Team-by-team preview: 2016


On the eve of the opening race of 2016 ESPN looks at every team and driver and what they should expect for the new campaign. 


(2015 points: 703, wins: 16)

How do you improve on perfection? That's the problem that faced Mercedes over the winter as it morphed its dominant W06 Hybrid into the new and improved W07. In testing it hardly missed a beat, completing over 6,000km with only a transmission problem on the final day to speak of. Aside from the obvious benefits of having a reliable car, Mercedes also heads to the opening race with more data than any other team, which will be vital for finding the perfect set-up and shaping update packages for the early rounds. But while it's easy to assume that wins will continue to flow throughout 2016, the reigning world champions are facing their fiercest competition of the new turbo era so far in Ferrari's SF16-H.

Rockets strong front-runners for Melo

Lewis Hamilton ( Title odds, 8/15 fav): After wrapping up his third world title with three races remaining, by his own admission Hamilton let his focus slip at the end of last year. The question for 2016 is whether he can maintain the level of dedication required for a third consecutive title.

Nico Rosberg (3/1): With his Mercedes contract set to expire at the end of the year, Rosberg cannot afford to be beaten by Hamilton for the third season in a row. Only a title victory will be good enough in 2016 to prove his doubters wrong.



(2015 points: 428, wins: 3)

There are no excuses for Ferrari in 2016; chairman Sergio Marchionne has made his expectations clear going into the new campaign -- Ferrari must challenge Mercedes for the title. Reliability will be a lingering concern after Ferrari and its customers encountered several problems in Barcelona, but all signs point towards a closer fight. Ferrari's headline times over the winter did enough to catch Mercedes' attention, suggesting gains in the SFH-16 and with the Italian team's power unit. Those gains will need to be significant enough to sustain a challenge over 21 races for Ferrari to have any hope of a first title since 2008.

Sebastian Vettel (9/2): The rejuvenated Vettel last year proved he is the man to lead Ferrari's charge if it can deliver a car capable of a title challenge. A long-awaited duel with Hamilton could be on the cards. 

Kimi Raikkonen (40/1): A shadow of his former self since rejoining Ferrari and likely entering his final year in Formula One. A second title seems a long shot -- regardless of Ferrari's competitiveness -- given his struggles with F1's current cars.



(2015 points, 257, podiums: 4)

Williams appears to have hit a glass ceiling after finishing third in the constructors' championship for two years running. As an engine customer it's hard to imagine the team sustaining a successful campaign against Mercedes, and now that Maranello has got its house in order the podium has become harder to reach. The likes of Force India and Toro Rosso look like serious threats after testing, while a competitive Renault engine would almost certainly put Red Bull ahead of Williams by the end of the year. The team has come a long way in two years, but radical thinking and new investment is needed to take the next step.

Valtteri Bottas (100/1): He was the talk of the silly season last year, but needs to do more against team-mate Massa to cement a reputation as a champion in waiting.

Felipe Massa (150/1): Arguably in his best form since his title tilt in 2008, Massa still has race-winning potential but it's unlikely he will ever be in a position to challenge for a championship again.


Red Bull

(2015 points: 187, podiums: 3)

It's hard to see Red Bull competing for more than podiums this season. More galling for the team is the prospect of finishing behind Toro Rosso, at least in the early races of the season. Red Bull's Renault power unit -- now branded as TAG Heuer -- has improved in terms of both reliability and driveability, but is unlikely to significantly cut the gap in power to Mercedes and Ferrari at the start of the season. Red Bull looks set for another transitional year as it waits for power unit competitiveness to equalise and F1's regulations to put an onus back on aerodynamics.

Daniil Kvyat (200/1): Impressed after a slow start at Red Bull in 2015 and narrowly beat Ricciardo in the championship. No reason to doubt he can continue upward trajectory this season.

Daniel Ricciardo (80/1): He struggled to match his breakout 2014 campaign last year but remains one of the most exciting talents in F1. 2016 could be an audition for a seat further up the grid.


Force India

(2015 points: 136, podiums: 1)

Force India has been punching above its weight for several years now and there's no reason to doubt the new VJM09 is capable of doing the same in 2016. However, away from the track its owners Vijay Mallya and Subrata Roy continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, leading to understandable questions about the team's future. Aston Martin shied away from getting involved this year, but a continuation of its impressive points-per-spend ratio should be enough to make the team an attractive prospect in the event that its current owners decide to sell. Testing proved the new car is reliable and competitive, making it a contender for a decent haul of points at the opening rounds.

Nico Hulkenberg (500/1): He proved his talent last year with a victory at Le Mans, but Hulkenberg remains one of F1's wasted talents. It's hard to see where he goes from Force India, but a volatile driver market in 2016 could help him manufacture a move up the grid if he scores the right results.

Sergio Perez (500/1): Another case of unused potential. His move to McLaren in 2013 came too early in his career and he now needs something special to put himself back on the radar of F1's top teams.



(2015 points: 78, podiums: 1)

Renault's return to Formula One will be a marathon not a sprint. The financial problems of the Lotus team and the late confirmation of its takeover had a negative impact on Renault's start this year. It approaches the new season having found gains with its power unit over the winter, but is still braced for a season of mixed results. The team appears to have one eye on next year's regulation changes and has already said it is unlikely to introduce a significant upgrade package at any time in 2016. Laying a solid foundation this year has to be the first order of business.

Kevin Magnussen (250/1): Deserves his second chance on the grid but has his work cut out to make the most of what may be an uncompetitive package early on.

Jolyon Palmer (1000/1): Endured a frustrating winter which may count against him early on. Proved his class in 2014 GP2 title-winning season but now faces competitive team-mate in a rebuilding team.


Toro Rosso

(2015 points: 67, best finish: 4th)

Toro Rosso has the potential to be 2016's surprise package. The shift from Renault engines to Ferrari will highlight just how good the STR11 chassis is, and in the early races the year-old Ferrari power unit will be as close to the 2016 engines as it's going to be all year. The package provides the perfect opportunity for two very talented young drivers to shine, which should coincide with the driver market opening up properly for the first time in several years. Long-term the team's position in F1 is less clear, especially with the loss of investment from Abu Dhabi, but it is the obvious choice should Alfa Romeo seriously consider a return to the sport.

Max Verstappen (500/1): Arguably the most exciting driver on the grid last year, Verstappen appears to be on the brink of something very special in Formula One.

Carlos Sainz (750/1): His talent was overshadowed last year by poor reliability and the headline-grabbing performances of his team-mate. Expect him to shine this season.



(2015 points: 36, best finish: 5th)

It's hardly been an ideal start to 2016 for Sauber, after delaying the introduction of the C35, failing to pay its staff on time in February and then parting ways with technical chief Mark Smith days before the season opener. It struggled to bring upgrades throughout 2015 and there is little to suggest that situation will be any different this season. The improvements made by Ferrari will be a welcome boost for the Swiss outfit but the arrival of Haas and the new Mercedes engines for Manor makes the prospect of Sauber bringing up the rear in 2016 very real.

Felipe Nasr (1500/1): Went largely overlooked last year despite an impressive rookie campaign and should out-perform his team-mate again if he learns from mistakes of 2015.

Marcus Ericsson (1500/1): After a shaky start he improved as 2015 went on and turned in some impressive drives, but the Swede still needs to prove himself as someone with a long-term future in F1 after two unspectacular seasons.



(2015 points: 27, best finish: 5th)

McLaren cannot afford a repeat of 2015 this year, but testing suggests progress has been made. To expect McLaren to be regularly fighting for podiums and wins this season is optimistic, but steps up the grid still need to be made throughout the season. Much of that progress will come from engine supplier Honda, and it has already made substantial gains since the end of 2015, but there is also a long way to go before McLaren exploits the true potential of the size-zero packaging Honda's V6 turbo offers. After two weeks of lacklustre lap times in Barcelona, finding out exactly where McLaren fits into the pecking order is one of the most intriguing questions ahead of qualifying in Melbourne.

Fernando Alonso (66/1): Another year rolls by and still Alonso doesn't have a car capable of challenging for the third world title he so desperately desires. Yet outside of Mercedes and Ferrari, McLaren is still his best bet at championship success.

Jenson Button (100/1): Button has seen McLaren's decline first hand since joining the team in 2010. He will need to see an upturn soon to remain committed to the cause.



(2015 points: 0, best finish: 12th)

Over the winter Manor was keen to play down expectations that have come with its Mercedes power unit. It had made a clear improvement over testing but still left Barcelona with limited mileage. This campaign is already certain to be night and day compared to 2015, which was just about surviving, but the actual transition from backmarkers to the midfield will take much more than a new engine deal and eight days of testing. The team has denied its reluctance to introduce a shorter nose is financially motivated but it remains to be seen how well Manor fares in the F1 arms race as the season goes on. 

Pascal Wehrlein (4000/1): Big things are expected of the young Mercedes protégé and he will feel good about his chances of meeting Toto Wolff's targets at a rejuvenated Manor team. 

Rio Haryanto (4000/1): Mistakes in winter testing highlighted inexperience. Has a lot to prove after securing his seat with big money following an uninspiring career in GP2.



Joining Formula One as a new team was never going to be easy, but Haas got its first reality check in the second week of testing with a series of reliability issues. Finishing the first race with both cars will represent an achievement, but don't expect the team to settle for a backmarker role for long. The car has plenty of interesting developments and benefitted from unlimited wind tunnel and CFD development last year. Haas has all the ingredients to be a very solid midfield team, but it'll take a while to perfect the recipe.

Romain Grosjean (750/1): At 29 years of age, Grosjean can no longer be considered young and upcoming, but the best days of his career are still ahead of him.

Esteban Gutierrez (1000/1): Don't write him off on the basis of his Sauber performances, he has the potential to shine now he has a second chance in Formula One.