As I am sure you are all aware, this week has seen the return of Formula One in 2016 for the first pre-season test in Barcelona And this is what every Formula One fan has been looking forward to since the end of the season and post season test in Abu Dhabi in November.
This week, we will see Rio Haryanto and Alfonso Celis make their first debuts of the season at the Barcelona circuit alongside many pundits and fans wondering if the performance we have seen from Mercedes and Ferrari last season have remained, if McLaren-Honda and Red Bull can put their issues behind them and if new team Haas can still consistently acquire mileage ahead of their first race in Melbourne in March.
Throughout four days at the first winter test at Barcelona this week, we have seen the teams and drivers pushing the limit and getting to grips with the how their 2015 cars have improved in their second competitive outing of this season.
There have been unexpected issues, reasons for concern and signs of promise for everyone down the field this week. Question is: who came out on top?
On Day One of the pre-season test, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel was quickest ahead of World Champion Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.
Sebastian Vettel was the only driver on the grid to lap the Spanish circuit in the 1.24.939 as he covered 69 laps for the Maranello squad with its new SF16-H car. But it was Lewis Hamilton who the busiest driver on the track today by completing over 150 trouble-free laps on his way to second place, but was nearly half a second off Vettel’s pace even if both drivers set their times on Pirelli’s medium tyres.
Daniel Ricciardo finished in third place in the Red Bull RB12, which enjoyed a solid first outing despite a slow start to the day. Ricciardo covered over 80 laps and finished more than a second behind Vettel.
Valtteri Bottas finished in the day fourth place ahead of Force India development driver Alfonso Celis who finished in fifth place with the Mexican jumping up the timesheets thanks to a late run on soft tyres.
After a slow start to the day, Jenson Button managed a solid day of work in the new McLaren, covering 83 laps on his way to finish the day in sixth place, even though Button did set this time on soft tyres. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was in seventh place but his day came to an early finish as the Toro Rosso team found something strange in the gearbox oil system and decided to stop as a precaution.
Marcus Ericsson was the only man at the wheel of a 2015 car, putting the Sauber in eighth place ahead of the Manor of F1 rookie Pascal Wehrlein in ninth place and managed to acquire 54 laps in his first outing with the Manor team.
Romain Grosjean finished the session in tenth place with the newest F1 team on the grid Haas. The team had a shortened first day of work on track after Grosjean’s car suffered a front wing failure that kept him in the garage for several hours before he managed to return to the circuit with an hour left on the clock.
However, Grosjean did cause the only red flag of the day while the debris was picked up, still managed to outpace the Renault of F1 rookie Jolyon Palmer, who also spent a big part of the day in the garage and finished the session in eleventh place.
Day One Timesheet:-
- Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:24.939 69 Laps
- Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.409 +0.470 155 Laps
- Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:26.044 +1.105 87 Laps
- Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:26.091 +1.152 80 Laps
- Alfonso Celis Force India 1:26.298 +1.359 84 Laps
- Jenson Button McLaren 1:26.735 +1.796 58 Laps
- Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:27.180 +2.241 55 Laps
- Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:27.555 +2.616 88 Laps
- Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:28.292 +3.353 54 Laps
- Romain Grosjean Haas 1:28.399 +3.460 31 Laps
- Jolyon Palmer Renault Sport 1:29.356 +4.417 37 Laps
On Day two of the test Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel remained at the top of the timesheets ahead of Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo and Force India driver Sergio Perez.
Vettel topped another day of winter testing with Pirelli’s new ultra-soft compound on a busy day which saw eight of the 11 drivers surpass 100 laps. Vettel put in a lap time of 1:22.810 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who had an encouraging day in second place and finished 0.7 seconds behind Vettel after bolting on the purple-striped ultra-soft tyre, which is new for 2016, for the first time.
The tyre is unlikely to be used anywhere other than street circuits this season but Vettel and Red Bull, who put the compound on Ricciardo, were the first to roll them out. The only blemish for Vettel was a stoppage five minutes from the end of the session when he pulled up at Turn 3 which prematurely ending the day’s session.
Sergio Perez finished in third place which was set on the super-soft tyre and ticked off 101 laps in the Force India. Nico Rosberg finished in fourth place on a day which saw Mercedes stick exclusively to the medium tyre.
The Mercedes team completed the all 12 days of winter testing last year without using the softest compound and showed no sign of attempting a quick lap throughout the session, with the team clearly focused on longer runs. But Mercedes did manage to complete a race distance before lunch before Rosberg exceeded Hamilton’s Monday tally, ending on 172 — over 800km — by the time the chequered flag fell.
The fact Mercedes was even executing live pit stop practice suggests the world champions have made a lot of progress in working through its testing programme.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson finished in fifth place after completing 108 laps in the 2015-spec Sauber ahead of Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez, who finished the day in sixth place with 79 laps to his name. Valtteri Bottas had a solid but unspectacular day for Williams by ending the day in seventh place with 134 laps overall ahead of handing the car over to Felipe Massa on Wednesday.
Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein ended the day in eighth place with 71 laps completed and finished ahead of Fernando Alonso in ninth place in the McLaren MP4-30 but completed an impressive 119 laps. Honda managed just 380 in 12 days of testing last year so it will have been more valuable mileage for the Japanese manufacturer on a day its reshuffled F1 team was in the news.
But it is unlikely McLaren is chasing lap times at this stage with mileage and reliability the focus and the team will be encouraged by the first two days of testing.
However, there were more problems for Jolyon Palmer and Renault who finished the day in tenth place after Palmer stopped in the afternoon session with 47 laps to his name with what the team confirmed was a power unit issue. The stoppage came after his “challenging” opening day with the car and means he finishes his first two days in the car — 50% of his driving time before Melbourne — with just 79 laps completed.
The other red flag of the day was caused by Max Verstappen’s stoppage in the hour before lunch after gearbox trouble. The plain blue Toro Rosso, powered by Ferrari’s 2015 engine, stopped at Turn 13, but eventually returned to the track and completed 113 laps and finished in eleventh place.
Day Two Timesheet:-
- Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari – 1:22.810 – 126 laps
- Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull – 1:23.525 – 112 laps
- Sergio Perez – Force India – 1:23.650 – 101 laps
- Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:24.867 – 172 laps
- Marcus Ericsson – Sauber – 1:25.237 – 108 laps
- Esteban Gutierrez – Haas – 1:25.524 – 79 laps
- Valtteri Bottas – Williams – 1:25.648 – 134 laps
- Pascal Wehrlein – Manor – 1:25.925 – 71 laps
- Fernando Alonso – McLaren – 1:26.082 – 119 laps
- Jolyon Palmer – Renault – 1:26.189 – 42 laps
- Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso – 1:26.539 – 121 laps
On Day Three of the test, Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg was quickest ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen as the McLaren team had their day ended prematurely with a hydraulics issue.
It was a busy day for all the teams, with everyone but McLaren completing a race distance over the nine hours. After two encouraging days for the Woking team, Jenson Button stopped in the pit lane with a smoking car caused by a hydraulics leak and did not emerge again.
But it was Nico Hulkenberg topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:23.110 on a super-soft run and clocking 99 laps in the process. Hulkenberg finished ahead of Romain Grosjean in second place who was 2.7s slower than Hulkenberg’s Force India.,
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen ended the session in third place despite him managing just four laps before lunch, as his Ferrari was stricken in the garage for much of the morning with a fuel sensor issue. But he did manage to complete a race distance after lunch, finishing the day with 78 laps to his name and putting Ferrari ahead of Mercedes for the third day in a row, though that is of minimal significance at this stage of testing.
Renault recorded a more encouraging day in terms of mileage, with Kevin Magnussen completing 103 laps and finishing in fourth place. However, after two days of problems for team-mate Jolyon Palmer, Magnussen stopped at the end of the pit lane in the final hour, though he emerged before the end of the session.
World champions Mercedes decided to split its drivers either side of lunch due to the high amount of laps it hoped to complete in the day and the toll it was taking on the drivers. Nico Rosberg completed 74 laps in the morning to finish in fifth place before Lewis Hamilton added 87 in the afternoon to finish in eighth place, though the team did not test the new nose and front wing many expected them to.
Impressive as Mercedes’ lap count was, it was matched single-handedly by Carlos Sainz in a mammoth day for the Toro Rosso which saw him accumulate 161 laps, even after a stoppage early in the morning to finish in sixth place ahead of Felipe Nasr in seventh.
Daniil Kvyat finished in ninth place with 74 laps ahead of Felipe Massa in tenth place, Jenson Button in eleventh place and rookie driver Rio Haryanto finished 12th for Manor, five seconds off the pace despite a late improvement on the soft tyres.
Here’s the official classification from Day Three of the pre-season test as follows:-
Day Three Timesheet:-
- Nico Hulkenberg – Force India – 1:23.110 – 99 laps
- Romain Grosjean – Haas – 1:25.874 – 82 laps
- Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:25.977 – 78 laps
- Kevin Magnussen – Renault – 1:26.014 – 111 laps
- Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:26.084 – 74 laps
- Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso – 1:26.239 – 161 laps
- Felipe Nasr – Sauber – 1:26.392 – 115 laps
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:26.421 – 88 laps
- Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull – 1:26.497 – 74 laps
- Felipe Massa – Williams – 1:26.712 – 109 laps
- Jenson Button – McLaren – 1:26.919 – 51 laps
- Rio Haryanto – Manor – 1:26.249 – 78 laps
On the final day of the first pre-season F1 test of the 2016 season, Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was quickest ahead of Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat and Force India development driver Alfonso Celis as the McLaren team registered just three laps worth of running
The focus on the final day of testing was McLaren’s lack of activity after three installation laps. Fernando Alonso was the first man out of the garage in the morning, with the team clearly keen to make up for Wednesday’s lost running. However, a coolant leak was soon detected and it was severe enough to prevent Alonso from ever returning to the circuit which is a massive blow for the team with just four days of testing remaining until Melbourne.
But it was Kimi Raikkonen who was quickest with a lap time of 1:23.477 on Pirelli’s new ultra-soft tyre put Ferrari top of the standings, even though Raikkonen spent much of the afternoon in the garage which does suggest that he could have finished the day with more than his 79 laps.
Daniil Kvyat finished in second place with an ultra-soft run of his own and finished eight tenths behind Raikkonen and ending the day with a healthy 95 laps to his name. Force India’s development driver Alfonso Celis ended his second day in the car in third place after posting a time on the super-soft tyre at the end of a 75-lap day with the VJM09.
Kevin Magnussen continued Renault’s recovery from its troubles on Monday and Tuesday and finished in fourth place. But Magnussen’s day ended with a stoppage in the final 15 minutes at the exit of Turn 3. Max Verstappen continued the Toro Rosso team’s healthy mileage collection this week with 110 laps and ending the day in fifth place.
Felipe Nasr also had a productive day with the Sauber who finished in sixth place and accumulating 119 laps in the team’s 2015-spec car to give it plenty of comparative data for the launch of this season’s car next week.
World champions Mercedes split the day between its drivers for the second day in a row with Nico Rosberg finishing ahead of his team mate in seventh place while Lewis Hamilton finished in eighth place and fell one lap short of a century in the morning, while Nico Rosberg added 86 overall, helping the world champions on to 671 laps– past 3,000km — for the first four days. The team spent much of the day trialling its radical new nose design, which includes an S-duct.
Felipe Massa had another stop-start day and completed just 53 laps for Williams and finished in ninth place. However, newcomers Haas executed a race simulation with Esteban Gutierrez who finished in tenth place as he surpassed the team’s previous best lap tally and completed a race simulation.
The only blemish was a late stoppage for the Mexican driver caused by an electrical issue in the final hour but it should not dampen what has been an encouraging start to the team’s life in F1. Manor rookie Rio Haryanto ticked off 51 laps on his second day with the MR05 finished with a spin into the wall at Turn 4 in the afternoon and finished in eleventh place.
Day Four Timesheet:-
- Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:23.477 – 80 laps
- Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull – 1:24.293 – 96 laps
- Alfonso Celis – Force India – 1:24.840- 75 laps
- Kevin Magnussen – Renault – 1:25.263 – 153 laps
- Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso – 1:25.393 – 110 laps
- Felipe Nasr – Sauber – 1:26.053 – 121 laps
- Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:26.187 – 86 laps (afternoon)
- Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:26.295 – 99 laps (morning)
- Felipe Massa – Williams – 1:26.483 – 54 laps
- Esteban Gutierrez – Haas – 1:27.802 – 89 laps
- Rio Haryanto – Manor – 1:28.266 – 51 laps
- Fernando Alonso – McLaren – No time – 3 laps
The first pre-season test at Barcelona has produced some interesting results. Many Formula One fans were looking forward to seeing how the teams and the drivers would get on with the challenges of their new cars for this season. And in my view, it is a mixed bag still.
We have seen Mercedes showing that they are the team to beat in terms of mileage from the session. And yes, it will bring them a crucial advantage in terms of how to improve the W06 before the next test in Barcelona. There is no question about it, even though Rosberg has stated to the media that the team and he are unsure about their actual pace Still. But this is a good starting point for the team despite this and will be looking to improve their track performance.
Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso will once again use the mileage that they have gained from the first test in order to improve their cars before the next test in Barcelona and will have also gained some much needed data that will allow them to try and improve their cars. But the signs for the three teams respectively are good and will provide them with a solid base to build upon in terms of developing their cars.
Sauber and Ferrari have topped the top 5 at some stage of the week. And I believe that it is too early within the season to make any significant claims about their performances; even though Ferrari have topped the timesheets twice. But their performances have at least indicated that they are on the right track with their cars and have managed to gain invaluable track time that will no doubt push all three teams to improve their cars further and get back to competitive ways for this season.
Force India have managed to acquire some mileage that will help them as they try and get the VJM09 ready in the best possible position for Melbourne next month and also try and close the gap down to their rivals as quickly as they possibly can in the short timescale that they have left.
But this week, the spotlight is firmly on the McLaren team. Even though we have seen McLaren experiencing problems since last season earlier, it is to be expected given the fact that both McLaren and Honda will be learning more and more about the car as time goes on.
You can be sure that McLaren despite their issues this week will have learnt a lot from the test and will use the data and the experience to try and iron out their existing issues as quickly as possible. But for me, the main thing is that they managed to gain more mileage than the previous year which is a small positive step in the right direction but they still have a lot of work to do.
The big question is, is a few weeks enough time for McLaren to fix their problems with the MP4-31 and with the Honda engine? I believe that it won’t be, but we will find out in Barcelona sooner rather than later when the final pre-season test approaching next month.