Ahead of the new Formula One season, which begins March 20 with the Australian Grand Prix, our F1 writer Graham Caygill makes five bold predictions.
Lewis Hamilton to win the drivers’ world title
Admittedly not the boldest prediction out of the blocks, backing the man who has won the past two drivers’ title, winning 21 of the 38 races over the past two seasons.
But it is hard to look beyond the Briton for the man to leave the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 27 as world champion.
Mercedes will almost certainly be the team to beat again in 2016, given the lack of change in the rules meaning engine power will continue to be a decisive factor.
Nico Rosberg finished last season stronger, and his edge over Hamilton ran for longer than just winning the final three races.
But, the German has yet to prove he can drive strongly for an entire season, something Hamilton can do.
Hopefully it will be closer between the pair than last season, and Hamilton will not win it with three races to spare, but he still will have too much for his German teammate in the end.
Red Bull Racing to win again
Now, this is not on the assumption that Red Bull’s pace will be transformed. They will be quick, thanks to their Adrian Newey-designed chassis, but while it might be rebranded under sponsor TAG-Heuer’s name their engine is still a Renault one and will hurt them on straight-line speed.
However, F1, by the law of averages, is due a wet grand prix. There has only been one fully wet race, in Japan in 2014, in the past three years.
The opening laps of last year’s United States Grand Prix were wet, before the track dried out, but what stood out in that time was how competitive the Red Bulls were as Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat duelled with the Mercedes cars.
Ricciardo is something of a big game player in F1. He joined Red Bull at the wrong time in some ways. He arrived just as their four years of domination had come to an end, but he won three times for them still in 2014, and challenged for victory in Hungary, Singapore and the US last year.
If he gets a chance you can guarantee Ricciardo will be at the front, and if there is a fully wet race, which should hide some of the horsepower weaknesses in the Red Bull package, then he, or the promising Kvyat, will produce the team’s first victory since August 2014.
Max Verstappen to score a podium
The Dutchman was the sensation of 2015 as he belied his age of 17 to wow F1 with some superb overtaking and aggressive racing.
Toro Rosso should remain as a competitive midfield force in 2016, and the challenge for Verstappen is to improve on his rookie year.
His best results in 2015 were two fourth-place finishes, and there is no reason why, with a little luck, he cannot get his first top-three finish during the coming season.
Funny things happen in F1, with there usually being two or three attritional races, and while Toro Rosso do not have the pace of Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams or Red Bull, Verstappen is good enough to capitalise if the chance for a strong finish comes his way.
He is likely to be a key figure during the summer, with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all likely to want to recruit him for 2017.
He will be making headlines off the track, and he should be able to do it on it as well.
Kimi Raikkonen to retire
There was a period, in the mid-2000s, when the Finn was the fastest man in F1, and his drive from 17th on the grid to win the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix remains one of the best of the modern era in the sport.
But, those days for the 2007 world champion seem a long, long time ago.
He has been a big disappointment since returning to Ferrari in 2014, being outclassed first by Fernando Alonso and then last year by Sebastian Vettel.
Raikkonen was retained by Ferrari for this year largely because he gets on well with Vettel, and has not rocked the boat despite being convincingly beaten on pace by the four-time champion, plus they were not convinced enough that anyone else out there (Valtteri Bottas and Roman Grosjean) were a better option.
There were rare occasions in 2015 when Raikkonen looked a force, most notably in Bahrain, but largely he flattered to deceive, particularly in qualifying, and that was frustrating, given the Ferrari was a race-winning car, at least with Vettel behind it.
Raikkonen is a safe pair of hands, but given the Italian team are likely to make a big play for Verstappen in the summer, the 36 year old’s days are almost certainly going to be numbered with them come the end of the season.
Given his reportedly high wage, he is unlikely to attract the attentions of other teams, so Abu Dhabi will be the final race of what has been a fine F1 career, which has been marred by an anti-climatic denouement to it.
No points for Renault
The French marque are back in F1 as a constructor for the first time since 2010 and this has the potential to be a miserable first season back.
The financial problems that dogged the Lotus team, who Renault have taken over, may have gone, but the consequences of those difficulties will still be felt.
Development of the 2016 car was put back and hurt by the lack of funds, and given they have also got a likely weaker engine in using their own one rather than the Mercedes one they had in 2015, optimism is in short shrift of a good campaign.
Jolyon Palmer, the team’s reserve driver last season, steps up to make his F1 debut, while Kevin Magnussen gets a second chance after being harshly dropped by McLaren.
However, they face a long year ahead. With a car with a weaker engine than it had previously, and an under-developed car, the omens are really not good and given they are likely to be at the rear of the midfield, it is hard to see them scoring any points at all.
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