Big on F1? With the summer break on just around the next chicane, we've been speaking with the guys at BadgerGP to get a handle on who to watch out for...
With the summer break just the other side of the German Grand Prix, we’re just about halfway through the 2016 F1 season, and what a season it’s been! Mercedes have stormed to victory in almost every race, but can main rival Ferrari, or even Red Bull in their current form, claw things back? And who else is gunning for pole position?
There’s still everything to play (or race) for, so we’ve been chatting to Adam Le Feurve (ALF) and Craig Norman (CG) at BadgerGP – the UK’s leading Formula One blog – about this year’s upsets, surprises, and what to look forward to between now and November…
Has the 2016 season gone as expected thus far?
CG: It’s dependant on who you support, but for a neutral looking in, it’s followed a similar theme to last season: Mercedes out in front, Ferrari trying to be their main opponent and a tight battle in the middle of the pack that produces all the best racing. The only real change is which Mercedes driver was out in front initially; Rosberg was getting the lion’s share of luck and was maximising his opportunity the best he could – though now Hamilton seems unstoppable going into Hockenheim.
ALF: With the Mercedes dominance, yes! As for the chasing pack, it’s been fascinating with Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams all taking a shot at being the next best. All the cars after those Silver Arrows are closely matched, which is great news for F1. I’d say the season has gone better than expected so far, with every race a thriller to watch.
Were you surprised at Rosberg’s initial dominance?
CG: Rosberg’s dominance was, in a way, a default of the problems that his rivals have faced. Hamilton and Ferrari have faced technical issues and been involved in first lap incidents in every race so far, while Rosberg’s nose has been clean and his car has run perfectly. But now Lewis has gotten himself back into the title fight; he’s shown that he’s fully capable of stringing together a run of race wins and strong results that have not only eaten into, but surpassed the lead Rosberg established.
ALF: Rosberg’s lead wasn’t especially surprising. He’s a solid driver and has chased Hamilton to each of the Brit’s recent championship titles. He’s had a perfect start to the season and Hamilton’s had issues. The good news is that now we’re set for a season-long battle between the two Mercedes again as both drivers have their sights set on the driver’s championship title. The Spanish GP incident where they took each other out only adds to that drama.
Do you see Ferrari challenging Mercedes more as the season goes on?
CG: If the development is strong and every update that Ferrari delivers works how they expect, then the gap should close around the end of the European season. The older, more traditional tracks like Spa, Monza and Suzuka will be the real litmus tests for the Ferrari Scuderia; the aero/power unit combination of Mercedes has been seriously mighty around those circuits, so if Ferrari can get close to, or even beat them, it will be a great confidence boost.
ALF: Yes, but also Red Bull shouldn’t be ruled out – especially given Ricciardo’s recent form. They’ve proven to be as fast as Ferrari at times and Ferrari have been on pace with Mercedes at times, and that’s not to mention winning the Spanish GP in May. Mercedes will continue to dominate overall, but it won’t be such a runaway season this year.
Who should fans be watching out for?
CG: I have to think Pascal Wehrlein (Manor) is a future champion in the making. He’s precise in his driving style and handles himself well on track, but is slightly overlooked due to the calibre of the Manor car. Max Verstappen’s debut year last season (for Red Bull) made headlines because of his overtaking prowess, but he’s still slightly rough around the edges when it comes to consistent speed. Stoffel Vandoorne’s cameo appearance for McLaren in Bahrain should open a few eyes to his talent too, at least to those who missed his domination of GP2 last year.
ALF: Definitely Max Verstappen. Although he’s probably a big name too now, following his incredible victory in Spain. Beyond him, Kevin Magnussen (Renault) is doing a solid job in a car that isn’t near the front running pace. Expect some more great drives from him.
What’s been this season’s biggest upset so far?
CG: Not many people would have predicted debut points for Haas in the season opener, but to gain a finish of 6th first time out was nothing short of a shock. Considering the last few new teams that had entered the sport have either been liquified (Caterham and HRT) or bailed out several times (Marussia, which is now Manor) with only 2 points scored between all three, Haas have exceeded all their targets – and then some.
ALF: Again, I have to say the 18 year-old Max Verstappen. On his first race for Red Bull Racing after being swapped with Kvyat, he qualifies fourth and takes the win. It’s a fantastic story and quite the upset. People know he’s good and exciting to watch, but to take the win in Spain was incredible.
Lastly, which race will be ‘the one’ to watch in the second half of this season?
CG: The Belgian Grand Prix at Spa should be highlighted on every F1 fan’s calendar. It’s the first race back after the enforced August shutdown, it’s a classic track steeped in history that still challenges the drivers, and it has a reputation for changeable weather; all are ingredients for a great show with added anticipation.
ALF: Every single race this season has been an unmissable Grand Prix, so I’d say ‘every one’ is worth watching! But, like Craig, if I had to choose one it would be Spa, Belgium. It’s a proper race track, and usually throws up plenty of oddities. Hamilton and Rosberg will be a thrill to watch, and it’s as close to being Max Verstappen’s home race as possible.
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