Five talking points ahead of the start of the 2016 Formula One season in Melbourne on March 20:
Can Ferrari muscle in on the Mercedes show?
Mercedes have danced around their rivals for the past two seasons, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg unstoppable in 16 of the 19 races in 2014, and matching that ridiculous superiority last year. Sebastien Vettel, in his first season for Ferrari, picked up crumbs from Mercedes’ overladen plate in Malaysia, Hungary, and Singapore. Trying to fathom out concrete conclusions from pre-season testing is nigh on impossible, such is the veil of secrecy teams delight in throwing up around car set-ups, fuel loads, tyres, etc etc. But on the face of it, eight days of testing in Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya suggest Ferrari are not a million miles away from the Silver Arrows, as underlined by Rosberg: “We know Ferrari are very close – but we’re not sure if we’re ahead or behind.”
Lewis and Nico rivalry
The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg over the past two seasons has saved Formula One from becoming about as exciting as watching a slo-mo video of goldfish swimming round a bowl on loop. The former friends turned arch rivals were at loggerheads in 2014. And there was more of the same in 2015, culminating in ‘capgate’ when Rosberg petulantly threw his cap at Hamilton after a bitter first corner clash in Austin. Rosberg rattled off wins in the final three races and the German will be desperate to continue where he left off to finally get his hands on the championship he so desperately craves and prevent Hamilton claiming his fourth title.
Will McLaren turn up?
Missing, believed lost – that was the glum story for the former world champions last term, and only their most ardent fans could envisage a dramatic turnaround in fortunes based on pre-season testing. Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button mustered a mere 27 points between them, McLaren finished an embarrassing ninth of the ten teams. Flashes of encouragement in Barcelona suggest their under-performing Honda engine has improved, but not enough to end a 57-race losing run covering the last three seasons.
Controversial qualifying shake-up
Hamilton has slammed F1 as “broken” and “lacking direction” in an opinion that will no doubt strike a chord with some fans. One of the Briton’s gripes is the new ‘knockout’ qualifying system. He reckons the move, an attempt to shake up qualifying to boost F1’s appeal, is detrimental to the sport. Alonso was similarly unimpressed. “I’m sad for the sport because it doesn’t look right from the outside when in one week we change the qualifying format three times.”
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone clearly believes bigger is better, with the 2016 season serving up a record 21 races. Ambitious Azerbaijan, the oil and gas-rich former Soviet state staged last year’s European Games – and on June 19 the streets of the capital Baku will provide the backdrop to the Grand Prix of Europe. Financial concerns over the staging of the October 23 US Grand Prix in Austin appear to be lifting, while F1 is back in Germany, at Hockenheim on July 31, after last year’s race was cancelled.