By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
Last year in Formula 1 there were essentially three classifications of competitor within the paddock.
- Race Winners: Teams capable of winning races
- Mercedes and Ferrari
- Mid-Pack: Teams capable of consistently scoring points
- Williams, Red Bull, Force India, Toro Rosso and Lotus (now Renault)
- Back-Markers: Lucky ducks who only scored points when they fell into their laps
- Sauber, McLaren and Manor
And yes, it is an absolute travesty to see McLaren as a Back-Marker.
This year, expect to see a much larger group competing for points. The Mid-Pack will grow and it is possible that the Back-Marker group will vanish.
In 2015 Mercedes and Ferrari brought home approximately 60% of the available points. The remaining teams, except for Manor, split the 40% left. This year will be different with a more normalized distribution of the available points. It is entirely possible that there will be no Back-Markers at all this season. Instead, expect a large, competitive Mid-Pack that are all reasonable point scorers. Lets take a look.
In 2014, Red Bull Racing was the only team, other than Mercedes, to secure a race win, as Daniel Ricciardo notched three victories in the season. In 2015, their fortune reversed. Red Bull only grabbed 187 points, less than 10% of the total points available. They battled issues with their power unit that left them, surprisingly, a mid pack team struggling to find its identity.
Williams was similar to Red Bull, but in reverse. They have consistently improved performance in the last few years, but have not occupied the top step of the podium since Pastor Maldonado’s surprise victory in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Williams did well to finish in 3rd position in the Constructors’ Championship last year but will remain mid-pack until they can break through with another win.
Force India should easily remain a points scoring entity having Mercedes power and the strong B spec chassis as a base for 2016 flyer. They may be surprised, however, by enhanced competition from teams who were weaker last year. McLaren would be the most logical candidate to skim points from Force India, Toro Rosso, Sauber and also Renault could chip away at what in recent years has become the darling of the midfield.
McLaren should improve drastically this season. The struggles with the Honda power unit were well documented last season. We waited and waited for any inkling of improvement but were left with empty promises and Fernando Alonso sunning in Brazil. It would be a huge surprise if Honda did not deliver an enormous improvement on the power side of the new McLaren as both companies are too experienced, and too proud, to remain mired in the sludge.
Manor Racing has scored points only once in its history, when Jules Bianchi secured a 9th place finish at Monaco in 2014. They have consistently been the weakest team on the grid but that may change this year having secured the powerful Mercedes power unit. They have also inked a deal with Williams that will see their gearbox and suspension pieces coming from Grove. The team should take a big step forward and it is not at all unreasonable to expect that Manor will score points this season.
Finally, all eyes are on the American entry from Gene Haas. Haas F1 Team have been very outspoken about their readiness and have pronounced the capability of scoring points immediately in Australia. With support from Ferrari, the Haas entry will certainly be the most interesting roll out as we approach testing next week.
Talk is cheap, as we saw last year with McLaren, and getting all the mechanical gremlins in line is often a larger task than expected. Like Force India, Haas may produce a strong car, but with the Mid-Pack being so competitive, even a strong entry may have trouble securing a top 10 finish.
The take home is this! It appears there will be more viable teams competing for the leftover points week in and week out. This should result in a leveled playing field in the Mid-Pack, intense battles throughout the field, and with a little luck from Manor and Haas, the elimination of non-points scoring teams. A result that will surely boost the health and vitality of the sport.