Conclusions from the first pre-season test

By on Friday, February 26, 2016

At the halfway point of 2016 pre-season testing, reflects on the primary talking points from the first week of running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Mercedes is still in front

Pirelli Media

Pirelli Media

Don’t be fooled by the absence of headline-grabbing times set by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Mercedes focused on mileage and racked up so many laps that they changed their driver policy and split running each day, to avoid fatigue. The W07 Hybrid ran reliably and looked smooth out on circuit, with the car running on Mediums throughout the four day test.

Ferrari will be the closest challenger

Ferrari emerged as Mercedes’ closest rival in 2015 and looks set to assume that role once more this year. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen set quick times, albeit on the Ultra Soft tyre, and spoke of the improvements made by the squad over the winter. Ferrari, though, will be wary that it did not complete anywhere near as much mileage as Mercedes, an issue it will be keen to address next week

It could be close for third place

Red Bull, Williams, Force India and even Toro Rosso could be vying for the same positions during the early stages of the season. Force India impressed with its evolutionary VJM09 as Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg set quick times on the Super Soft compound, rather than the new Ultra Soft. Toro Rosso had a reliable first test and will be aware it needs to make its advantage count early on.

Haas will be hunting for points

Haas F1 Team

Haas F1 Team

Haas looked immediately at home in Formula 1, exuding the right mixture of confidence and awareness that it will encounter problems. The major stumbling point came when Romain Grosjean’s front wing failed, though Haas’ quick reaction and team ethic in reacting to the issue demonstrated its ability. Completing a race simulation, courtesy of Esteban Gutiérrez, in the first test is hugely encouraging.

Renault is playing catch-up

Renault started the test on the back foot as issues restricted Jolyon Palmer’s running, though Formula 1 returnee Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a more productive week. Magnussen was enthusiastic about the balance of the RS16 but the short time frame in getting the Renault deal together means it has to catch up to more established rivals, who already started ahead. However, this is a long-term project and it has only just begun.

Honda is still behind

McLaren Honda

McLaren Honda

Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso noted the improvements regarding energy deployment in 2016, though it was revealing that Alonso told assembled journalists that McLaren’s MP4-31 could be the best chassis by the time of the European races – inferring Honda is still some way short of expectations. The team was unlucky with the nature of its reliability issue on Thursday, though more delays will not be well received by the partnership.

Manor will be close to the midfield

After spending 2015 reviving a team which almost fell off the grid, Manor has a strong chance to move into the midfield this year. Pascal Wehrlein set an encouraging time in the MRT05 and noted that the outfit has a good baseline on which to build. Rio Haryanto, though, faces a steep learning curve to adapt to Formula 1 with just two test days remaining, after spinning off on both of his days in the car so far.

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