At the beginning of the year, even before any of the 2016 cars had turned a wheel the Mercedes team were clear favourites to retain both the drivers and constructors championships for the upcoming 2016 Formula One season. The only potential question to be answered was whether Lewis Hamilton was going to win his 4th championship or was Nico Rosberg to win his first?
The first four races of 2016 confirmed the neutral spectators worst fears; that Mercedes had indeed picked up from where they left off in 2015 with pole positions and race wins.
It was at Round 5 in Spain where the Mercedes dominance was to be broken when, not for the first time, both Mercedes drivers had a coming together on lap one which put both of them out of the race.
History shows that it’s not unusual for a team to have a dominant period. McLaren had their time in the mid to late 80’s, Williams in the early 90’s, Ferrari in the late 90’s and 00’s and Red Bull in the mid 10’s. What is key for all the other teams in these periods of dominance is to be there to pick up the pieces when the dominant team falters. More often than not it’s Red Bull who picks up the scraps rather than Ferrari who seem to make strategic blunders at the worst possible time.
In the week leading up to the Spanish Grand Prix, the Red Bull team demoted their under-performing Russian driver Danii Kvyat back to their sister team, Toro Rosso to allow the incredibly quick Dutchman Max Verstappen the opportunity to shine. And shine he certainly did becoming the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix.
McLaren has not won a Grand Prix since Brazil 2012, and 2015 witnessed their worst season in their 50 years of racing. This year has seen steady progress with their engine partner Honda. They are now getting some consistent points scoring results and sees them currently 6th in the championship rather than last.
In the week leading up to the Italian GP, they also announced their innovative driver line-up for next season which will see their test driver Stoffel Vandoorne getting a race seat and the 2009 World Champion Jenson Button taking an advisory role within the team with an option in his contract to race again in 2018. Many, including myself, believe that this is a gentle way of easing Jenson into retirement and that Abu Dhabi will be the last for this gentleman of motorsport.
After the Spanish Grand Prix, everything and everybody moved on to the glamour of Monte Carlo for the Monaco GP, where they would be joined by the stars from movies, music and sport.
Mercedes didn’t have it their own way in free practice and qualifying. The nature of the circuit, which rewards great chassis design rather than out and out engine power, saw Daniel Ricciardo take his first ever pole. The Australian led for the first 33 laps until a miscommunication in a pit stop brought him out behind Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, which is where he stayed until the chequered flag.
The leadership of the drivers’ championship has swung from Nico’s at the start of the season to Lewis in the middle but since Belgium Nico has pretty much had it all his own way. Hamilton’s rare engine failure in Malaysia which allowed Daniel Ricciardo get his maiden victory of 2016 made many believe that this is to be Rosberg’s year and his to lose.
So now on to this weekend’s U.S. Grand Prix in Austin Texas. Formula One has struggled over the years to make an impact in the States. The last American driver to win a race in F1 was Mario Andretti at the Dutch GP in 1978 and the last American Team to race in F1 was Penske in 1977. This season a new team joined F1, the HAAS Team with its American owner Gene Haas. Hopefully, this will create some more enthusiasm for the sport Stateside.
Nico goes into this weekend’s Grand Prix of the Americas with a 33 point lead over Lewis. With 25 points for a win and four races remaining it’s not out of the British driver’s reach, but the fact that even if Lewis wins all four remaining races, Nico only needs to finish second to Lewis to take his first World Championship.