The world champion Mercedes squad has picked up where they left off last season, in an impressive display of endurance and reliability throughout the first four days of pre-season testing. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg drove up to 1952 miles between them, more than any of the ten other teams on the field. Rosberg mentioned that the goal was to continue running and log miles until issues or problems come up. No noteworthy breakdowns let alone problems were reported by the champions as they logged lap after lap around the Barcelona circuit, day by day, from green flag to checkered flag.
With unparalleled reliability, Mercedes were at liberty to experiment with some of their components during the test. On Day Four, they rolled out an S-duct, which they had previously tested during a practice session before last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix. The S-duct is nothing particularly new to F1 cars, having already been implemented before by Red Bull, Force India, and others. Aside from that, they also introduced toothed barge boards, which they named “Floor-W”. Testing these package upgrades shows that Mercedes are keen to continue improving, perhaps ever more sensing the encroachment of closest rivals Ferrari towards their throne.
While Mercedes opted not to join the time attack party, the charts were dominated by Ferrari, where Sebastian Vettel posted the fastest lap times on Days One and Two, and Kimi Raikkonen on Day Four. Back with a “revolutionary” SF16-H, the Scuderia owned four of the ten fastest times posted in the four-day test. Vettel’s Day Two scorcher was the quickest overall in the first four days, achieved with the Ferrari shod in Pirelli’s new Ultrasoft tire compound.
Joining Ferrari at the top of the time sheets were Force India and Red Bull, with three each of the ten fastest laps. On Day Three, it was Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg who topped the charts. While Red Bull seem to still have aerodynamic prowess, Force India’s performance may suggest a continued improvement on their impressive finish last season. Hulkenberg’s Day Three chart-topper was set on the Supersoft tire compound and was the second fastest time overall, just 0.3 seconds behind Vettel on the theoretically faster Ultrasofts.
Nonetheless, with lap times hardly representative, no proper pace comparisons can be made as of yet, given that the world champions Mercedes and third place Williams focused on mileage rather than lap times. But the results of the first four days of testing seems to reveal that Ferrari may have better pace than last year, as does Force India. It’s still early to predict, but this bodes well for closer battles at the higher end of the grid this season.
Up and Down for McLaren and Renault
The four-day test was a tale of two halves for both of these teams. Renault struggled with reliability on the first two days, compromising rookie Jolyon Palmer’s running. McLaren meanwhile, enjoyed high mileage and reliability on Days One and Two, split between both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. After seemingly reaching their testing zenith, McLaren plummeted after suffering from various issues during the final two days, severely limiting Alonso to only three laps on the final day. While McLaren struggled mightily, Renault bounced back by logging lots of mileage on Days Three and Four with the returning Kevin Magnussen.
Flying Under the Radar
Williams, Toro Rosso, and Sauber were all far from lighting up the time charts but none of them had any major problems either. The three teams logged lots of miles nonetheless, especially with Toro Rosso enjoying their new (albeit one-year-old spec) Ferrari engine and logging the second largest total mileage among the teams. Williams hardly flexed their muscles and still remains a mystery, although Felipe Massa reported that the FW38 has “more grip and more downforce.” Sauber hardly had anything to show after participating in the test with their 2015 car but they did have the third best mileage among all teams. They are expected to roll out their 2016 model come next week’s test.
***Newcomers Haas experienced a couple of issues here and there but also managed to produce a respectable amount of miles for a completely new squad. Esteban Gutierrez’s best lap was sixth fastest in Day Two while Romain Grosjean took the VF-16 on Soft compound tires to second place on Day Three.
***There was nothing noteworthy on Manor other than Pascal Wehrlein outpacing his teammate Rio Haryanto by over two seconds on the Soft tires.
***Digressing to the visual aesthetics of F1, Red Bull’s subtle changes on their color scheme have produced a fiercer livery on the new RB12. Equally stunning was Nico Hulkenberg’s mean green Hulk-inspired helmet design, which stands out on the Force India.