We’re four races into the 2016 F1 season, and barring Canada, about to head into the European leg of the championship which will see us all the way through to Singapore in mid-late September. I’m sure by the end of the preceding Italian Grand Prix we’ll have a much better idea of where the season is headed, and indeed just how Verstappen and Kvyat are getting on after last week’s team switch but today I want to zoom in on Haas F1 and Jolyon Palmer, and assess how each of these F1 rookies have fared now that the first flyaway segment of the season has truly concluded.
I’m not sure anyone, even Haas themselves expected to leave Russia fifth in the constructors table, ahead of the likes of Toro Rosso, Force India, Renault and McLaren Honda. The Ferrari powered Haas VF-16 has been one of the surprise packages of the season so far and despite having trouble getting heat into their tyres in China and Russia, Grosjean still managed to drag the car into the points showing that it certainly pays to have an experienced driver behind the wheel. In fact, Grosjean has finished outside the top ten on just one occasion, in China, where both Haas’s were woefully off the pace.
If Grosjean has once again covered himself in gold stars at the beginning of his Haas career, the same can’t be said for Esteban Gutierrez. Two DNF’s, a 14th and a 17th from the first four races of the season are meagre results in comparison to his highly regarded teammate, yet Gutierrez never did shine in his two seasons at Sauber in 2013 and 2014. Those two full years bought just one solitary points finish at the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix and I think Haas would have been better served by signing the likes of Jean Eric-Vergne, another driver who fell victim to the cutthroat driver culling at Red Bull/Toro Rosso.
Nevertheless, it’s still early days and Haas as a team have certainly impressed. By ensuring that they bring a new upgraded Ferrari power unit to Spain, Haas should be able to continue challenging for points at most races over the course of the European season and I would be surprised to see Grosjean finish the season outside the top 12 drivers if his rich vein of form continues. All in all, a very impressive and professional start to what is still their debut season in F1. They may never be race or championship winners, but regular midfield finishes are certainly an achievable goal.
Marks: 8.5/10 – spectacular opening races from F1’s newest team. Despite being recipients of controversial assistance from Ferrari, Haas have more than held their own in the cutthroat midfield.
After a promising Australian Grand Prix Jolyon Palmer has endured a difficult time of it at Renault, but I think the speculation about the security of his drive is a little unjust. After a strong drive to 11th in Australia, Palmer has registered a DNS, 22nd and a 13th place last time out in Russia, however was outshone by Magnussen who picked up Renault’s first points of the season with a fine seventh placed finish. Despite his struggles in the last few races, Palmer was the 2014 GP2 Champion, and I fully expect him to come good over the course of the season, especially when you consider the Renault RS16 is hardly a Mercedes, or even a Williams/Toro Rosso beater in it’s current stage of development.
Palmer is confident that his form will improve, and I suspect we’ll see a marked improvement form both Renaults when their new engine upgrade is debuted in the post Spanish GP test, and Palmer will also switch to a new chassis prior to the Spanish Grand Prix. Although some have predicted that Palmer will be the next driver to be replaced in season, I highly doubt Renault will go the same way as Red Bull and ditch Palmer mid season, but I do think it’s important that he more than proves his worth against Magnussen, and isn’t separated in either races or the championship table by the likes of the Manors and Saubers. Of course, technical problems meant Palmer was unable to even make the start of the Bahrain GP, but his more experienced teammate Magnussen had managed to post a qualifying time almost 0.3s faster.
The battle against your teammate is always the first yardstick teams will use to measure a drivers performance, and by ensuring he matches, and occasionally beats Magnussen, Palmer will give Renault every reason to ensure his long term future remains at the Enstone based team. Something especially important with the likes of the highly regarded Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings.
Marks: 6/10 – Palmer has failed to build on the promise of Australia but the new Renault power unit brings hope of a fresh, mid season surge.
Part two featuring both Manor Mercedes drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto will follow on tomorrow