F1 2016 season review | Poor concept to retiring champ

A look back at the 2016 Formula One season.

2016 was a year of highs and lows in Formula One. From Verstappen’s debut win and Rosberg finally beating Hamilton to the title, to elimination qualifying, farcical team orders in Abu Dhabi and more angry radio messages by Sebastian Vettel than Ferrari victories. So sit back, relax, and recap the year that was F1 2016, Rosberg’s year.

          The highs

America arrives in F1, scores points on debut

Straight off the bat in 2016, a good news story was born as the Haas F1 team entered Formula One and left Australia with their first points scoring finish. A feat they not only matched but bettered come round two, as Grosjean once again scored points for the rookie team and celebrated the Australia result as if it were a race win.

A live screen shot of Fernando Alonso's crash.

A live screen shot of Fernando Alonso’s Australian Grand Prix crash.

Alonso walks from airborne Australian crash

With safety in Formula One ever being an important aspect and an aspect the sport looks to develop, seeing Fernando Alonso walk away seemingly unharmed from his airborne crash in Melbourne was a massive sign of development. Especially given the speed at which his car deformed as it rolled through the air and gravel before coming to a rest upside down propped up against the wall.

In the end, Alonso did suffer fractures to his ribs that ruled him out of the following Bahrain Grand Prix. But his medical withdrawal only paved the way for another highlight of the season. Stoffle Vandoorne flying straight in from Japan, hoping in the McLaren MP4-31 for the first time and scoring a point in his debut F1 Grand Prix.

Now the pair will line up in 2017 as team-mates for McLaren. A new chapter for the resurging manufacturer now under the control of Zak Brown following Ron Dennis’ departure.

Verstappen proves age is but a number

When Verstappen arrived in Formula One at the age of just 17 years and 166 days, the Dutchman set the new record for the youngest driver to enter the sport by almost two years. Leading to claims he was too young for the sport or he was too inexperienced having only raced single seaters for a single year.

His debut year, however, put an end to most of those concerns as he made outlandish overtakes no matter the opposition, rarely made an error bar Monaco, and proved he could handle the pressure in Singapore as he shrugged off team-orders to allow his team-mate, Carlos Sainz, to overtake him.

Then when Max was promoted to Red Bull partway through 2016, the concerns were muted. Permanently.

Kicking off his time at Red Bull by winning his maiden race with the team while conscientiously considering where Raikkonen was deploying his energy store in order to hold off the 2007 World Champion.

His second race for Red Bull, however, did not go as well as once again Monaco saw Verstappen crash out – this time in both qualifying and the race. But across the remainder of the season, Max shone, shone and shone again. Particularly in the horrendous rain that had fallen over Interlagos, overtaking the experienced drivers where others could or would not.

Lewis Hamilton, celebrating his German Grand Prix victory. Photo copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team

Lewis Hamilton, celebrating his German Grand Prix victory. Photo copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team

Hamilton’s 62-point mid-season swing

With Hamilton’s year getting off to a poor start – quite literally as Lewis lost the lead of the Australian Grand Prix off the line before engine failures would strike in China and Russia – Hamilton had an uphill task on his hands already if he were to retain his title.

As while Hamilton lost early ground, Rosberg was building a wall between them. Racking up all the points for winning, while Hamilton settled for second at best. Up until Monaco that was.

Breaking back from Rosberg’s early dominance, and their contact in Spain, to take back-to-back wins from the streets of Monaco to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada. With only the new European Grand Prix in Baku going in favour of Nico before Hamilton added four more Grand Prix victories to his tally before the summer break.

Completing a colossal swing in points between the two Silver Arrows drivers for Hamilton to come from 43 down to head into the summer 19-points up.

In that point swing, Hamilton also set a new record as being the only driver to take four wins in a single month. With the only previous month to have four Grand Prix’s was July 2005, when Fernando Alonso won twice and JP Montoya & Kimi Raikkonen both won a race each.

‘Torpedo’ Kvyat vs. ‘sorry’ Seb

At the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix, the race had only reached the first corner before Vettel and Kvyat nearly came to blows. With Daniil Kvyat spotting and attacking the gap Vettel had left open on the inside of the opening corner. A move that saw Kvyat gain places that ultimately handed a podium finish to the Russian.

Vettel, on the other hand, saw Kvyat attacking the space in a different light. Something he brought to the then Red Bull driver’s attention come the end of the race and the duo prepared to join Rosberg on the podium.

(Kvyat asks Vettel about the start)
Sebastian Vettel: You ask what happened at the start? If I didn’t go the left you’d crash into us and we’d all three go out!
Daniil Kvyat: Well…
SV: No, no ‘well!’ You came like a torpedo!
DK: Well that’s racing.
SV: If I keep going the same line then I crash.
DK: Then don’t keep going…
SV: But there was a car on the left also, that’s why I hit the other car.
DK: I couldn’t see all the three cars man, come on. I have only two eyes.
SV: You’ll crash driving like that.
DK: But we didn’t, so…
SV: Yeah, you didn’t! I know it’s racing but…you need to expect that when you’re packed up it’s crazy. You were lucky this time.
DK: Well I’m on the podium, you’re on the podium. It’s fine.

Pirelli’s three-tyre strategy

Every year it seems the F1 rule makers are looking for a new way to improve the show, make the races closer and create a higher level of uncertainty. And while most ideas tend to be ‘wrong’ or far-fetched, one rule change made for 2016 certainly worked. The introduction of a third tyre compound to be used during the race.

Previously, only two of Pirelli’s slick tyre range were able to be used during a race. Whether it be the mediums and hards, softs and super-softs or softs and mediums. But this year, along with the introduction of the ultra-softs, an extra tyre compound could be used. Increasing the range to say the softs, mediums and hards. A change that certainly helped improve the show.

As while most drivers would follow in the same strategy, starting on the softest tyres having used them in qualifying then swapping to the harder compound, the introduction of a third compound allowed drivers the opportunity to switch strategy to take on either the tyre that gives better race pace but will require more stops or take on the more durable tyres and reduce the time spent in the pit lane at the cost of reduced race speed. Resulting in more unpredictable, varied races.

          The lows

Elimination qualifying had to be eliminated

While the rule change to introduce an extra tyre compound to the race worked, the rule change aimed at mixing up the starting grid did not. Elimination qualifying needed eliminating immediately.

Pitting drivers against the clock and against each other could have caught some drivers out as they looked for a gap or made a mistake on their first timed lap. But instead, it saw drivers only getting one chance at setting a time before they had to return to the pits for a change of tyres and to refuel. Things that took longer to complete than the clock allowed – resulting in quiet tracks and the same grid order.

After a poor first showing in Australia, it was then given a second chance in Bahrain. And then when it failed there, teams met with Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA for a 90-minute meeting, that only resulted in a vote being placed for the following Thursday. A vote that thankfully resulted in the format being dropped and qualifying returning to the previous, and now current, format again.

The two Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg collide at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Copyright: SkySportsF1

The two Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg collide at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. Copyright: SkySportsF1

When the Silver Arrows made terminal contact

With the tension between Hamilton and Rosberg boiling up more and more each year as the two battled it out to be the best in the sport, contact was inevitable. But when the two collided on the opening lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, taking both out drivers of the race, it appeared less was on the cards than what was actually happening behind the team’s closed doors.

For Hamilton felt that it was Rosberg who was at fault for the collision – with the German having started the race in the wrong engine mode, which meant he was slow through the opening corners, on top of forcing Hamilton off track as Lewis closed in on him as if Nico had an handbrake on. The team, though, refused to privately let alone publicly agree that it was 100% Rosberg’s fault.

Something that angered Hamilton so much so that it is believed he threatened to walk away and not drive for Mercedes again in 2016. Having already been 43-points down to Rosberg and now sat in the gravel missing a wheel after contact he believed was Nico’s doing.

The murmurings that Hamilton threatened to walk away from Mercedes, however, never truly picked up any pace until the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the final race of the year, where the championship could still go either way. As on race day, Hamilton was asked by Sky F1’s Martin Brundle: “After the crash in Spain there was a story you said ‘I’m going to stop, I’m going to give up’. Is there any truth to that?”

To which Hamilton replied: “That is all private stuff that is in the past,” not straight up denying nor confirming that he did or did not… Added to which was a Q&A he partook in from July, where Hamilton described Barcelona as a “massive low for me” and added: “There’s things you won’t know until I retire that I tell you that I experienced.”

Something he alluded to again at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix press conference when referring to the pre-season mechanic swap Mercedes ordered. Stating “You’ll have to buy my book down the line in ten years time when I tell you exactly what happened. It will be an interested read.”

An angry Ricciardo is not a better Ricciardo

Ricciardo missed out on victory in Spain as Red Bull ran alternating strategies before he picked up a late puncture. A decision Daniel felt cost him a victory Verstappen instead secured. And then came Monaco.

The 2016 Monaco Grand Prix was a master class by Ricciardo as he blitzed qualifying to put his ‘Bull on pole ahead of the Silver Arrows. And when rain fell on Sunday, Rosberg fell away. Holding up Hamilton in the process and allowing Daniel to pull away.

But when Ricciardo’s full wet tyres reached the limit of their use, a pit stop was needed. However, when Ricciardo arrived at his box, Red Bull wasn’t there with his tyres ready for the stop. Handing Hamilton the lead of the race as Lewis stretched the life of his tyres in order to switch straight onto slicks.

A matter of seconds less in the box waiting for his team would have seen Ricciardo emerge ahead of Hamilton and retain the lead of the race. Instead, frustration built as he failed to get ahead through the streets.

Once Hamilton and Ricciardo crossed the line in first and second, Daniel let his team know he was not pleased with their work as he radioed in: “Save it. Nothing you can say can make that any better.”

Thankfully, for Ricciardo, he would at least pick up one Grand Prix victory in 2016 at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton walks away from his smoking car. Copyright Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Lewis Hamilton walks away from his smoking car at the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix. Copyright Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Hamilton’s Malaysian GP set his title hopes on fire

With a mountain already overcome to take the championship lead into the summer, Hamilton then lost that lead as he took on a full engine change and banked further units in Belgium. Then when he pulled away slowly from pole in Italy, Rosberg capitalised to reduce Hamilton’s championship lead to just two points. A championship lead Rosberg would then take in Singapore with victory at the F1 night race.

But in the subsequent Malaysian Grand Prix, the championship lead was there for Hamilton’s taking once more as Rosberg was spun by Vettel at the start of the race. Putting a field between the Mercedes’ men, which Nico could mostly fight back through. Nevertheless, Hamilton was still out in front and set to regain the title advantage with Rosberg not even on the podium. But then disaster struck.

An engine failure eliminating Hamilton from the race, promoting Ricciardo into the lead and Rosberg onto the podium. Taking away Hamilton’s chance at going five-points clear, and instead allowing Rosberg to stretch his advantage to 23-points.

A lead Rosberg would again stretch with pole and victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, when Hamilton again struggled off the line and fell down the order. Only able to recover to third place, behind Verstappen, as Rosberg pulled to 33-points clear with four races to go. Enough to settle for second in each remaining round.

Lewis Hamilton leads Rosberg and Vettel over the line at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Lewis Hamilton leads Rosberg and Vettel over the line at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Copyright: Mercedes AMG F1 Team.

Mercedes’ wrong call on Abu Dhabi team-orders

With victories in America, Mexico and Brazil, while Rosberg claimed three-second places, Hamilton went into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix knowing Rosberg had to finish off the podium if Lewis were to retain his crown.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, Red Bull and Ferrari were not able to pose a threat to either Mercedes. So Lewis took things into his own hands and slowed his pace in order to force Rosberg back into the pack. Putting all his chips on the line in his bid for ultimate glory.

But with Vettel on a contrasting strategy and softer tyres, Mercedes felt he was a threat. A threat Mercedes believed needed dealing with and ordered Hamilton to up his pace to secure the win. Not thinking about how their drivers were battling for more than just the race.

“In the heat of the moment, sometimes when you make decisions you get them wrong,” Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
“In our mind, the way we think, this race was giving us the same number of points as other races and we try to win that one – not considering that there was much more at stake for the drivers.
“How the race panned out, we should have communicated differently and in hindsight let them race in the way they deemed to be appropriate.”

The ‘Verstappen’ under braking

One part of 2016 that will be remembered as a low point was the debacle regarding the ‘Verstappen’ defensive manoeuvre. In which Max defended against his experienced rivals by leaving it late and moving at the last moment once he saw what direction his opponent wished to take.

Never did his actions result in a driver retiring from a race, either. With only the Hungarian Grand Prix actually leading to contact when Raikkonen flicked back across the track as he aimed to avoid the Red Bull but lost part of his front wing.

Then again at the Belgian Grand Prix, and again against Raikkonen, Verstappen made a late move down the Kemmel Straight to prevent the Finn simply driving past with DRS. This instance leading to Kimi hitting the brakes when usually flat out. Once again, though, no punishment came the way of Verstappen.

No punishment was ever taken against Verstappen, in fact, for his defensive moves. Even when Mercedes appealed against his defence on Hamilton in Japan – where Lewis was forced to take to the run-off at the final chicane and settle for third place.

Mercedes’ appeal did, though, result in a clampdown on moves in the braking zone. With Charlie Whiting sending a letter to teams in America, stating: “Article 27.5 of the Sporting Regulations states that ‘…no car may be driven…in a manner which could be potentially dangerous to other drivers…’, furthermore, Article 27.8 prohibits any manoeuvre ‘…liable to hinder other drivers, such as…any abnormal change of direction’.

A clampdown that was then broke at the Mexican Grand Prix. And broken by Vettel, one of the leading drivers against the ‘Verstappen’, when an already angered Sebastian moved late to defend on Ricciardo after being held up by Verstappen – who cut the first corner and remained in front prior to his post-race penalty.

The already angered Sebastian also letting out a tyrant of rage over the radio. With some aimed at Charlie Whiting.

Nico Rosberg with the Formula One Drivers' Championship Trophy at the Mercedes Brackley factory. Copyright: Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg with the Formula One Drivers’ Championship Trophy at the Mercedes Brackley factory. Copyright: Nico Rosberg

Rosberg calls time with the title in hand

With his first Formula One championship successfully secured, Nico Rosberg called time on his career. Leaving Formula One aged just 31, a champion with 23 race wins to his name, 30 pole positions and 57 rostrum finishes in 10 years of racing.

Rosberg made his debut in F1 back at the 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix when he replaced Nick Heidfeld at Williams. Scoring points on his debut and setting the fastest lap of the race despite having an uncompetitive car and a damaged nose.

Four years on, Rosberg left the Williams team for pastures new and joined Mercedes as the Silver Arrows returned to Formula One after 55-years out. Partnering the seven-time world champion, Michael Schumacher, as the German stepped out of retirement.

Over the next three years, Rosberg out-scored, out-finished and generally out-done the “Regenmeister” to bring his talent to the forefront. Claiming his first pole and Grand Prix victory in China, before the legend that is Schumacher retired once more. Opening the door for Hamilton’s arrival at Mercedes in 2013.

Hamilton’s arrival at Mercedes came as a shock to many as he departed McLaren. But his switch from Woking to Brackley meant he was working back alongside a man he raced with as kids. Someone who he was once friends with, a friendship that would be strained from here on.

Their first year together at Mercedes saw the pair often challenging at the front of the order. Picking up the occasional strong result, but none more impressive than winning on the streets of Monaco. The start to a hat-trick of Monaco Grand Prix victories for Rosberg – a man who was raised there. Before winning his home Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring in 2014 as the Silver Arrows began their joust for title glory.

A joust that battled on for three years and now comes to an abrupt end. With Hamilton twice a champ for Mercedes, Rosberg twice a runner-up, but a winner in 2016. The title winner. Enough for Rosberg who called time after clinching the crown.

Jenson Button receives a guard of honour by McLaren ahead of his final Grand Prix. Copyright: McLaren.

Jenson Button receives a guard of honour by McLaren ahead of his final Grand Prix. Copyright: McLaren.

The end for Button and Massa

As the curtain fell on the 2016 Formula One season, the curtain fell on two great careers too. With Felipe Massa and Jenson Button racing their final Grand Prix’s.

For Jenson, his career in F1 began back in 2000 when BMW Williams gave the 20-year-old Somerset boy a shot following a shoot-out with Bruno Junqueira after Alex Zanardi left the team. Finishing his debut year eighth in the championship on 12-points.

But it was not until the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, when Jenson would win his first Grand Prix. Even after finishing the 2004 championship third in the standings.

Button’s 06 Hungarian win, however, would be his only win for the next three seasons before Honda pulled the plug on their F1 program – leaving Button without a drive.

With Honda out, Ross Brawn bought what he could of the team and entered the ’09 season as a privateer team. Racing Button alongside Barrichello for BrawnGP. A team that would go on to take both the drivers’ title and constructor’s championship in their only year in the sport. With Jenson taking six wins and four poles on way to his Formula One title.

As for Massa, the Brazilian’s time in Formula One began in 2002 with the Red Bull Sauber Petronas team. A team he would race for in 2002, 2004 and 2005, while joining Ferrari for 2003 as the team’s test driver.

Massa would then go on to join Ferrari as the team’s race driver for the 2006 season. Finishing his first season with the Italian outfit third in the standings, before fighting for the title against Hamilton in ‘08. A title he would miss out on by a single point.

Five years on, 2013 would prove to be Massa’s final season at Ferrari. Leaving Maranello with 11 victories to his name and joining Williams for 2014 to race alongside Valtteri Bottas.

At Williams, Felipe went on to achieve five more podium finishes. With his last coming at the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. Helping the team to two third-place finishes in the constructors’ standings.

          The unusual

Daniil Kvyat with the Halo fitted for USGP practice. Copyright Toro Rosso.

Daniil Kvyat with the Halo fitted for USGP practice. Copyright Toro Rosso.

Red Bull kick out Kvyat

With Max Verstappen making the impact in Formula One that he did during his debut year, his promotion to the Red Bull team at some stage seemed inevitable. But in the manner his promotion came about was rather unusual at the time. Especially given Kvyat had only just finished on the podium at the previous round to his departure.

In the end, Red Bull’s decision may have been successful in terms of their results. But for Kvyat, the team’s decision to demote the Russian back to Toro Rosso was more of a kick in Daniil’s teeth. A kick that he failed to shrug off for most of the season, often demoted, dejected and struggling for form.

Vettel’s Canadian springwatch

The Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel’s second chance at winning a race in 2016. But, alas, another chance he and Ferrari failed to capitalise on during their winless season.

Nevertheless, while battling with Hamilton for the lead of the Grand Prix, one thing did catch Vettel’s eye. Potentially leading to his lock-up at the first corner.

“The lap before the Virtual Safety Car I arrived into Turn 1 and I see this stupid couple of seagulls,” said Vettel to Hamilton.
“Just sitting there – all relaxed. I’m coming along at speed and my car is like red, it’s easy to see, it doesn’t blend in like yours [pointing at Hamilton].
“It wasn’t a pigeon, it was a seagull, I could see the beak. I didn’t know their names, but they were there. It was the worst moment of my race.”

Romain Grosjean, during FP2 at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Haas

Romain Grosjean, during FP2 at the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix. Copyright: Haas F1 Team.

Grosjean’s radio control

After kicking off the season with back-to-back points scoring finishes thanks to Romain Grosjean and the team’s strategic pit stops, Haas began to expect a points scoring finish would be a possibility at every race.

Unfortunately for Haas, this proved not to be the case as Romain went on to only secure three further points scoring finishes while Esteban Gutierrez ended the year scoreless. And while they failed to score points, their brakes often tended to fail. Leading to regular outbursts by their lead driver, on top of his occasional groan regarding the cars performance. Something that did not go down well with the team.