‘Congratulations’ and ‘Thank You’ are in order for Mercedes. Congratulations, for winning their third consecutive Constructors’ Championship in a typical dominant fashion. Thank you, for allowing their drivers, arch rivals and Drivers’ Championship contenders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, to fight tooth and nail to add excitement in what could’ve been an otherwise boring season of domination.
But for the average Formula One fan, who is keen to see multiple teams and drivers compete for top honours, would 2016 qualify as a season one would remember for time to come? From an overall state of competitiveness, maybe not, but for the fact that Formula One might just see a new World Champion be crowned, possibly. However, will 2016 be remembered for Rosberg’s maiden win or Hamilton’s failure in capturing his third consecutive and fourth title overall? For us, 2016 will be remembered for the rise of Max Verstappen.
Nico Rosberg’s seventh first-ever win of 2016
Nico Rosberg won the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix with similar zest, speed and enthusiasm showed in Singapore a few weeks ago. In fact, Rosberg topped all sessions on Friday and Saturday before claiming an almost unchallenged pole-to-flag win. He now leads the Drivers’ Championship over Hamilton by 33 points.
His win in Suzuka, also his first-ever at this circuit, was his ninth overall win of the season. Never before in the history of the sport has a driver lost the title after winning eight or more races. However, no other season has been as long as the current one – so this statistic could be misleading. Funnily enough, should Hamilton win the remaining four races of the season with Rosberg finishing second, he will still find himself losing his title, despite notching up 10 season wins (one more than Rosberg.) But for Rosberg, there’s some comfort in knowing that he can be beaten by Hamilton in every remaining race but still win his maiden title.
Niki Lauda, Mercedes’ non-executive Chairman, correctly stated post-race that unless there are unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, Hamilton will find it difficult to catch Rosberg. However, for Hamilton fans, they can keep the faith in knowing that only earlier this year, the Briton clawed back a 34 point deficit to Rosberg in only three races. Hamilton has four races to go to retain his title. Bring on the real Rosberg vs Hamilton battle.
Lewis Hamilton’s 2016 campaign has been marred with mechanical gremlins – most recent being the engine failure while leading the Malaysian Grand Prix. However, as ardent fans of the sport, we wish to see at least one on-track battle between the two title rivals. In most of the previous instances (like Spain and Austria,) Rosberg hasn’t always managed to emerge without damage to bodywork, either to his car alone or both. But that is true for most of his close quarter racing episodes off late (remember Raikkonen in Sepang?)
But while we await Rosberg vs Hamilton, fans were treated to the much-anticipated Verstappen vs Hamilton battle at Suzuka. The reigning World Champion was chasing down the Red Bull prodigy for second place who managed to thwart the single overtaking attempt by the Briton in typical Verstappen style. Result? An unsuccessful attempt that needed Hamilton to escape road and resume the race in third and radio a message of displeasure (on Verstappen’s movement under-braking) to the team.
Lewis Hamilton was un-Hamilton like
Hamilton’s weekend in Suzuka wasn’t Hamilton-like at all, both on and off track. We wonder if the unlucky 0.013 seconds gap between himself and Rosberg was to blame at all. He started the race from P2, but found himself demoted to P8 at the end of the opening lap after yet another erroneous start. Off track, his use of Snapchat during an official FIA press conference didn’t go down too well with the world media and if that wasn’t enough, he walked out of the post-qualifying media interactions scheduled by Mercedes.
To make matters worse for Hamilton, Mercedes lodged a strange late protest post-race against Verstappen’s move, prompting the FIA to investigate further. Given that both drivers (Verstappen and Hamilton) were no longer present at the circuit, the FIA declared that the investigation would happen in Austin – the venue for the upcoming 2016 United States Grand Prix. This also meant that the official results from Japan would be deemed provisional for a fortnight – not an ideal spot for the sport to be in, or the current Drivers’ Championship battle.
Many wondered if Mercedes were prompted or pressured by Hamilton to lodge the protest in an attempt to classify him in second place and reduce his championship deficit to Rosberg. However, Hamilton tweeted that it wasn’t his intention to do so and was surprised that the team did so themselves. This drama ended by Mercedes withdrawing the protest.
Missed Chances For Ferrari Again, Mclaren Abysmal At Honda’s Circuit
Ferrari’s questionable tyre strategy saw both their drivers being robbed of possible podium finishes. This, despite Hamilton’s poor start that saw both their drivers maintain track position ahead of the struggling World Champion driver. The Italian team, who are yet to register a win this season, could do better by beefing up their strategy team too. Strangely, in the pre-race chatter, Ferrari chief Maurizio Arrivabene stated that Sebastian Vettel would need to earn his place with the Scuderia for 2018. Is this an early sign of a crack appearing in the Vettel-Ferrari relationship? Could Sebastian Vettel go the Fernando Alonso way?
At the home circuit of their engine manufacturers Honda, Mclaren could only manage a 16th and 18th in the race after struggling in qualifying as well. Alonso’s post-race statement – ‘we lacked downforce to tackle the faster corners’ – indicate that it isn’t the Honda engine alone that isn’t delivering for them. How much longer will Mclaren-Honda and even Fernando Alonso endure these lowly results?
And for the Indian Formula One fans, Force India further cemented their fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship when Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh and ninth – ahead of rivals Williams. Force India’s consistency must be lauded – they’ve finished in the points 13 out of the 17 races contested yet. As for Williams, they’ve won the ‘fastest pit-stop of the race’ award, almost a non-award in terms of prize money, 13 times out of 17. Though the Indian-owned team confirmed Sergio Perez last week, there was much chatter that Nico Hulkenberg could make an unexpected move to Renault for 2017. At this moment, any decision to move to Renault would be purely on gut, feel and risk. They’re a manufacturer team, of course, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee results; case in point, Mclaren-Honda. And of course, 2016 form isn’t an indicator for 2017.
Finally, Formula One tested and delivered a live pit-to-car radio interview (with Rosberg) during the qualifying session in Japan. Are these the sign of times to come to increase fan engagement and driver interactions in the future? A welcome move, no doubt.