One more sleep until F1 2016 finally gets underway and it fair to say that we at Manor Racing Fan Blog HQ are more excited than Adrian Sutil at a champagne reception. The past few years have seen slim pickings for fans of the Banbury Babes. However the days of celebrating finishing only three laps behind the winner are over. This year, we mean business.
We have a budget of sorts, a technical partnership with the best team currently on the grid, the best engine on the grid, a host of experienced and proven technical staff and two hunky drivers in Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto who both look like they should be in a boy-band line up. But just how good is the 2016 going to be for the boys and girls back at Banbury? Despite these encouraging developments it is going to be harder than ever to secure that all important 10th place finish in the championship that will financially secure the teams long-term future. So let’s look our heroes realistic prospects for the up and coming season.
Last season, with 10th place in the bag once we finally got the car moving, there was little to no upgrades put on a car that was effectively the 2014 chassis with a 2015 nose powered by a 2014 Ferrari engine. In the final qualifying session session of the season in Abu Dhabi our best challenger Will Stevens, was over 3 seconds behind Marcus Ericsson driving a Sauber. By F1 standards that is a huge gap to recover in the space of four months and this isn’t even taking into account our rivals gains over the season. Whilst great strides have been made by the team over the season. No one should be expecting miracles.
But this year I’d expect Manor to start out in Barcelona at least 2 seconds closer to the pace of the field thanks to having a state of the art Mercedes engine. Adding add on realistic improvements in the chassis of 0.5 second then Manors simulations should be showing a performance leap of around 2.5 seconds minimum. This should be more than enough to ensure that on the days the traditional midfield teams fail to come home that Manor will be picking up occasional points finishes. But will it be enough to secure that all important 10th place at the end of the season?
There are no major regulations changes for the start of the 2016 F1 season, so it is safe to say that there will be no Brawn/Honda surprise in the pack this year. The teams at the top will remain at the top and those at bottom may improve and decrease the gap to the front but will inevitably stay towards the back of the grid. So let’s see who we can realistically expect to be racing this season.
2015 was McLaren’s annus horribilis which resulted in a 9th place finish in the constructors championship made even more damning because they had one of the best driver line-ups on the grid. The main source of their issues stemmed from their new engine partnership with Honda. Lessons are said to have been learnt from last seasons disaster but already rumors have circulated that the latest spec will have problems with reliability. Very rarely does the first test of the season mean much but a McLaren failure to get mileage on the track will lead to serious questions being asked.
Realistic target for Manor? We doubt it. Even if they have another disaster, Button and Alonso should ensure that they still finish in the top 10. We expect them to be comfortably midfield by the middle of the season. It will be the story of the season if they are not.
The former team Lotus really have had a tough couple of years. Continuous financial concerns have seen them lose top technical staff and top drivers. Whilst financial security has now been secured via the Renault takeover it also means they had to switch engine providers from Mercedes to well, Renault, who have struggled to keep up with Mercedes since the new engine specifications began in 2014. This could mean that they are already down a 1.5 seconds on last years average charger. The deal to confirm the takeover did not happen until well after the season had finished which means whilst other teams were already well on there way to adding the finishing touches to the 2016 designs, Renault are playing catch up. Their driver line up of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer is their weakest in some years also.
Realistic target for Manor? It would be no surprise to us if the MRT05 is quicker out of the box than the new Renault. Over the course of the season, with Renault backing, they will no doubt improve but that may be too late. Scoring lots of nice points at the start of the season could mean that Manor could open up a hefty gap over Renault.
The new kids on the block are probably the best prepared new team on the grid in a very long time. They have had two years to prepare for their debut and have not only a large financial backing but a technical partnership with Ferrari which allows them use of proven Ferrari soft-wear and an engine is that is not too far of the leading Mercedes engine. They have also recruited Romain Grosjean who is a top quality driver and a great reference point.
Realistic target for Manor? No. Whilst their will be teething problems for Haas we fully expect them to be comfortably placed in the midfield from the get go.
The Swiss team has never fully recovered from the withdrawal of BMW. Manor beat Sauber in 2014 which had drastic financial implications for the Swiss team so in 2015 Sauber targeted the early races to score points and made sure the car was 100% reliable at the outset and it paid off. In an Australian Grand Prix with a high attrition rate, Felipe Nasr was able to score points for 5th place on his debut. Sauber knew they had money in the bank on day one and promptly stopped developing the car. With reasonably stable regulations this year, that will be harder to achieve as there will be more cars seeing the chequered flag in Melbourne. They have retained their steady but uninspiring drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Eriksson. Probably the team with the most financial worries, they are unlikely to be able to develop at the rate of Renault if they don’t have a successful start to the season. At least they have signed the correct amount of drivers this year.
Realistic target for Manor? Yes. For our money Sauber are the most realistic target for Manor to beat this season. It has been done once before with less resources. Whilst they have still have a relationship with Ferrari, Haas are now the favored son and Manor now have the technical help of Mercedes. Our driver line up is as strong if not stronger than Saubers.
We are Manor Racing Fan Blog HQ are convinced that this will be Manor’s best season yet and predict more than a handful of point scoring race weekends. Will it be enough to finish in that all important 10th place or above? It is hard to predict before a wheel has even been turned but we are confident this can be achieved. Even if we do come out of pre-season testing with a clearer picture of performance which leaves us the slowest team, we will not be too despondent. As 2014 showed, you never can tell in F1. All it takes is one sublime drive, one freak race, one wet race, one brilliant strategy call to change a teams entire season.
We can’t wait to see how ours boys and girls will fair in Melbourne.