Now that the last available Formula One seat has been taken by Rio Haryanto, this season’s driver lineups are finally official. There are not many differences in the driver lineup this season compared to last season. As we gear up for the first pre-season test in Barcelona, it’s time to take a look at the major driver changes that took place during the off-season.
Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India, Sauber and McLaren don’t see any changes for the season, as their driver combinations remain unchanged. Both Renault, formerly Lotus, and Manor will have two new drivers, with Manor running two rookies. The Haas F1 Team will be making their debut with two experienced Formula One drivers.
There are a few new faces in Formula One this season. As mentioned, Manor will be running a lineup of two rookies that will be making their first Formula One debuts at the season opener in Australia. The first is Pascal Wehrlein, a DTM champion with Mercedes. He has also spent the last two seasons serving as the team’s test driver in their Formula One operation. The next rookie is Rio Haryanto, a GP2 driver from Indonesia. He will make history at the Australian Grand Prix when he becomes the first Indonesian Formula One driver in the sport’s history.
Manor isn’t the only team with a rookie in the lineup; Renault has decided to sign Jolyon Palmer for the season. Palmer is a GP2 series champion and has served as the team’s test driver when they were under Lotus’ ownership. It was announced during the off-season that Palmer would be taking over Romain Grosjean’s seat.
Joining their rookie, Renault has also allowed Kevin Magnussen to make a return to Formula One. Magnussen made his debut with McLaren in 2014, but was unable to maintain the seat and was demoted to test driver the following season. Despite a great rookie season, McLaren relieved the Dane of his duties near his birthday in 2015. Magnussen was signed with the team at the last minute as a replacement for Pastor Maldonado.
Esteban Gutiérrez is also making a return this season after a year of working with Ferrari as a test driver. The Mexican entered Formula One in 2011 when he secured a position as test driver for the Sauber F1 Team. Two years later, the team decided to give him a racing seat. Now he’s back, taking a seat on the newly formed Haas F1 Team.
Although his Formula One legacy will forever linger in the motorsport memes, Pastor Maldonado will not be on the grid this season. He was booted from the Renault F1 Team after his sponsorship deal with PDVSA collapsed. This made room for Magnussen to return to the grid, in exchange for the departure of Maldonado. He has not announced any of his future plans in motorsport or otherwise.
All three Manor drivers from 2015 are also in the same boat. Will Stevens, Roberto Merhi and Alexander Rossi also find themselves without a seat for 2016. Stevens and Rossi were heavily rumored candidates for this season’s Manor seats. Although they aren’t officially contracted yet, recent reports suggest that Manor might be using their services later in the season. Aside from rumors, none of these three drivers have confirmed their plans for the future yet.
Romain Grosjean is the only driver that will be on the 2016 grid in a different race uniform. The Frenchman hopped onboard with the new Haas F1 Team, becoming the team’s first confirmed driver. He makes the move from the Lotus F1 Team. The experienced driver will be an asset to Haas.