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F1 mid-season review part one: Mercedes still on top, but driver battle turns ugly

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F1 mid-season review part one: Mercedes still on top, but driver battle turns ugly
Aug 8, 2016, 4:42 PM

In the first of our mid-season review posts, JAonF1 looks back on highs and lows of the Mercedes team during the first half of the 2016 Formula 1 s...

In the first of our mid-season review posts, JAonF1 looks back on highs and lows of the Mercedes team during the first half of the 2016 Formula 1 season.

The German manufacturer picked up where it left off in 2015, with a one-two finish in the Australian Grand Prix, as Nico Rosberg added four wins from the first four races to go with his three from the final three events last year.

Ferrari pushed Mercedes hard in Australia, where Sebastian Vettel could well have won had the Italian team chosen a different strategy during the mid-race red flag, but Rosberg romped to straightforward wins in Bahrain, China and Russia in the next three rounds.

Lewis Hamilton

There were early questions over the team’s reliability – particularly when Lewis Hamilton encountered qualifying engine problems in China and Russia – and with its start procedure, which allowed Vettel to jump the Silver Arrows in Australia, and dropped Hamilton into the clutches of Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain.

The Spanish Grand Prix marked the low-point of the team’s season so far as its drivers collided on the first lap and crashed out of the race, which ultimately handed victory to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. That catastrophe was followed by Hamilton’s win in Monaco – a brilliant drive that was aided by Red Bull’s own calamity, this time in the pits – before Rosberg returned to the top spot in Baku.

Hamilton won the next race in Austria, but that event was again overshadowed by a collision with Rosberg – this time on the final lap, which dropped the German, who took the blame for the incident, to fourth.

Nico Rosberg

The world champion then comfortably won the final three races before the summer break – Britain, Hungary and Germany – to overturn a championship deficit to Rosberg that had 43 points after the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.

As well as it’s early since reliability concerns, Mercedes was also hindered by the team radio restrictions that were more strictly enforced from the start of the season before being relaxed ahead of the Hockenheim round. The team was unable to help Hamilton when he became stuck in an incorrect engine setting at the European Grand Prix, and its instructions to Rosberg on how to overcome a gearbox problem at Silverstone incurred a post-race penalty that dropped him from second to third.

Pace progression

Looking at Mercedes best time in qualifying for the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix – the first purpose built track F1 visited this season – and the team’s performance step from the previous year is clear to see.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton claimed pole position in 2016 with a 1m29.493 – the fastest ever F1 lap at the Sakhir circuit, although not the in-race lap record – which is 3.078s faster than his pole time in 2015 and a further 0.6s quicker than Rosberg’s best qualifying lap in 2014.

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Season Bahrain qualifying time Pace progression
2014 1m33.185s N/A
2015 1m32.571s 0.614s faster than 2014
2016 1m29.493s 3.692s faster than 2014

Driver highs and lows - Lewis Hamilton:

The triple world champion has recovered well from his early season setbacks and Rosberg’s initial success. His three commanding wins at Silverstone, Budapest and Hockenheim sent him into the summer break with a 19-point championship lead.

His wet weather pace in Monaco was scintillating, which helped put him in the hunt for a first race win there since 2008 and Red Bull’s pitstop blunder did the rest – he hasn’t looked back since.

XPB.cc Lewis Hamilton Daniel Ricciardo

Arguably the low point of Hamilton’s season so far came in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, where he made a number of errors before crashing in Q3.

Nico Rosberg:

Rosberg made a perfect start to 2016 by winning the first four races of the season, but his championship lead was eroded and reversed following the Barcelona crash.

Those four early wins stand out, as does his pole position in Germany, where a throttle problem meant he had one shot to depose Hamilton, which he took convincingly despite having additional fuel on board.

Lewis Hamilton

Where Hamilton’s pace in the wet at Monaco was brilliant, Rosberg’s was dire and the team was forced to ask him to pull aside and let his teammate go by. But his two driving standards penalties – one for the last lap crash in Austria and a second for forcing Verstappen off the track in Germany – have needlessly cost him points.

Looking ahead

Mercedes appears to have the constructors’ championship sewn up, despite Toto Wolff’s assertions that nothing is won yet, but the battle between Hamilton and Rosberg for the drivers’ crown could yet go either way.

Hamilton’s reliability problems means he is virtually guaranteed to take a grid penalty for new power unit elements a some point in the second half of the season – probably at Spa or Monza where overtaking is easier.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg needs to recapture the form he showed in the opening races of the year if he is to topple Hamilton at the head of the championship. But in the last two seasons the world champion has accelerated away in the final third and already the momentum, and points, are with him once again.

What have you made of Mercedes so far in 2016? Who do you think will win the drivers’ title? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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Series Formula 1
Drivers Lewis Hamilton Shop Now
Teams McLaren Shop Now