5 Things We Learned from Day 4 of the 1st 2016 Formula 1 Pre-Season Test
Kimi Raikkonen put Ferrari back on top of the time sheets at the final day of the first 2016 Formula One pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The Finn lapped the 4.655-kilometre circuit on the ultrasoft tyres in a time of one minute, 23.477 seconds—almost nine-tenths of a second quicker than second-placed man Daniil Kvyat.
But for many teams, Day 4 was about distance, not speed—and between them, the 11 cars completed an impressive 1017 laps.
Mileage leaders Mercedes again split the running between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, while Force India handed the VJM09 back to development driver Alfonso Celis Jr. The Mexican was the only non-race driver present over the four days of testing.
Elsewhere, Esteban Gutierrez was back for Haas, Max Verstappen replaced Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso and Fernando Alonso took over from Jenson Button for his second day in the McLaren.
Six drivers remained in their cars for the second consecutive day—Raikkonen (Ferrari), Kvyat (Red Bull), Felipe Massa (Williams), Rio Haryanto (Manor), Kevin Magnussen (Renault) and Felipe Nasr (Sauber).
All the drivers will now take a few days off ahead of the second pre-season test, which starts on March 1—but for their teams, the work will continue. There are parts to be completed, upgrades to work on and a whole host of problems and concerns—minor or major—to be addressed.
Here's what we learned on Day 4.
McLaren and Honda May Not Have Solved Their Problems After All
McLaren were quick out of the blocks in the morning session, the team's Twitter account proudly announcing that Fernando Alonso was the first man out as soon as the lights went green.
But Alonso returned to the pits soon after—and he didn't come back out. The McLaren Twitter account remained as silent as the Spaniard's engine until mid-afternoon when it revealed the team were trying to fix a coolant leak.
That was the last we heard from either the team or the car; Alonso ended the day with just three laps to his name and no time on the board.
In isolation, a coolant leak is not normally a major problem—they're not uncommon, and testing exists to identify and fix small issues such as these. But this was the second time in two days that McLaren lost a lot of running due to leaks—on Day 3, Jenson Button's afternoon was cut short by a hydraulic problem.
And while losing half a day is bad, missing out on a whole day is inexcusable.
After a promising start to the test that saw the MP4-31 cover 203 laps over the first two days, McLaren-Honda are beginning to look a little bit unsteady. Their start to 2015 was blighted by small but neverending reliability trouble, and it looks like there's a real danger the same is going to happen in 2016.
As we noted yesterday, McLaren haven't gone quickly yet, and losing track time to reliability issues—however small they may seem—isn't going to help in their quest to get back on the podium.
The Confidence Is Flowing at Haas
Haas have impressed a lot of people with their start to life as an F1 team.
Their lap totals have never been the highest and their drivers haven't come close to topping a time sheet, but for an entirely new team to complete 192 laps over the first three days of their existence represents a very strong start.
So strong, in fact, that on Day 4 they felt confident enough to send Esteban Gutierrez out on a race simulation after lunch—something, as Sky Sports pointed out, that no team had completed to that point.
It wasn't a pure, "big team" simulation—in one of those, the driver would set a qualifying time first, have a short rest, then start on the same tyres (as those who reach Q3 have to) and go from there—but it would still have counted as the first full-race run of the winter.
Unfortunately, circumstances beyond Haas' control cut it short.
Everything was going swimmingly until Gutierrez's 40th lap, when Rio Haryanto spun off into the barriers; the resulting red flags forced the Mexican into the pits and ruined the simulation. To that point, he had been lapping at a decent speed and seemed to be on a three-stop strategy—hard, medium, medium and more mediums.
Race simulations usually come toward the end of a team's programme, so it says much for how well Haas have started that they were able to attempt one after just four days.
And without Haryanto's error, they would probably have completed it.
No One Has Any Idea How Good the 2016 Toro Rosso Will Be
Toro Rosso head into 2016 on the back of their best-ever year as a full constructor, and expectations are high. Red Bull boss Christian Horner even said, per James Allen, that he expects the junior squad to be ahead of his own team at the start of the year.
However, the late switch from Renault to a 2015-spec Ferrari engine has caused the Faenza-based outfit a host of problems in changing the car design to fit the new power unit—and this may have a significant impact on their chances in the season ahead.
Speaking after the first day of testing, driver Carlos Sainz Jr. revealed to press at the circuit:
There are many compromises, both in the aero, and a lot of parts not being here yet.
I don't mind; I've driven on the first day of testing at Barcelona, and two months ago the team were telling me this was probably not going to happen.
It's been a record-breaking pre-season for Toro Rosso, to change the whole bodywork of the car to adapt to the engine and be here was a record. We achieved something like a big team would, and you could see the happy faces in the team when we went out at 9 a.m.
Since then, Toro Rosso have completed three very strong days in terms of kilometres covered, but they have yet to really show what they are capable of.
While all their rivals bar Mercedes have been out doing quicker times on the soft, supersoft or ultrasoft tyres, all Toro Rosso's daily bests have been set on the conservative mediums.
Technical director James Key revealed to Autosport on Day 4 that the team planned to bring plenty of updates to the second test, saying: "I won't go into specifics but it's all performance-related parts."
Testing times rarely have significant meaning, but those from Toro Rosso this week have meant even less. We'll only discover if they really do have a chance of beating Red Bull when the updated car takes to the track next week.
Rio Haryanto Appears to Have Adopted the Gilles Villeneuve Method
Gilles Villeneuve was one of the most naturally gifted men to ever sit in a racing car, but his method of discovering the limit of his first F1 machine wouldn't go down well with the teams in the modern era.
He made his debut with McLaren at the 1977 British Grand Prix, and the team website recounts that he learned how quickly the car would take each corner by going faster and faster until he spun off, thus discovering the absolute limit. Villeneuve himself said:
Originally, I was supposed to have several drives for McLaren this year, but now it looks as though this could be the only one.
This is the fastest car I've ever driven, and the fastest track I've ever seen. I had to learn both in a short time and the simplest way to find the limit is to go quicker and quicker until you go over it. Then you come back from that a bit, and think about the next corner.
It worked, and though McLaren decided against keeping him on, Ferrari were a little wiser and signed him for the following year.
Almost 40 years later, Manor rookie Rio Haryanto is learning his way around his own first F1 car—and though he almost certainly isn't trying to copy Villeneuve, he's nonetheless becoming rather familiar with the gravel.
In the morning on Day 3, he spun at Turn 5 and got stuck, becoming the first driver in 2016 to cause a red flag due to an error. On this occasion, the car was undamaged and he was able to continue with his programme.
Unfortunately, he spun again at the same corner on Day 4—only this time, he was travelling a little faster.
The beautiful new MR05 ended up parked against the barriers at the outside of the corner, and after being carted back to the pits on the back of a flatbed truck, it wasn't seen again.
Manor later tweeted that Haryanto was fine, but two mistakes in two days might have left him with a slightly bruised ego.
Renault Are Making Some Real Progress
Renault only finalised their takeover of Lotus in early December, so they've had less than three months to put their name above the door, finish switching the car layout to accommodate their own power unit and begin the task of restoring the Enstone base to its former glory.
It therefore came as no surprise that they didn't get off to the best of starts on the first day of testing. Jolyon Palmer managed just 37 laps and was slowest of all, and he made little progress up the time sheets or mileage charts on Day 2.
But over the past two days, Kevin Magnussen has completed a very respectable 264 laps. The Dane did 153 on the final day alone, ending up fourth-fastest with a best time of 1:25.263—set on the soft-compound tyres.
The 2016 season is still going to be hard for Renault. It'll take time for the improvements to be completed back at the factory, and they are still a long way short of their target of 650 employees.
Their power unit won't help matters either—it is still a long way behind the class-leading Mercedes and Ferrari engines—and the 2016 car was largely designed by Lotus before the Renault takeover was completed.
But they'll still want to do as well as they can in the year ahead, and though Magnussen's car broke down with 15 minutes of the session remaining, they are in a far better position now than they were after the opening two days of testing.