The 2016 Formula One season begins this Thursday, when the 81st Australian Grand Prix kicks off at Albert Park in Melbourne on March 17. But what's new for 2016? Who's driving for who this year? And which teams will be vying for the championship? Read on…
Rule changes – Engines
Following the 2014 debut of the electrically-assisted turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 Formula 1 engine, 2016 marks the introduction of some minor, though key, rule changes.
According to the F1 organisation, engine development restrictions have been “eased” for the new year, in a bid to allow previously struggling engine suppliers, such as Honda and Renault, to ‘catch up’ to the sports’ top players.
This said, the highest performing engines on the grid, namely from Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari, are expected to exceed 1000hp (735+kW) – up 400hp on the 600hp (440+kW) outputs claimed in 2014.
In an attempt to appease fans unhappy with the aural excitement of what is purported to be the pinnacle of motor racing, the cars’ exhaust systems have also been revised for 2016.
Technically speaking, the turbocharger’s wastegate chamber, which was previously integrated into the exhaust system, has now been separated from the exhaust.
The goal is to allow more raw turbo noise to be emitted from the cars, increase volume, and thus (hopefully) make fans happier.
Rule changes – Tyres
New for 2016, F1’s exclusive tyre supplier, Pirelli, have not only revised the basic construction of their tyres – in an effort to reduce overheating when pushed – but also introduced a fifth dry-weather tyre compound to the outgoing 2015 range.
Discernable by distinctive purple ‘Pirelli P Zero’ branding, the new ‘ultrasoft’ compound joins last year’s line-up of supersoft (red), soft (yellow), medium (white) and hard (orange). Intermediates will again be green, with blue again denoting wets.
Pirelli will supply every team with three compounds per race and nominate two compounds that must be used by every team at every round. The tyre manufacturer will also control what compound is to be used for a specific round’s final qualifying session (Q3).
For 2016, each driver will be allocated a total of 13 sets of tyres for each race weekend. Outside of this limitation, and the other respective tyre regulations, drivers can decide upon their own choice of compounds depending on what suits their car, their driving style or the track.
Rule changes – Driver/Team communications
Again intended to put more of the racing back into the hands of the drivers, even tighter radio communication restrictions between teams and drivers have also been brought in for the new F1 season.
A step up on limitations put in place ahead of the 2015 season, the new rules mean, between the one-minute signal and race-start signal, teams cannot instruct drivers to run through the pit lane, go to the back of the grid, or switch the car off, discuss the balance of the car, or conduct a radio check. Such topics are free to be discussed during allocated pre-race sighting laps, however.
With safety paramount to the sport, once a race is underway, teams will continue to be allowed to use radios to warn drivers of any on-track dangers, such as track conditions and weather, as well as to impart information relating to critical problems, such as punctures or an overheating engine, or if pitting or retiring the car is necessary. The same rules apply for passing on equivalent information relating to rivals’ cars, as well as any information to do with marshalling, flags, race cessation or any instructions received from race control.
Given some of the intra-team blow-ups that occurred last year between teams and drivers, this could be an interesting one in 2016. Watch this space…
Rule changes – Qualifying
Also making its F1 debut in Melbourne will be a brand new qualifying format.
In short, the previous season’s three qualifying sessions – Q1, Q2 and Q3 – remain, however, instead of drivers being knocked out at the end of each period, set times will initiate eliminations.
So, Q1 will be 16 minutes. At the seven-minute mark, the driver with the slowest time will be knocked out. From this point until the session ends, every 90 seconds will see the driver with the slowest time eliminated, until seven drivers are out, leaving 15 to progress to Q2.
Q2 will run for 15 minutes. This time, the driver with the slowest time will be dropped at the six-minute mark, with 90-second eliminations again occurring until another seven drivers are culled by the end of the session. This will leave eight drivers to battle it out in Q3.
Q3 will be 14 minutes. Between the five-minute mark and the chequered flag, the six drivers with the slowest times will be eliminated every 90 seconds, until the remaining two drivers have a final 90-second period to decide who claims pole position.
Teams and drivers
For 2016, the team and driver line-up is largely similar to last year, however, there are still some fresh names and faces to look out for.
Three rookies, Jolyon Palmer (Renault), Pascal Wehrlein (Manor Racing) and Rio Haryanto (Manor Racing) will all make their F1 debut at Albert Park, with Haryanto making history as the first Indonesian driver to enter F1.
With Lotus once more disappearing from the sport, thanks to a complete takeover by Renault, the French car maker again becomes a fully-fledged manufacturer in charge of its own engines and chassis – the first time it’s done so since 2009.
Renault will also again supply engines to the two Red Bull Racing cars of local lad Daniel Ricciardo and 21-year-old Russian Danii Kvyat. However, with tensions between the manufacturer and the energy drink giant strained beyond repair, the power unit will officially be branded as ‘TAG Heuer’ for the entirety of the season.
New to the grid for 2016 is the Haas F1 Team.
The first all-American-led team to race in Formula 1 since 1985, Gene Haas’ new team is highlighted by former Lotus driver Romain Grosjean and former Sauber driver and Ferrari tester Esteban Gutierrez. The US-based team has also recently signed 17-year-old Connecticut-native Santino Ferrucci as its 2016 development driver.
Red Bull Racing (TAG Heuer):
Force India (Mercedes):
Toro Rosso (Ferrari):
Calos Sainz Jnr
Manor Racing (Mercedes):
With eight days of pre-season testing at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya already under their belt, teams this year face a record 21 rounds in 2016.
Melbourne will again kick the year off, however, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim returns, and the Baku City Circuit will host the first-ever F1 race to be held in Azerbaijan.
2016 Formula 1 Calendar
Australia (Melbourne) - March 20
Bahrain (Sakhir) - April 3
China (Shanghai) - April 17
Russia (Sochi) - May 1
Spain (Catalunya) - May 15
Monaco (Monte Carlo) - May 29
Canada (Montreal) - June 12
Azerbaijan (Baku) - June 19
Austria (Spielberg) - July 3
Great Britain (Silverstone) - July 10
Hungary (Hungaroring) - July 24
Germany (Hockenheim) - July 31
Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps) - August 28
Italy (Monza) - September 4
Singapore (Marina Bay) - September 18
Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) - October 2
Japan (Suzuka) - October 9
United States (Austin) - October 23
Mexico (Mexico City) - October 30
Brasil (Sao Paulo) - November 13
Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina) - November 27
Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix facts
Last year, Lewis Hamilton claimed victory in Melbourne in his Mercedes, ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth for Red Bull Racing.
Hamilton recorded the fastest lap for the 5.3-kilometre, 16-turn Albert Park circuit in 2015, clocking a time of 1:30.945.
The outright F1 lap record around the Melbourne GP circuit, however, still belongs to Michael Schumacher, with the seven-time F1 World Champion stopping the clock in his Ferrari F2004 at 1:24.125.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Formula One images and your own track map for this weekend's event.
Will you be attending Melbourne’s 21st Formula 1 Grand Prix? And who are you picking for the top three places?