The Formula grid of 2016 is set to differ dramatically from that of the current season, with many engine and driver decisions still to be made. In Part 1, we have already looked at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Sauber, McLaren, Red Bull and Toro Rosso. This leaves Lotus, Manor and Haas. So let’s dive right into it, shall we?
Whether Red Bull and Toro Rosso stay in Formula One or not, their decision to end their partnership with Renault will leave the French manufacturer, which has an incredibly successful F1-history, without any customers in 2016.
This leads us to the most persistent, most important rumour of the past months: the return of Renault as a manufacturer, by means of (re-)purchasing LOTUS. The team, named after the famous British car maker but actually owned by Luxembourg firm Genii Capital, is in a hopeless financial situation right now, fighting for its survival and postponing court hearings again and again.
A Renault takeover would make a lot of sense, especially since Lotus is the very team that competed as a Renault works outfit from 2002 to 2011 and won the constructors championships in both 2005 and 2006.
The fact that the people at Enstone, UK, can build highly competitive racing cars was underlined at the Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean scored a podium finish for Lotus, even though the financial difficulties of the team have prevented any updates to cars since the very start of the season.
Apparently, Renault have demanded special manufacturer rights from Bernie Ecclestone (= more money than teams like Force India, Sauber, or – currently – Lotus), which the Formula One boss has granted them weeks ago. Why Renault are yet to make their decision remains a mystery, but everyone in the paddock seems to be sure that the company will return in 2016. If they don’t, Lotus will probably be dead. If they do, who will drive for the new Renault team (which could still be called Lotus for one more season)?
Pastor Maldonado’s contract has recently been extended, certainly more due to his financial backing than to his driving talent. Romain Grosjean, however, has hinted at – though hasn’t confirmed – a switch to newcomer team Haas. In the race for his vacated seat, (a potentially very attractive seat if Renault buys Lotus), are likely Kevin Magnussen, Ferrari test driver Jean-Eric Vergne, and – first and foremost – Lotus’s own test driver and 2014’s GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer.
Lotus? Renault? Lotus-Renault owned by Renault? What will they be called in 2016?
If there is one team participating in the 2015 Formula One season that deserves our respect, it certainly is MANOR. Manor Motorsport is essentially the group of people that have run the Marussia (originally Virgin) team from 2010 onwards. Losing its Russian backing near the end of the 2014 season, the team was forced out of Formula One, just to return at the very last second with an updated 2014 chassis and 2014 Ferrari engines. In the beginning, nobody truly thought it could work.
In fact, Manor did not even have a proper factory, having sold their old one in Banbury to Haas. Yet, here we are, nearing the end of the 2015 season, and Manor are still kicking.
They always qualify comfortably within the 107% limit, they have attracted a few major sponsors, and they have even brought upgrades to their car. For 2016, Formula One’s smallest team are set to make a major leap forward.
They are currently moving into a new factory, have employed experienced ex-Mercedes staff, and will not only use a brand new chassis, but also a new engine next season. In the light of Renault’s probable takeover of Lotus, Mercedes have agreed to supply Manor with brand new 2016-spec engines. This will without doubt make Manor a lot more competitive, and will also make their cockpits a lot more desirable.
Officially, no driver has been confirmed for 2016 and there are not even rumours yet, but here are some likely candidates. Will Stevens and the recently employed American Alexander Rossi are both doing a solid job, meaning both could end up racing a Manor car again next season. In contrast, Roberto Merhi seems to have lost out for good, due to his almost non-existant financial backing.
Kevin Magnussen, while eager to race again, has said before that Manor isn’t an option for him, though a Mercedes engine deal could possibly change his mind. It could also open the door for Mercedes’s own Pascal Wehrlein, who is currently leading the German DTM touring car champhionship and has aspirations of moving into Formula One.
Then, there’s Lotus test driver Jolyon Palmer, GP2 points leader Stoffel Vandoorne, Formula Renault 3.5 champion Oliver Rowland, and Formula 3 Europe champion Felix Rosenqvist. All four are very talented young drivers ready to move into Formula One.
Finally, there’s Susie Wolff. While it seems unlikely that the Williams development driver will land a race seat in 2016, she would certainly help Manor attract much-needed attention, while also being a capable driver and the wife of Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. Sounds like a good match, doesn’t it?
Manor might switch to Mercedes power and have a wide range of drivers to choose from.
Last but not least, we have the new team joining Formula One in 2016: HAAS. The team of Gene Haas – unrelated, by the way, to the Haas outfit from the 1980s – is successful in American motor racing, but completely new to Formula One.
A close relationship with Ferrari, who will not only supply Haas with engines but also with all other parts a team can officially buy from someone else, is supposed to guarantee the Americans a relatively high level of competition. Nevertheless, some people, like Max Mosley, argue that Haas are underestimating how complex Formula One truly is.
In the end, Haas is an unknown variable, a team that could be a fast midfield contender or end up at the back of the grid. Concerning their choice of drivers, Gene Haas and his team have repeatedly stated that they do not necessarily want an American driver, but definitely are seeking someone with experience. That is why Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez, both currently test drivers for Ferrari, as well as Kevin Magnussen have often been linked to the team.
Only a few days ago, Romain Grosjean has announced that he has officially left Lotus for a new challenge and will be Haas’s number one driver in 2016. Rumours favour Esteban Gutierrez as the one to claim the second cockpit, but neither Vergne nor Magnussen can be ruled out at this stage. Neither can Alexander Rossi, who – since he replaced Roberti Merhi at Manor – now has at least a little bit of Formula One experience.
Gene Haas and Günther Steiner, the men behind Haas F1. Who will they sign for their debut season?
In the end, many questions about the final makeup of 2016’s Formula One grid cannot be answered just yet. There are lots of rumours – some more likely than others – but that is all we have.
So, this is what the following predicted 2016 grid is made of: facts, rumours, and subjective guesses. (bold = confirmed; standard = rumoured; italics = guessed
01. Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton (GB) & Nico Rosberg (D)
02. Ferrari: Sebastian Vettel (D) & Kimi Raikkönen (FIN)
03. Williams-Mercedes: Valtteri Bottas (FIN) & Felipe Massa (BRA)
04. Force India-Mercedes: Nico Hülkenberg (D) & Sergio Peréz (MEX)
05. Sauber-Ferrari: Marcus Ericsson (S) & Felipe Nasr (BRA)
06. McLaren-Honda: Fernando Alonso (ESP) & Jenson Button (GB)
07. Haas-Ferrari: Romain Grosjean (FR) & Esteban Gutierrez (MEX)
08. Manor-Mercedes:Kevin Magnussen (DK) & Alexander Rossi (US)
09. Red Bull-Ferrari: Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) & Daniil Kvyat (RUS)
10. Lotus-Renault (owned by Renault): Pastor Maldonado (VEN)& Jolyon Palmer (GB)
11. Toro Rosso-Ferrari: Max Verstappen (NDL) & Carlos Sainz Jr. (ESP)