With the 2016 Formula Season flagging off this weekend, a lot of people are already getting excited to see how the new rules and regulations, as well as a reshuffled drivers paddock, would affect the on-circuit action.
This season sees a lot of change in technical and sporting regulations, in terms of the new qualifying format, new ‘ultrasoft’ tyres, bigger and wider cars and many more. The calendar is jam packed with 21 races and six back to back weekends.
Not to mention, there are quite a number of stunning rookies and we’re absolutely thrilled to see how newcomers Haas F1 will perform. With a total of 11 teams and 22 drivers competing for the ultimate title before it ends this November, will there be an upset? Or will it be Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes again? Can Ferrari take on Mercedes? Will Haas make a glamorous start?
To simplify all your questions, we have taken the liberty to provide you detailed information on the top five drivers to look forward to, not just in Australia, but throughout the year.
1. NICO ROSBERG
Yes, he crashed his car during the practice session yesterday, and that only shows how determined he is to push his car to the limits this year. Predictably, he was up there with Lewis Hamilton again, during the qualifying session earlier today.
The German scored a one-two for Mercedes last year with a total of 322 points, just 59 points behind his champion team mate. The intra-team rivalry has soared up to greater levels within a year and some even claimed that the two are starting to resemble legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost after their collision in Spa (Belgium) 2014 – though the comparison seems a bit too heavy. Although we cannot deny that both of them have started showing their true emotions after every race (the poker face is not working).
Not to mention, with the radio clampdown, the rivalry with the two is much more heated- definitely worth watching for the dramatic fans. If you assumed team boss Toto Wolff is shaking his head over the two, you are downright wrong. Wolff himself was fairly compliant to let the two display their rivalry on track.
To cut ties on the drivers and let them wander but still wanting to have control on both of them seems like a rather ludicrous action but Wolff stated that after the incident in Spa, the outcome was ironically inclined to a positive one.
The 44 year-old Austrian even compared F1 to boxing, claiming that controversy and animosity is the best medium to help the drivers emulate one another besides gathering attention towards the sport. With the leash unlocked, you can bet that the atmosphere on the track will then resemble Senna and Prost, or even Nigel Mansell vs Nelson Piquet.
Rosberg has yet to win a championship and nothing is stopping him from cracking the nil this year. With pumped up spirit, improved skills and the green light to tackle his own teammate, the German is definitely one of the greatest threats in the competition.
Despite being a father to his newborn child, the nice guy image will be stripped off and all desires for a win will be set free. They say don’t play with fire if you don’t want to get burnt. Is there anyone who’s willing to take up the challenge and fight Nico Rosberg?
2. SEBASTIAN VETTEL
Of course there is.
If you’ve kept up with his interviews throughout the years, you’d realize that Vettel is one of those drivers that does not look as serious as he actually is. The German driver dons a quirky personality and usually elevates the atmosphere by spewing jokes in press conferences. He even has a history of unusual names given to his title-winning cars- Randy Mandy, Luscious Liz, Kinky Kylie and Hungry Heidi. And how can we forget Kate’s Dirty Sister during his 2009 Red Bull debut.
The point is, a lot of people seem to be putting the spotlight towards Rosberg and Hamilton and Vettel is only seen as a threat to disrupt Mercedes instead of being a candidate for the title. The Rosberg-Hamilton-Vettel triumvirate made headlines in every single race and will continue to do so this year.
It is too early to predict whether or not Vettel can take Ferrari all the way to a triumph but what can be assumed is that Vettel has got his A game on. His first year with Ferrari last year was unquestionably stellar. More importantly, he’s looked relatively stellar in practice sessions.
With Rosberg pushing Hamilton out of his sight this season, this indirectly opens more doors for Vettel to challenge the Silver Arrows.
Still hesitating? The four-time world champion led 176 laps last year and was the only driver apart from the Mercedes duo to hit triple figures. With his upgraded Ferrari, there’s no doubt Vettel is starting to shift gears to spearhead across the chequered flags to retrieve his throne.
In accordance to the Scuderia improvements and assessing the overall advantages, the Prancing Horses may just be yet another frontrunner this season. Can they end their ninth-year absence of titles? #ForzaFerrari
3. LEWIS HAMILTON
Admit it, you saw this coming. Hamilton, Hamilton. Now this is interesting.
Typical candidate for a top five but we’ll tell you exactly why he is non-excludable. Hamilton scored the overall title last year in the US Grand Prix to grant Mercedes their second consecutive win and set huge amount of records. He also had his dream come true by levelling his idol Ayrton Senna’s number of titles. The Briton was in great form last year and in fact, he could have had his title sooner if it weren’t for the team’s mishaps – yes, the one in Monaco.
Despite his win, The 30 year-old was said to be overjoyed by his victory and ended up losing the remaining three races to team mate Rosberg. Former McLaren driver David Coulthard even criticized- or ‘observed’- Hamilton for being a little too lackadaisical in his preparations, claimed that his full on social habits could take a toll of him and cost him a hat-trick.
Known for being an F1 rebel with his sleeve of tattoos, piercings, signature gold chains, monochrome attire and boisterous social life, Hamilton is indeed an ongoing worry for his legion of fans, as well as his team.
Nods are given, eyes start to roll to the top corner because Coulthard does make sense BUT does his social life really determine his capability? He may be sitting front row in the Paris Fashion Week, recording music with rappers and walking down the red carpet with supermodels but Lewis Hamilton is a man who sets boundaries between work and leisure. He has long been engaging in his hobbies and if he were to be easily swayed by it, could he have won three titles?
Some may say the new qualifying format would be a challenge for a traditionalist like Hamilton. This is true as he does favour the old fashion format but one thing for sure is that he has an ability to adapt and is not a person to let such a petty obstacle come his way. And believe it or not, he has proven his mettle by claiming pole at the Australian Grand Prix!
4. Romain Grosjean
The first three was generic but inevitable. Romain Grosjean however, is different. After the qualifying session today, he would never come across to anyone as a superstar. He is usually not a driver any champion would worry about but following his switch to the new American team Haas, there seems to be much progress in what he can bring to the sport.
Haas, named after founder Gene Haas, is the first American-led team since Carl Haas’ Haas Lola ages ago. The team that is based mainly in North Carolina will be making its debut this season with Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez as its representatives. The team will be sporting Ferrari engines and seems to have established a very close relationship with the team lately.
There’s no doubt that Haas could be major darkhorses, and while it may take some time for them to get off the blocks, even Grosjean is convinced that they have what it takes to make it big in 2016.
Grosjean may not be able to take Haas to its first title as it’s way too soon for it, but Haas can definitely pose a threat to teams like Force India, Sauber, McLaren and maybe even Red Bull. He has already excelled in the Ferrari simulator and if he continues to do so in his Haas’ car, he is definitely worthy of being a darkhorse that could potentially ruin things for the bigger kids. He is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
5. MAX VERSTAPPEN
He was never going to miss this list, was he? Especially after securing fifth spot at the qualifying sessions of the Australian GP. He’s visibly carrying momentum he gained from what was an exhilarating 2015.
Verstappen, only 18 at that point, was able to get himself nominated for a Laureus Breakthrough Award after his wonderful heroics last season. He was given the FIA Rookie of the year award alongside the FIA Action of the Year accolade for his stunt against Sauber’s Felipe Nasr at the particularly difficult Blanchimont corner of the Belgian GP last year.
The Toro Rosso racer also managed to swell in the overtaking section and made a wonderful impression with his performance. He is the man to watch if you love tracks with sharp corners and tight hairpins as you’ll be treated to the classic ‘Max Attack’
Toro Rosso will not be using Renault power units this year. Instead, they have opted to use Ferrari’s engines from last year – an intriguing change. Despite Verstappen’s aims to just do well, Franz Tost wants podium finishes. Perhaps laying low on the idea of podiums would be better but anything can happen with the plethora of changes that’s taking place in Formula One this year.
Overall, Verstappen is definitely one to keep an eye on – this could very well be season for his career to make a paradigm shift.
That sums up our list! What are your thoughts on the list? Do you think there’s someone else we have to keep an eye on? Let us know by commenting below!