Blood red to spice up 50 shades of grey
Cluster of small changes can help Ferrari rein in runaway Mercedes
The first Formula One race of the 2016 season took place in the early hours of this morning in Melbourne. You don't need to be Einstein to work out the probable winner, Mercedes or Ferrari. Still, Albert Park has thrown up the odd curve ball in its day but with all due respect to Messrs Hamilton and Rosberg, wouldn't it be nice to see a different result?
Mercedes has become something of the annoying swot in the class. The same kids get it right all the time and you trundle through your school years wondering if there is a God. Okay that's just my own personal academic performance exposed there.
While Mercedes have rightly earned their spot at the top of the pile and intend to continue, there is nothing more predictable than predictability. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result then most of the grid should be locked up and the key thrown away. The Silver Arrows has given us 50 shades of grey without the sex, although it did get a bit rough between Hamilton and Rosberg at times.
The problem with the current state of F1 is multi-layered and complex but if it wants to return to the halcyon days of great dicing it should reduce budgets and introduce regulation changes to narrow the disparity. It's very much a them and us scenario, and the sport suffers as a result.
Still that being said, we enjoyed some terrific team-mate wars of words and one-upmanship that spilled onto the track. Nico Rosberg had a great end to last season when he won three consecutive races, albeit after Lewis Hamilton clinched the title. Can he carry that fervour over? First blood will set the tone for their personal battles.
Ferrari is expected to be more of a threat to Mercedes's domination this season. Bring on the Prancing Horse, the stable is getting a bit quiet.
Williams and Force India you can reply to be the David snapping at the heels of Goliath. Toro Rosso could usurp their sister team Red Bull with Ferrari power units verses the rebadged Renault deal that the team had to settle for.
Then there's the factory Renault team who are not there to make up the numbers. Sauber, Manor and Haas will be fighting for the much needed points and best of the rest that brings a pot of gold which in turn determines survival in F1 for following season. Watch out for the new German wunderkind, Pascal Wehrlein; Mercedes placed him with Manor for a trial and error season. I think they call it grooming.
The new team Haas-Ferrari team will be the object of curiosity. They may be last in but there is inspired strategy in place to ensure they aren't last home. This morning in Melbourne will have given us a taste of some back to the future mixed with surprise. Let the racing begin.
Mercedes F1 W07: Nobody wants to see Mercedes wipe the F1 floor in 2016, except perhaps Mercedes. The sport needs variety. Nevertheless they start the season with advantages of old but there may be a red car looming large in their mirrors.
Lewis Hamilton: The triple world champion has still a lot to prove and he's hugely motivated to reach four titles.
Nico Rosberg: He has lived under the cosh of his team-mate for too long. This may be the only season he could feasibly win a title because any more excuses is a road called ennui that leads back to the complainant. Their rivalry made them better drivers. Adversity breeds brilliance. Let's hope this season they take it to a new level.
SF-16H: Lots of small changes should help transform Ferrari's fortunes this season. It would be nice to see them fight for the title. We need to see battleship grey mixed with blood red on the F1 palate.
Sebastian Vettel: After four world titles with Red Bull, he would love to add a fifth with a different marque. There is no doubting he's capable of achieving it but if his car doesn't impress straight away it will be tough. Still, he'll surely win races and if you do that enough times a title could come.
Kimi Raikkonen: The Finn is like a metaphor for the management of F1. Tired, lacking in motivation, stopping others from doing a better job. Having said that, he has flashes of brilliance; let's hope we see a bit more of that in 2016.
Williams-Mercedes FW38: Williams have it covered with two good drivers. Not likely to match the pace of Mercedes or Ferrari, they did an incredible job to finish behind the two giants in the Constructors' championship 2015.
Valtteri Bottas: The Finn has never won a race but there's no doubt that given the right circumstances he will. However this will be his fourth season in F1 with Williams and sometimes you can be unlucky and it keeps slipping between your fingers. After four third places and two seconds two seasons ago, last year saw that dwindle to two third places.
Felipe Massa: The embodiment of perseverance. At his zenith he came so close to a world title in 2008. It was also when he won his last grand prix. He's unlikely to come as close again but still he remains motivated. He left Ferrari after eight years and found confidence at Williams where he's now into his third season.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull-Renault RB12: The team is proof money doesn't buy you everything. They came close to having no engine for 2016 and after fraught negotiation they stuck with Renault, which puzzlingly will be rebadged 'Tag Heuer' after the watchmaker. Talks with VW stalled after the stink from their emissions scandal. Not a lot their ace designer Adrian Newey can do without a decent power unit.
Daniil Kvyat: The young Russian earned his place in Red Bull in 2014 but his arrival coincided with the team's downfall. His best placing was second the same year.
Daniel Ricciardo: The last time the Aussie won for Red Bull was in 2014 in Spa Belgium, 27 races ago. That's a drought for the drinks company who, prior to their recent Renault engines woes, enjoyed four consecutive constructors' titles from 2010. Ricciardo is world championship material, he shouldn't be wasting his time in a car that can't deliver.
Renault RS16: Nothing like the resources of a manufacturer to propel you up the grid. From the ashes of the Lotus team what can we expect? Ambition to challenge for sure but it won't happen overnight.
Kevin Magnussen: A refugee from McLaren, the sporadically talented Finn is ideal to lead the new Renault offensive. He brings experience and motivation to the table.
Jolyon Palmer: Jonathan Palmer's son has a GP2 championship to his credit and that's no mean feat. He has to impress however if he's to have a future in F1. His chief adversary will be his team-mate.
Force India VJM09: This feisty team consistently punches above its weight but their season may unravel as their owner Vijay Mallya is wanted on money laundering charges in India. He owes over a billion dollars to creditors related to drinks and airlines companies. Diageo may lose a $135m guarantee to his banks. His partner in the team, Subrata Roy, is in jail and has been trying to sell his share to raise funds for bail. They need some good news.
Sergio Perez: That the Mexican is hot is undisputed. But whether this team even has a future remains to be seen.
Nico Hulkenberg: Could 2016 finally reward the German's talent? A podium is overdue. His results belie his potential. The team beat Lotus and McLaren last year to finish fifth in the constructors' championship thanks to these two decent drivers.
Toro Rosso- Ferrari STR11: It would be ironic if Toro Rosso, who have switched from Renault to Ferrari power, outpace sister team Red Bull, who remained with Renault. Stranger things have happened in F1.
Max Verstappen: The Dutch teen sensation will be driving to impress the teams that can deliver him a world championship down the road.
Carlos Sainz: Another son of a famous racing dad, only his was a rally champion. Sainz has proven impressive and consistent.
Sauber-Ferrari C35: Sauber, it was reported, didn't pay staff their wages in February. The 'them and us' divide in F1 is killing the smaller teams. This well-run fiercely enthusiastic team deserve their place in F1 but the sharks are circling and some people at the top want them to fail.
Felip Nasr: The Brazilian helped Sauber earn half their budget in end-of-season prize money.
Marcus Ericsson: The highlight of his F1 career was eighth in Australia last year when he finished eighth. If he has potential he's being a bit shy to show it.
McLaren-Honda MP4-31: The Maclaren pram was probably quicker than the McLaren car last season. The Honda alliance was supposed to be a partnership that recreated past glories. So far so bad. As a marriage it hasn't worked but then again some marriages need time to flourish. Don't call in the divorce lawyers just yet.
Jenson Button: They may have the oldest combined ages of team-mates but Button is not yet ready to drawn his pension. I wouldn't either if I were being paid his salary. Justifying it is another story.
Fernando Alonso: Even one of F1's supreme talents couldn't drag McLaren screaming and kicking up the grid. Can it possibly get worse than their nadir in 2015? The Spaniard must be feel cursed. The only way is up.
Manor-Mercedes MRT05: Belfast-born Stephen Fitzpatrick is at the helm steering the team in the direction of hope. But three key players have left, John Booth, Graeme Lowdon and Bob Bell. Mercedes cut a deal to supply the team when those guys were in situ. Could that deal be their saviour?
Rio Haryanto: Indonesia's first F1 driver. He enjoyed three victories in GP2 last season so he by no means fits the stereotypical image of a talentless paying driver. He's backed by the Indonesian Government - nice work if you can get it.
Pascal Wehrlein: Mercedes is said to be giving Manor access to their wind tunnel and a discount on its engine bill in exchange for having their 2015 DTM championship winning driver cut his teeth in F1. It could be an inspired move.
Haas-Ferrari VF16: Gene Haas has gone from Nascar US to Global F1 and everyone will be riveted to see how the outsider does. He has joined forces with Ferrari and a lot of the current car is 'Italian' - some are even calling this the Ferrari 'B' team. Will no doubt face plenty of gremlins but could also provide a pleasant surprise.
Romain Grosjean: Haas have an excellent pilot who should circumnavigate a lot of the teething problems associated with a new team. He has a big challenge on his hands.
Esteban Gutierrez: The genial Mexican is with this nascent F1 team through a combination of talent and contacts.
Sunday Indo Sport