Mid-season review of Formula 1 2016

2016-08-17 06:00

FORMULA 1 is two weeks into its mid-season break, which provides the perfect occasion to reflect on the first half of 2016.

Brilliant Mercedes also has bruises

The reigning champions rocketed out of the starting gate in 2016 and haven’t faced a consistently noteworthy challenge from anyone.

Nico Rosberg obliterated the competition with four victories in a row and built a commanding lead over teammate Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s standings.

It appeared that Rosberg had finally mastered his mental demons and would make a serious bid for championship glory. But Lewis Hamilton was calm in the face of Rosberg’s domination and sometimes even a bit detached from his points deficit. Nearly a decade and several clutch moments in the sport provided Hamilton with an abundance of experience and the knowledge that the championship was far from out of reach.

He not only closed the gap but also took over the lead on the driver’s table going into the break. The nagging question about Rosberg’s psychological toughness has roared back to life especially after that controversial collision with Hamilton in Spain and Austria.

While Rosberg and Hamilton rub carbon fibre instead of wheels, Toto Wolff and co have threatened to enforce team-orders. But this is unlikely to happen, as neither drivers will accept it.

The championship is far from over but it’s clear that right now Hamilton has the edge on form and – crucially – in mentality.

Red Bull storm back into contention

The team started the season with Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat in the cockpit of a car seriously lacking in grunt.

Two vital changes turned the season around for the Austrian team. First, Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso in favour of Max Verstappen. The young Dutchmen immediately repaid the faith but winning the Spanish Grand Prix.

The second big change came in the form of a power unit upgrade from Renault. It not only catapulted Red Bull past Ferrari on pace but summarily halved the gap to Mercedes. Yes, there is still work to be done for Red Bull to be serious competition for Mercedes but the manner in which they’ve recovered their 2016 season is an impressive feat.

Ferrari stutter

In pre-season testing the Italian team looked set to challenge for victories and perhaps even a championship title if things went well – but they didn’t. In Australia the wrong strategy call kept Sebastian Vettel from victory. Several dubious and costly strategy calls would follow throughout the first half of the season.

In addition, several gearbox penalties dogged particularly Vettel as he started race after race down the grid. Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene admitted that their aggressive approach might have cost them points on reliability.

But the biggest blow came with the departure of chief technical director James Alison. Whatever the reason for Alison leaving the team – it’s never a good sign when a senior member leaves a team midway through a season. Rumours are abounding that Ferrari are trying to bring Paddy Lowe and James Key into the stable.

However, while both these men are exceptional at their respective jobs, bringing them in at this point is unlikely to have a significant impact. Ferrari is flailing in a manner that is unbecoming to its history and the only reason why it’s not being called “catastrophic” is that of their two drivers who somehow wring results out of their car.

McLaren moving forward

Honda has slowly but surely started to claw its way up the grid. Both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are making regular appearances in the top 10 of qualifying and scoring the odd handful of points.

The Japanese manufacturer is doing just enough to keep Alonso and Button satisfied and believing that 2017 may be their year.

The F1 season returns on 26 August with the Belgian Grand Prix.

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