Well its been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog, but life has gotten in the way of things once again. But on the whole I have been watching this years Grand Prix championships on both 2 and 4 wheels. It is at this time of year that the pieces start to fall into place for 2016 and with Kimi Raikkonen staying on at Ferrari the pieces are starting to fall into place. But it’s not just drivers that have been subject to silly season this year, the return of competitive engine developments (the old V8’s were heavily locked down and were all very similar in terms of performance) have seen the power train become one of the most hotly debated parts of 2015’s silly season.
Mercedes and Ferrari are set to retain their drivers for next year as both teams will make an assault on the world championship in 2016 after Ferrari’s huge gains after making a mis-step with its engine design for the first year of the V6 hybrids. However Raikkonen is likely to race only one more year for the Scuderia as his contract has been announced as 1 year with no option to extend from either party. While Merecedes look fairly stable they have Pascal Wehrlein waiting in the wings (the 20-year-old currently leads the DTM championship and has impressed in F3) and Nico Rosberg is likely to be out of contact at the end of 2016 or 2017. Sauber have also opted to retain their drivers being the first team to confirm its 2016 plans (well apart from Mercedes who have both pilots under contract until at least the end of next year and their not doing half bad) and will continue with Ferrari power.
With Raikkonen staying put at Ferrari, Williams will again have Massa and Bottas driving the Martini liveried car. However Massa is 34 years old and the team also has GP3 champion Alex Lynn in its ranks (who sits 5th in his first year of GP2) so it could be possible to see the Britain make a few practice outings this year if the team or Massa himself decide is time for younger blood in the cockpit.
2015 has been a unmitaged disaster for Renault with the Red Bull teams (their only remaining customers) giving the team an ear full in the press all season. The engine team did little development over the winter and arrived at the first race of the year in worse shape than the previous one and this has proved too much for even the Red Bull chassis to overcome. Adding insult to injury Renault have yet to bring any engine upgrades at all to the track this year to improve matters. The power plants have proved not only slow but un-reliable as well leaving the Red Bull teams unable to compete at the sharp end despite both squads developing impressive chassis and aerodynamic packages. The divorce has been all but announced and the teams will return to Ferrari power for at least the next two seasons, with BBC reporting that they will bring the VW group to the sport to either buy out the team or at the very least provide them with engines. Im not 100% convinced on this rumour but Stefano Domenicali has been at Audi for the past 18 months not doing a whole lot with his time from the outside so one assumes he’s up to something below the surface.
This leaves Renault with no one to supply for next year but its an open secret that the French marque are trying to get a bargain basement deal for their previous works team. After all Renault shouted the loudest about changing the engine rules to the current format and have been resoundly beaten, so leaving all together may not provide the best return on investment. The deal is all but done as Lotus are perilously low on cash and could be wound up before the end of the season. The main reason for the delay is Renault are trying to extract maximum bonus for their historical performance from CVC (Bernie) who obviously aren’t keen to fund Renault out of their own pockets but may have little to no choice in the matter. As for drivers it looks like Grosjean has jumped ship and the team announced Pastor “Money Crash Bags” Maldonado will continue with the team next year. The timing of the announcement was curious with the press release circulated after everyone had left Singapore or asleep meaning no one could question anyone on the announcement.
Elsewhere in the mid-field the last remaining piece of the puzzle will be the final Force India drive (Hulkenberg has been retained) with Sergio Perez in the frame but interested in the second drive at Lotus/Renault but seems to be biding his time to see what the result will be with the Enstone team. Joylean Palmer is rumoured to be in this mix along with Magnussen and Jean Eric-Vergne but with only one birth available between them (Perez probably has his pick of them) there is plenty to choose from there.
McLaren have endured their worst season in their long history and have failed to get close to a podium and have suffered with both power and reliability from the brand new Honda unit. It remains to be seen if the Japanese manufactuer can turn in around for 2016 but it looks increasinly likely that Jenson Button has had enough and will retire from the sport and head off to WEC, Rallycross and/or a TV career. The decision is expected to be announced this week and then we will probably wait far too long for the team to pick between Magnussen and Vandoorne.
At the back of the grid its all change with Manor moving to Merecedes power and will give the German marque a junior team in return for engine, gearbox etc. (basically as much as they can get). It should make the team more competitive finally after years of bringing up the rear and not getting close to bothering anyone, however as for drivers Mercedes are very keen to place Wehrlein in the team alongside Alexander Rossi (who will see out the season with Manor) to increase their prescense in the U.S.
Finally Haas will pick up the peices but I fully expect the team to be somewhere near the back despite all the right positive noises that they are doing it properly. But there are already 9 teams on the grid doing it properly and I can’t see them crusing into the midst of the mid-field. However Romain Grosjean looks like he’s placing a bet on the US team to produce something competitive and has left a factory team (brave? foolish?) to join the new outfit. He looks likely to be joined by Esteban Guitierrez mostly for commercial reasons as the Mexican looked woefully out of his depth at Sauber during his first stint in F1.