F1 2016: What to expect from the new season


Ahead of the new Formula One season, which kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday, we take a look at how the 2016 campaign is shaping up.

What's New?

The most noticeable change for the 2016 season will be the alterations to qualifying procedures. The three-session system remains, but drivers will now be eliminated one by one at 90-second intervals until - at the end of Q3 - two remain in a head-to-head battle for pole position.

On the tyre front, Pirelli have introduced a fifth compound known as 'ultrasoft', although the manufacturers have advised the new addition will only be available for street circuits.

The German Grand Prix - to be staged at Hockenheim - makes a welcome return to the calendar after a venue could not be secured in 2015, while the European Grand Prix, which last lent its name to the 2012 race in Valencia, will this year be staged on the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan.

In addition, the Russian Grand Prix moves from its October slot to become the fourth round of the season in May, while the Malaysian Grand Prix jumps to October to form a run of Asian races, sandwiched between Singapore and Japan.

Rookie Report

This season sees the arrival of a new team on the grid in the form of American outfit Haas, while Renault return following a takeover of the former Lotus team.

Renault boast one of only three rookie drivers to win F1 seats for the 2016 season, with Jolyon Palmer making the step up from test driver, while Manor hand debuts to Rio Haryanto - the first Indonesian to compete in the sport - and DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein.

Esteban Gutierrez (Haas) and Kevin Magnussen (Renault) return to the grid having missed out in 2015.

How They Look

There have been no major stylistic shifts for the new campaign, with most teams, including defending constructors' champions Mercedes, sticking with similar designs to those used in 2015.

Renault are yet to settle on their race livery after using a temporary black and yellow number in testing, while newcomers Haas go for a silver, red and black colour scheme that would not look out of place on a McLaren from the late 1990s to early 2000s.

Some teams experimented with a 'halo' protection system during the pre-season tests in Barcelona, splitting opinion among drivers and spectators alike. The shields - designed to protect the cockpit - will not be in evidence on the grid this season, but could return in some form in 2017.

Pre-Season Prognosis

Ferrari appeared to close the gap on Mercedes during eight days of testing in Barcelona, with Sebastian Vettel topping the timesheets on five occasions and Kimi Raikkonen setting the quickest time of all.

However, Mercedes, who displayed tremendous reliability, are still thought to hold the advantage and are expected to go even quicker when they turn up the engine to full qualifying mode.

Williams, Red Bull, Force India and Toro Rosso continue to look some way short of the leading duo. 

The Contenders

Critics of Formula One have, perhaps justifiably, labelled the sport predictable in recent years and the changes to qualifying are evidence of a desire to provide a shot in the arm.

The domination of Mercedes and drivers' champion Lewis Hamilton over the past two seasons shows few signs of slowing down, though, with the main threats to the Briton's bid for a third title in succession - he would be only the fourth man to achieve the feat - likely to come from team-mate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari's Vettel.

Vettel's team-mate Raikkonen will hope to have some say in the destination of the drivers' crown, while Williams look to make up ground to the top two constructors and Red Bull bid to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 campaign.

Look Out For...

- Can Max Verstappen maintain his development? The Dutchman caught the eye with Toro Rosso during his rookie season and was tipped as a future driver for one of F1's heavy hitters. The likes of Mercedes and Ferrari will have a keen eye on whether Verstappen can keep it up in 2016.

- Will McLaren recover from a dismal 2015 season? McLaren started last year with a driver line-up most teams would envy, boasting a pair of world champions in the form of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. However, their return to Honda power did not go well, finishing one from bottom in the constructors' standings without registering a podium finish.

- What happens if Red Bull encounter engine troubles? Red Bull's turbulent relationship with engine supplier Renault proved one of the main talking points in the paddock in 2015. The four-time constructors' champions had flirted with the idea of switching to Volkswagen power, but - after seemingly ruling out all other options - will be supplied by Renault once again in 2016. However, with the engines now Tag Heuer branded, team principal Christian Horner may have to tread carefully when criticising the power units for fear of upsetting the sponsors.