Following on from the first half of my F1 testing report card yesterday, here you can find my opinion on the efforts of the teams in the second half of the championship table. As always, I’d love to hear/read your opinions if you agree or disagree!
Renault – Grade B-
I’m in two minds about Renault, I’m not sure if we should be impressed at what they’ve achieved by fitting the Renault engine into a car that was originally designed to house a Mercedes one, or a little bit underwhelmed that we find them so close to the back of the grid. The 2016 Renault is basically the chassis designed by people at Lotus towards the tail end of last season with a Renault engine bunged in the back (or at least that’s what I’ve been lead to believe), and to be honest I don’t think that combination is going to score them handfuls of points. Now I’m not saying the factory at Enstone isn’t capable of designing a strong chassis, I mean they designed the car which won back to back titles in 05/06 but now that Renault and Red Bull are equipped the the same engine, we can see the difference between the two cars.
That being said, after a pretty poor first week in which reliability was certainly a major problem week two showed some good progress reliability wise, even if they did still experience the odd breakdown. Renault managed to complete over 100 laps on a good number of days in what was eventually a solid, if rather unspectacular return to F1. Magnussen has said that 2016 will be a transitional year for the French squad, however I expect we will see big improvements from them over the course of the year. The first few flyaways will be difficult though…
Toro Rosso – Grade B+
Besides Force India, who appeared in yesterdays report card, I think Toro Rosso were the surprise package of the last two weeks. The car is good, the drivers are good, reliability is good (ish) – I’m using Mercedes as a benchmark here, and the engine is finally a match for their evidently strong chassis. Sainz popped into seventh place on the overall two week timesheet with a 1.23.134 on the ultra softs on the final day of testing and I think Toro Rosso will start 2016 at the head of what is looking to be a very competitive midfield.
That being said, their advantage over the Renault powered cars (now just Renault and Red Bull) isn’t going to last forever, and eventually their 2015 Ferrari power unit will harm their competitiveness. This, largely depends on how quickly Renault and Red Bull can develop their engine so it becomes stronger than the 2015 Ferrari one but it will be critical for Sainz and Verstappen to take advantage of their greater power as often as they can, because the tail end 2016 poses many more problems for Toro Rosso than the start.
Nevertheless, Toro Rosso enjoyed two solid weeks of testing as they look to build on a positive 2015. When the checkered flag falls in Abu Dhabi however, as much as I would like to, I can’t see them improving too much on their position last season.
Sauber – Grade B-/C++
This is a difficult one. On one hand I think it’s pretty harsh to give Sauber a C++, when nothing went drastically wrong with their test. But, is launching your 2016 car halfway through winter testing really the way to improve results? I hardly think so, especially when McLaren, who finished below Sauber last year have made substantial progress. The Sauber was a solid car, a little bit in the same vein as Renault of solid but unspectacular and I can’t see Sauber anywhere but the back of the midfield come the first few races of the season.
I do like Sauber, and I do really admire their commitment to F1 over the years. Obviously I know they would have liked to be ready for the first week of testing however F1 is so competitive these days that leaving it a week late is surely shooting yourself in the foot (with a double barreled shotgun) before the season has properly started? After a difficult first couple of days reliability wise they did pick it up in the final two days of test, however I don’t think it will be enough for them to improve on their championship position in 2016.
McLaren – Grade B+/A–
I might be being a little biased here ( I hope not) but McLaren’s second week of testing was a million miles better than the first. They seem to have finally found the pace to challenge the rest of the midfield (i.e Toro Rosso/Renault) and they’re promising more to come for Melbourne. I have to say, I was extremely worried on Tuesday when McLaren seemed doomed to another dreadful week but somehow they performed the biggest turnaround in recent testing history and completed more laps last week than they did in the whole of 2015 testing.
They finally seem to have got on top of their woeful reliability problems of recent months and although the pace is still (about two seconds) off the table topping Mercedes and Ferrari, McLaren do now have the raw pace to get into Q2 and challenge around the lower fringes of the top ten. I think the whole F1 community will feel a sense of relief that after a year of strife, we can finally see tentative shoots of recovery at McLaren but as the time sheets showed, they still have a long way to go to get back to winning races and championships.
Manor – Grade B/C
Maybe it’s just me, but after strapping in a Mercedes power unit and a Williams gearbox I honestly expected Manor to be a little faster. I know they’re a small team and don’t have the biggest budget but they’ve had a significant amount of time to design their 2016 chassis and as far as I can see, they will still be propping up the rear end of the grid, but with some company.
Their fastest lap of testing, a 1.24.913 came at the hands of Pascal Wehrlein who looks to be a great young talent but I do feel a little bit for Rio Haryanto. He seems like a lovely young driver but I think he will struggle to beat Wehrlein in 2016, he was some way off his teammates pace. Manor might not be right at the back of the grid intially, with Haas also struggling but unless they make some real progress they could find themselves left behind as the season rolls on.
Haas – Grade B-/C+
It’s difficult to properly judge Haas because they’ve had so much help from Ferrari and are obviously running some seriously good machinery under their chassis. Grosjean’s best lap of 1.25.255 hardly set the world alight however for a new team they didn’t perform half as badly as they could have. I think they set the bar extremely high for themselves after a very impressive first week of testing before week two bought them back to earth but nevertheless, Haas are taking F1 extremely seriously and I expect them to make some serious strides up the pecking order over the next couple of seasons.
My overall end of testing pecking order
- Force India
- Red Bull
- Toro Rosso
I’d love to see if you agree so please do let me know!