Pre-season testing will commence next month in Barcelona and from there the opening round of the year in Australia will be rapidly looming on the horizon. F1Zone.net looks ahead to what has changed ahead of the 2016 season.
The return of Renault
Renault’s future in Formula 1 was discussed at length throughout 2015 as the French manufacturer deliberated over its options. Having ruled out remaining solely as a power unit supplier, Renault toyed with the idea of a complete withdrawal before committing to a takeover of the Lotus squad which it previously operated between 2002 and 2009. Further details regarding the return of Renault - such as its management structure - will be unveiled during a press conference in Paris next month.
A first new team in six years
The last batch of new teams was lured under the false promise of a budget cap off the back of manufacturer uncertainty following the financial crisis of 2008/9. Lotus Racing (later Caterham) and HRT have both departed while Manor clung to survival before a last-minute 2015 rescue deal. Haas will attempt to buck the trend this year and it has reason to be optimistic. Gene Haas accepted the option to defer his entry by a year and thus the 2016 project has been ongoing since early 2014. Haas has also struck a technical alliance with Ferrari which will save the new squad time and money, while it has recruited Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez to pilot the yet-to-be-named cars.
Formula 1’s latest rookie
Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz Jr., Felipe Nasr, Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi and Alexander Rossi all made their full-time bows in 2015 but as it stands Jolyon Palmer will be the championship’s sole rookie in 2016. Palmer collected the GP2 crown in imperious fashion in 2014, his fourth year in the category, and tested for Force India before joining Lotus in a reserve capacity. Palmer completed 13 Friday sessions last year and when Grosjean switched to Haas he was duly promoted alongside Pastor Maldonado, who himself emerged on top in GP2 back in 2010.
No new engine manufacturer will be joining the fraternity in 2016 but there are a few minor changes among the established outfits. Red Bull, having unsuccessfully lobbied Mercedes and Ferrari, will remain with Renault in a marriage of convenience which sees the units branded Tag Heuer. Junior team Toro Rosso will return to Ferrari power after two seasons with Renault though the STR11s will be fitted with year-old units. Manor Marussia, having been supplied with year-old Ferrari power in 2015, will switch to current-year Mercedes units in 2016.
This year’s Formula 1 calendar will be the longest on record, with 21 races spread across the course of the season. The most high-profile change is the return of the European Grand Prix, which will be held for the first time in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, this summer. Germany makes a return at Hockenheim following its absence in 2015 – though the long-term future remains uncertain – while Russia has moved to May and the Malaysian Grand Prix has been shifted to October.
Will there be more noise?
Technical regulations have remained comparatively static across the winter – especially with major changes planned for 2017 – but one tweak is that cars must require a separate wastegate for exhaust gases to pass through. Formula 1 has been criticised in some quarters for the underwhelming sound of the V6 turbo units which were introduced in 2014. It is anticipated that this regulation change will mean that the cars which grace the circuits this year will be significantly louder than their predecessors.
Pirelli’s new tyre and rules
Pirelli has been Formula 1’s sole tyre supplier since 2011 and last year extended its contract until the end of the 2019 season. Across the past five campaigns it has held a range of four dry weather compounds, of which two were taken to every event under the guise of an ‘Option’ and ‘Prime.’ This year Pirelli has introduced a purple-banded Ultra Soft tyre, which was trialled at last year’s Abu Dhabi test, while three compounds will be brought to each Grand Prix. It means that drivers could run three different compounds within the course of a race, thus opening up the strategy, which the sport hopes will lead to greater entertainment.