By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
The meat of the Formula 1 schedule is here.
Over the next eight weeks, F1 will race six times, primarily through Europe.
This is the heart of the Formula 1 season as the paddock visits classic tracks including Silverstone, the Hungaroring, and Hockenheim. They will also visit the Red Bull Ring in Austria as well as the new street based circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan. This middle section of the season starts in Canada and will be the critical time in setting up the players who will remain standing after the August break leading to the final push for the Driver’s World Championship.
By the time we reach the summer break, all of the pretenders will have been separated from the real contenders and we should expect to see the two Mercedes drivers, toe to toe, competing for the crown.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have significant reasons to stand tall. Hamilton’s 44 race wins stand only 7 victories behind Alain Prost for second position all time. Hamilton is also chasing Sebastian Vettel’s 4 championship titles. With an additional title for Hamilton, he can make a strong argument for the greatest driver of his era.
With the rules package changing next year, this is Hamilton’s best chance of grabbing his 4th World Driving Championship. Hamilton could also easily clip off 7 victories in the 15 remaining races, equaling Prost in victories and Vettel in titles. Hamilton’s legacy is straight out in front of him but at this point, it is dependent on Hamilton racing his own inner Hamilton.
Remarkable! That will be fun to watch and certainly motivation for Hamilton!
Still, especially this year, Nico Rosberg has been on form and with a 24 point lead going into the Canadian Grand Prix, Rosberg is controlling the championship from the front. Unfortunately, his Monaco performance opened the door for the trailing Hamilton and with the majority of the F1 season in front of us, the Rosberg advantage could evaporate as early as the Grand Prix in Canada today.
Still, Rosberg is putting together his best year ever and seems to realize the critical nature of this year in his F1 future. With Rosberg in a contract year, his performance this season will determine whether he stays with the front running Mercedes team or plies his talent elsewhere. Rosberg would be a welcome addition to any team in the field. With 18 race wins, he stands 2 victories short of World Champion Kimi Raikkonen and is 16th in total GP wins. If Rosberg lets loose a title winning run, it will be with multiple victories which could easily place him on the cusp of the top ten for all time F1 race winners.
Either way, Rosberg or Hamilton will need to grab at least 6 victories this season to bring home the championship. This critical span of races will position the racers for the final run after the summer break in August.
In addition to watching the drivers championship, Red Bull and Ferrari are poised to battle head to head for the constructors bridesmaid. For Ferrari, there is a lot at stake including their Scuderia pride which has taken a massive dent recently. In a year where they were expected to challenge Mercedes for race wins, Ferrari has actually worked backward and is competing with Red Bull instead. Yes, that same Red Bull that floundered behind Williams in 2015.
Ferrari has brought an upgraded turbo to the party this week in Canada, using 3 engine tokens, with the intention of improving their performance. This mid summer segment of the calendar will determine what Ferrari will be competing for this season. If they are battling with Red Bull instead of Mercedes expect to see some changes to the Ferrari management line up.
The other large scale campaign that will take form during this middle segment of the season will be the annual driver shuffle that usually starts to take place during the summer. In truth, there are drivers who will be fighting for their Formula 1 careers. The hub of the revolution will hedge on two drivers; Kimi Raikkonen and Nico Rosberg.
Kimi Raikkonen’s mid season form may well determine whether the Finn stays at Ferrari and could also determine whether there are broad sweeping changes to the whole team at Maranello. Raikkonen has expressed a desire to stay with the team and Sebastian Vettel seems to like having his friend Raikkonen as a teammate. With Max Verstappen now wrapped into the Red Bull fold and Raikkonen driving as well or slightly better than last year, deciding on whether to replace Raikkonen may depend simply upon who is available.
This leads us to the Rosberg contract situation at Mercedes. If Hamilton storms away to another World Championship, Rosberg could well wind up seeing red coveralls in his future. Rosberg has mentioned looking at the Ferrari option while still maintaining his primary objective of staying at Mercedes.
Rosberg is hedging his bets. Wise move!
If Rosberg manages to win an F1 title for Mercedes, it would appear that Mercedes would continue with their current driver line up, but how would that affect Hamilton?
So it is Rosberg and Raikkonen that will set the silly season aflame. Their performance over the next few months will be the kindling for whether we see an active or passive set of driver moves.
Finally, the middle segment of races will see some of the teams abandon development of the 2016 challengers and move fiercer attention toward the new regulations in 2017. The FIA have altered the Technical and Sporting Regulations with key areas being adjusted including engine parity for performance and cost, wider tires, wider wings and wider overall tracks for the cars. This is all intended to make the cars faster and more challenging to drive. With monumental development in front of them, the teams will all begin to allocate more and more of their resources to the 2017 package.
So here we go! F1 comes home to the traditional summer season with new branding in Heineken and a lot to pay attention too!