Reject of the Year: 2016

Before looking ahead to the 2017 and the new ruleset that comes with it, it’s time to cast our minds back to last year and dish out the most “prestigious” awards in Formula 1: Reject Of The Year.

2016 was an enigma of a season, indulging the spectator in a curious blend of interesting midfield action and turgid frontguard fights. Arguably, the most thrilling encounter at the sharp end was a result of a collision in Barcelona between the two Mercedes drivers, who once again had the monopoly on wins (and conspiracy theories in equal measure) and provoked a change in the aerodynamic regulations.

In a season where every single team scored a point and nobody was outlandishly terrible, it’s difficult to decide on three occupants for the official Grand Prix Rejects ROTY podium. Instead, the nominations across various topics from our beloved forumites have been aggregated and with a sprinkling of artistic license, we’ve come up with our top three.

3rd. Elimination Qualifying

rolexclock copySome rules changes in F1 have been unpopular, but rarely have they been ridiculed so relentlessly that the FIA receives less negative press by performing an about-face. They meant well with the new qualifying system, and anticipated that cars would be on track for long periods of time as they battled against the clock. However, the decision-making process was rushed. The “elimination” qualifying was installed just three weeks before the season opener in Melbourne, and this forced the people behind F1’s timing systems to cobble something together at short notice. Unsurprisingly, the on-screen timing glitches were all too common, and amounted to nothing more than a confusing mess.

The uproar was huge. Almost everyone involved in Formula 1 wanted a return to the previous knockout system. Jean Todt resisted. He vowed to give elimination qualifying one more go at Bahrain, and although some of the timing glitches had been ironed out, the final shootout for pole position was non-existant and there were no cars on track for the final three minutes of Q3. It was a farcical state of affairs which was promptly swept under the carpet. Good thing we remembered it, eh?

2nd. Sauber F1 Team

JSX0155 copyTo be fair to the Hinwil squad, Sauber had suffered through a winter of discontent, and their bank balance was beginning to dwindle. The new C35 chassis appeared to be nothing more than a minor update of the moderately successful 2015 car, and this left drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr languishing at the back of grid. Ericsson was considerably more impressive than Nasr over the course of the season, and the Swede quietly got on with the job of damage limitation whilst his team-mate spent a lot of his time complaining about his ill-handling car. Manor leapfrogged the Swiss team in Austria, following Pascal Wehrlein’s journey to 10th place in the Styrian mountains.

Sauber looked out for the count until the mysterious Longbow Finance provided a much needed injection of funds, and although long-overdue upgrades were forthcoming later in the season, it wasn’t until Brazil that they finally made it into the points. Nasr landed a crucial 9th place at the rain-affected Interlagos circuit, which put Sauber back ahead of Manor (and later signalled the demise of both the British team and, ironically, Nasr’s F1 career). Despite Sauber’s late acquisition of points, 2016 was not a successful year for Monisha Kaltenborn’s squad.

1st. Esteban Gutiérrez

esteban-gutierrez-haas_3422368 copyWhen Romain Grosjean was announced as the lead driver for the incoming Haas team, many were hoping for an all-French lineup alongside Ferrari reserve Jean-Eric Vergne. Haas’ technical partnership with Ferrari had made it necessary for the second driver to be one of the racers in the Prancing Horse’s stable, and having largely matched Daniel Ricciardo in their time together at Toro Rosso, Vergne seemed like a capable choice. Instead, Gene Haas and Gunther Steiner unveiled their second driver as none other than Esteban Manuel Gutiérrez Gutiérrez, the former Sauber driver. Having disappointed in his time at Hinwil (and scoring points on one occasion in his two years with the team), it seemed forgiving on Haas’ part that they were willing to give the Mexican a second chance.

When the season began, however, Gutiérrez was not able to take advantage of the car in the same way that Grosjean was capable of doing when the VF-16 was up to it. Sure, he retired with mechanical issues in Bahrain when points were on the table, but for the rest of the season rarely looked like he had turned up. Gutiérrez’s strongest asset was his qualifying ability, but he regularly wilted once the lights had gone out at the start. Grosjean was able to score 29 points for a brand new team, whilst Gutiérrez was outscored by drivers in far worse machinery. Formula E appears to be the new home for the eyebrowically-gifted Mexican.