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Top 5 talking points for the 2016 F1 season

2016-03-16 14:17

NEW STAR WARS FOR 2016?Will Mercedes team mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton's rivalry take centre stage of the 2016 F1 season.Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic

Paris, France - The 2016 F1 season, the longest in the sport's history, also risks becoming its most extended test of patience if efforts to shake up the sport fall flat.

The 2015 season was so predictable that even F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone called it "boring", while runaway winner Lewis Hamilton agreed the crisis-prone sport was "broken".

Organisers have been searching hard for ways to boost declining viewing figures including more races and a new qualifying format.

Can Ferrari muscle in on the Mercedes show? How will the new qualifying format affect races? Here are 5 top talking points ahead of the 2016 Australian GP:

1 Can Ferrari muscle in on the Mercedes show?

Mercedes have danced around their rivals for the past two seasons, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg unstoppable in 16 of the 19 races in 2014, and matching that ridiculous superiority last year. Sebastien Vettel, in his first season for Ferrari, picked up crumbs from Mercedes' overladen plate in Malaysia, Hungary, and Singapore.

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Trying to fathom out concrete conclusions from pre-season testing is nigh on impossible, such is the veil of secrecy teams delight in throwing up around car set-ups, fuel loads, tyres, etc. But on the face of it, eight days of testing in Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya suggest Ferrari are not a million miles away from the Silver Arrows, as underlined by Rosberg: "We know Ferrari are very close - but we're not sure if we're ahead or behind."

2 Lewis and Nico rivalry

The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg over the past two seasons has saved F1 from becoming about as exciting as watching a slo-mo video of goldfish swimming round a bowl on loop. The former friends turned arch rivals were at loggerheads in 2014.

And there was more of the same in 2015, culminating in 'capgate' when Rosberg petulantly threw his cap at Hamilton after a bitter first corner clash in Austin.

Read: Hamilton slams F1's 'Driver of the day' initiative

Rosberg rattled off wins in the final three races and the German will be desperate to continue where he left off to finally get his hands on the championship he so desperately craves and prevent Hamilton claiming his fourth title.

3 Will McLaren turn up?

Missing, believed lost - that was the glum story for the former world champions last term, and only their most ardent fans could envisage a dramatic turnaround in fortunes based on pre-season testing.

Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button mustered a mere 27 points between them, McLaren finished an embarrassing ninth of the ten teams.

Flashes of encouragement in Barcelona suggest their under-performing Honda engine has improved, but not enough to end a 57-race losing run covering the last three seasons.

4 Controversial qualifying shake-up

Hamilton has slammed F1 as "broken" and "lacking direction" in an opinion that will no doubt strike a chord with some fans.

One of his gripes is the new 'knockout' qualifying system. He reckons the move, an attempt to shake up qualifying to boost F1's appeal, is detrimental to the sport. Alonso was similarly unimpressed.

Hamilton said: "I'm sad for the sport because it doesn't look right from the outside when in one week we change the qualifying format three times."

5 Super-size season

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone clearly believes bigger is better, with the 2016 season serving up a record 21 races.

Ambitious Azerbaijan, the oil and gas-rich former Soviet state staged last year's European Games - and on June 19 the streets of the capital Baku will provide the backdrop to the Grand Prix of Europe. Financial concerns over the staging of the October 23 US Grand Prix in Austin appear to be lifting, while F1 is back in Germany, at Hockenheim on July 31, after last year's race was cancelled.


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