2016 F1 Driver Review of the Season: 1 & 2: The Squire & the Master

  1. Max Verstappen (5th, 204 points- Red Bull-TAG Heuer/Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 8.5

The list of superlatives are never ending for this sparkling Dutch prodigy. He has won Racing Acid‘s Driver of the Year award partly due to no single driver having a truly flawless season, but his invigorating performances have revived interest in a series which has alarmingly become renowned for stale and processional driving. Max started his year in a Toro Rosso, but controversy over Daniil Kvyat’s collisions with Sebastian Vettel in consecutive races at Shanghai and Sochi elevated him into the senior squad.

Melbourne saw the Dutchman start his season in an irascible fashion, where his pleas to his team to order then-team mate Carlos Sainz to waive him past were ignored. He’d outqualified Sainz to start a then-career best of P5, but questionable strategy and tyre wear issues saw him drop behind his canny Spanish team-mate, in a race interrupted by Fernando Alonso’s horrendous smash. Bahrain, however, saw Verstappen return to his halcyon days of yesteryear, where he finished an almighty P6 ahead of Kvyat’s Red Bull and both Williams cars.  Again he’d outqualified Sainz, although perhaps he had been assisted by the severely-maligned elimination format, which was canned at the consequent Chinese Grand Prix. Despite Sainz qualifying ahead at Shanghai, Verstappen finished five seconds ahead with P8 as his race result. Russia saw Max beat Sainz in qualifying again, but the race saw him retire with power unit maladies on lap 34, whilst running an impressive P6. In comparison, Sainz could only finish P12, one lap down.

With apprehension developing over Kvyat’s performances in the senior squad emerging, Helmut Marko and the Red Bull board exploited his latest collision with former Red Bull champion Vettel as perfect timing to bring Verstappen into his seat in time for Barcelona. The Dutchman qualified a steady P4 behind new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who’d admitted relishing the prospect of dicing wheels with the F1’s hottest teen. The race witnessed the inexplicable sight of the Mercedes drivers colliding at Turn 4 on lap 1, leaving Ricciardo leading Verstappen, whose ex-team mate Sainz followed them in the heady heights of P3. Inevitably both Ferraris overtook Sainz, with the race unfolding into one of pit strategy. Thanks to Red Bull’s adroit gamble to place Max on a two-stopper, with only Kimi Raikkonen following his lead as Ricciardo and Vettel chose three-stoppers. The final twenty-three laps witnessed a nail-biting encounter between the Dutchman and the wily Finn, who could not compete with the Red Bull’s superior exit speed. The chequered flag would witness one of the most astonishing fairytales completed, as Max succeeded in winning in his first time out with Milton Keynes-based squad, a feat never completed before. In doing so, he broke many records, some of which will almost certainly will never been touched again thanks to the FIA’s age restrictions, which had been implemented subsequently in response Max’s startling Grand Prix debut at just 17 years of age.

Monaco would foresee F1’s youngest race winner granted a scathing humbling, though, as a crash in qualifying saw him start in P21. He would make steady progress in the treacherous conditions that bestowed the Monte Carlo circuit the following day, but after having switched to slicks once the track dried sufficiently, he crashed out of the race for a second consecutive year at the Principality. Montreal would witness Ricciardo maintain his superiority in qualifying, but it was Max who would grab the headlines again when he pressured championship leader Nico Rosberg into an embarrassing spin, clinching P4 in the progress. A visibly downcast Ricciardo finished ten seconds behind in P7. The complexities of F1’s varying track layouts began to expose the Dutchman’s lack of experience when the circus visited a new track in Baku, Azerbaijan. Qualifying would see his Australian team-mate grab P2 after Perez’s gearbox change, whilst Max languished in P9. The lack of horsepower from the Renault engine combined with substandard tyre management would prove costly for Ricciardo, however, as the more powerful Mercedes and Ferrari engined cars inevitably beat him, leaving him to finish P7, just one second ahead of Verstappen. Despite freak wet-dry conditions in qualifying, Verstappen again lost out to Ricciardo. The race would witness a mesmerising return to form for the youngster, though, as he drove to P2 having driven the last 56 laps on soft compounds and a gigantic 25 seconds ahead of his team-mate. Verstappen finally succeeded in outqualifying Ricciardo at Silverstone and the race witnessed a fascinating battle between the Dutchman and Rosberg. Controversy over Max’s blocking became apparent as Nico implored his team to complain to FIA and demanded a punishment to be applied to the then-18 year old. Unfortunately for the German, gearbox selection headaches emerged, so a post-race penalty was applied to him for having received radio assistance to reset his system, gifting Verstappen a mightly P2.

The next five Grands Prix would prove to be a struggle for Verstappen. Ricciardo would outqualify him in four of these five races, with Belgium being an exception. The race at Spa would witness some truly belligerent driving from the Dutchman, as his poor start saw him exploited the full use of the inside kerb to wallop the Ferraris. After all three dropped outside the top ten, Verstappen unscrupulously swerved in front of Raikkonen on the Kemmel Straight on successive laps, whilst later pushing Perez off the track at Les Combes. It was a miracle the Dutchman would emerge from the weekend unpunished, but the damage to his reputation was appearing. After all, the critics were unforgiving when Ferrari fans were furious when Max chopped off Raikkonen twice in the braking zone at at Hungary. The German race also saw further altercations with Rosberg, whilst Monza and Singapore witnessed uncharacteristically abject performances from the Dutchman. On the weekend of his 19th birthday, Lewis Hamilton’s untimely engine failure would present an opportunity for Max to win his second race of the season at Sepang, but after an exhilarating tussle through turns 5 and 6 with Ricciardo, he was forced to settle for second, gifting Red Bull their first 1-2 in three years.

The final five races witnessed a return for the Dutchman. Suzuka would display a ruthless execution of defence from him, as Hamilton would emerge as the latest critic of Verstappen’s exploitation of the grey areas within the sporting regulations. Austin would witness communication issues between Max and his team, as the Dutchman arrived in the pits a lap earlier than scheduled, but this proved academic with his farcical attempts to pull his stricken vehicle off the track. It arguably wrecked Ricciardo’s prospects of catching Rosberg for P2, but Mexico would witness even further controversy in the closing laps. Once Max learned of the news he’d have five seconds added to his race time, he proceeded to delay an irate Vettel, permitting his team-mate to catch them. Vettel, a major of Verstappen’s antics throughout 2016, would ironically replicate the Dutchman’s weaving when Ricciardo attempted to overtake him. Max would cross the line in P3, but it would be Vettel who appeared on the podium, only for officials to award the last spot on the rostrum to Ricciardo hours later.

Interlagos would momentously foresee the greatest performance of Verstappen’s short career thus far. In a display of dazzling car control, despite spinning on the start-finish straight, Verstappen would exploit his fresh wet compounds to overtake car-after-car to finish P3, but again not without controversy. It was agonising to see the Dutchman seemingly escape from punishment after pushing his frustrated rival Vettel off the track on the exit  of turn 12, but quite simply the only other driver on his wavelength that day was race winner Hamilton. Abu Dhabi would see Verstappen spin on the first corner on lap 1, only to somehow stretch his flatspotted supersofts until lap 21 and then drive remaining 34 laps on new softs to finish P4 ahead of Ricciardo and Raikkonen.

It was utterly devastating in its execution. There is simply plenty more to come from the newest superstar of Formula One.

2. Fernando Alonso (10th, 54 points- McLaren-Honda) 8.0

Mr. Consistency once again excelled in 2016. Speculation over his future at McLaren again arose when news of Rosberg’s retirement broke out, but the Spaniard and manager Flavio Briatore are adamant that his future remains at the Woking squad. A P6 at Russia, a pair of P5s at Monaco & Austin and four P7s at Hungary, Belgium, Singapore & Malaysia once again illuminated the 35 year old’s status as F1’s most hard-nosed competitor. Not much else needs to be said.

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2016 F1 Driver Review of the Season: 3 & 4: The Champion & the Tyro

3. Nico Rosberg (1st, 385 points- Mercedes) 8.0

“Is he a deserving champion?” asked many Lewis Hamilton and non-LH44 fans alike when the 31 year old German crossed behind his triple world champion team-mate when the chequered flag waved at the conclusion of this season at Abu Dhabi. In short, yes he is a deserving champion. Not one of the sport’s greats in the vein of Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher or even contemporary Kimi Raikkonen, but he accomplished his life ambition. Many Hamilton fans must ask themselves this question: if Nico Rosberg truly was a poor driver, then surely it must reflect Lewis’ past two championships in a miserly fashion. The truth is that Rosberg was an above-average midfielder in his Williams, who only scaled the heights intermittently with his drives at Melbourne and Singapore in 2008, then gradually raised his game and confidence through beating Schumacher and consequently escalated the intensity of his aggression and commitment to defeat Hamilton. Nico definitely fails to fit the purists’ ideal fit of a venerated hardened racer; often articulating over fine details that would evoke an ordinary man with tedium, but his meticulous planning of his approach towards race paid dividends.

Undoubtedly, he was a beneficiary of impregnable reliability, but it must be remembered how Rosberg suffered a gearbox and an electrical failure respectively at Britain and Singapore during pivotal moments back in 2014, as well as his concoction of mechanical issues during the infamous double-points finale at Abu Dhabi. His luck was equally as bad in 2015, where he suffered the ignominy of being tagged by Daniel Ricciardo at Hungary, where an almost certain P2 became P8 due to the resulting puncture. Finishing behind an erratic Hamilton did his morale no good and this was followed by untimely engine and throttle breakages at Monza and Sochi, forcing an early surrender of his 2015 challenge. For Hamilton, he suffered engine and brake failures during the races at Melbourne and Montreal, as well as brake failure and a fire during qualifying at Hockenheim then Hungaroring respectively during 2014.

2015 saw just one mechanical failure with his power unit malfunctioning at that year’s peculiar Singapore Grand Prix. In the realms of 2016, other than his flabbergasting engine disintegration, his gearbox change during qualifying at Shanghai was his only mechanically-issue which impeded him in the hunt for the WDC. The wheel-to-wheel collisions of the two Mercedes drivers cannot be ignored; tensions initially arose at Bahrain 2014, when a thrilling fight emerged when the safety car withdrew, as both pushed the boundaries of legality within track limits. Monaco saw Nico’s infamous swerve to the left at Mirabeau after his pole lap, forcing the mandatory yellow flags to annul a final attempt for Hamilton to clinch pole. Hungary was marred by Lewis’ staunch refusal to give way to Rosberg, with some believing his selfishness lost a potential victory for Mercedes and his German team-mate.

Many therefore saw Rosberg’s slice at Hamilton’s rear left tyre as revenge at the consequent Belgian race; however, others claimed team orders at Monza had forced Rosberg to drive wide at Variante del Rettifilo to permit victory for Hamilton. Hamilton then pulled off magnificent overtaking manoeuvres at Suzuka and Austin, dismantling Rosberg’s pride and took a merited 2nd WDC. The following season saw less confrontation on the track, but more bitter verbal recriminations between the pair. Nico aimed accusations of egotism after China, slamming Lewis for “driving too slowly,” but it wasn’t until Suzuka when Rosberg would take another swipe at Hamilton’s antics. The Briton cunningly hugged the inside at the first corner, then gradually moved to the outside whilst manoeuvring his car through the optimum racing line. Likewise a stubborn Rosberg refused to give way, but ran wide of the rumble strips at the exit, consequently dropping to P4. Acrimony re-emerged when Hamilton clinched his 3rd WDC at Austin, as the race start saw Lewis blatantly understeering into turn 1 so that Rosberg would be forced onto the run-off to avoid a costly collision. The post-race pre-podium dressing room saw Hamilton throw a cap to Rosberg, only for the German to petulantly chuck it back into the re-crowned champion’s direction.

This season saw the two arch-rivals finally crash each other out of a race at Barcelona, although there was no clear intention from either to destroy each other’s Grand Prix in an unsporting manner. Austria saw arguably the last true confrontation before this season’s finale at Abu Dhabi, where Rosberg clearly attempted to block Hamilton from overtaking at the hairpin by taking the widest line possible. If there is any argument of bad luck that can be made in favour of Rosberg, his impaired brakes forced him to finish a lowly P7 at Monaco, whilst Hamilton’s understeering manoeuvre at Turn 1 at Montreal forced Rosberg off the road, where his Mercedes F1 W07’s inability to drive well in heavy traffic became prevalent and his spin whilst defending P4 from Max Verstappen left critics in hysterics. Silverstone witnessed late-race gear issues for Rosberg, who required urgent assistance via team radio to fend off a rampant Max Verstappen, but the dubious regulations of radio messaging reared its ugly head, leaving Rosberg penalised by time penalty which saw him cede P2 to the Dutchman.

The German’s poor start followed by another arbitrary penalty for desperately running Max Verstappen off the hairpin at Hockenheim exacerbated his woeful month of July, where Hamilton became the first driver to win four races in a calendar month. His stirring performances from Belgium to Japan saw him win four races to regain the WDC lead, whilst Malaysia saw a champion’s fightback, where after being punted at Turn 1 by a foolish Sebastian Vettel, his fierce and ruthless overtaking of mid-pack cars followed by his audacious manoeuvre on Raikkonen was punished by another arbitrary penalty, albeit rendered academic when Nico succeeded to pull a 13-second gap over the Finn at the chequered flag. Some were left underwhelmed by the German’s four consecutive P2 finishes in the last four races of his career, but by this crucial stage it would have been foolhardy and naive to push further than required.

Nico Rosberg will not be remembered as a gung-ho, guns blazing, crowd-pleasing, Roy of the Rovers type of champion. He will be remembered for his cultured persona, subtlety and due diligence in difficult circumstances to maximise his equipment and application of his driving aptitude to achieve his objective and retire from F1 as a fulfilled man. He will not be remembered for his passion, as his countless long faces and lethargic performances during his vapid seasons have displayed his need for perfection, which maybe demanded a level of attainment beyond reasonable expectations. Apart from memorable incidents, he breached the unwritten rules of being a ballsy, old school racer with innumerable radio requests such as asking details of Hamilton’s driving lines during a wet Q3 at Malaysia in 2015 or when he selected medium compounds during the Hungarian race that same year, feeling best to cut into Hamilton’s WDC lead rather than pursue Sebastian Vettel for a vital race victory. 2016 witnessed a more single-minded Rosberg, but he did profit from a noticeable descent in commitment from the other side of the garage, whose mindset has been patently divided by non-F1 excursions.

It is palpable to see that he retired when he realised he no longer stomached an appetite for another fight; the prospect of a hard-charging novices such as Verstappen and Stoffel Vandoorne sniping at his heels, and facing questions from a merciless media over and his worthiness of his champion status haunted his conscience. It may sound like a cliché, but he was simply too humble and nice to cement his reputation as a domineering, unrelenting, winner-takes-all racer in the vein of many contemporaries. Ultimately, the fatigue of possessing the indelible objective of defeating an all-time great team-mate, friend and enemy who had won every battle until now, was a beckoning to call upon a ceasefire.

4. Carlos Sainz (12th, 46 points- Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 8.0

On the subject of drivers being viewed as a replacement for F1’s departing new WDC, this young Spaniard’s name has been framed. His debut season in 2015 displayed flashes of speed, but not the same level of virtuosity of a certain highly-esteemed Dutch prodigy. Thankfully, the agony of being Verstappen’s team-mate ended early this season, when Daniil Kvyat was demoted to the junior team after his embarrassing double collision with Vettel at Sochi. From thereafter, Sainz has flourished with flying colours with numerous scintillating drives. A smattering of P6s at Spain, America and Brazil have underlined his reputation, whilst dominating a deject Kvyat, who either lost motivation or is a genuine inferior talent to Sainz. The Spaniard broke in Q3 nine times in a chronically underpowered STR11 chassis, which relied upon a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit, succeeding to qualify a career-best P6 twice at Silverstone and Marina Bay. He outscored Kyvat 42-4 in points and outqualified 11-6, which represents a real headache for the willowy Russian during the winter break, who has this year’s GP2 champion Pierre Gasly snapping at his heels as reserve.

He may not command the overnight sensation status that his illustrious ex-team mate has attained, but he is preparing himself well to be the Dutchman’s future championship contender. With the likes of Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll & Stoffel Vandoorne, as well as Lando Norris, Charles LeClerc and Mick Schumacher to emerge eventually, F1 has a bright future ahead of itself. Let’s hope Liberty Media capitalise upon this.

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.

2016 F1 Driver Review of the Season: 9-16: Stars, Sloggers and Sayonaras

9. Sergio Perez (7th, 101 points- Force India VJM09-Mercedes) 7.5

A rather mixed season for the mercurial Mexican. One moment, he looked ordinary, but at venues such as Monte Carlo and Baku, he seized his opportunity. However, even at Baku, with two minutes of FP3 to go, he pursued a faster lap where there was no need and landed his car in the barriers. The extensive damage forced his mechanics to fix his car within only two hours before the qualifying session, which leaves a question mark over his mental forecasting and restraint as a driver. Perez is a more complete driver than he was during his miserable season at McLaren, but plotting his potential is tricky for predictors.

He outperformed Hulkenberg in the races, but he lost the qualifying battle 12-9.

10. Valtteri Bottas (8th, 85 points- Williams FW38-Mercedes) 7.0

Before Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement, I thought I would be writing a standard end-of-season for every driver involved this season. However, with such a huge bombshell dropped, one of his potential replacements has come under scrutiny. This affable Finn drove as well as he could, but fiscal restraints limited his results. He picked up his and Williams’ only podium at Canada, where he maximised the FW38’s straightline speed, but the chassis philosophy showed its age. Winning the qualifying battle 17-4 over retiring Felipe Massa will do his chances of a Mercedes seat no harm, though.

11. Romain Grosjean (13th- 29 points- Haas VF-16-Ferrari) 7.0

The erratic Frenchman had his typical dips-and-troughs over the course of the season; when the car was fine, he exploited it to score great results, but when it had problems, he was nowhere. Come mid-season, he was being beaten for pace by his much-maligned team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, whom he beat 12-9 in the qualifying battle. In many ways, this season proved Grosjean is destined to be a nearly-man of his generation; too good to be running in midfield, but not quite complete enough to be a front-runner. His team-leadership skills were heavily criticised, too, as he allowed his short temper to be his worst enemy, as seen at Lotus. Whatever floats your boat, Romain.

12. Felipe Nasr (17th- 2 points- Sauber C35- Ferrari) 6.5

The sturdy Brazilian had  a rather quiet second season of his fledgling F1 career, however when car issues were not an issue, he smashed Marcus Ericsson to a pulp. His qualifying performance in Q1 at Baku saw him outpace Ericsson by almost 0.7 seconds, whilst Q1 at Hungary saw him ranked 7th in wet conditions. His adept wet-weather driving rewarded with two points in Brazil, but his sponsor Banco do Brasil had already called it quits, so his future may rely upon Bottas vacating a seat at Williams. He lost 13-8 in the qualifying battle against Ericsson, although a prevalent handling issue in the early part of the season played a factor in this.

13. Felipe Massa (11th- 53 points- Williams FW38-Mercedes) 6.5

The popular Brazilian had a consistent, if unspectacular final season of F1. Massa will be remembered for his brilliant 2008 season, where won six races and possibly two more in Hungary and Singapore, if it was not for engine failure and a trapped fuel rig. World champion for 20 seconds until Lewis Hamilton crept passed a dry tyre-shod Timo Glock, an emotive Felipe stood on the podium with courage and grace. A good sportsman will be missed.

14. Jenson Button (15th, 21 points- McLaren MP4-31-Honda) 6.0

Like Massa, Button will be missed sorely, but he arguably had an even more disappointing farewell year. Only scoring five points than he did in last year’s shambles of a car, the Frome veteran intermittently showed his old spark in Austria and Germany, but his peak years are past. Once derided as a playboy, Jenson matured into a heavily-feared hard-charger, who used his brain and guile to compensate for his lack of raw pace. From 2009-12, his wins displayed a verve for fluid thinking under pressure and ability to judge adverse conditions better than anyone else. Sadly, his team-mate Fernando Alonso demolished him 14-5 in the qualifying battle, so it is perhaps best to allow Stoffel Vandoorne his belated full-time debut.

15. Nico Hulkenberg (9th, 72 points, Force India VJM09-Mercedes) 6.0

Year after year, the lanky German is rated as one of the best midfielders in the sport, but this season has been underwhelming. Outraced and outscored by his diminutive team-mate Perez, Hulkenberg will need to up his game to deliver the goods for Renault. It’s becoming a cliche to say Hulkenberg drove well despite narrowly missing out on a podium. His dreadful start from P3 on the grid at Austria sums up the mishaps which have become alarmingly prevalent in the 29-year-old’s driving. For a driver so highly-regarded, winning the qualifying battle 12-9 over a driver not renowned for raw pace is lamentable.

16. Pascal Wehrlein (19th, 1 point- Manor MRT05-Mercedes) 5.5

As you’re well aware, if this year’s world champion hadn’t shocked everyone with his intention to depart the sport immediately, last year’s DTM champion would probably be seeking a second season at Manor or a move to Sauber. With extensive testing experience with Mercedes and Force India, the golden child of Silver Arrows has a satisfactory debut season. His sole point at Spielberg underlined his talent, but he won the qualifying battle by just 7-5 over his paying team-mate Rio Haryanto. He raised his game to beat 7-2 in the qualifying war against replacement Esteban Ocon, but his race performances became static and concerning. Thanks to Rosberg’s announcement, Wehrlein may land the hot seat at Mercedes, but that is hypothetical and many feel his confidence could be destroyed by being paired with a ruthless Hamilton. Due to the dire financial circumstances Sauber and Manor find themselves in, and how Mercedes have admitted dismay over his perceived self-centred and stubborn personality, the starlet may find himself dedicated to solely testing next season.

2016 F1 Driver Review of the Season: 17-21 plus part-timers

17. Marcus Ericsson (0 points- 22nd in WDC, Sauber C35-Ferrari) 5.0

It was never going to be an easy season at Sauber for the Swede, who needed sponsor Ikea to bail out the Hinwil-based squad early this year when wage payments to employees were defaulted for two months. Ericsson had the upper hand on Nasr until Canada, who was stricken by an ill-handling chassis. Their relationship deteriorated when the Brazilian’s refusal to obey orders at Monaco infuriated the Swede, causing Ericsson to take matters into his hands and wallop Nasr at Rascasse.

From thereon, Nasr regained his impetus in race performances, although Ericsson won the qualifying battles 13-8. Neither Sauber driver dominated each other much; Ericsson took an excellent P11 in Mexico, beating both McLarens and his team-mate, but Nasr scored two vital points in Brazil which elevated Sauber to P10 in WCC and $20 million in prize money.

18. Kevin Magnussen (7 points- 16th in WDC, Renault RS16) 4.5

With considerable experience and success behind him, it’s safe to say 2016 was underwhelming for the Dane. He was impeded by the Enstone squad divesting resources into their 2017 challenger, however, more was expected. K-Mag started brightly when he finished close behind Jolyon Palmer after losing a lap due to stalling and his P7 in Russia promised occasional points. However, he scored only once more in Singapore and news of his departure to Haas was announced. Palmer outperformed him in the last few races, perhaps a sign of Magnussen struggling for motivation and consistency. He beat Palmer 12-9 in the qualifying battle.

19. Daniil Kvyat (25 points- 14th in WDC, Toro Rosso STR11-Ferrari/Red Bull RB12-TAG Heuer) 4.5

In yesteryear, the Torpedo’s career would be currently spoken in past tense, but Helmut Marko’s reluctance to promote GP2 champion Pierre Gasly to F1 means the Russian will drive in 2017. Time will tell if Kvyat really has what it takes to carve out a long career in F1, as his feisty dice with Verstappen in Singapore was his only highlight of a depressing season. His first corner move on Vettel at China raised eyebrows, but his clumsy misjudgement on lap 1 at Russia proved expensive, as Dany suffered the ignominy of demotion to the junior team from Catalunya onwards. Losing the qualifying battle 11-6 to Sainz, Kvyat has a crucial winter of rebuilding.

20. Jolyon Palmer (1 point- 18th in WDC, Renault RS16) 4.0

The heavily-panned Horsham driver can count his lucky stars that there is indeed one driver who embarrassed more than he did, as Palmer appeared out of his depth against a developing talent in Magnussen during his early outings. Finishing bog last out of 22 finishers in China granted him the dubious honour of joining illustrious names such as Hermann & Karthikeyan, in being the last man to greet the chequered flag in races where all starters finished. His untimely spin in Hungary costed Palmer his first ever point, but he would make amends in Malaysia. His performances improved steadily, but Magnussen was never going to be a benchmark of his talent. Come 2017, Nico Hulkenberg will prove where Palmer truly stands in the F1 pecking order.


REJECT OF THE YEAR

21. Esteban Gutierrez (o points- 21st in WDC, Haas VF-16-Ferrari) 3.5

Five P11 finishes and a bucketful of excuses later, my bewilderment in Gene Haas’ selection of the 25-year-old Mexican has been proven correct. Considering a much worthier talent in Jean-Eric Vergne was up for grabs, it always appeared the choice of Gutierrez was a commercial one. Losing the qualifying battle 12-9 to Romain Grosjean, faring better than what Pastor Maldonado achieved against the Frenchman at Lotus last year (17-2). However, the Mexican struggled for consistency in races and his observation of blue flags bordered upon non-existent. Was he stunned to have been given a third stab at the highest tier of motorsport? Most of us, including his countrymen, would agree.

At least Maldonado scored 27 points to Grosjean’s 51 in 2015.


 

N/A Esteban Ocon (0 points- 23rd in WDC, Manor-Mercedes MRT05)

The 20-year-old Frenchman’s Grand Prix career may only be nine races old, but he has landed a prize seat at Force India as acknowledgement of his determined drives. He threw away P10 in Brazil, but his subtle style impressed insiders and his ability to learn quick will prove useful. He did lose the qualifying battle 7-2 to Pascal Wehrlein, though.

N/A Rio Haryanto (0 points- 24th in WDC, Manor-Mercedes MRT05)

Never deserved a chance in F1, but out-qualifying highly-lauded Wehrlein five times in twelve races is either credit to the Indonesian’s will or something the German improved upon when paired with Haryanto’s replacement Ocon. Haryanto harbours wishes of a return in 2017.

N/A Stoffel Vandoorne (1 point- 20th in WDC, McLaren-Honda MP4-31)

The 24-year-old GP2 extraordinaire finally made his belated F1 debut in Bahrain thanks to Alonso’s rib injury, thrilling viewers with precise moves on Perez and others in machinery powered by more grunt than his feeble Honda. He outqualified Button in their sole outing as team-mates, so let that be a warning to his grizzled two-time champion team-mate.

Post-Japanese GP review & news: Perez, Sainz & Vandoorne to Ferrari for 2018?

DRIVER OF THE DAY

Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari, P5)

Another race, another lost cause. It may seem bizarre Kimi bothers with F1 anymore, but his majestic overtakes reminded everyone of his passion and resolve. The Finn proved he has unfinished business and his double overtake on Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer is proof that the fire continues to flicker in the Iceman’s belly.

Winners

Nico Rosberg (Mercedes, P1)

33 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s world championship.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull, P2)

Underlined his credentials of a future F1 legend once again. A peerless drive was illuminated by his feisty defence in the closing laps, where his block move against Lewis Hamilton out of 130R into the Casino Triangle chicane raised eyebrows again from critics. However, his perfect exploitation of the regulations showed: the Dutchman used the racing line to go wide on the exit of 130R, but swerved left to position himself onto the orthodox line for the run to Casino. The rules state a driver is allowed one move on the straight leading to a corner; therefore Max cunningly utilised the regulations to his advantage by promptly interpreting his exit line out of 130R as entirely separate from his defensive manoeuvre on the run-up to Casino. Hamilton took the inside line, but FIA regulations deemed Verstappen eligible to chop him off and cover the inside line. The most splendid aspect of Max’s move was how subtle and graceful it was: unlike his hasty, abrasive defensive manoeuvres on Raikkonen on the run-up to Les Combes in Spa, the Dutchman has adapted his defence technique in a very short space of time.

Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari, P4)

Ignoring his foul-mouthed performance on his radio, the 29 year-old German drove as well as could. The decision to gamble on softs in the final stint was, however, yet another example of Ferrari’s never-ending incompetence regarding pit strategy. Relationship breakdowns rumours are escalating and opinions within the Italian media of Vettel are rapidly deteriorating.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull, P6)

Not one of his finest races, but his outside chances of winning this year’s drivers’ championship have extinguished. The Australian struggled with car balance and tyre degradation in a race where his team-mate illuminated the headlines again.

Sergio Perez & Nico Hulkenberg (Force India, P7 & P8)

The Mexican continued his domination over his highly-touted German team-mate with another narrow finish in front of him, as Force India collected ten points to extend their advantage over Williams in their quest for P4 the constructors’ standings with just four races remaining. Hulkenberg confirmed his move to Renault this Friday, whilst Perez continues at Silverstone-based squad for 2017. Some feel Perez is occupying his seat for one more year in the hopes of a seat at Ferrari for 2018, as the contracts of Raikkonen and Vettel end next season. Other believe he has an eye on a seat at McLaren, but his relationship with the Woking-based squad was tarnished by his poor 2013 season with them.

Felipe Massa & Valtteri Bottas (Williams, P9 & P10)

An average season continues for this Banbury-squad, as retiring veteran Massa finally got one over his fledgling tam-mate Bottas. The Finn is rumoured to be lined up for the second seat at Renault, who are looking to revamp their team after a dismal 2016. Rumours of Lance Stroll & Felipe Nasr continue unabated, but outsiders such as Daniil Kvyat, Romain Grosjean & Pascal Wehrlein remain in the frame for seats at Williams.

REJECT OF THE DAY

Esteban Gutierrez (Haas, P20)

The 25 year-old Mexican’s hopes of a seat for 2017 continue to plummet by each passing race. Despite vowing to end his hoodoo of continually finishing P11, Gutierrez succeeded to outsmart himself and limp home in P20, a staggering ten places lower than where he started. The Haas car may be difficult to drive in race conditions, but he surely isn’t going to attract any suitors after this farcical performance.

Losers

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes, P3)

The Englishman went into Japan ill-affording more points conceded to his arch-nemesis Rosberg, but once again Hamilton was completely trumped. There may be 100 points still available, but Rosberg can now finish P2 in the remaining four Grands Prix and win his first drivers’ championship, so Hamilton is in dire need of divine intervention. Speculation over what caused his poor starts left conspiracy theorists raging again, ranging from the damp surface on his particular gird slot of P2, where FIA had explicitly banned any drying of the start-finish straight 30 minutes before the race’s start, to his clutch slipping again. There was consternation over Verstappen’s defensive manoeuvre on the penultimate lap, however in hindsight, Hamilton could have chosen the outside line to avoid such a hoodwink. This will prove academic if Rosberg wins just one more race and seal this year’s title emphatically.

McLaren Honda (P-Nowhere)

In the space of just one Grand Prix weekend, McLaren swing from a double-points finish at Sepang to a horror return to the atrocious displays of their annus horribilis of 2015. Somehow, they failed to find a suitable set-up for Suzuka and this time they could not blame Honda; their chassis never achieved an optimum level of grip and handling required for the elevation changes in the fast corners, leaving Alonso and Button to perform even more abjectly in front of the “home” crowd than they did last year.

Blue Flags

On the tight, twisty confines of Suzuka, traffic was always going to be a major gremlin for front-runners, but the non-existent attrition rate of this year’s display left the big boys fuming in disgust. Depending on your criteria, this year’s Japanese Grand Prix is only the fifth in F1 history (and second race this season after Chinese Grand Prix) to have all starters finish past the chequered flag and classified, whereas if you include last year’s race (where Felipe Nasr’s Sauber was classified despite retiring two laps shy of the full distance) and the dubious 2005 US Grand Prix (where only six cars started and finished after the Michelin-shod cars withdrew before the start), this is the seventh race in F1 history to have all starters classified.

Pascal Wehrlein (Manor, P22)

The German joins Hans Hermann, Narain Karthikeyan and Jolyon Palmer on the ignoble list of drivers who finished last in races where starters finished. Of course, Patrick Friesacher and Felipe Nasr join the list if you include the classification of the actual starters and retired cars classified having completed at least 90% of the race distance.

F1 Silly Season 2016: September

The announcement of Felipe Massa’s retirement and Jenson Button’s demotion to reserve driver at McLaren sent shock waves throughout the sport during this year’s Italian Grand Prix. It was universally agreed everyone was pleased to see Stoffel Vandoorne finally be handed a full-time ride with McLaren, but Button’s talents being lost to midfield teams, who may need an experienced driver to fill a void. The decision by Ron Dennis and associates to rearrange their driver line-up for 2017 was shrewd and assuring: Vandoorne finally gets his chance, Button is kept on board to please sponsors as McLaren’s British commercial representative, whilst if Fernando Alonso decides to retire from F1 earlier than expected, Button would be a competent and reliable substitute.

Here is my perspective of the future of the sport’s current incumbents:

Force India

Huge interest circulating, but no concrete decisions yet

Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have refuse to refute rumours linking to other teams. Hulkenberg has a contact which ties him to Force India until the end of 2017, but has made no secret of his desires to land Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari, when the Finn’s current deal finishes. Perez is linked to Williams, which would be a move sideways, and Renault, where huge investment into their 2017 car may yield immediate rewards. The team have made no secret of their desire to retain both drivers for the foreseeable future, so therefore have not talked about replacements.

Haas

A bump in the road for the American new boys

The two G’s of America’s only F1 teams are very much part of the silly season rumour mill. There has been condemnation over Romain Grosjean’s ability to perform the role of team leader, something which has disgruntled Gene Haas and reports link Grosjean returning to Renault (named Lotus when he drove for them). Esteban Gutierrez continues to polarise pundits over his ability; he has outpaced Grosjean recently, but is unable to rid himself of his knack of failing to finish able 11th. Reports of his poor feedback have circulated, so maybe the clock is indeed ticking on the cordial Mexican’s career. If Gutierrez does remain in F1, though, it will be mostly likely to be a second season with Haas. Prospective GP3 champion Charles LeClerc has emerged as a contender for a seat at Haas, along with Alexander Rossi.

Manor MRT

So far, so good

Pascal Wehrlein is expected to spend a second season at Manor for 2017, but some feel this is a waste of his sizeable talent. Some believe Mercedes would help to accelerate his progress by placing him in the soon-to-be vacated second seat at Williams, allowing the German to compete in midfield battles more regularly instead of trundling at the rear of the grid. Rio Haryanto was recently demoted to the position of reserve driver after Pertamina’s funding extinguished, but his associates have made noises about new sources of sponsorship, which may help Haryanto return to a full-time seat in 2017 at Manor. An option to retain Esteban Ocon is on cards, as long as the Banbury-based squad can negotiate the conundrum of his intertwined contracts with Renault and Mercedes.

Renault Sport

A year in transition

Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer have done little to impress pundits this season. Magnussen’s P7 at Russia remains his only highlight thus far, whilst Palmer threw away a potential points finish when he spun at Hungary, running in P10 beforehand. Sponsorship funding will be key to the future of these youngsters, although no interest has been affirmed from rival outfits as of yet. Cyril Abiteboul has spoken of the need for a “charismatic” driver to lead the Enstone-based squad, which was possibly the French boss pillorying the efforts of his team’s incumbent drivers. Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon have  been mentioned to be targets for this iconic outfit.

Sauber

A light at the end of the tunnel?

This season has proven to be a truly state of affairs for this Hinwil-based squad. A takeover by Longbow Finance, though, has been stated to be securing Sauber’s future, although one cannot always take these statements literally in the rapid, cut-throat world of F1. Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr have not had a car in which either has had the opportunity to impress; indeed, this season has been the nadir of Sauber’s Grand Prix racing history. With little money to spend on development, their current drivers are hoping Monisha Kaltenborn is not eyeing up other drivers, as no rival teams have expressed interest in their services. Nasr, however, was once Williams’ test driver and many feel the Grove-based squad would welcome his injection of Banco do Brasil cash. It would make commercial business sense to replace an ageing Brazilian favourite with another emerging Brazilian talent, appeasing sponsors and retaining global identity.

Toro Rosso

What became of the broken hearted? 

Carlos Sainz has been confirmed for a third season at the Faenza-based squad, although some feel this will be his last if a promotion to the Red Bull senior isn’t beckoning. A move to Renault has been rumoured, although the Spanish press have also stoked rumours of a move to Force India or even Ferrari. A potential move to the Maranello-based squad may tempt Sainz, but he would do so at the age of just 23- his lack of experience with politics within a team entrenched by Machiavellian tendencies may deter him, though. His cerebral and embattled team-mate Daniil Kvyat is fighting an intense battle to save his F1 career; his relations with Franz Tost and Helmut Marko are believed to be at ground zero and with no hints of interest from rival teams, Kvyat’s best hopes lay with an undisclosed Russian backer buying him a seat at Williams, Sauber, Manor or Force India.

Williams

F1’s Tottenham Hotspur

The Grove-based squad is yet to confirm Valtteri Bottas for a fourth season, but many feel it is just a matter of applying pen to paper. The career prospects of Finland’s best prospect have flatlined, with interest from Ferrari seemingly a distant past. With Felipe Massa’s retirement at the end of this season confirmed, the speculation over Williams’ second seat escalated when Jenson Button announced his role with McLaren for the next two years. Lance Stroll, Nasr, Kvyat, Perez, Wehrlein are just several out of many names linked to this seat, but some feel their inclusion may be a stop-gap solution for the foreseeable future.

F1 Stars of the Future: GP2 and Development Drivers

It has been a heated matter of conjecture concerning whether GP2 is a conducive breeding ground. A sad trend of pay drivers (i.e. Sergio Canamasas) occupying seats worthy of more talented prodigies has irked fans and journalists, with many questioning driving standards.

It has also become an emerging trend for F1 teams to select starlets from lower series, with Daniil Kyvat & Valtteri Bottas plucked straight from GP3 and Carlos Sainz Jr & Kevin Magnussen graduating from Formula Renault 3.5 (now Formula V8 3.5). However, hope is not lost for GP2, as the implemention of the FIA Superlicence points system will rigorously enforce prospects to accumulate experience steadily through junior formulae.

*Eligibility for F1 requires a minimum of 40 Superlicence points (Points listed from conclusion of 2015 racing seasons)

Alexander Rossi

Current series: Indycar (Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Andretti Autosport #98)

Indycar 2016 position: 11th (370 points, one race remaining)

Superlicence points: 43

F1 2017 Likelihood: 6/10

The Californian displayed flashes of brilliance against the all-conquering Stoffel Vandoorne in 2015, where he made the most of resources supplied to him by Racing Engineering to finish ahead of Rio Haryanto and current GP2 ace Sergey Sirotkin. Rossi fared favourably against Formula Renault 3.5 veteran Will Stevens, but lack of sponsorship funding meant a switch to the notoriously competitive Indycar Series and a reserve role with Manor. In spite of his meticulously calculated Indy 500 victory, progress has been steady if unspectacular. Rumours swing from a return to a race seat with Manor or Haas in F1 to remaining where he is, but no one can doubt his versatility would hold him in strong stead against Pascal Wehrlein or Romain Grosjean if he was selected.

Alex Lynn

Current series: GP2 (DAMS #5)

GP2 2016 position: (8th- 93 points, 4 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 58

F1 Likelihood: 5/10

Once a highly touted prospect, Lynn’s sparking progress has fizzed out in the F1’s top feeder series. The Essex exocet’s performances this season have mirrored that of his debut season, with both seasons seeing him win twice, but performing inconsistently thoughout. His development driver contract with Williams may be terminated if he fails to emerge as a championship contender in 2017.

Antonio Giovinazzi

Current series: GP2 (Prema #20)

GP2 2016 position: (2nd- 164 points, 4 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 43

F1 Likelihood: 7/10

A native of Martina Franca, Giovinazzi has spent much of his junior career beneath the radar of F1 scouts- until now. His recent invitation to a simulator test with Ferrari is justified recognition of his vastly-improved performances, transforming himself from a F3 journeyman to a championship contender in GP2. A brilliant double win in Baku with back-to-back victories in Belgium and Italy were just exactly what the doctor ordered, leaving the Italian ten points behind team-mate & championship leader Pierre Gasly with 96 points remaining. He may not debut in F1 next year, but a test seat is certainly not out of question.

Artem Markelov

Current series: GP2 (Russian Time #10)

GP2 2016 position: (11th- 80 points, 4 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 10 (Insufficient)

F1 Likelihood: 2/10

Rumours of the young Russian and his investors enquiring F1 teams about a 2017 race seat have circulated in the paddock, but it would be wholly undeserved on the basis of his results achieved in his three years of GP2. Just a single win from an incident-filled Monaco feature race this year has proved to be an exception on an otherwise unimpressive CV.

Charles LeClerc

Current series: GP3 (ART Grand Prix #1)

GP3 2016 position: (1st- 177 points, 4 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 20 (Will be increased to 45 if he wins GP3 title)

F1 2017 Likelihood: 5.5/10

A fabulous record in karting followed by accolades in Formula Renault 2.0 and European F3 were proof that the Monegasque was a probable championship victor when he made his GP3 debut and his supporters have been indicated. He only turns 19 next month, but he has completed three Friday practice sessions with Haas at Silverstone, Hungaroring and Hockenheim. Some may consider 2017 too soon for his F1 debut, but a reserve role intertwined with a seat in DTM appears preferable to the rough-and-tumble nature of GP2.

Esteban Ocon

Current series: F1 (Manor MRT #31)

Previous series: DTM (Mercedes ART #34)

F1 2017 Likelihood: 7/10

Esteban Ocon is an enigma. Two ordinary seasons in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 followed by immediate championship success in European F3 and GP3 is evidence of his ability to toil through strenuous self improvement, but perhaps a slight lack of raw natural talent. His GP3 season saw him win the title with ten second places, but just a solitary win in the season opener. His partial season in DTM yielded just two points, guaranteeing an eventual championship position of no higher than 24th. His initial full Grand Prix outings with Manor have laid the bricks for gradual improvement, but whether Renault or another team will be convinced to offer him a full-time seat remains a mystery.

Lance Stroll

la

Current series: FIA European F3 (Prema #1)

F3 2016 position: (1st- 364 points, 6 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 20 (Will be increased to 60 if he wins F3 title)

F1 2017 Likelihood: 6.5/10

Widely dismissed as a rich kid freeloading from a tycoon father, the Montreal native has stiffen his credentials annually, with honours galore in karting and titles in Italian F4 and Toyota Racing Series and an almost probable championship win in this year’s FIA European Formula 3 championship. However, many will pontificate the vast sums invested into Prema Powerteam he drives for and how it has taken two years to claim the title at this level, but he is yet to turn 18. He retains a watertight development contract with Williams, whom are doubtless appreciative of lucrative funding provided by his father.

Pierre Gasly

Current series: GP2 (Prema #21)

GP2 2016 position: (1st- 174 points, 4 races remaining)

Superlicence points: 39 (Will be increased to 69 if he wins GP2 title)

F1 2017 Likelihood: 9/10

With stories of Daniil Kvyat’s relationship with the Red Bull hierarchy declining, the well regarded Frenchman appears a dead cert for the Russian’s Toro Rosso seat. As the most likely of this year’s junior hotshots to cement a seat in F1 next season, you’d think pundits would praise him highly, but many feel impassive by his steady yet unspectacular path to prominence. His solitary season in Formula Renault 3.5, where he finished runner up, yielded no wins and his first season in GP2 produced four podiums and no wins. His feature race victory at Silverstone this season ended his three year winning duck, stretching back to his Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 title-winning campaign, an omen Gasly will not want to carry into his F1 career.

Other GP2 stars

Oliver Rowland, Sergey Sirotkin and Raffaele Marciello currently hold the required number of points for FIA Superlicence eligibility, but their chances of appearing in F1 are heavily reliant upon sponsorship funding. Mitch Evans is yet to match the stunning heights he achieved in his earlier junior formulae career, with five victories throughout his four year GP2 career, but a slim chance of finishing 5th in this year’s championship has rendered the Kiwi unlikely to ever drive in F1. Manor development driver Jordan King and Norman Nato have also impressed, but will remain ineligible for a Superlicence if they finish where they currently stand (5th & 6th).

2016 F1 Post-Baku Mid-Term Report

THE CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS

Lewis Hamilton (2nd, 117 points) Mercedes 7.5/10

Before the season even kicked off, Hamilton was attracting controversy over use of a phone to take a selfie whilst on a motorcycle in Auckland. On-track, the Briton has been hampered by reliability issues, as well as clutch issues at start of races. However, his many collisions with other drivers has tainted his 2016 thus far and his radio outbursts in Baku will not aid his bid for a fourth WDC.

Nico Rosberg (1st, 141 points) Mercedes 8.5/10

The elegant German has had an exemplary start to what is his eleventh season in F1. Despite claims of nepotism, Rosberg has done what has been asked of him. However, his troubled run in Monaco, where his brakes were unresponsive, and his error-strewn performance in Canada, have left his critics doubting his true WDC credentials.

Sebastian Vettel (3rd, 96 points) Ferrari 8.0/10

The effervescent German has performed consistently, but has had a deeper struggle in his start to his second season at Maranello. Most of issues have stemmed from strategic decisions from the Ferrari pit crew, who need to up their game. Otherwise, 2016 will be a wasted season for the four-time world champion.

Kimi Raikkonen (4th, 81 points) Ferrari 6.5/10

In a season where the Iceman needed to counter his doubters, he has justified their scepticism. Strong runs to 2nd, 3rd and 2nd in Bahrain, Russia & Spain suggested a return to form, only for his crash in Monaco followed by anonymous performances in Canada & Baku, where tyre degradation and fuel consumption issues affected Kimi more than Seb, have left many calling for his retirement form F1.

Daniel Ricciardo (5th, 78 points) Red Bull 7.5/10

Oh Daniel, what could it have been? Three consecutive fourth places in the first three races was testament to the perseverance of the Honey Badger, but a lack of foresight into Red Bull’s pit decisions at Barcelona & Monaco costed him almost certain victories. The past two races have seen a dip in form, but the Perth driver’s solid racecraft and aggression will surely see him succeed big time soon.

Max Verstappen (6th, 54 points) Red Bull 7.0/10

At the tender age of 18, the flying Dutchboy became F1’s youngest race victor at Barcelona, albeit thanks to the Turn 4 incident between Hamilton and Rosberg. It fully justified his surprise promotion to the senior Red Bull team, but the pressure to deliver is firmly on his shoulders. His defence of 4th place at Montreal, ahead of an impatient Rosberg, was a wonder to marvel. However, he needs to cut out sloppy inconsistencies, such as his willingness to run too close to the barriers at Monaco.

THE MIDFIELDERS

Valtteri Bottas (7th, 52 points) Williams 6.5/10

Hmmm. Two seasons ago, everyone was raving about the tenacity of this young Finn, who impressed with solid runs to second places at Silverstone & Hockenheim. The past eighteen months, however, have seen glimpses of Bottas’s potential, but nothing exciting. The first eight races of 2016 have seen the Williams pit crew struggle with pit strategy, but one is left wanting more when analysing Bottas’ performances thus far.

Sergio Perez (8th, 39 points) Force India 7.5/10

The mercurial Mexican has often left pundits urging more of him throughout his F1 career, but it appears a change of attitude is finally reaping rewards. Previously maligned by his bosses at McLaren, Perez has shown a cool head and intelligence in the chaos at Monaco & Baku to deliver two more podiums to his resume. Rumours of a seat at Ferrari have abounded and it would be tough to rule him if his form continues.

Felipe Massa (9th, 38 points) Williams (6.0/10)

The Brazilian veteran blows hot and cold in tandem to the manner of his overall F1 career. Despite beating Bottas in the first three races, the best days of Massa are beginning to leave him behind and he has recently admitted this season is likely to be his last at Williams.

Daniil Kvyat (10th, 22 points) Toro Rosso 5.5/10

The reticent Russian has not recovered since his shock demotion from the senior team. Kvyat impressed many with his run to 3rd at Shanghai and his subsequent refusal to be intimidated by a disgruntled Vettel, but his double collision with the illustrious German provided amble reason for the trigger happy Helmut Marko to ditch him immediately. Kyvat has struggled to combat Carlos Sainz’s raw pace and commitment, leaving many to doubt whether the Ufa born driver has a future in F1.

Romain Grosjean (11th, 22 points) Haas 7.5/10

In a move which some saw as career-threatening, but others applauded for its audacity, Grosjean has made his decision to join Haas to pay off to huge plaudits. It may be a cliche, but the Frenchman and America’s new F1 team pulled off the dream start with 6th and 5th places in Australia and Bahrain. They further consolidated their championship position with 8th place in Russia, enabling Haas to sit in an impressive 8th place in the WCC. However, a slight dip of form lately has hindered Grosjean, but his struggles are vindictive of an experienced driver helping a new team to learn the ropes of F1.

Nico Hulkenberg (12th, 20 points) Force India 7.0/10

It is difficult to assess Hulkenberg’s start to 2016 in lieu of mechanical problems and bad luck, which have become a pattern of the German’s results recently. Many are astonished to think that Nico has not still not achieved a podium result to date in F1, but a few are growing sceptical of his true credentials.

Fernando Alonso (13th, 18 points) McLaren 7.5/10

“The Jacques Villeneuve of his generation” may be harsh to describe who many consider to be pound-for-pound F1’s best driver, but his results are mirroring a similar flow to the outspoken French-Canadian later F1 career results: frequent non-points finishes with an occasional top five result. Is his motivation still there? Does he still enjoy F1? Judging from his performances at Sochi & Monaco, it appears the answer to those questions is almost yes.

Carlos Sainz, Jr. (14th, 18 points) Toro Rosso 7.0/10

Emerging out of Verstappen’s shadow, the son of his eponymous former World Rally Champion father is finally making a name for himself. It is no surprise of journalists circulating rumours of a Ferrari move, but it is perhaps too soon for this radiant 21 year old hotshot. Five point finishes is solid start thus far and his beating of more experienced Kvyat is further enhancing his status of Spain’s next World Champion.

Kevin Magnussen (15th, 6 points) Renault 6.5/10

It’s tough to judge a driver who is driving in a solidly lower-midfield car, but it’s even tougher to judge his true credentials in comparison to other youngsters when it is indisputable that Magnussen’s teammate Jolyon Palmer is a dud. The Dane’s drive to 7th at Sochi was a great calling card of his defensive skills, but Renault’s focus on 2017 will leave many uncertain of what he can achieve when given a fully developed car.

Jenson Button (16th, 5 points) McLaren 6.0/10

The Frome veteran remains an ever-present in the midfield of F1’s grid, but it is hard to judge how good or bad Button has been when he is driving such an underpowered car. The truth is that his performances suggest Button to be performing at an acceptable but not particularly outstanding level. Three points finishes is okay, but when a young Belgian hotshot is eyeing your seat, it’s not or never.

Stoffel Vandoorne (17th, 1 point) McLaren N/A

Deputising for a stricken Alonso, who was still recovering from his Melbourne horror crash, Vandoorne displayed an awe-inspiring performance at Bahrain, even overtaking Perez without DRS (!). Alas, a few rookie errors costed him a higher finish, but much is expected of him. No marks have been awarded due to no other race appearances, so Stoffel will be focusing on Super Formula in Japan.

THE NON POINT SCORERS (Thus far)

Esteban Gutierrez (18th, 0 points) Haas 4.0/10

Why has this driver been awarded a THIRD season in F1? It begs belief to see such a lacklustre “talent” persist so long in the top tier of single seater racing, especially when real diamonds such as Vandoorne are forced to watch from the sidelines. However, the Mexican has outqualified Grosjean of late, but it remains to be seen whether this is a changing trend or a blip. Most likely the latter.

Jolyon Palmer (19th, 0 points) Renault 2.5/10

Many GP2 fans have lamented the exclusion of previous champions such as Davide Valsecchi & Fabio Leimer from F1, with many believing such an achievement automatically merits a seat in Grand Prix racing. Unfortunately, the most recent British GP2 champion is doing everything to undermine their argument. Rarely ever close to Kevin Magnussen’s pace, Palmer’s race performances have been erratic, none more so than his cringeworthy crash at Monaco whilst circulating behind the safety car. This added insult to his already tarnished record, where at Shanghai, Palmer joined Hans Hermann and Narain Kerthikeyan on the list of drivers to finish last in races where all starters saw the chequered flag.  A serious improvement is needed, because only a Herculean amount of sponsorship could lend a second season for this struggling rookie.

Marcus Ericsson (20th, 0 points) Sauber 5.0/10

The heavily remunerated Swede has turned the tables on his Brazilian teammate Nasr, but their relationship is souring rapidly. That comical collision at Monaco, which was a culmination of Ericsson’s frustration over Nasr’s refusal to allow him past, has been a harbinger of Sauber’s accumulating financial issues, which threatens the careers of their drivers and their existence as a team.

Felipe Nasr (21st, 0 points) Sauber 3.0/10

This time last year, everyone was speaking highly of this Brazilian’s performances, where he was lying in 10th in the WDC and Sauber flying high in 7th in the WCC post-Canada. Fortunes have turned dramatically this year and talk of Nasr taking his sponsors elsewhere have already begun.

Pascal Wehrlein (22nd, 0 points) Manor 5.5/10

The prognosis of Wehrlein’s true potential will be displayed as this season progresses, but he has been at the end of his less-than-well-regarded teammate Haryanto outqualifying him. His run to 13th at Bahrain promised much, but it appears the learning game was very much on with his embarrassing crash in qualifying at China being proof of the German’s lack of experience. At Baku, however, launching his car into 9th albeit by running longer than others, is vindictive of a giant-killing he may pull off later in his career.

Rio Haryanto (23rd, 0 points) Manor 3.5/10

Has he impressed? No. Has he performed above expectations? Yes, but only marginally. The perpetual state of austerity is a never-ending theme for backmarkers in F1, so the inclusion of drivers of this quality is mandatory. It is rumoured that the Indonesian’s sponsorship money only stretches as far as Hungary, so it is likely a new teammate for Wehrlein will appear at Germany. At least Haryanto can point to his qualifying lap to start 16th at Baku as a highlight of what is likely to be a heavily-truncated F1 career.

 

Review of Lewis Hamilton’s 2016 post-Russia

Claims of sabotage engulfed social media during last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, with many fabricating preposterous claims that Mercedes were favouring Nico Rosberg’s pursuit of a first WDC. It is undeniable that Lewis Hamilton has suffered an ungodly amount of bad luck this season thus far. However, most of this has resulted from mechanical issues and collisions with unruly competitors (i.e. Valtteri Bottas at Bahrain & Felipe Nasr at China).

The picture above shows Daniil Kvyat’s impetuous clash with Sebastian Vettel on the entry to Turn 3 during the first lap of yesterday’s Russian Grand Prix. The silver car jinking to the left is none other than Hamilton’s Mercedes, who narrowly avoids contact with Vettel’s spinning Ferrari. This is arguably the first instance of lady luck the Briton has received this season, as had his Mercedes had been hit and stricken by the Kyvat-Vettel collision, the deluded members of #LH44 fanbase would have blown their nuts off in fury.

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On the 22nd anniversary of Ratzenberger & Senna’s deaths, to make such horrendous comments is just unbelievable and inhumane in the extreme. In an era of jilted and mentally disturbed F1 fanatics, this is the last thing anyone should condone. What’s even more disturbing is the fact that 46 Facebook users “liked” this comment post (!). Why on earth would a multinational corporation pay a global superstar £21 million per annum and provide him with a car with faulty mechanical parts? Not to mention the £400 million+ race & development budget spent to provide Hamilton and Rosberg the best car for the past two seasons. Last year Mercedes published their financial accounts for the 2014 season, recording losses of £76.9 million!

Although Ferrari is struggling with torrid reliability and driver collisions, Mercedes is well aware of the potential of the Prancing Horse to catch up dramatically if the Italians are able to fully rectify their current mechanical issues, as well as extract more all-round speed out of the SF16-H, a serious title fight on the WDC & WCC awaits them. In addition, if Kimi Raikkonen can continue his improved performances, a genuine four-way awaits this season and seventeen races still remain in what will be the longest season of Grand Prix racing.  Unfortunately, a sport like Formula 1 will always attract deranged parasites amongst its fanbase and their attitudes need to be reviewed and dealt with accordingly.

In the words of Lewis Hamilton:

We win and lose together.