Testing season in Formula 1 is somewhat anti-climactic. We wait for months for the teams to show us what they have produced over the winter and they do their best to veil it in mystery. This is to be expected however, making the tests like a big game of high-tech poker, with cars instead of cards.
So who does hold all the aces? And who do I think is going to drive away with the spoils? I’m going to go team by team predicting who will come out on top in the inter-team battles before doing my overall predictions at the end.
Mercedes AMG F1 – Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg
Defending double world champions Mercedes enter the season as favorites. They boast a ridiculous record in the hybrid era, with drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg claiming 32 wins from 38 races. Only Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull, 2014) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, 2015) have beaten either Silver Arrows driver to the flag, with three wins apiece. Rosberg finished 2015 with 6 poles in a row and wins at the final 3 races, after Hamilton had clinched the title. As a Hamilton fan, I think he had subconsciously relaxed and Rosberg had a point to prove. Tough call but Hamilton has shown over his career he has the X-Factor on track.
Scuderia Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel vs Kimi Raikkonen
Ferrari were 2015’s surprise package, I expect them to be Mercedes closest challengers this year. With Vettel and Raikkonen driving, I think they will be close if the car is up to it. Sebastian has the four titles and Kimi hopefully can rediscover the speed he had in his McLaren days. His drive to victory in Japan in 2005 showcased his pure, insane speed. That said, Vettel is clinical when he gets the chance.
Williams Racing – Valtteri Bottas vs Felipe Massa
After two years of being the bridesmaid to Mercedes and Red Bull/Ferrari, it’s time for Williams to deliver. Bottas was courted by Ferrari last year, those rumours will be back. If the Scuderia are to sign him up, he needs to pushing for race wins when he can and Williams MUST facilitate that. Last year at Silverstone, they allowed Massa to stay ahead, possibly taking a win and definitely a podium from the Finn. Felipe is still fast on his day. That said, he’s had his day and Hamilton ended it as World Champion.
Red Bull Racing Daniel Ricciardo vs Daniil Kvyat
So after taking the proverbial Bull by the horns and blowing away Vettel in 2014, Ricciardo was bested by Daniil Kvyat last year. Hopefully a more reliable “Tag Heuer” engine (it’s still a Renault, but let’s not go there) can give both guys a stable platform to score more points and podiums. Ricciardo has proven his ability to make something from nothing and in F1, that is literal gold.
Sahara Force India – Nico Hulkenberg vs Sergio Perez
For so long The Hulk has promised so much and has yet failed to deliver. Perez however has outperformed a good Sauber in 2012, had a chance at McLaren and found salvation at Force India, where he has again shone in a midfield team. Both are fast, both are able to string a succession of points scores together. By simple virtue of his previous podium appearances, I’m going to plump for Perez.
Scuderia Toro Rosso – Max Verstappen vs Carlos Sainz Jr
The seamlessly endless conveyor-belt of young driver talent from Red Bull has produced these two little gems. Verstappen was mesmeric last year. Had he been in the Ferrari or Mercedes, we could have been looking at the best rookie season since Hamilton in 2007. Sainz on the other hand was less spectacular but just as solid. Max seems to have that raw speed needed to be the best as Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton did.
Renault – Kevin Magnussen vs Jolyon Palmer
In an all new line up with limited experience between them, it’s hard to know what to expect. Magnussen had an impressive year at McLaren before they chose two world champions over him (harshly but Alonso paired with Button?!). Palmer should be looking to finish consistently and look to make a home in the lower reaches of the points this season.
McLaren-Honda – Fernando Alonso vs Jenson Button
The less said about 2015 the better for McLaren-Honda! The power unit was, awful. It had the worst of both worlds in a formula 1 engine, lacked power and unreliable. This left Alonso and Button highly frustrated spectators all too often. Even when Kevin Magnussen subbed in for Fernando, his engine cried enough BEFORE the start of race! From a viewers’ perspective, we need to see Alonso and Button near the pointy end of the grid because they’re good enough, but that can only happen with a Honda power unit that is up to scratch.
Manor Racing – Pascal Wehrlein vs Rio Haryanto
They scrambled to the grid in 2015, ran around at the back for most of it but did not disgrace themselves. Now they’re sorting themselves out with financial backing, helped by Haryanto’s millions from Indonesia. I’m against “pay drivers”, which I’ll probably write more about during the season, but if he allows a young team to grow into a sport where it is hugely expensive and difficult to survive, then he need only perform. Wehrlein however should be something special. Mercedes provide Manor with power unit’s so it’s only fair that they want their star in the making to gain some experience.
Haas F1 – Romain Grosjean vs Esteban Gutierrez
Haas are America’s latest venture into the sport. Heavy links with Ferrari have given them a stable foundation to build a solid car on and with Grosjean in the car, they have a reliable racer. His outstanding podium at Spa last year proves as much. Romain has matured brilliantly since his 2012 madness. 2013 was a water-shed year before Lotus’ backers whipped the rug from under his feet. His new team-mate is Ferrari reserve Gutierrez who has driven for Sauber. Not sure what I make of this other than its Ferrari exercising a similar power to Mercedes with Wehrlein. Grosjean to sweep Gutierrez aside as he gets back to his feet.
World Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors Champions: Mercedes
Top 3 Drivers: Hamilton/Vettel/Rosberg
Most wins (Driver/Team): Hamilton/Mercedes
Manor & Haas to score points (Yes/No): Yes!!