Four years ago I started blogging about Formula 1. As seasons go, I could hardly have picked a better year than the electrifying and wildly unpredictable 2012 season. Give or take the odd instantly forgettable race (I’m still mentally scarred from my attempts to blog any of the Indian Grand Prix races), I kept the blog alive for 3 years and then last year it just all fell off a cliff. I’m actually wondering if the Bahrain GP was the most excruciatingly dull race of all time (obviously I may be doing it a grave injustice) because after the Bahrain GP blog, there is a big fat nothing.
And blogging is a bit like going to the gym, once you stop or have a Ross/Rachel style ‘break’, it is very very hard to get back on. The other big factor was that the outcome of the season was just SO predictable from very early on and to compound matters I just do not feel the love for Lewis Hamilton. Do I have admiration for his ability as a racing driver? Yes. But to be blunt, he just annoys me. Whether it is a deliberately crafted public persona that His People believe will help increase cement his place as a Global Sporting Icon of Our Times à la Beckham I’m not sure. But it doesn’t work for me. Or maybe Beckham does it better. Or maybe I’m just old. Or all of the above.
The point is I haven’t blogged in a long time and I wasn’t sure whether it had run its course and had just filled a nice ‘stay at home mum’ gap in my life when I was looking after the 4 year old (who is now an almost as tall me 8 year old) and the 1 year old (now a pocket-dynamo/duracell bunny/mini-Maggie force of nature 5 year old). The 8 year old said he thought I should start blogging again (“because you get to spend time doing a hobby” – make of that what you will) and other properly grown up people also asked if I was going to go back to it. Then I thought well actually I have quite missed it and so here we are. Dear F1 Season of 2016 please please please don’t let me down!
Since I started blogging way back when, we have seen Vettel win two titles followed by Hamilton’s back to back drivers’ championships. The Red Bull supremacy that saw them clinch four consecutive constructors’ titles has crumbled away and now a reborn Mercedes team is the all-conquering behemoth of F1. Before a wheel is turned in anger this weekend, we don’t really know what to expect this season. Pre-season testing (all 8 days of it!) is all a bit smoke and mirrors but Ferrari does seem to be more of a match for Mercedes which gives us all hope.
So as at the eve of the 2016 season, where are all the teams at:
Mercedes: The ones to beat. The car looks very strong again in pre-season testing and the big question is whether Nico can recapture his dominant form that saw him swat away his team-mate in the final few races. Somehow I don’t think the eternally ambitious Hamilton will be making it so easy with all to play for.
Ferrari: They entered a sharp decline after Alonso brought the title race down to the wire in 2012 but look to be once again on an upward trajectory and have radically overhauled their car. F1 needs Ferrari to be back on top of its game and they have two massive things going for them: Sebastian Vettel and the hugely talented James Allison. Reliability is the one Big Question-Mark.
Williams: They don’t seem able to take the leap up from perennial third place and are in danger of falling back into the fiercely competitive mid-tier. This is a big year for them if they want to avoid falling back into the wilderness. As much as I have a soft spot for Claire Williams, I’m not totally sure she has the cajones and steely edge to make the brutal and tough decisions that may be needed.
Red Bull: After an annus horribilis (how is this still a thing?) in 2015, things can only get better. Ricciardo is still a world-class driver and they have a good outfit. But the big question-mark is over the catchily named ‘Tag-Heuer Renault’ engine. There is most definitely a high probability of Christian Horner having an on-camera rantathon by Barcelona.
Force India: Definite over-achievers given their tiny budget and, in Hulkenberg, they have a highly talented and underrated driver ready to exploit any opportunities arising from under-performing rivals or to shine in one of those crazy lunatic races where you hear Charlie Whiting’s name mentioned a lot.
Renault formerly known as Lotus: If they can avoid cars being impounded and messy litigation battles then 2016 will be an improvement in comparison. I think its fair to say it will be a ‘transitional year’ and then some. Still it will be interesting to see how new kid on the block Jolyon Palmer fares against former wunderkind Kevin Magnussen.
Toro Rosso: The Dark Horse not least because it has dumped the Renault engine in favour of a superior Ferrari one. Coupled with a great driver line-up (future world champion, Max Verstappen, and the very able Sainz) they should score a few podiums.
Sauber: At the lower end of the mid-tier teams and hard to see that they are going to set the world on fire this season.
McLaren: Its fair to say the reboot of the McLaren-Honda partnership was the stuff of nightmares. You’d think that this season couldn’t be any worse but unless there is a massive upturn in fortunes I have visions of Ron Dennis going all Frank Underwood and internecine warfare breaking out with Honda. They could not have two more experienced, savvy drivers but the sands of time march ever closer.
Manor: They are still in the game but this time round with new added Mercedes engine and Williams gearbox and suspension. On the minus side (in terms of experience) their driver line-up is Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto. Rumour is though that Mercedes are keeping tabs on Wehrlein so he is One To Watch.
Haas: A real fair dinkum brand new team which is as rare as hen’s teeth in F1 these days. Everyone will want them to succeed and they well might. They definitely mean business (just check out Haas’ achievements in NASCAR). They have a big budget, good guys on board, a Ferrari tie-in and a fine driver pairing in Grosjean and Gutierrez. The lower mid-tier will be looking nervously in their rear view mirrors.
To chuck some more changes into the mix: we have a whole new quali format to get to grips with (help), noisy cars are back (good), radio messages are to be confined to a list of 32 permitted topics (go Charlie), new rookie drivers, a new venue in Azerbaijan and F1 comes to Channel 4 for the first time. Having loved their cricket coverage from a few years ago (not even being a massive cricket fan) and having seen their presenting team (Murray Walker’s signing is a masterstroke), I’m incredibly excited to see their take on F1.
Are you ready? I’m over the football, over the rugby, over winter generally and NEED Formula 1 back in my life. The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. The whole crazy circus. Its still the best show in the world. Until tomorrow.