With reduced testing time and two years of Mercedes domination, teams had to work harder than ever in the off-season in order to make it to Barcelona with their 2016 cars in tow.
New year, new regulations
Although the technical regulations have remained fairly stable, there are a number of small changes which will come into force this season. Most notably, Pirelli have introduced a new “ultrasoft” tire compound, marked by a purple stripe, which is to be used on street circuits. The number of power units to be used throughout the season by each driver has also been increased from four to five.
The sport welcomes Haas F1 Team as a new addition to the grid. Established by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner Gene Haas, the team hopes a close relationship with Ferrari will help with development throughout the year. The former Lotus F1 team has also become known as Renault Sport Formula 1 Team after a buyout from the French automobile manufacturer. This means they will become the Renault works team, taking over from Red Bull, who will effectively become a customer team — continuing to use Renault engines re-badged as Tag Heuer.
The former Marussia F1 team has also had a request granted to change their name to Manor Racing, making a switch from Ferrari to Mercedes power. Scuderia Toro Rosso meanwhile will return to using Ferrari power units after a brief spell with Renault.
There have been a number of key changes to the driver line-up, with Romain Grosjean leaving Lotus to join Haas F1 alongside returning driver Esteban Gutiérrez, and 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer replacing Grosjean at Lotus alongside Kevin Magnussen. Manor racing have signed one-year contracts with rookie drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto — the latter becoming the first ever Indonesian driver to compete in the championship.
The German Grand Prix will return to the Hockenheimring after the race was cancelled in 2015, and the European Grand Prix will return once again in a new guise at a street circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan.
In the run-up to the first testing day on 22nd February, many cars turned heads for their striking design and livery changes.
Ferrari’s SF16-H sees the team revert to push-rod suspension along with many detailed aerodynamic upgrades, whilst Mercedes have opted for what they have termed “mini revolutions” on the inside of their W07.
Mclaren’s MP4-31 has been referred to as “beautiful” by the team’s double-world champion driver Fernando Alonso, with the team focused on improving and innovating every aspect of the car as they look to further their partnership with Honda.
After months without F1, teams finally arrived at Circuit de Catalunya for the first of two testing sessions – the first running from 22nd – 25th February. Testing is a fascinating time of the season, as there are very few obvious clues to where teams truly stand performance-wise. Cars can run with any amount of fuel and any tires they wish, making for a game of almost psychological warfare, where success is more often judged by a driver’s expression in interviews or trackside reports on car handling rather than concrete times. Here are the main talking points from the week:
Keen to make a big impression, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were fastest on the first day with a time set on the medium compound Pirellis. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes clocked the most laps, with the German Manufacturer seemingly focusing on long runs and reliability. It was a positive first day for Mclaren too, who achieved 84 laps — five more than they managed over all four days of testing in Jerez last year.
After a good start for Haas, their day was eventually compromised by a front-wing failure for Romain Grosjean.
The second day of testing saw Sebastian Vettel try out every tire compound but the hards, once again setting the fastest overall lap with the new ultra-soft tire compound. He also completed nearly double the laps of his first day tally. Eight teams in total managed to complete over 100 laps, but Jolyon Palmer and Max Verstappen interrupted the running as they both created red flags.
Nico Hulkenberg and Force India set the fastest time on the third day, with a time set on the soft tires just three tenths shy of Vettel’s fastest time on the ultra-softs from day two. Haas impressed once again by finishing the day second in the standings, whilst Mercedes split driver-duties between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg due to their unprecedented mileage, and Mclaren’s day ended early with a small fire caused by a hydraulic leak.
Mercedes debuted their highly-anticipated new nose design on day four which some commented bore resemblance to a shark’s head. Mclaren suffered a coolant leak in the morning which unfortunately meant that Fernando Alonso only completed three laps throughout the day. Rio Haryanto suffered a crash which caused a red flag, and Toro Rosso, Sauber and Renault each had solid productive days.
Where does it stand?
As mentioned previously, it is impossible to firmly predict the pecking order at this early stage of the season. It is clear to see that Mercedes has displayed some impressive reliability, but there are some exciting technical developments on the Ferrari and Mclaren cars, along with some great times from Force India and Haas. With some new changes to the qualifying format and upgrades from a wide range of teams, could we see some more close racing this year?