MotorSportNotes rounds up the first day of F1 testing for the 2016 at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona and looks at what conclusions, if any, can be drawn from the first runs of the season.
The World champions have started where they left off in 2015 with pace, near bullet-proof reliability and the ability to run through their own programme without much concern for what their rivals are doing. There was nothing flustered or pressured about how the Mercedes team and Lewis Hamilton went about their business – and certainly nothing to suggest they are anything but the team to beat in 2016. Over 150 laps logged with minimal fuss should be astonishing but in the context of Mercedes performances since the 2014 regulations came in to being, it seemed almost expected. That is the benchmark the rest of the teams need to reach to challenge the World champions and that is a big ask.
Fastest lap of the day means little but Ferrari did show signs with Sebastien Vettel of at least maintaining some sort of challenge to Mercedes this season. 69-laps completed and plenty of data logging was of primary importance for the main challengers to Mercedes. Setting similar times to Mercedes – and yes its testing so comparisons are almost pointless but we do love to make them – on similar tyres will give the Maranello crew confidence.
Despite completing nearly a full race distance, the benchmark setting 156 laps by Hamilton for Mercedes will highlight only that Ferrari will need to beat the German marque in performance alone this season.
Running their TAG Heuer-branded ‘Renault’ engine, Red Bull had a fairly productive first day of testing with none of the parts-related problems that hampered them this time last year.
The big tick for them was Ricciardo’s 87 laps which came after a stuttering start in the morning. Better reliability for their new power plant will be essential in 2016 and day 1 hinted at improvements in that regard. Worryingly they were still down on top line speed and overall lap speed relative to Mercedes and Ferrari, finishing a second off the pace.
The Mercedes customer team logged a steady 80 laps but finished 1.2 seconds off Vettel’s fastest time of the day. It was a fairly uneventful day for the team with Bottas achieving his fastest time of the day on the medium compound tyre. At this early stage, the signs suggest another season of being there or thereabouts for Frank Williams’ eponymous team.
Force India ran new boy Alfonso Celis with the Mexican rounding out the top 5 fastest times behind Bottas. The rookie did record his best lap on the soft compound giving (in testing terms) a flattering final position. 58 laps saw the team sit towards the bottom half of the field in terms of mileage completed. The big question mark from today is what impact will be felt with lead drivers Hulkenburg and Perez sitting out testing.
Compared to this time 12 months ago, the opening day’s testing for Jenson Button was a dream. Rumoured to be running last year’s hopeless Honda power unit with some upgrades in their 2016 chassis, the team rolled off 84 laps relatively trouble-free. Button appeared to post some of the fastest times through the technical middle section of the lap but the jury is out on how much progress McLaren and Honda have made with his fastest overall time 1.8 seconds off the pace.
All we can conclude from today is that the new components seem to have sorted some of the reliability issues from 2015 but may not have done much to eat in to the sizeable performance gap to the top teams.
Despite suggestions Toro Rosso will outperformance their big brother, Red Bull, in the opening 2016 races it was hard to see from today’s test whether that will be the case.
Carlos Sainz Jnr racked up 55 laps before a gearbox issue resulted in a precautionary early finish. Compared to Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams and McLaren it was a relatively small tally but with an early finish and 2.2 seconds off the pace, it was hard to take much from the first Toro Rosso outing of 2016.
The former Lotus team took their first steps in to 2016 rather tentatively with more time spent in the garage than on track. F1 rookie Jolyon Palmer achieved only 31 laps all day – the lowest of any team – and the slowest time some 4.4 seconds off the benchmark Ferrari time.
Manor have been making big statements about their 2016 challenger, boosted by securing the coveted Mercedes power unit. A respectively 54 laps were checked off by their new signing Pascal Wehrlein – a gift from Mercedes – and a time faster than Haas and Renault registered. Solid and unspectacular for the team that has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of Manor Marussia, little from today suggest their big talk is anything but that.
Despite clocking up the lowest lap total of the day it was a pretty solid outing for F1’s newest team. With their Ferrari power plant and a sizeable proportion of Ferrari technology in their 2016 challenger, Haas will be focusing on chassis development primarily. As demonstrated last season, the Ferrari power plant offers high levels of reliability but a front wing failure in the test session will be a cause for concern. Overall – and compared to the likes of McLaren last pre-season – a positive start for the new boys.