Winners and Losers from Formula 1's 2nd 2016 Test in Barcelona
Formula One's pre-season program came to an end on Friday, when the second of two tests concluded at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
For eight days, the teams and drivers have pounded around the home of the Spanish Grand Prix aiming to give themselves the best chance of starting the 2016 season on a high.
With the number of tests reduced from three to two this year, the second test was arguably more crucial than ever before, with the teams forced to start thinking about optimising their package for the season-opening Australian GP at a stage they would normally be troubleshooting any lingering issues from the first test.
Some teams, as you'll discover, were more adept at that than others.
From two-time world champions Mercedes to newcomers Haas, who are rapidly discovering how challenging this F1 business can be, here are the main winners and losers from the final test.
The car once again outlasted the drivers at Mercedes, forcing the team to persevere with their policy of regularly alternating Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to ensure both are fully fit for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
It was that kind of pre-season, the type when the only stresses and strains were on the drivers' neck muscles.
With 675 laps to their name, Mercedes had completed 228 more than their closest rivals at the first test and, as ever since the V6 turbo regulations were implemented two years ago, kept pushing even more boundaries as the winter progressed.
Rosberg and Hamilton ended the second test with 619 laps to their name, which—according to the team's official website—meant Mercedes completed the equivalent of 19 grand prix distances come the end of pre-season—or in other words, the entire 2015 campaign in just eight days of testing.
Eventually, the miracle occurred on the final morning when Hamilton came to a halt on the pit straight with what the team described as a "mechanical failure in the transmission," although by that stage it would have been more worrying if Mercedes hadn't suffered a technical issue.
Mercedes also offered a little more evidence of their true pace at the second test, with Rosberg's best time on soft tyres—one minute, 23.022 seconds—just 0.257 seconds slower than the fastest lap of the test, set by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen on the new ultra-soft compound.
Despite their obvious speed, it was a little surprising that Mercedes, having spent the entire first test on medium tyres, didn't even experiment with the super-soft and ultra-soft compounds—F1 journalist Tobi Gruner claimed the team ordered just four sets of softs from Pirelli—given their occasional struggles on the most delicate compounds last year.
This team, however, clearly know best, and Mercedes will once again begin the season as the overwhelming favourites.
Welcome to Formula One, Gene.
F1's latest team owner was particularly chirpy about his eponymous outfit's prospects before the car took to the track, telling Sky Sports' Mike Wise last November, for instance, that the newcomers' 2016 chassis would be superior to that of Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history.
Were such statements indicative of genuine confidence within the Haas camp? Or was this just another new team boss unaware of exactly what he was getting into?
The answer became clear at the end of Day 2 of the second test, when Esteban Gutierrez completed only one installation lap due to a turbo issue, having been restricted to just 23 after a fuel system problem on the opening day.
Per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde, Haas acknowledged that modern F1 technology is "way beyond anything" he ever expected, that he "was kind of naive too about what makes these cars run" and even admitting "it's a little bit overwhelming."
It became even more overwhelming on Day 3, when Romain Grosjean—despite completing 78 laps—caused three separate red-flag stoppages due to multiple problems with the VF-16's brake-by-wire system.
The Frenchman restored a little pride on the final morning by completing 66 laps, yet Gutierrez was again struck by bad luck and didn't emerge from the garage until the last hour, running just 18 laps.
In a sense, it is reassuring for F1 that Haas have suffered so many reliability niggles, that a brand-new team—even one with a close technical partnership with Ferrari—still can't waltz into the pit lane and be instantly competitive.
Those issues, which have undone all their good work from the first test, should dispel the notion that Haas have been spoon-fed by Ferrari and will make success all the more sweeter when it eventually arrives.
But for now, the team's target of points on their grand prix debut in Australia is looking very optimistic.
Winner: Toro Rosso
For a team who have spent the last two seasons with Renault engines—suffering 21 race retirements and battling power and drivability issues all the while—how joyous an experience must it be for Scuderia Toro Rosso to use the Ferrari power units in 2016?
To send the car out on a morning in the knowledge that it won't return on the back of a flatbed truck? To devise a run plan without feeling the need to scribble "subject to change" beside each task?
To allow the drivers and mechanics to focus on the things that matter, rather than watching them waste time and energy stuck in the garage?
It is, you would imagine, those little perks that make the hassle of a major engine change—team principal Franz Tost told Autosport's Lawrence Barretto how Toro Rosso worked 24-hour, seven-days-a-week shifts over the winter to prepare their 2016 car for the start of testing—feel worthwhile.
And all that hard work has undoubtedly paid off.
With 447 laps to their name, Toro Rosso were second only to Mercedes in terms of mileage at the first test and continued where they left off at the second, posting a total of 602 laps.
Indeed, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. would not have looked out of place in an international cricket team, such was their lust for hundreds during the final four days of the winter, with Sainz's Day 4 score of 133 the team's lowest single-day tally at the second test.
The Spaniard told Motorsport.com that Toro Rosso conducted most of their running on the medium tyres in an effort to improve their performance on what was their least favourable compound in 2015.
But, like most teams, they became increasingly experimental as the test progressed, and Max Verstappen's fastest time on the new ultra-soft compound on Day 3 compared well to Force India's Nico Hulkenberg on the same compound, suggesting Toro Rosso not only have an incredibly reliable car but a reasonably quick one.
As Sainz told Motorsport.com, Toro Rosso have set themselves up for "very big things" in 2016.
Maybe we're being a little harsh here. Maybe, for all the changes in personnel and technology over the winter, as well as the revised image, this team are still only capable of 200-plus laps over four days, while the frontrunners are almost effortlessly completing in excess of 600.
Maybe this is just their natural level.
But, much like Haas, there is an overriding feeling of disappointment that Manor were unable to build upon their encouraging start to 2016 at the first test.
The final numbers, in truth, were hardly any different to the opening test—Manor completed 237 laps at the second test, compared to 254 the previous week—yet their failure to make further progress is precisely why the team must be considered among the losers.
An oil leak—the team's "first significant testing glitch," as racing director Dave Ryan told Manor's official Facebook page—set the tone on the opening morning, when Rio Haryanto was restricted to just two installation laps before lunch.
Although the Indonesian recovered to finish the day with 45 laps, it was not until Pascal Wehrlein—already emerging as something of a calming influence on the team—completed 79 laps on Day 2 that the ship was steadied.
More issues restricted the German to a pitiful 48 laps the following day before Haryanto suffered even more frustration on the final morning, finishing the test by adding 58 laps to the team's tally.
With the switch to Mercedes power units and Williams-built components, Manor were always bound to encounter teething troubles and will surely improve in time.
Along with Haas, they were the only team who failed to reach the 100-lap mark on a single day throughout testing. And in Haryanto, whose running in the first test was curtailed as a result of two spins in consecutive days, Manor have one of the most unprepared rookies of modern times.
The familiar alarm bells were ringing at McLaren-Honda at the close of the first test, when Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso ran a combined total of 54 laps over the course of the final two days.
Was the team's sudden loss of reliability, following their completion of an encouraging 203 laps during the first two days, a common case of "dead cat bounce"—a short-lived upturn in fortune followed by even more misery, more pain?
In a show of their determination to prevent a repeat of 2015, when they finished second bottom in the constructors' championship, the team made a number of aggressive changes to their MP4-31 car in time for the second test.
Per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Honda brought its definitive 2016 power unit to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with McLaren introducing a revised engine cover to accommodate the updated engine, while Sky Sports reported that the team also used "a new type of fuel."
The result, as Button told Motorsport.com's Jamie Klein, was "the biggest improvement" the team have made since Honda returned to F1 at the beginning of last year.
And it showed.
After just missing out on the 100-lap mark on Day 1, McLaren made three centuries on each of the remaining three days to ensure they ended testing with almost twice as many laps (710) as they completed in pre-season in 2015 (380), per Mobil 1 The Grid's Twitter account.
The team's fastest laps on Days 1 and 2, which were good enough for a top-five spot on the timesheets, were misleading, and there remains plenty of doubt over the true pace of the MP4-31.
But McLaren, at least, can enter the new season with a far more stable platform than at this stage 12 months ago. And with racing director Eric Boullier telling Motorsport.com's Noble that the final version of the 2016 car will not appear until the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, there is more to come.
What was all the fuss about?
It was unclear what to expect from Sauber at the second test, where they became the final team to launch their 2016 car in a year the pre-season schedule has been reduced from three tests to two.
Memories of Force India's recovery from a slow start to 2015 to secure their best-ever championship position of fifth were still fresh in the mind, yet so too were those of Lotus, who missed the first test of 2014 and spent the rest of the season regretting it.
Any fears that the C35's late introduction would leave Sauber stranded at the rear of the field evaporated as soon as the first day, however, when Felipe Nasr rolled out of the garage and instantly completed 103 laps.
If it seemed too good to be true, it was.
Marcus Ericsson endured a rotten Day 2, completing just seven laps in the morning session due to technical problems before losing his rear-right wheel in the afternoon, leaving the Swede with a tally of 55 laps.
With a maximum of four official testing days until the Australian Grand Prix, Sauber couldn't afford any more days like that and very quickly got back on track, with Nasr setting 116 laps on Day 3 before Ericsson more than made up for his earlier disaster by completing 132 on the final day.
With a total of 406 laps in the second test, Sauber racked up just 24 fewer laps than they did with their tried-and-tested 2015 car at the opening test, proving the gamble of delaying the C35 was worth taking.
Per Sauber's official website, team principal Monisha Kaltenborn claimed the Swiss outfit must re-establish themselves as solid midfield runners in 2016.
And while the team are likely to begin the season in the lower regions of the midfield—quicker than Haas and Manor but just behind Renault and McLaren Honda—Sauber appear to have a good baseline with the C35.
Timing, lap count and tyre data, unless stated, sourced from Jonathan Noble's first test roundup on Motorsport.com, Motorsport.com's roundup of the second test, the official websites of Mercedes, Haas, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Sauber as well as Manor's official Facebook page.