2016 F1 Driver Review of the Season: 5-8: What-Ifs & Maybes

5. Lewis Hamilton (2nd, 380 points- Mercedes) 8.0

In a season of fine margins, Hamilton excelled on his best days, but struggled persistently with his Mercedes F1 W07’s clutch. This meant his slow starts at Australia, Bahrain, Italy, & Japan costed him any chance of victory at those races, but his hampered start at Spain lead to one of the sport’s most infamous collisions in its history. His relationship with embattled team-mate Nico Rosberg had already plummeted to point zero long before, though, so conspiracy theories escalated when the German waived Hamilton past en route to his Monaco victory, the Briton’s first of the season. Debate over whether whom benefited from favouritism swung continuously throughout 2016, but throughout the four-year partnership of Rosberg & Hamilton at Mercedes, mechanical failures and poor starts were incredibly close statistically. In addition, his abysmal performance at Singapore, where Daniel Ricciardo outqualified him and Kimi Raikkonen overtook him and would have beaten if it was not for an unnecessary third stop, and his crash at Baku followed by radio restrictions compounding software issues, meant Lewis did not come even remotely close to driving a flawless season. His fans may point to his qualifying record (12-9),  superior win count (10-9) and total of podiums (17-16), as well as his engine failure whilst leading at Malaysia, but Hamilton’s WDCs in 2014 & 2015 contained fewer driver errors and his annihilation of Rosberg on his best days was much more devastating than this season.

6. Daniel Ricciardo (3rd, 256 points- Red Bull-TAG Heuer) 7.5

All-in-all, a topsy-turvy year for the Honey Badger. He defeated new team-mate Max Verstappen 11-6 in qualifying, but the Dutch prodigy improved swiftly throughout 2016. The Australian will not be needed to be reminded, but he faces by far the toughest winter of his career. In his first two weekends at Spain & Monaco with Verstappen as his team-mate, he lost his chances due to pit strategy and then slow pit reactions in the latter, where his post-race demeanour was that of an uncharacteristically ashen-faced loser. His performances in the first three Grands Prix at Australia, China & Bahrain displayed exemplary consistency, clocking three consecutive fourth places. If it was not for an early puncture in China, where he had been leading, the Australian could have claimed four victories in 2016. Sadly, Ricciardo began to appear staid and ordinary, as Max increasingly grabbed the headlines with stellar drives.

7. Sebastian Vettel (4th, 212 points- Ferrari) 7.5

By the quadruple world champion’s standards, 2016 was a mediocre, unfulfilling season. He suffered his fair share of bad luck (engine failure on the formation lap at Bahrain, clobbered by Daniil Kvyat at Russia, a sudden tyre blowout at Austria and countless times he lost positions due to Ferrari’s pit strategy), but his racecraft came under scrutiny thanks to squeezing Raikkonen at Shanghai and Spa, where Red Bull’s Kvyat and Max Verstappen were involved in collisions with the Ferrari pair at these respective races. In addition, his outlandish dive bomb on Rosberg at Malaysia was absurd to say the least, adding weight to his critics’ belief that his once potent mojo is terminally waning. His flagrant criticism of the driving of Kvyat and Verstappen became major talking points, so rival fans sneered in amusement at the 29 year old’s radio rants, especially during his meltdown in the closing laps of Mexico. These messages became a regular nuisance for his Ferrari pit crew to hear, as his apparent annoyance at the slightest hesitation from backmarkers to yield when blue flags were being signalled, went viral on social media. There is no doubting the German’s passion, but his patience and concentration is becoming a source of concern, as some would not be surprised if he was to follow compatriot Rosberg into an early retirement from F1. He lost the qualifying battle 11-10 to his ageing team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, so it appears Vettel will need to up his game if he wants a fifth world championship.

8. Kimi Raikkonen (6th, 186 points- Ferrari) 7.5

The Iceman enjoyed a remarkable resurgence during 2016, where the Ferrari SF16-H provided better handling characteristics with the design team reverting to a traditional pushrod suspension design. His season began ominously with a fiery turbo failure at Australia, as viewers were stunned to see flames smoke from the Finn’s airbox as he exited his vehicle. From thereafter, Raikkonen was able to enjoy a season that was not marred by mechanical failures, but poor luck remained a perennial headache. He was twice squeezed excessively at the first corner by Vettel at the start of races at Shanghai and Spa, leading to compromised races with a damaged car and Ferrari’s discombobulated pit crew did Kimi no favours with pit strategy. Despite a general reversal fortunes, the lack of progress and ingenuity in the development of Ferrari’s chassis meant the 2007 world champion was restricted to just four podium finishes, which should have been five if it was not for an unnecessary stop to fit used supersofts at Singapore. At the age of 37, it remains to be seen if the Iceman has the energy left to muster one last championship fight in 2017. For Kimi to challenge, he will probably need a deterioration in the relations between best friend and team-mate Vettel and the Ferrari hierarchy, as well as a refreshed car design and team structure. His taciturn, apolitical, yet endearing, personality could help him in the notoriously intense political turmoil at Maranello to reach his goal of a second WDC.

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