There can be no doubt that the 21 race 2016 F1 season has been a gruelling one for the drivers, teams, families and the fans. However, a special consideration should go out to our Fantasy GP players as they try and tweak their teams, make their predictions and verbally spar with their fellow mini-league competitors.

Ultimately, there can only be one winner…or, in our case, two; our Badger Fantasy GP PRO Championship (exclusive to members) and our overall Badger Fantasy GP World Championship.

So, step forward Mark W and James S as our PRO and regular champions respectively, and for a chance to share their experiences and insights into the 2016 Fantasy GP season.

Whilst James S is lucky enough to win a Badger GP mug and Badger membership for 2017 (plus a mystery prize from one of our celebrity-in-situ, Simon Lazenby, for winning his league), this does pale in comparison to Mark W’s fabulous prizes for being a PRO member; two triple frame circuits from the excellent Graham & Leigh (one for winning Jennie Gow’s league), a bottle of bubbly and free Badger GP membership for 2017!

On that note – why don’t you consider signing yourself or one of your loved ones up for one of our Badger GP memberships? Prices are frozen until 31st December and they would make excellent stocking fillers…you know, just saying…anyway, onto our champions! 

Mark Walkling and James - 2016 Fantasy GP Champions
Mark Walkling and James – 2016 Fantasy GP Champions

First of all, congratulations on winning the Badger GP Fantasy Championship. How does it feel to be on top of the pile, the cream of the crop – pretty life changing, I imagine?

MW: Thank you very much. I’m still stunned to be honest, even though I’ve been top of the PRO Championship for a lot of the latter part of the season, it’s still quite an achievement, so I’d like to thank my engineers, my team back at…..sorry, I’m getting carried away now. Life changing? Well it’s a lovely prize and well worth my £5 investment, but I’m sure Nico Rosberg’s prize money would have gone a little further…

JS: It’s brilliant to have won but I’m still not sure I believe it. When the final results went up my heart was pounding as I logged in to check them, the tension was crazy! Really proud to have won the whole competition, especially when all I ever imagined was competing for top spot in my friends’ league. This wasn’t even on my radar back in March!

How long have you both been playing the Badger Fantasy GP game? Have you got an illustrious history? Or have past seasons been a mixed bag?

MW: This is my second year playing the Badger game, having done a few years in another (inferior, of course) F1 fantasy league. My F1 fantasy history prior to 2016 is pretty consistent. Rarely within the top 1000 at any race, and never finished in the top 1000 in any season. I would say I’ve been a regular top-third player. So not a mixed bag, just not very good. But something seemed to click into place this year with my strategy. I’ve never actually been to an F1 race (as they are generally very expensive), although I lived close to Brands Hatch for 11 years, so watched a few events there (and listened to many a national anthem from my garden). I’ve also driven a single-seater around the small track at Silverstone and the occasional karting session with friends. Maybe one day I’ll get along to one.

JS: This is my second year in the game. I got an invite to join the above league last year and thought it sounded like a fun addition to a GP weekend so I signed up. I started slowly while I learned how the game worked, and spent a lot of Sundays thinking, “Ahh, I should have done that!” with predictions and team choices, but got the hang of it and won the league in the end. My friend even got a trophy sorted and it now has pride of place in the loo!

In terms of your team selections, what strategy did you employ to achieve this year’s triumph? Did you tinker with your teams much throughout the season? Are there key driver or team selections that you would attribute part of your success to?

MW: It started off pretty well as I had followed testing closely. It was clear that Haas would be the most likely of the ‘cheap’ teams to score points. I also chose the lowest cost driver who I thought would start near the back but would consistently make up places, as people ahead fell out the race. Pascal Wehrlein, like Haas were with me throughout the whole season as my ‘cheapies’, scavenging points when they could. This enabled me to have the combination of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes as the most likely to score the most points, the most consistently, leaving me to play around with the last driver and team.

I started off well with Williams and Jolyon Palmer in Australia, and predicted the podium and number of safety cars. The next race I swapped Palmer for Grosjean after his excellent result in Australia. But once Max Verstappen was promoted to Red Bull, I decided to move him into the team, but then had no choice but to swap Williams for Red Bull, being the next best team to keep me below the £75m spend limit. I did swap Verstappen for Kevin Magnussen in Montreal when he had to start at the back as he had out-scored Verstappen in the first few races, but 3 races later, it was back to Verstappen for the rest of the season. I think the power of a good spreadsheet helps in many aspects of life (sad, I know), but I’ve been developing one since 2012 which almost certainly helps with my team selection process, not only tracking my team and its

I think the power of a good spreadsheet helps in many aspects of life (sad, I know), but I’ve been developing one since 2012 which almost certainly helps with my team selection process, not only tracking my team and its results but keeping track of every possible combination of drivers and teams. It’s a great source of information to look back on but, to be honest, I don’t think 2015’s results had too much of a bearing on this season and I’m sure next season is going to need a new strategy again. What that will be, who knows. I’m waiting for clues from testing. I’m just pleased that I seemed to get it right this year. I’m sure many have come to similar conclusions to me when selecting their team but it’s ultimately those pesky predictions that can make the real difference.

I’m just pleased that I seemed to get it right this year. I’m sure many have come to similar conclusions to me when selecting their team but it’s ultimately those pesky predictions that can make the real difference.

JS: Don’t want to give too much away but I think I got lucky enough with the timings of when I switched between Rosberg and Hamilton. Did miss out on Hamilton at the US GP though as I couldn’t get mobile signal where I was in time to put him back in!

Predictions – did you keep them fairly consistent or did you adapt race to race? Both Rosberg and Hamilton’s prospects swung back and forth throughout 2016 whilst Red Bull powered past Ferrari after the early races. Interested to know if you managed to follow this, or any other trends?

MW: My predictions were mainly based on the FP3 results, but also keeping an eye on any grid penalties, plus keeping an ear out for the TV commentators and pundits, Badger expert previews, history and, of course, the ever-powerful gut feeling. Predicting the first retirement, the number of safety cars or the full podium was rarely successful but what a nice feeling when they did. I never managed a full house of predictions, averaging just under 30 points throughout the season (my spreadsheet confirms it as 28.6)!

JS: Tried to mix up the predictions to keep it interesting but it was always a safe bet to go for a Mercedes for pole and race win. Loved the podium at Mexico too! Was shouting at the TV that Ricciardo had been robbed because I’d picked him for that third-place finish.

Do you play on your own or amongst friends and family in a mini-league? If the latter, how important is the bragging rights amongst your circle?

MW: I play with a few colleagues in our “Wacky F1 Racers’” league after being introduced to Fantasy F1 a few years ago – they’re probably regretting that decision now! Last year, my friend Shaun got himself into the top 50 mid-season and we all knew about it, so I’m definitely making the most of my moment of glory.

JS: Friends, as mentioned above.

Finally, if there anything that you would love to see added in the Fantasy GP game for 2017? We’re always looking for that killer new feature…

MW: I think you’ve got a good balance of luck (first retirement, safety cars), strategy (team selection) and skill (predictions). I don’t know how feasible it would be but how about splitting the predictions – one set for qualifying (top 3) and then one set for the race which can be modified up until the start of the race. Another thought is a championship for friends’ leagues, taking the average score of each friends’ league.

JS: Maybe introduce some additional points if one of your drivers gets fastest lap, or a prediction for quickest pit-stop? The game’s pretty good as it is though, it certainly works for me! My biggest wish for next year is non-Fantasy related, I’m halfway through the final year of my Mechanical Engineering degree, so if any F1 teams out there want to give me a job that would be very welcome.

Finally, some quick-fire questions for you both to end on:

Your driver of 2016?
MW: Max Verstappen
JS: Nico Rosberg
Your race of 2016?
MW: Brazil
JS: Brazil
Favourite driver ever?
MW: Jenson Button (*sob*)
JS: Kimi “Bwoah” Raikkonen
What year/era did you get into F1?
MW: 1980-something!
JS: Sometime in the late 1980s…

Thanks for your time guys, very much appreciated and best of luck with the respective title defences in 2017…!