It’s been difficult to quantify the performance of the lower ranked teams over the course of last season. Various factors contributed to what was a changeable season for these four teams. My expectation is that there will be opportunities early on. As with every regulation change, unexpected results are always likely to occur. If teams like Sauber, or Manor if they manage to find a buyer, are going to score points, its going to be early. As the season progresses, I think we will see the teams with lower budgets falling behind more drastically than normal. This season is going to be all about aerodynamic development.
Haas’ stunning start to the year gradually descended into a run of poor performances and driver petulance. Pioneers of a unique entrance strategy into F1, the team looked set to be a real talking point for the entire season. Scoring strong points at their debut races, Haas seemed to have gone straight into the midfield as potential challengers to Williams. As the challenges began to mount though, their inexperience was highlighted. A fundamental break issue which plagued their car for the majority of the season remained un-resolved by the final round in Abu Dhabi.
It will be interesting to see exactly how the team begin their second season in Formula One. I am expecting them to improve on what was a successful debut. In order to do that, they will need to put the experience of last season to good use on their new car.
Their continuing relationship with Ferrari puts them in a unique position. They have the capacity to build a very competitive car, and so their targets are far higher than any normal new team world. It certainly puts them in the spotlight.
The announcement of Kevin Magnussen being placed alongside the proven Romain Grosjean gives team have an exciting driver line-up. Both of them are definitely quick, and it’s clear that these are two ambitious drivers eyeing up a drive with a top team in the future. Those two could carry this Haas team forward, if the car is capable.
Toro Rosso are the other team who I think will be looking forwards. They will know they are capable of challenging the likes of McLaren and Renault. After running horrendously ill-fated car running a year-old engine, the promise of a new season must fill the team with optimism. They have a new engine, and a history of designing quick cars. The new aero rules could play very nicely into their hands.
Carlos Sainz is going to be engulfed with expectation this season. Having virtually matched Max Verstappen during their first year as team-mates, his maturity to deal with such an appalling situation last year deserved all of the plaudits that came his way. Not only his dreadfully under-powered car, but his team-mate’s promotion to the Red Bull team. With a car that is at least the same specification of his competitors, I will be looking for him to meet those expectations. He needs to get his head down an show the kind of form that has garnered those comparisons with Verstappen. With the kind of speed he has shown, he should be on the radar of every top team.
Unfortunately, I don’t hold the same hopes for Kvyat. I will be surprised if the poor guy completes the season. He had a shocking time of it last year, and he’s going to need all of his strength if he wants to turn it around this year. I think it’s safe to say that any mistake made by the Russian will be heavily scrutinised by his superiors. Meanwhile, Pier Gasly continues to lie in wait of a drive.
Looking at Sauber and Manor, they’re two teams on the absolute edge. The current situation with Manor is deeply unfortunate. However, it’s quite possible that had Felipe Nasr not scored those crucial points for Sauber, their positions would have been exchanged. Sauber have long been in financial turmoil. Last season was little more than a disaster. Their decline has been evident for a number of years now, and I see no immediate signs that their fortunes are about to change. They do, however, hold the final guaranteed seat on the grid for 2017. There will be surely be a lot of money thrown at that seat.
It’s still to be decided whether Manor will be on the grid at all next year. If they are able to compete in Melbourne, any hope of having a
car that is competitive at this late stage is doubtful. They need some serious investment, and I don’t think that is forthcoming.
Chances are going to be limited for these teams. If McLaren and Renault progress as they should, it’s going to be a real challenge for any of these four to break into the points. Haas have the potential if they are able to get the car working. Toro Rosso have a top driver who is capable of carrying them forwards. All it will take is for one team to get the aerodynamics right and they could get the one result they need to secure a solid result in the championship.
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