The 2016 title fight might be between Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg but what about the future?

 

At the close of the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix Nico Rosberg had taken his fifth win in a row since the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix and the Ferraris had shown that while they lacked pace in qualifying, they still had enough race stamina to trouble Mercedes.

In the background though there were two drivers making their mark on the Formula One Paddock Club. Pascal Wehrlein, driving for the now healthily-funded Manor Racing Team finished a credible 13th after successful tussles with Force India and the underfunded Saubers, showing not only the positive development of the MRO5 but also his own talent.

Wehrlein came into Formula One as an exciting prospect but unknown in terms of potential. As 2015 DTM Champion the Paddock knew he had speed but as to whether this could be transferred from comparatively bullish touring cars to delicate Formula One machinery, even after tests with Force India and Mercedes, was another question. Personally, I had doubts, having only read his name for the first time when he was appointed, almost out of the blue, as Mercedes’ reserve driver last year; a relatively unproven driver being given a drive by the best team on the grid. Driving the slow, although invigorated Mercedes-powered MR05, my doubts have turned to praise. While I think we need to wait until the season’s end to make a concrete judgement, his speed is there, his turn is smooth and excellently precise; exactly what a team like Manor needs as it finds the speed to fight with the back of the grid.

On the other side Stoffel Vandoorne, 2015 GP2 Champion and reserve driver for McLaren was flown in from Japan, where he was testing a Super Formula car in preparation for the coming season, at the last minute to fill in for the injured Fernando Alonso. Reaching the paddock just before the start of first practice, Vandoorne was just a second off the 2009 World Champion Jenson Button. This is even more impressive when you consider that Button was on the soft compound and Stoffel, driving the car for the first time, was on the slower medium compound. In qualifying, Vandoorne out-qualified his more experienced teammate with 12th on the grid, out-qualifying Wehrlein. Further success came in the race as Button retired on lap seven while Vandoorne finished tenth, scoring points on his Formula One debut.

At the close of the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, Vandoorne had finished with points on his debut and Wehrlein continued his strong form in the Manor. However, such is Vandoorne’s pace in the improving McLaren, that Button’s seat may be threatened. Wehrlein is in prime position if Hamilton and Rosberg clash — there is also unpredictability surrounding the 2017 regulations. Could we be about to witness the next great title fight in Formula One?