Every F1 season is defined by certain moments, which tip the balance of the season one way or the other. Some might be positive revelations that show bright future prospects for a driver, or some are deciding factors in the title race. Here are the top 10 moments from the 2016 season.
10. Ferrari made good calls only at Abu Dhabi and Australia.
By the standards of a team like Ferrari, 2016 was a disaster. They managed to make good strategic calls in only 2 races, namely Australia and Abu Dhabi. The rest of the season was marred with a mix of bad strategy and faulty parts. Incidents like Canada made both Ferrari drivers sceptical of the calls made by the Ferrari pit wall at times.
At Australia, Ferrari were able to match the Mercedes team with pace, with Vettel even leading the race at one point. However, the Red Flag did disrupt their plans, as it allowed teams to return to the pit and work on their cars during that time. Mercedes changed their strategy, going onto the mediums for a longer second stint, which was initially not anticipated. While Kimi suffered a Turbo failure, Vettel did finish 3rd as he had to make another pit stop. The plus point was he was closing the gap to Lewis in the latter stages of the race.
At Abu Dhabi, all the focus was on the title battle. Ferrari opted for a longer second stint for Sebastian Vettel. When he did pit, he had a shorter 3rd stint on the faster, super soft compounds. He made short work of those who were in his way, and passed Max Verstappen (who was on older tyres). If he had a few more laps, he might have had the chance to pass Nico Rosberg as well. Sebastian was one of the key elements for Hamilton’s backing up strategy, but it did not succeed
9. Finales of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg
Two of the more experienced drivers of the grid left F1 at the end of 2016. Jenson Button and Felipe Massa both retired from the sport. Between the two of them, there are 560 starts, 26 wins, 91 podiums. Button was the 2009 Champion and Massa nearly won the title in 2008. (Officially, Button is on a sabbatical but he himself took it as his last race in F1). Surprisingly, Nico Rosberg announced a few days after his title winning campaign that he is retiring.
Massa’s finale was an emotional one at Brazil. The car he drove, had his name instead of the Martini logo. Unfortunately, in an incident in the rainy Brazilian Grand Prix, he crashed out on lap 47 near the start finish straight. With a Brazilian flag on his back, he walked back to the pit lane to applause from the home crowd, and a guard of honour from Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams.
Jenson’s finale was Abu Dhabi, which was an anti-climax in itself. The 3rd most experienced driver in F1 history, suffered a suspension failure when his front right tyre hit the kerb. This made his final race last just a mere 12 laps. He could get his car to the pits, and received a huge round of applause from his team and the grand stand. He did have an entertaining interview with David Coulthard and Mark Webber while the race was still on, happy to have ended a chapter in his life.
Nico’s announcement was a shock. No one saw it coming. His final race was the most important of his life. He was fighting for his life, and had to deal with the backing up strategy of Lewis Hamilton. He managed to survive to take 2nd place and the World Championship. The emotion and exhaustion in his voice was an indicator to how much the race meant to him. Not a bad way to end your career though.
8. The British Grand Prix Radio Break
The British Grand Prix was part of the resurgence of Lewis Hamilton before the summer break. Momentum was fully with Lewis who eliminated a 43 point deficit to 11 points. Silverstone, owing to its lovely weather conditions started behind the safety car on wet tyres.
Nico did survive the race, and was behind Max in 3rd. He would successfully pass the Dutchman on lap 38 and begin closing the gap to Lewis Hamilton. By around lap 43, he started to experience problems with the Gearbox. Asking his team for help, they told him not to use the 7th gear. This helped him maintain 2nd place.
However, this was in violation of the F1 pit communication rules, which were tightened for the season, meaning the driver has to drive unaided and alone. Information could only be given if it’s a matter of safety. The Stewarts felt this was in violation and handed a 10 second penalty to Nico who was demoted to 3rd.
This race was a catalyst, to a relaxing of the Pit to car communications, which were applicable to only the formation lap from the German Grand Prix onwards.
7. The Brazilian Race – Duration and Tyres
Brazil’s race at 2016 was the longest since the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix. A wet weather start meant a long procession behind the safety car for a 21 car grid (Grosjean crashed out before the cars even began to line up).
With Nasr and Kimi crashing out there were the inevitable safety and red flags. There was a second red flag when the rain intensity picked up. Naturally, the fans who paid a lot to come and watch the race, and had to sit in the rain were not too pleased. The booing was louder with every halt to the race. Luckily, towards the end of the race for the fans, they were treated to some spectacular racing by a certain Max Verstappen.
Pirelli were under criticism for their rapid degrading tyres. It’s not something ideal for the wet weather conditions and the shelf life of the tyres was not impressive. Maybe for 2017 the compounds for the wet weather should hopefully improve.
6. Daniel Riccardo’s Pit stop mess at Monaco.
Daniel Riccardo felt screwed out of a victory at Barcelona. End of the misery at Monaco? No.
A wet race saw a safety car and wet-weather tyre start. Lewis and Daniel were among the front runners to not make a stop to the intermediates during the early stages of the race. Riccardo would finally make it at Lap 24, while Lewis stayed out till lap 31, switching directly to slicks. A well planned gamble that worked out.
Daniel who built up a lead coming into the pit at lap 32, was horrified to see that the team were not ready. The Mechanics were just coming out as he came into the box, and the tyres were not there. This meant a LONG stop. Effectively, his chance of victory was gone.
For Daniel, he had a disappointing 2nd place.
“Two weekends in a row I’ve been screwed now. It sucks. It hurts.” – Riccardo during the post-race interview.
5. Lewis’s tactics at Abu Dhabi
Lewis had his work cut out for him at Abu Dhabi. Rosberg finishes on the podium, its game over for him. He finishes anything outside the podium, its Lewis’ title.
He brought his A-game. Storming to pole position, he knew he could win the race. However, the big problem was that Nico was in a strong car as well. Lewis did what he needed to. Pulling away so that Nico could not reach him, but enough to slow down overall, he begun to back up the field, effectively hoping that the Red Bulls and Ferraris can join the party.
This tactic did not work. Not only did Nico pass Max early to catch up, there was just not enough time. It did lead to a tense last 11 laps of the race, with Sebastian Vettel charging up the order. He was all over Nico’s rear towards the end of the race, but that’s pretty much as far as he could go, as Nico crossed the line 2nd to become a World Champion.
Lewis was heavily criticized by many and his team for nearly costing them a victory by his tactics. While Nico and others felt he did what he had to do. And strictly speaking, he never violated any of the rules, and we have seen worse incidents take place for title deciders. Whatever be the case, it was the talk of the F1 town for a few days till Nico’s surprise retirement.
4. Mercedes double crash at Barcelona
Mercedes’s domination in the constructor’s championship was not funny. They could have scored more than 800 points this season if things panned out well. The only race which they failed to score (or step onto the podium as a matter of fact) was the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
Having been untouchable heading into the 5th round at Spain, Nico qualified behind Lewis at Barcelona. Leading the pack, Nico took an early lead. However, he had some issues with his power delivery and at the same time, had to defend from an approaching Lewis Hamilton. In the resulting move, Lewis went off the track as Nico defended and hit the barrier and then smashed into his teammate, knocking both cars out of the race.
It was tense afterwards, with images showing both drivers, Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff all having a team talk in their hospitality unit at the track. The world was divided on who to blame, with the likes of Jackie Stewart and Lauda blaming Lewis, while Anthony Davidson suggested it was Nico’s error that caused it.
At least, Toto Wolff said both would be allowed to continue racing, much to the delight of fans and legends (Alain Prost). Both drivers did have a “clear the air” talk before Monaco. And recently, Lewis even said after that crash he wanted to stop racing for the year. How different the season might have panned out if that happened!
3. Max’s drive at Brazil
Interlagos 2016 was the wettest race of the 2016 calendar. A Safety car start, 2 red flags, several more safety car periods frustrated the crowds. Yet, they were treated in the final 16 laps to one of the most aggressive and impressive wet weather drivers in F1 history. Max Verstappen, made a late charge and finished 3rd, after re-joining the race in 14th.
After the second red flag finally gave way with Felipe Massa humbly bowing out, Red Bull decided to pit Max Verstappen onto the intermediates to gain an advantage. However, increasing rainfall meant they needed to bring him in to change to wet tyres. This dropped him back to 14th.
In the last 16 laps of the race, Max charged up the order. He made short work of those around him, even his teammate Daniel Riccardo who did not enjoy a good race at Brazil. In fact, he even got up to Sebastian Vettel and passed the German after a brief duel. He closed in to Nico Rosberg, but he was far enough to not be troubled by Max, who climbed onto the 3rd step on the podium.
It was obvious that Max had been planning alternate racing lines during the safety car periods. He would be exploring different areas of the track to see where he can exploit the track and the tyres to the fullest. It allowed him to make a stunning overtake on Nico Rosberg early in the race (voted the Overtake of the season) and pass others around him.
This drive is a moment as one of the best wet weather drivers in F1 history, compared to the drives of Schumacher at Spain (1996) and Jenson Button at Canada (2011).
2. Max’s first win at Spain – The youngest winner in F1.
Max was once again in the headlines heading into the Spanish Grand Prix. After clashes with Vettel and coming under criticism, Daniil Kvyat was transferred to Torro Rosso and Max Verstappen was promoted to the main Red Bull seat. Many expected Max to one day be promoted to the main Red Bull team, just not this early.
After some strong performances in practice and qualifying, Max followed Riccardo behind the safety car after the Mercedes cars crashed out on lap 1. Red Bull put Daniel Riccardo on a 3 stop strategy, and Max on a 2 stop strategy, as they anticipated Sebastian Vettel as the main threat. This worked well for Max as he stayed out longer than his teammate, becoming the first Dutchman to lead a lap in F1.
Red Bull’s machines were able to pull away from Ferrari in the more aerodynamic friendly third sector. This negated the gains made by Ferrari in the first two sectors. Max wonderfully held off Kimi Raikkonen behind, to take the chequered flag at Barcelona. He shattered Sebastian Vettel’s record of being the youngest grand prix winner, on his debut with Red Bull Racing. This is a defining moment in F1 and in his career.
He would continue to have a strong season, stepping onto the podium 7 more times for the remainder of the season.
This can be argued as the final tipping point of the title fight.
Following the summer break, Nico had taken 3 successive victories to re-assert his title credentials. Lewis wanted to break the deadlock and had outperformed his teammate at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Red Bull were the only threat to the Silver Arrows.
Nico and Max were running a similar 3 stop strategy while Lewis and Daniel had a 2 stop strategy. However, on lap 40 Lewis’s engine caught fire and forced the reigning world champion out of the race. His shock was evident with the “NO!” screams over the radio.
Nico, would finish the race in 3rd behind the Red Bulls to gain a vital 15 point advantage over his teammate, who would try to win the championship, which might have been possible, had this event not happened.