The 2015 Formula 1 season provided few surprises toward the front of the grid, with Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton maintaining their superiority. But, with the new season just two-and-a-half months away, there is plenty of intrigue about what may lie ahead, particularly for the sport’s three biggest-name teams -- Mercedes, Ferrari and McClaren. Testing in Barcelona next month will provide a clearer picture of where the teams are at, but for the time being here’s how they are shaping up as the new year begins.
Mercedes have dominated Formula 1 over the past two years, winning the constructors’ championship by close to 300 points on each occasion. Although Ferrari were able to close the gap last season, the biggest threat to Mercedes in the year ahead could come from within.
The relationship between drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has been strained since they battled tooth and nail for the title two years ago, and, although the fight for the championship wasn’t nearly as close, the problems only continued last season. Those tensions became all-too public when Rosberg reacted indignantly to Hamilton tossing him a second-place cap after clinching a second straight title. The issue has reached such a point that Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has even suggested they may not be able to continue with both drivers, while subsequently floating the idea of allowing both drivers to devise individual strategies. With Rosberg hitting back on the track to win the last three races of 2015, further problems could be around the corner.
The most prestigious name in Formula 1 came back to prominence in 2015 and proved the closest challengers to the dominant Mercedes. Having moved over from Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel claimed a victory in just his third race for the Italian team. While that didn’t prove the precursor to a serious title challenge, the four-time drivers’ champion did claim the checkered flag twice more before the season’s end. And they will hope to close the gap further in 2016, especially with engineer Jack Clear now having started work after his controversial switch from Mercedes a year ago and subsequent enforced hiatus.
But if Ferrari are to be a serious threat to Mercedes in the constructors’ race, then they will need far more from Kimi Raikkonen. The veteran Finn was handed a contract extension midway through last season, but it seemed that it was a decision based more on the lack of alternatives than Raikkonen’s own performances. Having been hugely outperformed by his teammate once again, the former world champion needs to step up in 2016.
The good news for McLaren is that things can hardly get any worse in 2016. For a team that has won eight constructors’ championships, 2015 was nothing short of a humiliation. The storied British constructor amassed just 27 points last season to finish ninth of the 10 teams. For Fernando Alonso it was a particularly painful year. The Spaniard had left Ferrari in search of a car that would enable him to add to his two titles won with Benetton a decade earlier, but instead found himself floundering at the back of the grid.
The chief culprit for the struggles endured by Alonso and his fellow former world champion teammate Jenson Button was the Honda engine, which lacked speed and reliability. A new engine has been in the works since the middle of last season and McLaren are speaking bullishly about the improvements it will enable them to make. But then McLaren spoke with similar confidence a year ago. They surely have to get things right quickly in 2016, or Alonso, who it has even been suggested could take a sabbatical for the coming season, will surely lose patience.