So the first week of the 2016 season has drawn to a close and despite all the uncertainty F1 testing brings it seems the first test of the new season had its fair share of familiar themes running through it. Mercedes ruling the roost with Ferrari keeping them honest, Williams/Red Bull/Force India battling to be best of the rest, and poor old McLaren Honda yet again experienced woeful reliability problems towards the tail end of the four days. With four days in between the start of the second and final test session before Melbourne on Tuesday, I’ve assessed how I think each team has performed this week.
Mercedes: Clearly on top and streaks ahead of the rest of the field (bar maybe Ferrari). The new W07 has been bulletproof this week, completing nearly 2000 miles in the hands of Hamilton and Rosberg. It’s quite clear that Mercedes have gone nowhere near close to showing their full hand yet, running the vast majority of the week on the medium compound tyre and we may have to wait until Melbourne to find out where they really stand. As for the last two seasons, Mercedes will begin the campaign as clear frontrunners and unless Ferrari can perform a miracle between now and next week, Mercedes still remain the team to beat.
Ferrari: That being said, Ferrari have made a significant step forward with their 2016 package and despite a few niggling doubts over reliability, have certainly closed the gap to within a few tenths of Mercedes. The Scuderia have topped the timesheets on three out of four days so far, however as I mentioned above it would be foolish to take that at face value. Raikkonen feels positive about the new car and I can’t stress how important I think that is. Ferrari need Raikkonen to be able to take points off Mercedes, not just trundle around behind F1’s leading trio. Ferrari’s best chance of winning a title rests largely in the hands of Sebastian Vettel but to beat the silver arrows he will need all the help he can get.
Williams: It’s difficult to judge where Williams are truly at in terms of overall pace, however I think its safe to say that they will be there or there abouts the third fastest team. Williams have never really showed true pace until qualifying over the last two seasons however I think next week we will begin to get a much clearer picture of where they are. Bottas and Massa have both been positive, stating that the 2016 car is a definite improvement on the 2015 package so I expect to see more of the same from Williams in 2016.
Red Bull: I think Red Bull experienced a relatively positive few days in Barcelona, and I think that’s been helped by a solid step forward from the Renault power unit over the winter. Whilst it’s clearly not a Mercedes beater yet, I think Red Bull are at least a little closer to the third place battle this year and it will be interesting to see how much progress they make over the season. Christian Horner predicted a season of two halves and I can very much see that being the case. Ricciardo set the fourth fastest time of the overall test on the ultra soft tyres so evidence of clear progress over the winter is there for everyone to see. It’s be interesting to see just how much more pace Red Bull have when all the teams turn up the wick next week.
Force India: Definitely this seasons surprise package so far, but then again, why should we be surprised? Force India had an incredible end to 2015 and they’ve began 2016 right where they left off. Whilst the team have admitted their lofty position on the timing screens might slightly flatter them, arriving in Melbourne as the third fastest team is a real possibility for Force India. Hulkenberg’s 1.23.110 on the super soft tyres was good enough for second place on the overall timesheet, very promising signs indeed.
Renault: It was important that Renault enjoyed a strong end to this test after a difficult couple of days reliability wise. Whilst Palmer suffered the lions share of breakdowns, a late day mechanical issue remained the only blot on Renault’s copybook on day four and Magnussen had a strong run over the course of the whole day. They’ve admitted themselves that the late engine switch has left them on the back foot, however, like with Williams I think we will have a better inclination of where Renault stand by the end of next week.
Toro Rosso: Toro Rosso have slipped quietly under the radar this week running their heavily updated 2015 car however both Sainz and Verstappen completed a solid haul of laps. Like Renault, the late change of engine has hampered their preparation for the first week of testing however both Verstappen and Sainz have been making positive noises about the 2015 Ferrari power unit. I know they probably didn’t have much choice, but I think Toro Rosso might struggle later on in the season, especially when Sauber and Haas are running 2016 Ferrari engines, which have evidently been heavily improved.
Sauber: Sauber ran their 2015 car at Barcelona this week so it’s impossible to tell where they’ll fit into the pecking order at the moment. Nasr and Ericsson have both hailed the past four days as valuable driver practice, which I’m sure is true however rolling out their 2016 package a week later than their rivals is almost certainly going to hamper them.
McLaren: Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Any small steps of progress McLaren made in the first two days of the test were somewhat overshadowed by a woeful end to it. Sadly for F1’s fallen giants today they looked more like the team from 2015 than at any point during the week so far and I wonder if Alonso is regretting making that claim that only McLaren can beat Mercedes. Boullier said that times are irrelevant, and I don’t think you’ll find another team boss anywhere along the pit lane who would come out and say that. Less important maybe, but completing laps still counts. Something McLaren failed to do today.
Manor Racing: I’ve been quietly encouraged by Manor this week, and I think in Pascal Wehrlein they have themselves a great young talent (as I alluded to in my latest Just Who Is). It would be harsh to judge Haryanto too much given that this week is his first taste of F1 machinery however I’m predicting that as likeable as he is, he will spend much of 2016 in Wehrlein’s shadow. Nevertheless, whilst it’s not stunning, the 2016 Manor is a solid car, powered by a very solid engine and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them score the odd point at the chaotic races this season.
Haas: Last, but by no means least are Haas, and I think out of any of the teams on the gird (bar Mercedes) Haas have impressed me the most this week. Let’s not forget that although they have had significant help from Ferrari, they are a totally new team and to attempt, and nearly complete a full race distance just four days into their F1 adventure is remarkable, and tells you plenty about the confidence of Gene Haas’ team. Certainly one to took out for over the course of the season, and I think they’re more than capable of scoring a handful of points. McLaren better watch out.
Post Week One Pecking Order Prediction – excluding Sauber.
- Williams/Force India
- Red Bull
- Toro Rosso
I’d be interested to see if you agree!