Reflections on F1 2016 – Mercedes crowns a new champion, but ends with question marks

Prior to the 2016 F1 season only Juan Manuel Fangio and Lewis Hamilton had won the F1 world championship at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix car, but Nico Rosberg added his name to that elite list, winning the championship by five points from Hamilton.

It was hard won, based on a determination to maximise every area after the humiliation of Austin 2015 and losing the title for the second year in a row. It was also a fitting reward for the work Rosberg had done for the team since 2010, helping it to build up to the dominant force in F1.

Nico Rosberg

But in suddenly announcing his retirement at the end of the season, he also threw the team into a difficult position. With fierce competition expected from Red Bull and other rivals next season, Mercedes has to move forward with a new driver who must score consistently from the outset or the Constructors’ Championship will be at risk.

The hot tip is that Valtteri Bottas will get the drive, providing a more or less like-for-like replacement for Rosberg in terms of driving level and consistency at this stage of his career.

Mercedes has dominated F1 in the hybrid turbo power unit era and this was arguably the most dominant season of all – they did not lose a single race where both their cars finished and of the two race wins that escaped them one was due to a collision between drivers in Spain and the other was Malaysia, where Hamilton’s engine failed while leading and Rosberg had a spin at the start.

Mercedes Pascal Wehrlein 2016 Pirelli Test 01, Circuit Paul Ricard

The car, designed under the guidance of former Ferrari designer Aldo Costa, again featured many aggressive design ideas, which pushed the rule book to the limit, showing that it wasn’t just because of the engine that the team was winning races. And they kept on bringing details to the car even relatively late in the season to keep the opposition at arm’s length.

They clearly had plenty of spare capacity to develop next year’s chassis to the dramatic new regulations.

The car’s raw pace was again the key; it took 20 pole positions from 21 races in the season, which set a new all-time record. Starting more often than not from first and second places on the grid, the Mercedes drivers were able to control and dominate the races, even when they had a slow getaway off the start line, which happened surprisingly often.

Winning in F1 is about taking care of all the tangibles on the car and in driver preparation as well as the intangibles, like competitive spirit and driver execution. To leave one of the key tangibles – the clutch at race starts – as a weakness for much of the season was strange, but it did allow some of the other teams to dream.

Daniel Ricciardo managed to split the Mercedes a few times, as did Max Verstappen while the Ferrari drivers also bagged a second place each early on.

Mexico GP 2015 Nico Rosberg Lewis Hamilton

But the championship was only ever going to be an in house Mercedes battle once again and this time Rosberg came out on top. We have written extensively on the championship outcome and the part that luck, reliability and consistency played in winning it for Rosberg and losing it for Hamilton, so there is no need to go over it again here.

Mercedes performed once again at a very high level as a team, but that’s what happens when a team has the winning bug. Race Strategy was generally well done, but again it is easier when you have a very quick car to work with. The one obvious aberration was the final round where the team management tried to intervene with team orders when Hamilton tried to back Rosberg into the pack at the end of the race.

They have since acknowledged that this was not the right thing to do and Rosberg retiring makes for a very interesting dynamic; they needed to patch things up with a disgruntled Hamilton before embarking on a new F1 season in 2017.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton had made some uncomplimentary noises during the season about reliability, aware that it was costing him in his title fight, as Rosberg got off to a commanding start. Several times he left the door open for conjecture that reliability issues only happening on his side of the garage meant that Mercedes was favouring Rosberg, without saying it.

Many of his fans were not so reticent.

With Rosberg gone, Mercedes needs Hamilton more than ever and he certainly has the upper hand for the 2017 season.

What did you think of Mercedes’ F1 season 2016? Leave your comments in the section below

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F1 season review 2016 – Force India records best ever season with fourth place

If 2015 was good, 2016 was even better for Force India as the Silverstone-based squad scored its best ever result in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

After a slow start to the season – the team scored just two points finishes in the first four races – Force India’s fortunes improved significantly when it introduced a major upgrade at the Spanish Grand Prix. The new parts included a new front wing, floor, sidepods and other bodywork – that were designed to improve the handling range of the VJM09.

After the race in Barcelona, the team only failed to score points with at least one car at the Austrian Grand Prix, where severe degradation stopped Nico Hulkenberg from converting his front row grid spot into a good result and both he and Sergio Perez were eventually forced out with brake problems.

Sergio Perez

Force India ended the season with 173 points – its biggest ever haul – and two podiums in one season for the first time in its history (both of which came courtesy of Perez at the Monaco and Baku races). Perez also racked up ten consecutive points finishes from ??? to Abu Dhabi – a run only bettered by Daniel Ricciardo (17 races) and Nico Rosberg (16).

The team overhauled and beat Williams to fourth place in the constructors’ standings, which is one position higher than its finishing position in 2015. Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley hailed the squad’s achievements and outlined his belief that it should try to finish third in the teams’ competition in 2017.

Bob Fernley

Speaking to F1i, he said. “This year we went in with a very clear view of being able to consolidate fifth place but with an eye on fourth. I think we should go in next year with a plan to consolidate fourth but with an eye on third.”

Perez vs Hulkenberg

Was 2016 the year that Perez’s reputation finally shook off the disappointment of his brief stint with McLaren in 2013? It certainly looked that way as the Mexican driver scored over 100 points for the first time in his F1 career (he is also the first Force India driver to achieve that feat) and he drove brilliantly to take two podiums in Monaco and Baku. Perez put his success down to “not trying to overachieve all the time” and bigger teams will certainly be putting him back in the frame for their race seats in the future.

Nico Hulkenberg

This year was another typical F1 performance from Hulkenberg – rapid in some places, anonymous in others, solid points, flashes of brilliance, and still no podium finish. His performance in the wet-to-dry Q3 in Austria was first class and he deserved a better result from that race. The German driver heads to Renault for 2017 and he’ll be hoping a works drive can finally bring him some F1 silverware.

What did you make of Force India in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Reflections on F1 2016 – McLaren show signs of a force awakening amid turmoil

Fernando Alonso had to tread water again in 2016, one of too many such years for the gifted Spaniard in a mixed bag of an F1 career. But he will have been heartened by clear signs this season that, after years of underperformance, McLaren is clearly on its way back to competitiveness.

Whether he will still be under contract when the package is ready to deliver race wins and championships, is hard to say. Mercedes and Red Bull in particular will be extremely hard to beat in the next few years and Alonso is now 35 years old. He has at least another two years in him, if he wants to continue and sees a realistic chance of netting that third world title he has always dreamed of.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Australian Grand Prix - Qualifying Day - Melbourne, Australia

With the major aerodynamic rule change coming into force for 2017, which McLaren not only championed but did much of the development work on, there is a chance for the Woking team to make a leap forward.

The Achilles Heel for the past two seasons has been the Honda engine, but again there were clear signs of progress in 2016 and the Japanese company has been back in the F1 swamp long enough now to have taken on all the lessons of hybrid turbo engines and to replicate in their 2017 power unit what works about the benchmark Mercedes, while adding in their own Honda flavour.

There were all sorts of claims about how great the McLaren chassis was, claims that are hard to quantify as the engine clearly held the car back, but rival engineers who competed against the team this season highlighted many details and steps that appeared to take the chassis to third best in class, albeit some way behind the Mercedes and Red Bull, which were on a similar level.

McLaren F1 2016

It was possible to clearly track McLaren’s progress this year; broadly speaking they began the year behind Toro Rosso scrapping for the Top Ten and ended it battling with Williams and Force India for fifth and sixth place finishes. Alonso was on fantastic form with a string of results and performances that dragged the maximum out of the car on tracks where there was a chance to get a result, like the fifth place finishes in Monaco and Austin. But even his seventh place run in Singapore was a real highlight.

Jenson Button had a quiet season, with few standout performances and ‘retired’, in the sense that he said he would not be racing again in Formula 1, despite having a contract with the team for 2017 as an ambassador with an option to race in 2018 if required.

In reality, with Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to retire, there is likely to be a move around in the F1 driver market at the end of 2017 and McLaren will no doubt be a team that top drivers will consider as they look for the next ‘rising balloon’ that could take them to a world title in the next few years.

Stoffel Vandoorne

They have Stoffel Vandoorne taking up Button’s seat.

The 24 year old Belgian has had to wait a long time for his chance in the spotlight and is not likely to fluff his lines. He is another in a new generation of exciting young F1 drivers, alongside Verstappen, Sainz and Ocon, albeit a good few years older.

Engineers who have worked with him say he has a very high skill level, allied to a nature that is methodical and studious. His qualifying pace is clearly very strong and so it will be interesting to see how often he starts races in front of Alonso and whether he can progressively learn to stay in front as the season goes on.

If the team is in a position to challenge for the podium from time to time, there will be some real spice to this battle.

Alonso Australia 2016

He performed very well on his one chance in Bahrain this year when Alonso was sidelined with a cracked rib after his Melbourne accident (above). He qualified 12th and finished 10th, McLaren’s first point of the season and as much as was possible with the car at the time.

Behind the scenes there was turmoil at the top of the company as the long forecast rupture between Ron Dennis and his fellow shareholders was finally completed. A car crash in slow motion, Dennis called the grounds for his removal from the helm ‘spurious’, but in reality this had been coming for a long time.

XPB.cc Ron Dennis Sheikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa CEO of the Bahrain Economic Development Board

Former VW motorsport boss Jost Capito, whom Dennis had brought in to the F1 team, but who never really appeared to fit in, also left at the end of the season. Culturally McLaren has changed inside; a much more international blend of engineers and leaders, but it will still take a while for the culture set by Dennis over decades to evolve into the new McLaren for the next chapter of the story.

This leaves Eric Boullier running the F1 team with American commercial expert Zak Brown coming in as Executive Director of the McLaren Technology Group alongside Jonathan Neale, who has been running the operational side of McLaren for many years. It’s a strong line up, also demonstrating how it takes more than one Team Principal to run a modern F1 team.

F1 is a race on every level and McLaren has fallen behind commercially this year so doesn’t have the budget of the top three teams, Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, which could hold them back from challenging for the top prizes.

So correcting that will be one of Brown’s main objectives over the next couple of years.

Brown Bernie Ecclestone

What did you make of McLaren in 2016? Leave your comments in the section below

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F1 season review 2016 – Williams slips back in the constructors’ championship

Williams endured a disappointing 2016 Formula 1 season as it slipped back to fifth place in the constructors’ championship after finishing third in 2014 and 2015.

The Grove-based team started well, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa delivering 65 points from the first five races, but things seemed to unravel after that.

Williams did improve its performance at Monaco, having delivered poor performances at the tight and twisty track in recent years, and scored a season’s best result courtesy of Bottas in Canada, but the team only took home 11 points from the races in Azerbaijan, Austria and Britain. Theses were held on power circuits where Williams had hoped to exploit the performance of its Mercedes power unit but ultimately failed to capitalise on that benefit.

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas delivered seven points finishes in the final 11 races, and Massa supplied six top ten results of his own, but they were largely for the lower points paying positions and the Finn’s fifth place at Malaysia was Williams’ best result in the second half of the year.

The size of Williams’ financial resources compared to the teams it finished behind in the 2015 constructors’ championship – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – meant it was always going to be tough to keep up with the rapid development rates of those teams. But what will be of huge concern for the squad was Force India moving ahead of it and seizing fourth place by the end of the year.

Williams had some problems with upgrades not working as expected in the middle of the year – particularly with the front wing – and the team’s head of performance engineering, Rob Smedley, acknowledged that the FW38 had not been quick enough.

Rob Smedley

He said: “[I’d like to say] thank you to all of the race team for the brilliant job they’ve all done. We know the car pace isn’t quick enough but they’ve never given up, always strived to get more performance and, between them all, they’ve done a really good job.”

Williams can at least take positives from the performance of its pit crew, which delivered the quickest stop at 14 races and broke the record for the fastest ever F1 pitstop, which it did at the European Grand Prix in Baku in 1.92s.

The British squad heads into 2017 with a lot of reshuffling going on behind the scenes. Its chief technical officer Pat Symonds will step down at the end of the year and a number of senior technical staff in the aerodynamic and production departments are also leaving. Mercedes’ technical chief, Paddy Lowe, has been tipped to join Williams next season.

Bottas vs Massa

Bottas delivered the lion’s share of Williams’ points haul of the fourth year in a row, scored the team’s only podium of the year, and defeated Massa 17-4 in qualifying – the best record against a teammate of any driver in 2016. He cannot be blamed for the FW38’s lack of pace, but there were relatively few occasions where he out performed the car. The 27-year-old is being considered by Mercedes as a replacement for its recently retired world champion, Nico Rosberg.

XPB.cc Felipe Massa

Massa finished in the points in the first six races but went off the boil in the middle of the year. He announced his retirement at Monza and his emotional walk through the pitlane after crashing at Interlagos was one of the most memorable moments of the season. Williams is reportedly set to keep hold of the Brazilian driver for 2017 if Bottas leaves for Mercedes.

What did you make of Williams in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Reflections on F1 2016 – Ferrari fall short of expectations, major upheaval at base

Ferrari will be one of the teams that cannot wait to see the back of 2016. It was a poor season for the sport’s longest running team.

Chairman Sergio Marchionne sent them on their way with messages like, “I expect us to win”, a line which he threw into the mix just before the Spanish Grand Prix.

At that stage, Ferrari had scored just 76 points from the first four races, compared to Mercedes’ 157, and had achieved a best finish of second for Kimi Raikkonen in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel in China.

Ferrari

Ferrari had been in a position to win the season opening race in Australia but made the wrong call on tyres during the red flag period caused by Fernando Alonso’s enormous crash with Esteban Gutierrez.

Ironically, Spain did offer the Scuderia its best chance of a win, thanks to the two Mercedes drivers taking each other out on the opening lap. Only Red Bull stood in its way, but they got the upper hand thanks to a better job in qualifying by their two drivers.

The Ferrari was the faster car on race day, but Ferrari didn’t put enough pressure on Red Bull strategically, especially when Red Bull unexpectedly switched Ricciardo onto a three stop strategy, when he had been pacing himself for a two-stop.

Ferrari lacked confidence; especially with Marchionne dropping in on race day, after they had underperformed in qualifying. The team needed to respond to the pressure from the Chairman by being bold, but they looked more like they wanted to avoid taking a risk that might backfire in front of the boss.

James Allison

And so the season began to unravel. Disagreements behind the scenes between Marchionne and the technical director James Allison led to the Englishman’s departure, replaced by Mattia Binotto, who had been head of engines. Marchionne spoke of reshaping Ferrari around Italian engineers, moving away from a reliance on foreign ‘mercenaries’.

The impact of Allison’s departure was huge and although the team coped admirably in continuing to develop the car, inevitably it fell behind a fast improving Red Bull and further adrift of Mercedes. Much of the failure to achieve results in 2016 was pinned on the operational and strategy side of the team and it is true that they had a number of ‘off days’. It was a tough year for Inaki Rueda, (above right) the strategist and a close ally of Allison’s from their Lotus days.

But the fact was that the car just wasn’t fast enough. Ferrari’s abject qualifying record speaks for itself; the team has scored only one pole position in the last four years and failed to qualify on the front row of the grid for any of the 21 Grands Prix this season.

You cannot hope to win anything in F1 if the fundamental pillar of competitiveness in qualifying is not there.

The SF16-H chassis was a good step forward from the 2015 model, with many aerodynamic upgrades, including a short nose to improve airflow under the car to the floor, where so much of the downforce of an F1 car is generated. But the car’s weakness was that it operated in too narrow a window of temperature.

To get the tyres working perfectly was a struggle if the track temperature was too hot or too cold and that pretty much defined their season.

Sebastian Vettel

More worrying was the decline of Vettel, who began the year with a string of podiums, but then after the European Grand Prix in June, scored only one further podium in 12 races and began to look as though he was reliving Fernando Alonso’s nightmare.

However Vettel ended the season with a strong podium in Abu Dhabi. He will be a free agent at the end of 2017 and with Nico Rosberg’s shock decision to depart Mercedes and Fernando Alonso’s contract up in December at McLaren, Vettel could be a key player in the driver market next summer, if he decides to abandon the Ferrari project.

He makes the right noises about the future, but one wonders whether he able to move on after he was slapped down by team principal Maurizio Arrivabene in Suzuka for trying to lead the team outside the cockpit, or has that made up his mind to change horses?

If there was a positive it was that Kimi Raikkonen rediscovered his touch, after a couple of seasons of anonymity, which led most observers to question why he was being retained.

Kimi Raikkonen

The switch from pullrod to pushrod front suspension gave Raikkonen the feel for the front end of the car that is indispensable to his cornering style and he thrived; outqualifying Sebastian Vettel 11-10 across the season, including the last four races, which no-one would have predicted at the start of the season.

Next year, with the significant change of regulations, offers Ferrari hope that it can challenge for wins and the title. But the opposition is very strong, especially from Mercedes and Red Bull and one suspects that Ferrari may be looking over their shoulder at McLaren Honda, rather than ahead at the benchmark teams.

But let’s hope not. A strong Ferrari is very important to F1.

What are your thoughts on Ferrari’s season? Leave your comments in the section below

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My top five F1 drivers of the 2016 season

It’s that time again when it is time to take a deep breath and pick the Top 5 Drivers of 2016.

This is a tradition on this site going back to 2009, when the site first took off and this year is by far the most difficult to choose of the eight seasons to date.

Why? Well because all the standout drivers had good and bad moments this season, we had two unusual scenarios as well. A supposedly number two driver beat his champion team-mate to the world championship which hasn’t happened too often in the F1 of the last 30 years.

Second we had a high profile switch of a top team driver mid-season, which brought Max Verstappen into Red Bull Racing and he won on debut. Verstappen was outstanding at times this season and rightly won the FIA Personality of the Year category at the Awards Gala, but at 19 years of age he is far from the fully developed Grand Prix driver and he had some significant low points too.

F1 drivers

Frankly you could make the argument for any of the top four below to be placed in any order, depending on what you focus on.

So, before we dive in to the choices I need to explain my decision making criteria. First I measure the driver’s peaks during the season, the quality of his standout moments. Second – and equally – I consider the consistency of the season – was the driver up and down or did they bring their A Game most weekends?

Third I always reward drivers who deliver under pressure and that generally means drivers going for the wins and the titles, where there is a lot at stake. That doesn’t mean we don’t recognise drivers of poor cars who have to drive the wheels off it to get into the top five, but it does mean that there is a weighting towards the front runners.

Another thing I mark highly is competitive spirit; I love drivers who make things happen and who really stir the passions of fans.

Finally I always heavily reward the world champion because winning a world championship is always tough and to win the longest ever F1 championship, against arguably the strongest driver of his generation therefore gives Nico Rosberg quite a boost.

Against that is the fact that the Mercedes was again an utterly dominant car this season, so it’s really hard to benchmark the drivers.

So with that in mind and with a deep breath, as this won’t please everyone, here is the JA on F1 Top Five drivers of 2016.

Daniel Ricciardo

1. Daniel Ricciardo

This was an excellent year for Ricciardo, who finished a clear third in the drivers’ championship for the second time in three years. With the car and engine package that he has had at his disposal relative to Mercedes, that is a great achievement and when you study the numbers on his season, his consistency at a high level really stands out.

He had 20 points finishes in the season – equal with Rosberg – and qualified very consistently in the top four or five with only a couple of exceptions. He won Malaysia, but should have also won Spain and Monaco, but for strategy calls and a botched tyre stop. He split the Mercedes in Germany, Belgium and Singapore.

His overtakes are sublime and he’s very hard to pass.

The only downsides for the Australian were that he seemed to have his hands full later in the season to contain team mate Verstappen and there were a few races where the Dutchman was simply faster all weekend. We have to put this in context: Verstappen is only 19 and in his second season in F1 cars with much still to learn.

Ricciardo is now at the peak of his career and is the complete F1 driver; the next few years should see him crowned world champion at some point, provided he can keep a lid on his ruthless team mate.

It will come down to which of them is the hardest and in that I slightly worry for him.

Nico Rosberg
2. Nico Rosberg

It seems that it’s fashionable to downrate Rosberg’s season and to chalk his world championship down to having lots of luck and the best car. That is perhaps to look at it through the prism of the last few races only, rather than the season as a whole.

Rosberg brushed off two years of hurt, raised his game in 2016, focussed on himself only, won his world title and then quit F1 on his own terms.

Some might say that was him running away from the sport, proving that he is not a a true champion. But having watched Nico up close this season, it was incredibly impressive how he kept on delivering his best time after time and doing what he needed to do when it came to a crunch moment. He met all the challenges and did what he had to do when he had to do it.

Winning in F1 is about getting all the details right and not giving anything away to the opposition. Rosberg certainly exemplified that more often than not this year.

Of course he didn’t have as many peaks as Hamilton’s, but the turning point race was Singapore, his best ever drive in F1 and then Japan. He was outclassed by Hamilton several times, for example in Monaco, arguably his only real ‘off day’ this season.

But even when he couldn’t match Hamilton, he often found a work-around. An example was in Monza; he was blown away in qualifying, but he didn’t give up and silenced Hamilton on race day with a better start; he didn’t give Lewis a sniff for the rest of the afternoon. Hamilton was utterly dejected after that race.

Australia and Bahrain also followed that script.

Lewis beat Nico in qualifying 12 times to seven, when there were no reliability issues, which doesn’t look great, but the margins were mostly tight. Rosberg dealt with it, worked to a plan, one race at a time.

When he needed to get the lap in qualifying in Brazil he did it and drove the tricky race to bag the 18 points he needed from a championship point of view in horrendous conditions. That was a banana skin dodged. Yes there were no heroics about it, but there was a lot at stake. Likewise when he had to pass Verstappen and then soak up the pressure at the end in Abu Dhabi, with a world championship at stake, he did both.

No-one else faced that level of pressure this year.

I like sports stars who carry on developing even after many years, proving that you never stop learning. Mercedes engineers say Rosberg was still improving when he retired.

Many will disagree with this choice, because Rosberg had the best car, but we are not picking the Top Five drivers in F1, rather the Top 5 performers of 2016. Having seen the battle up close this year, he deserves it.

Lewis Hamilton
3. Lewis Hamilton

History will show that Hamilton lost the world championship to his less talented teammate in 2016.

They say history is written by the victors, but Hamilton has managed to make the narrative about how Mercedes’ reliability was the reason why he didn’t make it three titles in a row in 2016.

It’s certainly true up to a point, but he also gave away plenty of points for a variety of reasons. One was poor starts using the new single clutch system; there were four races blighted by that, so arguably 24 points dropped. And he also had three race weekends where he seemed to be mentally elsewhere; Baku, Singapore and Japan, so arguably another 14 points there.

That makes six weekends of giving something away to the opposition and for that I can’t put him as the best driver of 2016, or ahead of Rosberg, even if some of his qualifying and race performances were best in class.

Pole in Monza was exquisite, his race in Brazil was also an illustration of his sumptuous gifts. His brilliant drive in Monaco, looking after the tyres to the point where he could skip the intermediate tyre stage was another standout.

Engineers tell me that of all the drivers he is the one who has been most held back by the problems Pirelli have had mastering the tyre technology for the regulation tyre size of the last few years and that with the new 2017 wide tyres he will be able to express himself fully. Time will tell.

I certainly expect him to come flying out of the blocks next season and it will take something special to beat him to the championship. He is also likely to get the record for most pole positions; he is eight behind Michael Schumacher after a career half the length of the German’s.

That would be an appropriate record for Hamilton to hold.

Max Verstappen

4. Max Verstappen

When a talent and a character like this comes along, as a professional working in the sport for almost 30 years, you just have to smile. He makes people remember why they fell in love with motor racing in the first place.

It’s not all pretty and some of his defensive driving caused the rule makers to issue clarifications on what is allowed. But that also shows the ruthlessness of the driver. He is not here merely to compete or even to try to win. He’s here to fight against all-comers, to get under their skin. And in that he reminds me of Michael Schumacher.

I was struck by his calmness in the press conference room after Ricciardo won Malaysia due to a Red Bull strategy call similar to Spain, but which reversed the drivers’ fortunes this time. He had matured a lot in just a few months and it was as if he felt that he would have many more chances to win in future so no need to get upset now.

His early-career defining drive in the rain in Brazil is up there with some of the greatest wet weather performances ever seen. He drove brilliantly to take Raikkonen and Rosberg early on but found himself 14th with 16 laps to go after Red Bull made a big call on strategy, trying for the win instead of the second place he was assured. He passed his way back up to third, including his own team mate who was also on fresh rubber, unlike most of the cars he passed.

It is true that he had an up and down season; he had some off days, for sure. He was 2-2 in qualifying against Carlos Sainz in the first four races of the season before he was moved up to Red Bull. He adapted quickly and Ricciardo ended up 11-6 against him in qualifying from there.

But when you bear in mind that this was only his second season in F1 and it took him until around June to fully understand how to bring a Pirelli front qualifying tyre in for optimum single lap performance, that’s not bad against one of the fastest guys in F1.

Verstappen has had an almost vertical learning curve so far and there is still so much more development to come. He has a great race engineer in Gianpiero Lambiase, who will continue to nurture this exceptional talent and many fans will admit that he is one of the main reasons to switch the TV on on a Sunday to watch the race. For that, and the fact that there is plenty of evidence that he is getting teenagers to watch the sport, F1 owes him a debt of gratitude.

Fernando Alonso
5. Fernando Alonso

One of the benefits of doing the in-depth UBS Race Strategy Report after every Grand Prix, is that I get to speak confidentially to many of the top strategists from the F1 teams, who contribute insights, to help fans understand better what goes on in races.

Time after time, they flag up Alonso and his latest heroics. The Spaniard may have been a footnote in the tale of the 2016 F1 season, but some of his race performances were of a similar peak level to anything we saw at the front of the field. He was simply astonishing in Spa, Singapore, Suzuka and Austin – and McLaren owe him a lot. The balance sheet would look far less favourable without these amazing drives. He ended up with more than twice the points of Jenson Button and that is despite a monster accident in Australia and sitting out Bahrain.

Other drivers deserved consideration including Carlos Sainz, who drove at a consistently high standard, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, but Alonso makes the top five because of the sheer excellence of those four drives in particular.

Do you agree? Leave your top five drivers of 2016 in the Comments section below

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F1 season review 2016 – Will Red Bull’s exciting season mean more fireworks in 2017?

Red Bull ended the 2016 Formula 1 season as the best-of-the-rest behind Mercedes, but it was an eventful year for the Milton Keynes-based squad.

With 30 points from the first two races, Red Bull’s season sprang into life in China. Daniel Ricciardo seized the lead from Nico Rosberg at the start while Daniil Kvyat charged into the same corner and frightened Sebastian Vettel into a crash with his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen. A puncture dropped Ricciardo down the order – although he recovered to fourth – while Kvyat claimed third behind Rosberg and the irate Vettel.

Things went downhill fast for the Russian driver at his home race in Sochi when he triggered another first lap crash with Vettel – but there was no dispute about who was to blame this time. The incident also wrecked Ricciardo’s race and the Red Bull bosses opted to switch Kvyat with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen for the next race in Spain.

Russian Grand Prix 2016

While many decried the apparent ruthlessness of the team’s decision, Verstappen scored a record-breaking win in Barcelona and the rest is history.

Ricciardo, already annoyed at the Red Bull strategy call in Spain that dropped him from the lead to fourth, responded with a sensational pole position lap in Monaco. The Australian driver should have won the race too, but a botched pitstop left him behind Lewis Hamilton and frustrated in second place.

From there, Red Bull’s fortunes ebbed and flowed with the performances of its drivers. Ricciardo had a disappointing run following Monaco, while Verstappen notched up more podiums.

Max Verstappen Kimi Raikkonen

But the Dutch driver began to court more trouble for his vigorous defensive driving in mid-season, just Ricciardo delivered four podiums in five races and a near-win in Singapore.

Red Bull ended the year as comfortably the second-best team, having outpaced Ferrari at most races from China onwards, but questions remained over its strategy calls, particularly in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

But in a season when Mercedes was generally untouchable once again, it was Red Bull that picked up the pieces if the Silver Arrows faltered. After Verstappen’s triumph in Spain, which followed the Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lap one crash, Ricciardo won in Malaysia after the Briton’s engine failure.

Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen

Ricciardo vs Verstappen

Ricciardo drove superbly throughout 2016, other than his post-Monaco blip between Canada and Silverstone, and his pole at the Principality was one of the highlights of the season. Others were his spirited charge after Rosberg in Singapore and his robust defence from Verstappen, which sealed the win in Malaysia.

Verstappen’s world-class 2016 performances confirmed what many suspected when he joined F1 aged 17 in 2015. He certainly had some negative moments – such as his Monaco crashes, the incidents with the Ferrari drivers in Belgium and the lap one spin in Abu Dhabi – but he put in many stunning performances, capped off with his win in Spain and wet-weather master class in Brazil.

What did you make of Red Bull in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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Citroen unwraps C3 WRC 2017 car

Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT has unveiled its 2017 WRC car as it launches its return as a fully-fledged factory effort next season http://ift.tt/1oG8xq6

F1 season review: Top five moments of 2016

At 21 races, the 2016 Formula 1 season was the longest in the sport’s history and there were many action-packed events throughout the year.

A new world champion was crowned, the sport’s youngest-ever racer became the youngest-ever driver to win a Grand Prix, the title protagonists collided (again) – and these were just the headlines.

Here, JA on F1 writer Alex Kalinauckas picks his top five most memorable moments from the 2016 season.

Spanish Grand Prix 2016

1 That crash in Barcelona

It’s difficult to see how anyone could leave this one off a list of the most memorable moments of 2016. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg did what had become seemingly inevitable after two-and-a-bit years of bitter rivalry at Mercedes and collided on the first lap of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Not only was the crash itself one of the moments of the season, it directly led to another: Max Verstappen’s maiden Grand Prix win.

Daniel Ricciardo

2 Ricciardo roars to Monaco pole

If you’ve got a spare moment during the winter break, take a few moments to watch this lap again. It was a virtuoso effort from Daniel Ricciardo, one that gave the Australian driver his first ever F1 pole at the ultimate track where a driver can make the difference between the barriers: Monaco.

On a weekend when Red Bull had a genuine shot at beating Mercedes, Ricciardo stepped up and delivered when it mattered. If Red Bull had not botched his final pitstop, the race that all drivers want to win would surely have been his.

Daniel Ricciardo Max Verstappen

3 Red Bull battle in Malaysia

Another moment to go and rewatch if you’ve got the time (actually do that with all of them). On lap 39 of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Ricciardo and Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel through three consecutive corners of Sepang’s middle sector in a thrilling battle that ultimately decided which of them would win the race as race-leader Hamilton’s engine failed moments later.

It was hugely exciting and respectful close racing from the teammates and the lack of contact added to the magic. But was it just a brief preview of the fireworks to come between this pair if Red Bull delivers a championship winning car in 2017?

Max Verstappen

4 Verstappen’s wet weather drive in Brazil

This one is less of a single moment of magic and more of an event long master class from F1’s youngest race winner. Verstappen’s move on Kimi Raikkonen on the very first racing lap of the Brazilian Grand Prix was a sign of things to come as he brilliantly carved his way through the field after Red Bull made two bizarre calls to put its drivers on intermediates.

Verstappen’s performance drew well-earned comparisons with some of the best ever F1 wet weather drivers, including the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, and more of the same is expected from the teenager in the years to come.

Nico Rosberg

5 Rosberg’s pressure pass

Considering the pressure he was under and the reputation of the driver he had to pass, Rosberg’s move on Verstappen was definitely one of the moments of 2016. Mercedes had told the German driver that his title was under threat if he did not get by one of F1’s most fearsome defenders and he duly pulled off the pass on lap 20 in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg’s emotion and off-the-cuff responses to questions after the race about the pressure to pass Verstappen was refreshing and entertaining, which added to the memory of the moment.

Honourable mentions

XPB.cc Pascal Wehrlein

Pascal makes his point

Pascal Wehrlein’s drive at the Red Bull Ring gave Manor its only point of 2016 and its first since Jules Bianchi finished ninth at Monaco in 2014. It was a great performance from the rookie driver, who also shown in qualifying throughout the year.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton’s Malaysia malaise

You heard the roar of the crowd before the TV pictures caught up with Hamilton’s Mercedes belting flames from its exhaust. The emotion in the Briton’s voice when he realised that his world title ambitions had probably gone up in smoke added to the drama, which came on a weekend where he had stepped up magnificently from his poor performance in Singapore.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg’s retirement

It’s hard to think of a more unexpected piece of F1 news than the current world champion announcing his retirement five days after winning the title, but that’s what Rosberg did. The 2016 off-season was already set to be interesting with the new-look cars being unveiled early next year, but the intense speculation on who Mercedes will sign to replace the world champion has added to that and more.

What would be your top five F1 moments of 2016? Leave them in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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