by Michael Rampa

Formula 1‘s top brass spent the 2016 off season drafting new engine rules in an attempt to allow other teams to catch up to perennial powerhouses Mercedes and Ferrari. The silver arrows dominated last year with Lewis Hamilton taking the Driver’s Championship and teammate Nico Rosberg winning the final three races to vault the team to the coveted Constructors title. Rosberg carried his closing season win streak from last season into 2016, taking the first two Grands Prix at the opener in Australia and the follow up the next week in Sochi. As it turned out, the best way to derail Mercedes in Spain was not with the new rules, but rather to leave them to their own devices. Both cars crashed out less than a minute in at turn 4 when Hamilton made an aggressive and ill-advised overtake attempt to  the inside of his teammate. The contact sent both cars to the wall; effectively reducing Mercedes share of the nearly $2 billion at stake for the Constructor’s title.


Hamilton and Rosberg collide in Turn 4 in Spain

With both silver arrows gone in under a minute, there was a feeling that it was anybody’s race to actually win instead of not losing to the red hot Rosberg. The stage was thus set for Red Bull’s new No. 1 driver; 18 year old phenom Max Verstappen. He was placed in the top spot when Daniel Kvyat was demoted to Toro Rosso after he rear ended Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel three times in China the week before. The move proved to be the right one, the teenager ran a near flawless race, rarely losing the lead while setting the fastest lap at 1:35. Under a strict edict from Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa that the team must start winning, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel respectably finished second and third. Lost in most narratives is the surprise of Haas racing, the first US Formula One in three decades. When owner Gene Haas was asked at the 2016 opener in Australia, “What are your goals?” his reply was “just to finish the race” They didn’t, but since then, driver Romain Grosjean has accumulated 22 championship points, tying Toro Rosso in 10th place in the standings. Even if it finishes outside the top 10, Haas will still receive $10 million, but a tie for 10th would net them $42 million Even after the Mercedes disaster, team chief Niki Lauda seemed unfazed; “Certain things happen to our guys because we let them RACE EACH OTHER instead of running interference for the good of the brand .Next week’s race in Monaco will feature the debut of Pirelli’s new Ultrasoft tire. It promises to be a challenge for all teams in managing their degradation at F 1’s crown jewel event. The rapid wear rate will make tire management strategy crucial. Switching compounds is designed to level the playing field so teams with more resources and perhaps better cars must run on equal footing. This should prove the theory since no one has race experience with this tire. Also affected will be fuel pitting intervals as the normally hot terrain may prove to be more of a drain on the octane…No doubt Rosberg and Hamilton will be favorites in Monaco as long as they keep their cars on the track this time. But while much was expected of the young Verstappen, nobody expected him to win, even in a race devoid of the driver and constructors champions. The absurd extravagance of Monaco mirrors the style of the world’s wealthiest sport. Teams finishing in the top 10 will share in the approximately $2 billion prize, a record in the past decade. With the personnel changes, the fickle nature of the league’s signature track through the city and maybe a few drivers seeking payback, this one should prove to be one of the highlights of the season.

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