5 Things We Learned from Day 1 of the 1st 2016 Formula 1 Pre-Season Test

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2016

5 Things We Learned from Day 1 of the 1st 2016 Formula 1 Pre-Season Test

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    JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

    Sebastian Vettel set the pace on the opening day of testing ahead of the 2016 Formula One season, but the big news coming out of Spain had little to do with timing and everything to do with distance.

    Ferrari driver Vettel lapped the Circuit de Catalunya in a time of one minute, 24.939 secondshalf a second quicker than the next-best driver. But the four-time world champion only managed 69 tours of the circuit; Lewis Hamilton, driving his Mercedes W07 for the first time, did 156 laps.

    It will be this figure, not the headline lap time set by Vettel, that will be worrying the other teams as they turn in for the night.

    The day began early with the official unveilings of the Renault, Red Bull, Manor, Toro Rosso and Force India cars. All bar Toro Rosso showed off their new paint schemes, toothough only Manor's stood out as significant departure from their 2015 look.

    Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Haas and Williams had all shown off their challengers online in the days leading up to the test, but the morning gave fans a first chance to see these cars in the flesh and on the race track.

    Sauber were also present, running in their 2016 livery, but the car being driven by Marcus Ericsson was last year'sthe new C35 will not be ready until the final pre-season test, which starts on March 1.

    By 9 a.m. local time, all the launches were done and dusted and it was time for the real business of the week to begin; nine hours later, the first day of 2016's pre-season came to an end.

    Here are five things we learned from the first on-track action of 2016.

Mercedes Look Ominously Strong, Again

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    Lewis Hamilton crossing the line at the Circuit de Catalunya.
    Lewis Hamilton crossing the line at the Circuit de Catalunya.Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Mercedes did not top the time sheets, butas was the case in 2015they set about racking up the laps almost as soon as the lights went green.

    Lewis Hamilton completed 66 laps of the Circuit de Catalunyaexactly one full race distancebefore lunch. During the midday break, he spoke to Sky Sports F1, indicating he was happy with the W07:

    It feels very much like last year's car. There are a few bits here and there but generally it's the sameit's an evolution of last year's car and l think that is a positive.

    Sixty laps on the first morning is very encouraging for us, because normally on the first day you have problems here and there with the car stopping, so fingers crossed that'll continue.

    And continue it did. While most of the other drivers endured lengthy spells in the garage in the afternoon, Hamilton just kept on going. He passed the 100-lap mark before 3 p.m. and ended the day with 156 laps to his nameequal to 726.18 kilometres, or 2.36 race distances.

    The next-best 2016-spec lapper was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, who "only" managed 87 tours.

    Hamilton didn't set the day's fastest time, but his 1:25.409 was very respectable considering the team's programme. At this early stage, the Silver Arrows already look the team to beat.

Haas Are Up and Running, Despite 1 Potentially Major Hiccup

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    JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

    The new Haas team made their on-track debut at Barcelona after a long and careful period of preparation. Rather than rush into things and try to get ready for 2015, they wisely opted to enter in 2016.

    Haas rolled out their first-ever car, the VF-16, early on Monday morning, and Romain Grosjean was tasked with giving it its first run. Initially everything looked good, and the Frenchman put in a respectable time of 1:28.399.

    But shortly before lunch, a small disaster struck.

    Grosjean's front-wing supports failed as he headed toward Turn 1, bringing out the first (and only) red flag of the day. Though he was able to bring the car back to the pits, it remained there until late in the afternoon as the team tried to get to the bottom of the issue.

    The Frenchman re-emerged later in the day, but he was unable to improve on his time from the morning session and ended the day having completed just 31 lapsthe fewest of any driver.

    But for totally new teams, tough first days are not unexpected. Overall, it has to go down as a fairly successful start to Haas' F1 lifeand hopefully the front-wing issue will not be a difficult one to fix.

McLaren Are Set for a Happier Pre-Season

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    JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

    McLaren kicked off the 2015 season in spectacularly dismal fashion, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button managing just 79 laps between them over the entire four days of the first test at the Jerez circuit.

    That equates to a shade under 350 kilometres.

    But Honda now have a season of experience behind them and the latest iteration of their power unit proved sufficiently reliable for Button to clock up a respectable 84 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya on the first day alone, equal to 391.02 kilometres.

    Button's pace was nothing special; his best lap of 1:26.735, set on the soft-compound tyres, was almost two seconds down on Sebastian Vettel's best, and the Ferrari man was on mediums.

    But this first day was about reliability, not speedand per Sky Sports' Ted Kravitz, writing on the site's live testing blog, the Honda engine in the back of Button's car is not the fully developed 2016-spec unit.

    McLaren racing director Eric Boullier told Autosport that the MP4-31's on-track performance correlated with simulation data, and that he already knew the car was "better than last year."

    The time sheets agreedespite this only being the first day, Button's medium-compound lap was quicker than the best McLaren time from qualifying (on the same compound) for last year's Spanish Grand Prix.

Force India Are Desperate for Money

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Force India rolled out their gleaming new VJM09 on Monday morningthen promptly handed it over to 19-year-old development driver Alfonso Celis Jr.

    Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were left kicking their heels in the garage, missing out on vital pre-season mileage, while a driver who—per DriverDB—has never finished in the top 10 of a significant series (or even won a race in one) drove their car.

    Speaking to Motorsport.com's Darshan Chokhani before the test, Celis indicated the team's choice was down to their faith in him:

    I'm very excited and ready to complete the two days they have given me. 

    I was surprised by the opportunity. I was informed of it at the factory while preparing for the season ahead.

    The team has given me a vote of confidence and it is important for me to be in the car for my development.

    If Force India had the next Ayrton Senna on their books, or had somehow secured the signature of a clone of Jim Clark, they could be forgiven for punting Hulkenberg and Perez aside for the chance to check him out.

    But Celis Jr.'s record is remarkable only for its lack of highlights. He scored just one podium in his 2015 GP3 campaign and ended the year 12th in the standings with 24 points. One of his ART team-mates, Esteban Ocon, won the title with 253 points; the other, Marvin Kirchhoffer, was third in the final table with 200 points.

    And in 2014, Celis Jr. scored just two points, while team-mates Nick Yelloly and Richie Stanaway chalked up 127 and 125 points, respectively.

    The only vote of confidence, it seems, was in the size of someone's walletbut putting aside how he got into the car, Celis did a decent job for a youngster, setting the day's fifth-fastest time.

Renault Have Plenty of Work to Do

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    The lesser-spotted Renault of Jolyon Palmer.
    The lesser-spotted Renault of Jolyon Palmer.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Renault returning as a works team was one of the best things to happen to F1 in recent years. The sport desperately needed another big name, and at some point down the line, the constructors' champions of 2005 and 2006 will surely be fighting it out at the front.

    However, with the purchase of Lotus only confirmed in December, 2016 was always going to be a transitional yearand the first day of testing very much confirmed this.

    Jolyon Palmer was the second man out on the track when the lights went green, and after a couple of very short outings on a damp-but-drying circuit, he was among the first to bolt on a set of dry-weather mediums.

    But as the hours ticked by, the 2014 GP2 champion spent more time in the garage than he did on the track. He ended the day with just 37 laps to his name and was slowest of all the runners by almost a full second.

    It's early days, and it would be unfair to write off Renault for the season ahead based only on what we have seen, but as first days go, this was anything but good.

    They'll be hoping to make substantial progress over the next three days.

    Timing and tyre data used throughout sourced from the live blogs of Autosport and Sky Sports.

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