Ahead of the firs test session of 2016, there are a few key things that I am keen to see from the action in Barcelona.
Front of the grid
At the front of the grid, the inevitable question fans are asking is, “Can Ferrari catch and possibly overtake Mercedes in pace?” and that’s a great question. Unfortunately, it may not be an easily answered one, though, as testing is very difficult to distill meaning from if you aren’t in the paddock and seeing all the telemetry.
What fuel load is each car running? What pieces are they testing and what components have they added or removed from the chassis? Who is lifting and coasting and who is flat out and what are the speed trap times? All of these and many more elements add to the difficulty of divining the real pace of a car. Not to mention to teams are very keen to sandbag and not show their true pace until Melbourne.
Also in the mix is Williams F1 and while they were beaten last year by Ferrari, they have a lot to play for in the chassis development arena. They have the shove from a Mercedes lump but couldn’t get the power down out of the corners very well in 2015 and key to making a comeback will be the chassis and its ability to make the best use of the power it has. And they must do it on a budget which is a much smaller than Ferrari or Mercedes team budgets. Hopefully I can get a look at their sector times and compare their out-of-corner ability to put power down with other teams.
Red Bull have a new look and re-badged Renault engine but they may not have the pace, initially, to stave off an attack from its own junior development team and it will be interesting to see the Red Bull’s outright pace compared to Toro Rosso’s. If STR is moving up the grid due to their new Ferrari engine supply, there is no doubt they were late in the game getting the power unit and you have to wonder if they won’t experience niggles and reliability issues over the mating of that engine to their chassis.
Force India may be in the news of late with financial troubles and bad debt stories concerning its owner but the team have a Mercedes engine, a damned tidy B-spec chassis from 2015 and all to play for in the early races of 2016. Scoring points will be critical for the team and they may well surprise some folks when the points start to add up. Some fans would love to see them take on Williams for the best of the rest spot in 3rd or 4th. That will be a tall order if Red Bull get to grips with their TAG engine. For testing, Force India’s car should be relatively sorted and any reliability issues will be a very bad sign.
Sauber and Toro Rosso have a real opportunity to test their new chassis and engine combination as both will have Ferrari shove in the back. I will be interested to watch STR’s testing session and compare that with Sauber’s testing to see if there are markedly different speed trap times or any reliability issues on either team’s part. Sauber needs to find serious pace so I’m looking for anything that may expose a gain in that department and the chassis is critical this year.
Renault are back and testing may prove to be an interesting endeavor as the team struggle to get the engine sorted and work with a car designed and produced from the ashes of Lotus F1. What will the resource restrained chassis deliver to a team who almost overnight found millions to spend when they were acquired by Renault and how might the Renault engine fare in a rapidly escalating war of engine development? Will we see Renault’s gap to Mercedes close in testing? My hunch is no but then they have a bigger checkbook these days and perhaps the two pre-season testing sessions this year will provide big gains for them.
Back of the grid
McLaren have a lot of work to do from 2015 and there were rumors of Honda’s dyno testing of their revised engine not making the distances desired. Completely pummeled by reliability issues last year, I’ll be looking for signs of life from McLaren and lots of laps without reliability issues. If the team can run 120 laps, I’ll feel a lot better about their reliability but there’s also the pace and while it will be hard to compare to other teams, I think we can look at speed traps to see if there is that huge 30kph deficit they had last year. McLaren need pace and reliability if only to retain Fernando Alonso’s sanity.
All eyes will be on Haas F1 during testing as the American team start their first campaign on the world stage of Formula 1. Their approach has been a mixed cocktail of “Aw shucks, we’re just trying to figure this whole F1 thing out” to “yeah, we’re looking at midfield points scoring performances on race weekends”.
I’ve reached out several times to the team to get them on FBC (as an American F1 website and podcast) with no replies and while I chalk that up to being really busy, it is unfortunate that we couldn’t get a better understanding of their approach to the first testing sessions etc. There are several questions I have about the Dallara chassis married to the Ferrari engine. What their focus was on during the construction and design phases etc. The speed trap times will be interesting to see because we know they have a decent engine but is the chassis more Red Bull or more Williams? Fast on short circuits or long ones?
Haas F1 may be boastfully optimistic but the first test will be critical and it is really down to the number of laps they can run reliably. That’s the key for Haas, track time and lots of laps. If they achieve that, then their predictions of points scoring could very well be a reality. Haas F1 will be cutting their teeth on every session. How to interpret telemetry, how to run a F1 car and where the toilets in the paddock are. It’s a learning curve and they will need to treat each minute of testing like it is made of gold—they can’t waste a second of testing.
For Manor, the new Mercedes engine will be a big boost and much like Haas F1, they will need serious lap totals with reliability. The engine will shave serious chunks of time off their lap times but making sure they understand the software for these new engines and how they work with their chassis will be critical.
Some feel that Manor are poised to beat Haas F1 and this is shaping up to be an interesting thing to watch for in testing and I agree with that. There are those who feel Manor will fare much better than Haas F1.
What do you look for?
What are you looking for in the first test of 2016? What metrics do you use to measure progress, pace and reliability in testing given the difficulty to actually define true performance as teams work hard to hide that from competitors?