Toyota/Save Mart 350

Martin Truex wins at Sonoma, breaks 218-race winless streak

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Having won Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, maybe NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. might start thinking about competing in the 2014 Formula One race that’s to be held in his native New Jersey.

After all, if he can conquer the 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, running an F1 race in his home state might be a natural evolution.

Truex proved that road course winners do come from Joy-zee with a dominating performance in Sunday’s Sprint Cup event (led 51 of 110 laps), snapping a 218-race winless streak for the Mayetta, N.J. native.

Truex was clearly emotional when interviewed by TNT in victory lane after the race, several times brushing back tears and his voice cracking at times. It was also an early birthday present to himself: he turns 33 on June 29.

“I can’t put it into words,” Truex told TNT. “The team, they’re just phenomenal. We went 200-plus races without a win. It feels damn good.”

In seven previous starts at Sonoma, Truex’s best finish was eighth in 2011. Four of his other starts there resulted in finishes of 20th or lower, including 22nd in last year’s race.

Ironically, Truex becomes the ninth consecutive first-time road course winner at Sonoma.

It was only the second-ever Cup win for Truex, whose first win came at his “home track,” Dover International Speedway, in 2007.

Since then, the two-time Nationwide Series champion (2004 and 2005) switched teams, moving from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010.

Sunday’s win makes it two wins in a row at Sonoma for Michael Waltrip Racing. Teammate Clint Bowyer won last year’s race. It was also MWR’s first win as an organization in 2013.

In 16 races thus far this season, Truex has four top-five finishes including Sunday’s win and two other top-10 showings.

But perhaps the best news of all for Truex and his fans is that with the win, he moved back into the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings.

There are 10 more races remaining for him to solidify his position in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. If he does make the Chase, it would be only the third time Truex has done so in his Cup career (2007 and 2012).

“Today was just our day,” Truex said. “It was just our time and the car was flawless. We’re going to get a bunch of them now, I can tell you that.”

For his sake, let’s hope that’s the case. He said something similar about winning a bunch of races after his first win at Dover – and then it took six years before he’d get his next one.

F1 2016 Season Review: MotorSportsTalk’s Driver Rankings

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  The Class of 2016 F1 Drivers photo before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Following on from the first part of our review of the 2016 Formula 1 season published on Friday, the second feature profiles the entire grid in the driver rankings.

Deviating from championship order in a bid to try and see who was really the best driver in 2016 is always a challenge, but perhaps more so this year than in previous ones.

There was a definite top five that, in reality, could be ordered a number of other different ways, with each variation having a strong argument in its favor, such were the fine margins between 2016’s outstanding performers.

23 of the 24 drivers who raced in F1 this year have been included in the ranking, with Stoffel Vandoorne being excluded. Despite putting in an almighty display on debut in Bahrain, with just one race under his belt, it is impossible to accurately rank the McLaren driver against the rest of the field.

Without further ado, here are MST’s rankings for the season.

23. Rio Haryanto – Manor (new entry)

Rio Haryanto may have been the latest pay driver to grace the F1 grid, but he did himself no disservice during his half-season with Manor. The Indonesian ran highly-rated teammate Pascal Wehrlein close in qualifying, but suffered a whitewash in the races against the Mercedes junior across the garage.

Season Highlight: Nearly reaching Q2 in Baku, finishing 17th.

22. Esteban Gutierrez – Haas (re-entry, 17th in 2014)

So much promise surrounded Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 with the new Haas team after a year away, but it faded into disappointment. Sure, there were unlucky moments, yet misfortune is not enough to explain the 29-0 loss to teammate Romain Grosjean in the points standings. A tough year for the Mexican.

Season Highlight: Making it through to Q3 at Monza and Suzuka.

21. Felipe Nasr – Sauber (-5 from 2015)

Times were hard at Sauber through much of 2016, with financial issues limiting any real progress in the early part of the year. The rebuilding program is now well underway, and Nasr played his part in that by charging to P9 in Brazil to take two crucial points for the team (and the prize money along with it).

But Nasr lost out in the head-to-head battle with teammate Marcus Ericsson in both qualifying and races, making it a disappointing campaign given the buzz around the Brazilian.

Season Highlight: P9 at home in Brazil, albeit aided by a perfect strategy.

20. Esteban Ocon – Manor (new entry)

Esteban Ocon finally got his long-awaited shot in F1 when Rio Haryanto’s backing fell through, making his debut at Spa. The Frenchman was immediately on-pace with teammate Pascal Wehrlein, beating him 5-3 in races both finished and even flirting with the points on occasion. A good first half-season in F1 by all accounts.

Season Highlight: Spending much of the Brazilian GP in the points before ending up P12.

19. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber (+1 from 2015)

Marcus Ericsson was one of the quiet successes of 2016. Like Nasr, he was hamstrung by Sauber’s financial struggles, yet Ericsson managed to outclass his better-rated teammate through the year. Ericsson will now be hoping to carry this form through to 2017, when hopefully he will make a return to the points.

Season Highlight: A brave one-stop strategy in Mexico that left him 11th, agonizingly close to the points.

18. Jolyon Palmer – Renault (new entry)

Expectations were mixed for Jolyon Palmer’s debut F1 season with the returning Renault team, but the Briton failed to impress as many had hoped. Palmer struggled to adapt to life in F1, with a miserable weekend in Monaco being a low point where he crashed three times. However, signs of progression were impossible to ignore later in the year as Palmer picked up his first point in Malaysia. He needs this steady improvement to carry into 2017.

Season Highlight: P10 in Malaysia, marking his first F1 point.

17. Pascal Wehrlein – Manor (new entry)

Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein arrived in F1 off the back of a title-winning DTM campaign, and quickly set to work impressing the grid. The German scored just the second point in Manor’s seven-season history in Austria, and reached Q2 six times through the year. He may have failed to blow Rio Haryanto away or beat Esteban Ocon, but it was nevertheless a good rookie season by all accounts.

Season Highlight: P10 in Austria, keeping his cool for a breakthrough point for Manor.

16. Kevin Magnussen – Renault (re-entry, 12th in 2014)

K-Mag’s F1 comeback was a good news story given his hard-luck McLaren departure, but the Dane didn’t exactly light things up (except for when his car did in practice at Malaysia). Yes, Renault had its struggles through the year, but just two top-10 finishes remained a disappointment for all. Let’s hope Magnussen finally gets his shot in a semi-decent car with Haas next year.

Season Highlight: Dodging early chaos to finish seventh in Russia.

15. Jenson Button – McLaren (-3 from 2015)

As much as we’d like to say that Jenson Button’s (probable) final F1 season was one packed with memorable on-track displays, it just wasn’t. Button was firmly in Fernando Alonso’s shadow at McLaren, scoring just five more points than he did in 2015, a year that most at the team have wiped from memory. He did have one stunning weekend in Austria, where he qualified third and finished sixth, boosting an otherwise-measly points total.

Season Highlight: Qualifying third and running second early on in Austria, before winding up P6.

14. Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull/Toro Rosso (-7 from 2015)

A really tough year for Daniil Kvyat. After early heroics in Bahrain and China, the latter race yielding his second F1 podium, the Russian’s star fell when he crashed into Sebastian Vettel twice at Sochi, giving Red Bull the excuse it needed to swap Kvyat with Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso.

From then on, Kvyat’s season was about fixing himself after appearing rather lost mid-season. Much-needed respite in the summer break led to a series of good results to close out the season despite the engine struggles Toro Rosso had with the 2015-spec Ferrari power unit. Singapore stood out.

Season Highlight: Kvyat’s ‘torpedo’ act in China and his thug life line to Vettel: “I’m on the podium so it’s OK!”

13. Felipe Massa – Williams (non-mover from 2015)

Like Button, we’d like to say that Felipe Massa’s final season in F1 was one to remember. But like Button, we just can’t. Massa made a strong start to the year, picking up P5 finishes in Australia and Russia, but finished no higher than seventh from then on. Bringing home 32 points less than teammate Valtteri Bottas showed the gulf in class between the two this year.

That said, Massa gave us more emotional memories to end his career. His walk down the pit lane in Brazil will surely go down in F1 folklore as one of the most tear-jerking goodbyes.

Season Highlight: Massa’s final show of heart in Brazil as the paddock said farewell.

12. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India (+3 from 2015)

Nico Hulkenberg is a frustrating driver. Despite his great ability, as evidenced by his debut Le Mans victory in 2015, Hulkenberg is still yet to score a podium finish in F1. Admittedly, some of that this year came down to strategic misfires, but Spa and Sao Paulo stood out as the latest lost opportunities.

Force India once again proved itself to be F1’s best pound-for-pound team in 2016, scaling to P4 in the constructors’ championship. Hulkenberg played a huge role in this success, but was in Sergio Perez’s shadow through the year.

Season Highlight: Coming close to a breakthrough podium at Spa, running P2 early on before ending up fourth as Lewis Hamilton fought back.

11. Romain Grosjean – Haas (-6 from 2015)

Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas was always regarded as a risk, but when he took the American team to P6 in its debut race in Australia, it appeared to be a masterstroke. Another excellent drive followed in Bahrain, going one better to finish fifth, but the points then dried up as the reality of life in F1 bit the rookie operation.

Through it all, though, Grosjean kept fighting. For all of his ‘teenager raging on Xbox’ radio calls and complaints, Grosjean was the outstanding star for Haas in its debut season, winning arguably the most one-sided teammate battle against Esteban Gutierrez.

Season Highlight: Fifth place in Bahrain with a masterful display.

10. Valtteri Bottas – Williams (-2 from 2015)

Valtteri Bottas was one of the unsung heroes of the 2016 season. Williams clearly struggled this year as engine performance converged through the field, minimizing the advantage of its Mercedes unit. However, Bottas plowed on regardless, often taking the best result realistically possible for the team.

Williams was, at times, sixth-fastest through 2016, yet Bottas was able to push to eighth in the final championship standings and even take a podium in Canada. A good campaign for the Finn.

Season Highlight: Third in Canada, an opportunistic but well-taken result.

9. Sergio Perez – Force India (+1 from 2015)

Sergio Perez’s 2016 season was another quietly impressive one, building on his achievements last year. The Mexican scored two superb podiums: one thanks to good strategy in Monaco, and one thanks to outright pace throughout the weekend in Baku, where Perez nearly took a shock pole and qualified second on merit.

Force India’s rise to fourth in the constructors’ championship was undoubtedly a team effort, with Nico Hulkenberg matching Perez for much of the year, but the outstanding results were once again down to Checo.

Season Highlight: The Baku weekend, ending with third place in the race.

8. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari (+6 from 2015)

2016 was much better from Kimi Raikkonen. Gone was the inconsistency of 2014 and 2015, instead replaced by a solid pace and performance throughout the year. Raikkonen ran teammate Sebastian Vettel very close in the points race, and came close to his first win for the Scuderia since 2008 in Spain, but tailed off later in the year, failing to score a podium after Austria. Bwoah.

Much like Bottas or Perez, Raikkonen often took the best possible result given the pace of the Ferrari. Let’s see if he can continue this improvement in 2017, 10 years on from his World Championship.

Season Highlight: Second in Bahrain, splitting the Mercedes drivers with an impressive display.

7. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari (-5 from 2015)

For all of the expectation on both Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari following pre-season testing, 2016 proved to be a tough year for both parties. Victory opportunities were fleeting – Australia and Canada come to mind – but passed by as Ferrari snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Vettel’s form was still solid through 2016, taking P4 in the drivers’ championship, but we may be starting to see the early cracks in the much-heralded relationship with Ferrari…

Season Highlight: Second in Canada, where Vettel ran Hamilton very close for victory.

6. Carlos Sainz Jr. – Toro Rosso (+3 from 2015)

Carlos Sainz Jr. is a driver that could arguably be ranked higher, such was his excellence throughout the year. Max Verstappen’s departure from Toro Rosso helped to defuse much of the tension at the team, leaving Sainz to become team leader amid Daniil Kvyat’s struggles.

The Spaniard was quick early in the year, and despite Toro Rosso falling back in the pecking order with its 2015-spec Ferrari power unit later in the season, Sainz continued to flourish. P6 finishes in Austin and Mexico in difficult circumstances proved the quality of the youngster.

Season Highlight: Nearing a podium in Brazil through torrential rain and red flags.

5. Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso/Red Bull (-1 from 2015)

Verstappen? Down one place from last year?! Yep, really. Not because Verstappen was worse than he was in 2015. Far from it. Just because there were four more outstanding drivers through the year.

Verstappen was nevertheless incredible during this campaign. His move up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso may have been sudden, but the Dutchman dealt with it perfectly and answered his critics in the most convincing style by winning on debut.

It was a year filled with magic drives from Verstappen, with Brazil likely to be an iconic memory in years to come. However, there were also mistakes: the start at Spa, for one; his Monaco weekend for another. Verstappen’s qualifying form was lacking compared to Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and he lost 9-7 in races both finished – so there’s still room for improvement.

Season Highlight: Verstappen’s wet weather magic in Brazil – his car looked like it was in a different class.

4. Fernando Alonso – McLaren (+7 from 2015)

2016 was typical Fernando Alonso. As he has done for about the past eight years, Alonso took his sub-standard car and worked wonders with it, leading McLaren’s charge and even taking a top-10 finish in the drivers’ championship.

After escaping a horrific crash in Australia and missing one race through injury, Alonso quickly made up for the lost ground with P6 in Russia and a superb outing in Monaco, finishing fifth. Another P5 was chalked up late in the year in Austin, with a series of P7s mid-season – all while McLaren had, realistically, the sixth-fastest car.

There were few (if any) weekends where Alonso seemed off the boil and not at the peak of his powers. If this kind of improvement continues through 2017, then maybe his move to McLaren won’t seem so crazy after all.

Season Highlight: P5 in Monaco, having kept Rosberg at bay for much of the race.

3. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull (+3 from 2015)

Daniel Ricciardo always works with a smile, but in 2016, you could really see why. The Australian rarely put a foot wrong this season, and really should have won two races, with a sure-fire victory in Monaco being lost after a dud pit call by the Red Bull team.

Ricciardo did not crumble under the pressure that Max Verstappen’s arrival at Red Bull created, either. Instead, he did his talking on-track, proving himself to be ahead in the teammate battle – a big statement ahead of a possible championship charge next year.

Like Alonso, Ricciardo rarely failed to max out the potential of the Red Bull RB12 car, and was massively consistent with points in 20 of the 21 races.

Oh, and he brought the shoey to F1…

Season Highlight: Dominating proceedings in Monaco before his tough and undeserved defeat to Hamilton.

2. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes (-1 from 2015)

More wins and pole positions than any other driver wasn’t enough to give Lewis Hamilton the World Championship, and nor is it enough to give him P1 in our driver rankings (we imagine he’s more upset about the latter…).

Let’s not dress Hamilton’s season up as being anything less than an unfortunate one. Had it not been for his setbacks in China, Russia, Belgium or Malaysia, he would most likely have been World Champion ahead of Nico Rosberg.

But the same is true of his poor start in Australia. And his poor start in Bahrain. And his anonymous weekend in Baku. And his poor start in Italy. And his struggles in Singapore. And his poor start in Japan.

When Hamilton was on it, he was on it. But there were too many weekends this year where he was clearly second best to Rosberg. That’s why he was left in the situation he was from Suzuka onwards, where four straight wins to close out the season weren’t enough to take the title.

Season Highlight: His demolition of the field in tricky conditions in Brazil. Hamilton made something very difficult look very easy that weekend.

1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes (+2 from 2015)

Nico Rosberg’s championship success in 2016 is probably one of the most peculiar in F1 history. Despite winning nine races, questions remain regarding the legitimacy of his success given the comparisons to Hamilton, and the misfortune that the Briton suffered through the year.

So yes, Rosberg got lucky at times. Many of his victories were taken without any serious challenge. But he had to be in the position to seize that opportunity in the first place. So let’s not slight the German simply because Hamilton wasn’t there to put up a fight.

Because there were plenty of occasions where Rosberg proved himself to be a very different and more adept racer to the one that lost to a gust of wind in 2015. He still had poor weekends  (Monaco being the strongest example) and thought rashly at times (the clash with Hamilton in Austria being the biggest flashpoint), but was on the whole much better this time around.

Rosberg didn’t choke. Even when Daniel Ricciardo was bearing down on him in Singapore; even when Verstappen was charging through the Interlagos rain; even when Hamilton was backing him into the pack in Abu Dhabi – every step of the way, Rosberg kept his cool.

His one race at a time mentality may have been infuriating to many, but it did the trick. Rosberg is World Champion. As the now-retired German said many a time through 2016: “That’s it!”

Season Highlight: Holding on in Singapore to beat Ricciardo by half a second, a crucial win in the title race.

PREVIOUS MST DRIVER RANKINGS

2014 F1 season
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Liberty Media shareholders to vote on proposed F1 buyout plans

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer, Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The shareholders of Liberty Media Corporation will vote on plans surrounding the company’s proposed acquisition of Formula 1 at a meeting next month.

Liberty announced back in September that it had agreed to acquire F1 from its current majority shareholder, CVC, in a deal worth an estimated $8 billion.

Liberty has already completed the first stage of its buyout, acquiring an 18.7% minority stake in a cash deal.

The shareholders of the company will now vote on various plans surrounding the deal should it go ahead at a meeting on January 17, 2017.

A statement from Liberty notes that shareholders “will be asked to vote on proposals relating to Liberty’s issuance of shares of its Series C Liberty Media common stock in connection with the proposed acquisition of Formula 1 and the renaming of the Liberty Media Group and the Liberty Media common stock to the Formula One Group and the Liberty Formula One common stock, respectively, following the proposed acquisition of Formula 1 by Liberty.”

Liberty’s arrival in F1 has already resulted in the appointment of American businessman Chase Carey as the sport’s new chairman, with an expansion of interests in the United States expected to follow.

Long-standing CEO Bernie Ecclestone will remain in his position following the proposed takeover, working closely with Carey to continue to develop F1.

Flavio Briatore: Fernando Alonso won’t take vacant Mercedes F1 seat

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Flavio Briatore, his wife Elisabetta Gregoraci and their son Falco Nathan attend the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Flavio Briatore has dismissed speculation suggesting that Fernando Alonso could replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Briatore previously managed Alonso and remains a close friend of the Spaniard, who currently races for McLaren.

Rosberg announced just five days after winning his maiden F1 title that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up the most coveted seat on the grid.

Alonso is known to be desperate for a third world championship, having not claimed a title since 2006, leading to speculation that he could push for a move to Mercedes for 2017.

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff said that Alonso was a driver that officials at the German marque “have to consider”, but was quick to acknowledge the contract in place with McLaren.

Briatore has become the latest figure to dismiss the idea, also making light of the fact that Alonso is linked to every free seat of note in F1.

“How is it that whenever there is a seat, you always think of Fernando?” Briatore told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But there is a contract and we respect it.”

Alonso broke out of his Ferrari deal early at the end of 2014 to move to McLaren, but Briatore insisted that this was due to an escape clause in his contract.

“The situation was different. We had a pact with [Ferrari president Luca] di Montezemolo,” Briatore said.

“If we didn’t win the championship in 2014, we would be free, and Luca kept that promise.

“[Ferrari team principal Marco] Mattiacci offered a three-year renewal, but we refused.”

F1 2016 Review: Stories of the season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16- Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Formula 1 season may have ended a little under two weeks ago now, but it was perhaps right that we let the dust settle before kicking off our series of year reviews on MotorSportsTalk.

Last Friday saw Nico Rosberg perform the ultimate mic drop by announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days after winning his first F1 World Championship.

We’ll get to that in a bit when looking back on the stories of the season – but through the rest of the year, F1 offered a number of intriguing and notable moments.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the 2016 F1 season.

MERCEDES MAKES IT THREE

Mercedes winning a third straight championship double may not seem like a big story at face value, but it really, really is. Given we are now three years in to the V6 turbo era of F1 and the field has noticeable converged, for Mercedes to have racked up a record number of wins, points and poles is an astonishing achievement.

Very rarely have we seen a true threat to Mercedes’ surpremacy, either. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel’s three victories came on weekends where Mercedes was simply second best. This time around? The two blots on Mercedes’ record book – Spain and Malaysia – were due to mitigating circumstances.

Red Bull and Ferrari may have lurked at times, but in reality, the gap at the front only grew bigger in 2016.

HAMILTON/ROSBERG RIVALRY GETS ANOTHER (FINAL) CHAPTER

The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg reached a fiery crescendo in 2016. On-track clashes in Spain and Austria stoked the fire nicely, forcing Mercedes to revise its “terms of engagement” with both drivers to prevent recurrences.

While we failed to see any titanic on-track battles between the duo, this was certainly the bitterest year yet in Hamilton/Rosberg relations. The lengths that Hamilton went to in the title decider to stop his teammate winning was evidence of how sour relations had become, yet he was gracious in defeat once Rosberg had clinched the title.

Following Rosberg’s retirement, it looks like we’ve seen the last chapter of one of F1’s most intense rivalries. While it may have been messy at times, it has at least ensured that Mercedes’ spell of dominance was not a complete procession.

ROSBERG DROPS THE MIC

The last F1 story of the year was the biggest. Nico Rosberg’s sensational decision to retire from racing just five days after winning his maiden world championship shocked the entire F1 paddock (well, except Lewis Hamilton) and the sporting world in general.

Everything about the story was a surprise: the decision itself; the nature in which it happened; the ‘OK-ness’ about it all, as well. F1 will be without its champion next year despite him being perfectly fit and well, young, and coming off the best season of his career. It’s a weird situation…

It also brings into question the legacy that Rosberg will leave behind. Will he be remembered as the driver who defeated one of F1’s all-time greats in Hamilton? Or as the man who was ‘one and done’? Time will tell.

HAAS HITS THE GRID

The star-spangled banner returned to the F1 grid full-time in 2016 as NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous operation make its debut. Most were unsure what to expect from Haas F1 Team during its debut season, making Romain Grosjean’s charge to sixth on debut in Australia a surprise for most.

Grosjean went one better at the next race in Bahrain, finishing fifth, but it proved to be the high point of the season. The strategic mastery we saw early on disappeared, and the teething problems that come with any new project began to crop up time and time again. The team scored just one point in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, it was a strong start to life in F1 from Haas. Let’s see what more it can do in 2017.

FERRARI STRUGGLES, RED BULL EXCELS

When Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen vaulted to the front of the pack on the opening lap of the season in Australia, it seemed our prayers had been answered: finally, there would be some resistance to Mercedes’ steam-roller act we’d seen for the previous two years in F1.

It was about as good as things got for the Scuderia though. Come the end of the year, both Vettel and Raikkonen ended up winless, with Ferrari slipping behind Red Bull to third in the constructors’ championship. It was a big come-down after the hope that ran through the 2015 campaign and off-season.

As for Red Bull? 2016’s success was a big surprise. Renault finally got its act together on the engine side of things, giving Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo the tools with which to win one race each, and even light the fire under the Mercedes boys later in the year.

VERSTAPPEN STEPS UP, STEALS THE SHOW

Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat just four races in to the new season was a major story, with the crest-fallen Daniil Kvyat moving back down to Toro Rosso. We knew this teen protege was going to be special, but few could have predicted just how special he would be through 2016.

From victory on debut (albeit a fortunate one) to his defence of Hamilton in Japan, and, most impressive of all, his magic in the rain at Interlagos, this was a memorable year for Verstappen.

Don’t go thinking this is the finished product yet. Verstappen’s qualifying form remains a bit patchy, lacking the ouright pace over one lap of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and there were costly errors through the year (the start at Spa being one).

But boy, if this is Verstappen as a sophomore, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in his twenties.

TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION

2016 was a year for the next generation of F1 to come to the fore. Besides Verstappen’s growing stardom, we saw his ex-teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., lead Toro Rosso and mark himself as one of the best up-and-comers on the grid.

Mercedes youngsters Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon both enjoyed impressive campaigns, the latter making his debut at Spa, with both now being linked to the vacant Mercedes seat.

We also saw Stoffel Vandoorne make his race debut, replacing the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain ahead of his full-time bow with McLaren next year, and had GP3 champion Charles Leclerc run in practice for Haas.

With Lance Stroll also poised to join the grid next year, we’re talking more and more about a younger generation in F1.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Tying in with that theme, 2016 saw the last hurrahs in F1 for Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, two of the sport’s veterans. Although Button could yet return in 2018, it’s highly unlikely.

Both ended their careers gracefully, bowing out with class in Abu Dhabi, although it’s hard to play their seasons up as being overly impressive given their form compared to teammates Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso.

With Rosberg now also out of the picture, the F1 grid is becoming more and more unrecognizable to the one we had 10 years ago.

Some of the other big stories were:

  • Force India’s best-ever finish in the constructors’ championship, beating Williams to fourth.
  • Liberty Media’s plan to buy F1, announced back in September.
  • F1’s first race in Baku, Azerbaijan, which proved to be a pleasant surprise.
  • McLaren’s continued revival as Honda makes progress.
  • The reliability of Lewis Hamilton’s car (or lack of) through the season.
  • The power struggle at McLaren that led to Ron Dennis’ exit.
  • Continued efforts to improve safety in F1 with the Halo device.
  • After a damp 2015, the roaring, record-breaking USGP in Austin in October (with a hat-tip to Taylor Swift).

And it is with a T-Swift lyric we shall close things out in our stories of the season. 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year for the world, but the F1 season acted as a kind of escape; a way to shake it off.