As the sun finally sets on Formula One’s longest ever season, the heat of battle begins to fade, allowing the sport to take stock on exactly what happened over the past nine months of racing.
Though often criticised for the unprecedented strain it put on those working in the Formula One bubble, the record-breaking 21-race calendar has an upside in this regard: no season has presented such a large sample size.
So with that in mind The Roar looks back on the 2016 Formula One season, starting with the almost point-less but nonetheless important backmarkers.
Manor versus Sauber
The battle at the very back of the grid is the most underrated fight in Formula One: regardless of the points, the two rearmost teams are battling for $45 million of baseline prize money for finishing tenth.
For Manor a tenth-place finish would validate the recovery work undertaken since its 2014–15 near-death experience alongside inking a deal with Mercedes for engines and to blood its test drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and, later, Esteban Ocon.
Fittingly it was Wehrlein, when he was still partnering the pacey and unfairly maligned Rio Haryanto, who scored that precious point in Austria in one of the German’s many standout performances in outclassed machinery.
Fortunately for Sauber, which had been teetering on the brink of collapse for months, fiscal salvation was only weeks away, and soon the mysteriously-titled Longbow Finance bought 100 per cent of the team, guaranteeing its short-term future.
With the extra cash Sauber was able to unlock its potential, and Felipe Nasr scored two points at his home Brazilian Grand Prix to slot the team back into P10, where it remained.
It’s hard to fault either team. Manor has operated a competent team on a shoestring budget – even needing to dump Haryanto for the Mercedes-funded Ocon – and is slowly but confidently building steam.
Sauber put the walls up since it became obvious it was haemorrhaging staff tired of inconsistent pay, but Monisha Kaltenborn, for all her apparent divisiveness, doggedly pursued the lifesaving Longbow deal.
The Swiss-based Sauber is financially poised to take a step forward in 2017, however, whereas Manor may be reliant on a possible imminent sale to stay in the mix for the top 10 – ironic given the latter arguably outperformed the former given their relative standing.
Manor-Mercedes – 6/10
Sauber-Ferrari – 4/10
Lotus’s sixth-place finish in 2015 flattered – the owners invested hardly a cent on the 2016 programme in anticipation of a Renault sale. The French manufacturer’s return has been a disaster as a result.
Cash flow has eased the team’s troubles, but the Renault has been mired an incomprehensible management hierarchy that has left engineers unwilling to take the money bait and rejoin the team, putting it behind in its rebuild schedule.
The all-new driver line-up hasn’t helped, and Renault’s reluctance to re-sign either Jolyon Palmer or Kevin Magnussen at the end of the season is indicative of the way neither has impressed.
The one bright patch in Renault’s 2016 story has been its power unit, which has developed sufficient to propel Red Bull Racing into race-winning contention this year – but the disconnect between the engine base and chassis factory is yet another problem for the team to solve.
Still, the manufacturer potential has been enough to lure perennial ‘next big thing’ Nico Hülkenberg to the team next season to partner Palmer – but 2016 has been a year to forget, even with its low expectations.
Renault – 3/10
If Formula One craves unpredictability, it got it with Haas. It started life with a promising Ferrari customer deal, suffered with a seemingly endless list of problems during pre-season testing, and then scored points on debut in Melbourne with star recruit Romain Grosjean.
The season went largely downhill from there, however, with only four more points-scoring finishes in the next 20 races due to a combination of technical problems, most often with the brakes, and operational errors.
But this is to be expected for a brand-new team. The entire squad must first gel together to become as well-oiled a machine as the car they intend to operate and then must learn the intricacies of the multitude of parts they didn’t design themselves. Like any piece of Ikea furniture, you never get it right the first time.
Given the difficulty of the task and the team’s attitude Haas absolutely gets a pass mark for 2016.
Though only weak link in the chain, though it’s sad to say it, was Esteban Gutierrez, who was messily dropped for Kevin Magnussen. The Mexican finished eleventh five times in his fruitless quest for points, but to be regularly outclassed by your teammate is always a black mark against your name.
Haas – 7/10
What did you make of the battle at the back? Which teams and drivers impressed, and which let you down? Leave a comment blow.
On Monday we’ll look at the tight and tense 2016 midfield tussle.
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