How well can team Renault do in its first season back?
Ben Anderson: “Don’t expect too much. The deal to buy Lotus came together very late and the Enstone factory requires plenty of reinvestment. This is the first step in a five-year plan to become champion. Top six or seven at the end of the year is probably the best Renault can expect.”
Ellie Bartley: “Renault will be an interesting team to watch because a lot has changed since it was last involved as a constructor, both with the drivers and team management. I expect to see new British driver Jolyon Palmer learning from Kevin Magnussen, with both using their previous experience to propel the team up the grid.”
James Allen: “Renault’s team purchase deal came late, so there’s been little time to change from Mercedes to Renault engines, let alone innovate with design. And at a stroke, they’ve dropped 60bhp — around 0.8sec of lap time. They also need to hire 100 engineers. They’ll be thinking about 2017, and this year their cars could be around 15th.”
Can McLaren-Honda do a better job than in 2015?
Ben Anderson: “This team couldn’t have done much worse last year, so it certainly should do better. Honda has improved over the winter, but the engine still lacks power and the latest chassis hasn’t had an easy birth. Expect decent steps through the season and probably a top-eight finish, but no miracles.”
Ellie Bartley: “Any new development is hard for a team to adapt to but now McLaren has had a year to do so. Therefore, I hope that their adjustment to the change of engine supplier will be a lot more visible in 2016. To see Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso back on the podium would be a bonus.”
James Allen: “They need to. The chassis is definitely better but the engine still concedes horsepower. The good news is the regs have been freed up in areas Honda needs, so they shouldn’t have locked-in problems. They won’t win, but I expect them to score regular points.”
Can Nico Rosberg get on top of Lewis Hamilton?
Ben Anderson: “He can do it. He’s proved it several times already. The problem is that he hasn’t done it consistently enough to become champion. Rosberg was superb at the end of last season, but the championship was done by then. He needs to boss Hamilton when everything is on the line again.”
Ellie Bartley: “As qualifying master, Nico can be expected to continue to dominate Lewis in that respect. It will be interesting to see whether that changes when the new qualifying format is introduced. However, if Nico is to gain an advantage this season, he must focus on improving his race strategy, which is Hamilton’s strength.”
James Allen: “Well, he has the speed, but Hamilton is the stronger racer, and that won’t change. To succeed, Rosberg needs to qualify ahead of Hamilton and find ways to rattle him. Things could get complicated if Vettel is fast enough to force Mercedes to cover him, which I think will happen. This will be less of a two-horse race.”
Who and what will deliver the surprises of 2016?
Ben Anderson: “American newcomer Haas has the potential to do really well this year. Well funded and Ferrari backed, it will be nothing like the last influx of back-of-thegrid fodder we saw in 2010. Also watch out for Toro Rosso’s young superstars, especially while the 2015 Ferrari engine is still relatively potent.”
Ellie Bartley: “I think the new knockout qualifying format could surprise the F1 community. Although it is due to be more of a strategic contest for teams and could be more exciting for fans, it could lead to meetings being called by the FIA or Grand Prix Drivers’ Association over safety concerns.”
James Allen: “It may seem strange to name Red Bull, world champions as recently as 2013, but I think they’ll surprise. Tyre rules have changed and their car is very good on its tyres. Ricciardo is good, too. They will win podiums. And for those who haven’t noticed, Manor is about four seconds faster than last year.”