It is time for the talking to start and for the drivers to take to the track. With pre-season testing reduced to just two four day sessions this year, teams have had less track time to prepare for the upcoming season.
The main talking point going into the 2016 season is whether or not Ferrari will be able to close the gap to Mercedes. The Scuderia showed positive signs in testing however it is well known that you cannot take testing times at face value. Mercedes completed the most mileage of anyone but suffered a breakdown on the final day showing that reliability issues can strike and will strike at any time. The Mercedes team has been the dominant force for the past two seasons but can Ferrari take a sustained season long fight to them? Secondly, Nico Rosberg was the on form driver in Mercedes at the close of 2015 – can he maintain his form?
As well as a record breaking 21 race calendar, there is an extended grid with Haas joining. There will be three rookies on the grid this season – Jolyon Palmer steps up to a race seat with Renault while Manor has chosen to run DTM champion and Mercedes backed driver Pascal Wehrlein alongside Rio Haryanto. Making their return to the Formula One grid will be Kevin Magnussen – getting a race seat at Renault – with Esteban Gutierrez driving for Haas. Romain Grosjean has made the move from Lotus to Haas with the rest of the grid remaining as it was for 2015.
The Australian Grand Prix will once again play host to the start of the season and it is a race where there can be a lot of attrition as teams run their cars in full race mode for the first time.
Circuit: Albert Park
Number of Laps: 58
Circuit Length: 5.303km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:24.125 Michael Schumacher (2004)
Previous Australian GP winners still on the grid: 5
Most Successful Team: McLaren (12 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium, Soft and Supersoft
For 2016 the technical regulations have remained fairly stable ahead of bigger changes in 2017. There is still scope for teams to improve though and eyes will be on certain teams in particular. One such team will be McLaren following their tumultuous 2015 reunion with engine partner Honda. They had a much more reliable winter, completing more laps in one day at the opening test than they managed over four days at the first test last year. The team are confident they have made gains performance wise but it remains to be seen where they will feature in the pecking order. Renault return to the fray as a constructor for the first time since 2009. They have Kevin Magnussen joining them after a year on the sidelines and it was in Melbourne he took his one and only podium to date in F1 back in 2014 with McLaren.
The last time new teams joined Formula One, they clearly struggled. Only Manor remains of those three teams and Haas will be hoping they won’t meet the same fate as HRT and Caterham. The Haas F1 project has been a long time coming and suggestions are they could be fighting for points straight away. With experienced driver and podium finisher Romain Grosjean on board and former Ferrari test driver Esteban Gutierrez, they have a line-up who are certainly capable of performing.
Elsewhere Red Bull will be racing with their Tag Heuer branded engines and hoping for better fortunes than last year. Sister team Toro Rosso has made the switch back to Ferrari engines for this year and both their drivers – Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen – will be hoping for as good a season, if not better, that they both enjoyed in their rookie year.
It’s all change at Manor with two rookies taking over from last year’s drives. Pascal Wehrlein is the reigning DTM driver while Rio Haryanto enjoyed his best ever GP2 performance in 2015. Force India will be hoping to at least maintain their performance from last year where they finished a best ever fifth in the constructors championship. Williams and Sauber will run with the same drivers as they raced in 2015 and both teams will hope to make steps forward from their respective positions.
For the season ahead there are new Pirelli tyre rules and a new qualifying format which could shake up proceedings. An elimination style qualifying will take place, with cars being eliminated throughout Q1, Q2, and Q3 rather than just at the end of each session. Drivers also get to choose what tyre compounds they want from the three nominated by Pirelli. It is hoped this will lead to a bigger variation in strategies, thus shaking up the racing.