Ferrari: Ferrari delivered on expectations last week in Barcelona but without Mercedes showing their hand, it’s difficult to see just exactly how much Ferrari have caught up over the winter. Progress has definitely been made, but the Ferrari wasn’t by any means bullet proof last week with Kimi Raikkonen suffering his fair share of problems on the Wednesday. Improving their reliability should be high up on the to do list for Ferrari, and making sure Raikkonen feels comfortable in the 2016 car is a must. It would be nice to see both Mercedes and Ferrari duke it out for an afternoon or so on the ultra soft tyres but if Mercedes continue their program from last week I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw Ferrari dominating the end of test time sheets once again come Friday.
Williams: I read on Autosport over the weekend that Bottas thought the new Williams was an improvement in every area, and if that’s the case then well done to them. The 2015 Williams was already an extremely solid car, and powered by a class leading Mercedes engine so solving their problems on tight twisty, and wet tracks would represent substantial progress over the winter. With the kinds of budgets Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull enjoy it’s honestly hard to ever see Williams consistently beating the three (although they did Red Bull last year), and as much as I would love to see Williams become F1 superpowers once again, in this cycle of rules and regulations its highly unlikely. That being said, Williams far from showed their hand at last weeks test and I would be fairly surprised if they did this week. Solid, consistent, reliable runs is what I expect to see from Williams.
Red Bull: I was pretty impressed with Red Bull last week. They had solid reliability and when you remember their Renault/Tag engine (what ever you want to call it) is far from the engineering masterpiece that is the Mercedes one then you have to say, yet again Red Bull have designed a very good chassis. Of course, I would expect nothing else. I think considering the engine deficit Red Bull were as close as you can be to Ferrari and Mercedes and I enjoyed their mini ultra soft tyre duel with Ferrari. Ricciardo was only 1 tenth off Raikkonen’s fastest time of the test set on the same tyre and a repeat of their competitiveness this week will send Red Bull to Melbourne in much improved spirits when compared to this time in 2015.
Force India: If there’s any team which can be hoping for more of the same (maybe apart from Mercedes) then it has to be Force India. They were the surprise package last week, and coupled with impressive reliability they have rocketed themselves to the front of the midfield. I can’t see any reason why last week could have been a fluke for Force India so I’m expecting more of the same from the next four days.
Renault: I think reliability has to receive some serious attention from Renault over the coming days. Palmer’s first two days in the car were hampered by a plethora of mechanical problems which severely limited his running when their rivals were clocking up impressive numbers of laps. Whilst Renault seemed to be finally getting to grips with their troubles comes Thursday, a late day breakdown highlighted just how much work is needed if they are to have any confidence of both cars finishing in Australia. On the performance side, times weren’t spectacular, but what can we really expect from a team who had no idea what engine they would be racing so late in the season, and even if they would be racing at all. I expect we’ll see a much improved Renault this week, although that improvement could be masked by progress from their closest rivals.
Toro Rosso: There seemed to be some confusion last week as to whether Toro Rosso were running their full spec 2016 car, or merely a heavily revised 2015 one. Now that’s it been confirmed it’s their 2016 model I think like with Renault we may see big strides this week. STR were another team who had to made late engine modifications following the switch to Ferrari power and last week they showed some good reliability, without lighting up the timing screens. I think it will be difficult for Toro Rosso to produce the headline grabbing times of the likes of Force India so I think another solid week with no major mechanical problems would be a reasonable expectation.
Sauber: Sauber finally unveiled their 2016 machine today, and in all honestly it looks largely similar to last year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sauber struggle with more reliability issues than their rivals this week given that they haven’t tested their 2016 car yet, however it will extremely interesting to see where they slot into what is an incredibly competitive and congested midfield. If you remember back to last season, Sauber enjoyed a stonking start to the year before tailing off quite alarmingly so I’m extremely interested to see what they can produce this season. They have a good Ferrari engine however so if they can stay ahead of McLaren, I’m sure Sauber would be relatively pleased.
McLaren: And that brings us nicely to McLaren, who surely have the biggest to do list of any team in Barcelona this week. Reliability, performance, name anything and you can be 99% confident that it’s an area where McLaren need a lot of work. Perhaps the only area they don’t need any work on is PR, after the admirable efforts of the whole team on that front last season. Once they manage to get the car further than the end of the pit lane on it’s own steam, McLaren will surely need to really put the new Honda engine through its paces to gauge whether the promised improvements have been made. Some respectable mid-table times would be an achievement for McLaren this week, something which I never envisaged I could be writing this time even three or four seasons ago…
Manor: Manor enjoyed a solid week in their new car however getting Haryanto up to speed, and fast has to be their number one priority. Talented a driver as he may be, Haryanto was some way off Wehrlein’s pace last week and I’m sure everyone at Manor will be expecting a marked improvement in the coming days. Aside from that, I think relibality is an area where Manor should focus a large part of their efforts this season. If they can finish races consistently, then the opportunity is their for them to bag the occasional points scoring finish in some of the higher attrition races this season. Whether they can score points on pace alone is still undecided, but the car should bring them a lot closer to the midfield.
Haas: Haas are another team who need to prioritise reliability this week. The car is certainly quick enough to fight in the midfield, and maybe even beat McLaren but, quite understandably for a new team they did experience some reliability problems last week. If they can get on top of those issues before Australia then at least one Haas car has a good chance of making it into Q2 in their debut race weekend.