The Renault revival
Don’t expect too much from this one to begin with. The fact Renault has renewed its commitment by becoming a factory entity again is a real boost for F1, but it will take time to deliver results.
Success requires serious investment, and that is something the Enstone operation that forms the basis of Renault’s plans seriously lacked last season. Renault needs to re-open closed departments, get in-season development back to normal and hire new staff to expand the operation – something which isn’t easy in these days of extended ‘gardening leave’.
The deal to buy Lotus was late, which meant compromises in mating the latest Renault power unit to the RS16 chassis (which itself is based on 2015’s Mercedes-engined E23).
Renault’s new racing director Frederic Vasseur points out that it took Mercedes five years to win the world championship, having purchased a title-winning infrastructure from Brawn GP. That is the “roadmap” that he must now chart for Renault.
This is year one so don’t expect miracles. Kevin Magnussen expects to be fighting for the lower reaches of Q3 on a good day and picking up points where possible. Repeating Lotus’s top-six effort of 2015 without the advantage of Mercedes power is a tall order. Top seven in the championship is probably the realistic target for 2016.
Formula 1 didn’t feel right without Williams near the sharp end. Its return to competitiveness in 2014 was a relief to British fans and although it has yet to win a race in its renaissance, it is knocking on the door very hard.
The team has always been good at high-speed tracks and it uses its Mercedes powerplant well. Team bosses say they have worked hard on weaknesses from 2015, which were its performance in slow-speed corners and pace in the wet.
Williams has always been based on solid engineering principles, and those will have been put to good use to push the team closer to the Big Two, Ferrari and Mercedes.
Williams may be aiming high this season, but it might not quite have all the ingredients in place to mount a title challenge. Consolidation after a solid 2015 season is the realistic target for the 2016 campaign.
Felipe Massa has shown that he still deserves a seat at the top table and was even able to shade the highly rated Valtteri Bottas on several occasions last season.
The acrimony between Red Bull and Renault last season was one of the more ugly subplots of the 2015 campaign and it eventually ended in a divorce, and then a lengthy negotiation about access to the kids.
In the end, Red Bull will still have Renault engines but they will be badged as TAG Heuer units and the development programme will be up to the Milton Keynes team itself.
This is a big step for the former F1 dominator – if it can’t keep up with engine developments and gets overtaken by its former buddy Renault, then there will be red faces as well as Red Bull. If it fails and Renault takes the upper hand, then all that moaning and grumbling from Christian Horner last year will be put firmly in to perspective.
Red Bull has set itself some modest targets for the season, and bosses say its aim is to get “closer to its rivals”. Hmm…
Daniel Ricciardo is a star of the future, while Daniil Kvyat’s reputation needs a boost. It seems unlikely that either of them will have the career breakthrough they need in 2016.