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F1 2016.

It’s time for what has turned into my annual Formula 1 post. I used to write quite a lot about the series, but 2015 season was one long yawn and didn’t feel much like something to waste precious time writing about. Mercedes pretty much dominated the entire season from start to finish, and my life long nemesis, Lewis Hamilton, brought home yet another World Championship title. That Sebastian Vettel managed to claw his way to third place didn’t really help much, he was literately miles behind Hamilton. But the biggest disappointment of 2015 was McLaren and poor Fernando Alonso. My favorite driver and double World Champion finished 17th in 2015, with a lousy 11 points.

We’re about a month away from the inegrual race of the 2016 season, the Australian Grand Prix. Will changes to the technical and sporting regulations, cars, power units, teams and driver lineups make this season more entertaining than last year’s? One thing is for sure, at least: With Bernie‘s extreme commitment to force as much money out of his F1 franchise as humanly possible before he steps down dies1, 2016 will see a record breaking 21 Formula 1 races around the world. Among the locations are the new Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan.

Teams

Hass F1 Team will join the 2016 starting grid as the first American Formula 1 racing team since the Haas Lola team competed in 1986. Despite having similar names, the teams are not related in any way. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez will drive for Haas, and while both are experienced F1 drivers, I suspect the team will find themselves being lapped more often than they will overtake.

French car manufacturer Renault returns to F1 in 2016 after having bought Lotus F1, which ended the previous season in serious financial troubles. Lotus F1 was owned by Renault until 2010, so the team now reaches full circle. Even though Renault was once a great team – they won the title with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 – I very much doubt that they will see any real success this year: The power unit Renault supplied to Red Bull last year made the team look like a bunch of amateurs and there are strong indications that Renault hasn’t managed to improve the power unit in any significant way since last year.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement with Renault’s power unit – more I think than Mercedes and Ferrari have.” — Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Drivers

Pastor Maldonado has finally left Formula 1! The driver was in the series solely because of the money his sponsor, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA, threw at the teams he was driving for. With the ongoing oil crisis, that money has dried up, and Maldonado is out. No real loss for Formula 1, he was a danger to everyone on the track, himself included. His reckless driving earned him the nickname Crashtor and led to the creation of websites like Has Maldonado Crashed Today.

Maldonado is replaced by Kevin Magnussen, who is actually a talented racing driver. The Dane drove for McLaren during the 2014 season and did quite good considering McLaren’s form that year. In 2015, he was demoted to test and reserve driver at McLaren, and it’s good to see him back in the cockpit as an actual race driver.

There are also a few new faces on the starting grid this year: Rio Haryanto (Manor, raced in GP2 last year), Pascal Wehrlein (also Manor, raced in DTM, and worked as a test driver for both Mercedes and Force India last year), and Jolyon Palmer (Renault, test driver for Lotus last year).

Regulations

With the continuing decline in the popularity of Formula 1, FIA is desperate to introduce regulation changes to make the series more spectator friendly. Unfortunately, the sport is governed by a bunch of old farts with one foot in the grave, and the necessary, and much needed, changes come painfully slow. As a result of this, there aren’t any revolutionary – or even evolutionary – regulation changes being introduced for the 2016 season.

More tokens for power unit development and a new compound from tire supplier Pirelli might help a little. Still, we, the Formula 1 spectators, have to cross our fingers and hope that teams like Ferrari and Williams have been able to make enough technical progress during the winter to end Mercedes’ dominance.

If not, we might as well just watch something else instead, and Formula E seems like a sound alternative.

Footnotes

  1. We all know Bernie Ecclestone will never voluntarily step down as Formula 1 supremo.

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