes engine/Sergio Perez/Nico Hulkenberg
Like several of the smaller teams, Force India chose to unveil their car shortly before Barcelona testing began. The driver lineup is unchanged, as is the livery, while the team says the new VJM09 is an evolution of last season’s car. Given the team managed to humble Lotus, Toro Rosso and McLaren in 2015 – with Perez scoring a podium in Russia – expect another strong season this year.
Ferrari engine/Romain Grosjean/Esteban Gutierrez
A new name in F1, but a familiar driver lineup. It’s probably asking too much to expect table-topping results, but you can’t accuse Haas of lacking racing experience in general, given its success in NASCAR with Stewart-Haas Racing. The VF16 uses a Ferrari engine and its shape was honed in Ferrari’s wind-tunnel. Grosjean and Gutierrez are a solid driver pairing.
Mercedes engine/Rio Haryanto/Pascal Wehrlein
Manor has already got down to the business of testing, choosing to launch its MRT05 on-track at Barcelona. Power comes from Mercedes – last season Manor ran Ferrari powerplants – while Williams provides the transmission side of the power units. The driver lineup is entirely new: Haryanto, from Indonesia, comes from GP2. 21-year old Wehrlein was 2015 DTM champion, becoming the youngest ever to win that series.
Honda engine/Fernando Alonso/Jenson Button
A new season, new results for McLaren? Its 2015 was woeful, finishing second-from-bottom in the manufacturer standings, and Jenson Button taking the team’s sole points finishes at four races. The viral image of Alonso sitting on a deckchair following yet another malady summed up the team’s morale. There’s a new Honda engine though, and the MP4-31 chassis is all-new too.
Mercedes AMG Petronas
Mercedes engine/Nico Rosberg/Lewis Hamilton
Unless Mercedes has somehow forgotten how to F1, we expect to see Hamilton and Rosberg top the table again in 2016. And Hamilton specifically – despite Rosberg’s form towards the end of 2015, Lewis had already done exactly what he needed, and seemed to subconsciously ease off after his sealing the championship in round 16. The W07, and its livery, look much the same – but Mercedes has almost certainly done enough to keep ahead of its rivals.
Red Bull Racing
TAG Heuer engine/Daniel Ricciardo/Daniil Kvyat
Red Bull’s prospects were looking grim at the end of 2015. Ferrari and Mercedes had no interest in supplying their chief rival with engines, and things weren’t looking great for much-berated Renault either. A deal was done though, albeit under TAG Heuer branding rather than Infiniti. The driver lineup remains the same and a sleek matte finish covers the car. A sudden return to form seems unlikely though – nor does an end to threats to leave the sport if things don't go the team's way.
Renault engine/Kevin Magnussen/Jolyon Palmer
Renault has now revealed its official 2016 livery, replacing the original show car's black and matt black combinations for something a little more retro. The black and yellow combination highlights the new Renault Sport ownership, and Renault promises comprehensive revisions to its under-performing V6. With two new drivers, there’s not much of the old Lotus team left – Magnussen couldn’t contain his happiness to be back when the car was unveiled in Paris, and Palmer is looking forward to his very first F1 season.
Ferrari engine/Marcus Ericsson/Felipe Nasr
Sauber’s bright blue and yellow Banco do Brasil livery returns for 2016, and changes to the C34 chassis are apparently minimal too. The team has also stuck with Ferrari power and the same driver lineup, so has the benefit of solid footings for this season. Equally, we’re not expecting any groundbreaking increase in pace. A finish in the back third of the field is fairly assured.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Ferrari engine/Max Verstappen/Carlos Sainz Jr.
There’s been no big reveal for Toro Rosso this season – instead, the team has simply got back on track for testing at Barcelona. Some strong results last year were masked by a series of retirements, but a switch from Renault engines to Ferrari for the STR11 might see some improvements in that regard. Its young driver pairing impressed in 2015 – their additional experience for 2016 can only help raise their game.
Williams Martini Racing
Mercedes engine/Felipe Massa/Valtteri Bottas
Williams has looked so close to rivaling Mercedes and Ferrari in recent seasons, but never quite managed it when push came to shove. It’s good to see the team improving and capable of strong results, and there’s consistency here – the same drivers as last season, and the same engine supplier. The FW38 is similar to 2015’s car, but that’s no bad thing – small revisions should keep it competitive.