New aerodynamic regulations for this season as well as a reset of the ERS could result in a significant shake-up in the runner order for 2016. Pre-season testing has seen some teams perform better than expected and others way down the order and potentially facing a development season. Where abouts could the eclectic eleven finish? Probably not in this order, but let’s have a go anyway!
11th – FJR-Judd (M)
FJR were optimistic in the build up to pre-season testing with early abandonment of their 2015 car, but instead, they enter 2016 on the back foot after what team boss James Brickles described as “one of the most baffling pre-seasons in the team’s history.” The car could hardly break away from the rear of the timesheets on pure pace wherever the circuit. The reason? Well, the car didn’t actually look too bad in the corners, so it must be their latest Judd engine, which recorded comfortably the lowest top speeds of anyone. With them and the team under pressure to perform, and other manufacturers expressing an interest to supply engines to FJR, the Yorkshire team could well go through a season of transition, which won’t impress Kevin Magnussen and in particular Nico Hulkenberg, who joins the team having spent his entire career so far with Mitchell.
10th – Willows-Ilmor (M)
Willows were forced to endure a very trying and ultimately unsuccessful championship defence in 2015, and they could face another challenging season ahead of them. They have one of the more inexperienced driver line-ups this season with Stoffel Vandoorne entering his second season in FF1M, and the explosive Max Verstappen making his debut. Having enjoyed one of the strongest qualifying engines during last season, the Ilmor engine could find itself in catch-up mode thanks to the ERS reset. Like FJR, pre-season testing hasn’t brought about great speed, but if Willows go aggressive in the races like they did in 2015, then that could give their young drivers the motivation to go for some points.
9th – GRM-Megatron
GRM enjoyed their best season to date in 2015 with two wins for Valtteri Bottas, who himself challenged for the runner-up spot in the drivers championship. A switch to Megatron engines has so far proven highly risky as their reliability during the Bahrain test was shocking with no less than three stoppages. Like last season, GRM have favoured the hard tyres throughout pre-season testing, so their true pace may well be hidden. The engine showed some decent power, and if it works, then this team could earn a few good results and maybe a podium of two for Bottas and Carlos Sainz, but if reliability remains true to form, then this team could slip down the order through very little fault of their own.
8th – Andrew Racing-Climax
Things started off so rosily for Andrew Racing in 2015 but then the team faded as the season went on. This was in spite of a low-key pre-season, and once again, they didn’t look to be in the best of shapes during pre-season for 2016 with Antonio Felix da Costa and Nikita Mazepin mostly in the bottom half aside from the final day at Kyalami. Mazepin also didn’t endear himself too well with other drivers as he showed an unwillingness to simply move out of the way. The team are hoping that their Climax has just as good an ERS system as they did last season, otherwise they’re in for a tough season.
7th – Meister-Climax
Having taking over from the departing Horizon, Meister took to the main FF1M series like a duck to water in 2015 with a brilliant and comfortable runner-up in the constructors championship. This included seven pole positions, ten podium finishes, and a win for Felipe Massa at the Hungaroring. For 2016, pre-season testing has shown some mixed results for the team as they favoured running on the hard tyres, and repeating their success of 2015 looks to be a much more challenging prospect, but their improved pace on the final day of testing at Kyalami will give them cause for optimism, plus it is likely that their Climax engine will carry them to good qualifying results.
6th – Shake ‘n’ Bake-Megatron (M)
In some ways, Shake ‘n’ Bake outperformed their car during 2015 thanks to their star driver Sebastian Vettel taking five wins including four in a row. Furthermore, Vettel could consider himself unlucky to be unsuccessful in defending his second drivers championship as he potentially lost another five wins due to unreliability. In fact, the Yorkshire team suffered the worst reliability of all teams in 2015 with just a 55% reliability rating, and this trend could be set to continue into 2016 as the car appeared to be decent in the hands of young American Nolan Bryant, who impressed onlookers with his pace, but reliability appears to be on a knife edge with a number of issues still remaining.
5th – Pedersen-Mugen
Pedersen’s return to Mugen could see them return to the front, particularly in the hands of Nico Rosberg, who will be competing in his final FF1M season before retiring to probably become a media personality. He comfortably topped the final day of testing, so could make a challenge for the drivers championship. One big question mark comes from his teammate, Nicholas Latifi. The Canadian will be making the big step from FF2M into the top level series, and although he showed not too badly in pre-season testing, his inexperience could prevent Pedersen from challenging for the constructors championship.
4th – Exolite-Megatron
Exolite’s 2015 season was another miserable one as they finished last in the championship despite two world champion drivers in the form of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Just one podium finish for Hamilton at Silverstone was the highlight, but 2016 looks far more promising as they looked very quick in pre-season testing in the hands of Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean. If team boss James Whiteley is more attentive to his testing schedule, then this team could be the surprise package of 2016 and maybe a dark horse, but reliability from their new Megatron engine is a big question mark.
3rd – Mitchell-Mugen
For the past two seasons, Mitchell were predicted to do well but didn’t live up to expectations. This prediction risks doing the same thing again, but this time, they genuinely have a strong chance at winning their first championship in the hands of Lewis Hamilton, who was blisteringly quick during pre-season testing, although the lowest lap total of all teams could be a hindrance. The reason why Mitchell are only predicted 3rd rather than 1st is partly because the constructors championship is a close one to call, but mostly because I’ve been wrong about them at least twice already. I actually believe Mitchell are the favourites, but for the moment, I’ve put them in a cautious 3rd.
2nd – Tornado-Climax (M)
It seems as if the constructors championship could be between two of the louder teams on the grid. For Tornado, they would obviously be hoping to challenge for championship glory once again having done the double in 2015. They currently share the record for the most constructors championships with Gui Cramer’s team with seven each, but they were unusually quiet during pre-season testing aside from Kimminen topping day 2 of the manufacturers test and exclusive use of the soft tyres. However, they spent big on this year’s engine and Climax runners being somewhere in the midfield in pre-season suggests a high ERS spend. If that’s the case, then Tornado will, as usual, put up a championship fight with qualifying being a potentially significant strength.
1st – Gojira-Mugen (M)
On paper, Gojira have the most complete package in the field, no doubt aided by their rocketship of a Mugen engine, which had clearly benefitted from the ERS reset as their customers frequently topped the timesheets during pre-season, and the dependable line-up of Jean-Eric Vergne and Robert Kubica. Their biggest weakness during 2015 was qualifying, but their engine carried them to podiums and a win for Kubica at Suzuka. Despite team boss Gui Cramer’s concerns on their aerodynamic performance, their car looks in decent shape and can easily catch up to their customers. If they address their qualifying gremlins, and new testing parameters for practice sessions could see to that, then team boss Gui Cramer’s endless boasting of his Japanese powerplant could very well be justified.