5 Talking Points Ahead of 2016 Formula 1's 2nd Test in Barcelona

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 29, 2016

5 Talking Points Ahead of 2016 Formula 1's 2nd Test in Barcelona

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    The second and final pre-season Formula One test of 2016 gets under way on Tuesday. The venue will be, as it was for the first test, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain.

    Ferrari led the timesheets at the end of the first test thanks to Sebastian Vettel's time of one minute, 22.810 seconds. The German produced the lap in the afternoon of the second day, using the new ultrasoft Pirelli tyres. Nico Hulkenberg was second-quickest for Force India, with Daniel Ricciardo in third.

    Reigning world champions Mercedes only managed the eighth-quickest time, but there will have been no glum faces back at the factory in Brackley. The Silver Arrows were aiming for reliability, not pace, and the new W07 racked up an incredible 675 laps of the track.

    For all their headline pace, Ferrari did just 352.

    Away from the scrap at the front, the new Haas team made an impressive debut after a setback on the opening day, while Manor's start to life as a Mercedes customer was encouraging rather than spectacular. Toro Rosso didn't show their hand, Williams were quiet, Renault made progress and McLaren's fortunes were mixed.

    Most of the teams will finish the second test running their cars close to the specification they will use for the opening race on March 20, and everyone will be aiming to do full qualifying and race simulations at least once over the four days.

    Caution must still be exercised when looking at the timesheets; no test, be it the first or the last, ever gives a truly accurate picture of the state of play. But we should at least get an idea of who's doing well, who's doing OK and who's falling behind.

    Here's what to look for when the action kicks off on Tuesday.

What Have Mercedes Got Up Their Sleeves?

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    Mercedes were conspicuous by their absence at the top of the timesheets; across the four days, Nico Rosberg only managed the eighth-fastest time, while Lewis Hamilton's best was only good enough for 12th overall.

    But the Silver Arrows have not suddenly lost their advantage. All the drivers ahead of Rosberg set their laps on short runs using the quicker supersoft or ultrasoft tyres, while Mercedes focused on longer runs using the conservative mediums.

    For them, the first test was all about distance.

    In four days, the W07 covered a staggering 3,142 kilometres. To put that into perspective, Hamilton and Rosberg could have completed a leisurely, four-day road trip down the entire east coast of the United States, from northern Maine to southern Florida, and had a few kilometres left over for excursions along the way.

    Or, had they chosen to remain in Europe and taken the W07 for a spin on public roads, 3,142 kilometres of driving would have taken them from Barcelona to Russiavia Spain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

    Mercedes have now got their reliability running out of the way and will start to focus some of their attention on speed at the second test.

    With everyone else certain to be doing the same, this will give us our first chance to get a real clue of just how great their advantageif it's there at allis going to be at the start of 2016.

Will Sauber or Haas Look the Better Ferrari Customer?

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    Haas stole a march on fellow Ferrari customers Sauber with their impressive showing at the opening four-day test. The Americans rolled out their VF-16 and started racking up the laps right from the word go, but Sauber didn't have their new car ready in time.

    The new C35 will make its debut at the second test, giving the Swiss team just four days of running to get on terms with the competition. Recent form suggests they'll be somewhere near the rear of the midfield, racing the likes of Renault, Manor and possibly McLaren.

    But the battle with Haas will be the most important to the Swiss team, given their shared engine supplierand it'll matter a lot to the rest of the grid, too.

    Sauber have designed their car unassisted at their base in Hinwil, Switzerland. Though some teams will buy in limited numbers of parts from larger rivalsManor use transmission and suspension components from Williams, for examplethis is how F1 constructors normally operate, as independent entities doing the lion's share of the work themselves.

    Haas, however, have taken a different approach. Their car has been designed by Italian company Dallara, and the team have worked closely with Ferrari, buying in as many components as possible and using the Maranello wind tunnel for aerodynamic development.

    Sky Sports F1's Ted Kravitz pointed out a number of similarities between the Ferrari SF16-H and the Haas VF16 on his Ted's Notebook show on the final day of the first test. After describing a small winglet on the Haas engine cover, Kravitz noted, "Surprise surprise, the other people who have got that are Ferrari. Yes indeed."

    Matt Somerfield and Giorgio Piola of Motorsport.com also identified a lot of Ferrari-like design on the Haas, as did Crash.net's Max Yamabiko.

    The relationship between Ferrari and Haas is closer than any other down the pit lane. If the American team comes in and immediately beats a "traditional" team like Sauber, every midfield outfit will have to question the way they go racing.

    After all, what would be the point of doing everything themselves if they could be quicker and more successful working as an effective "B team" to one of the big boys?

    How well Sauber fare relative to Haas will be a huge story in 2016and the first chapter will be written at the second test.

Toro Rosso vs. Red Bull: The 1st Proper Clues

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    Toro Rosso are about to enter their 11th year of F1, and most of those years were spent in the shadow of their big brothersRed Bull have finished ahead of their junior team in the constructors' championship 10 times.

    The gaps were smaller at first, in part because the two teams used the same chassis for a number of yearsincluding 2008, when Sebastian Vettel pushed Toro Rosso to sixth in the standings, ahead of seventh-placed Red Bull.

    In recent years the gulf has widened. The 2015 season saw Toro Rosso closer than they have been for a long time, but the gap at the end of the year was still 120 points in the Austrian team's favour.

    However, it's possible 2016 could see a slight changing of the guard.

    Red Bull will continue to use the Renault power unit, badged as a TAG Heuer. Though improvements will inevitably have been made over the winter, it will still be down on power relative to the new Mercedes and Ferrari engines at the start of the season.

    It could also be behind the 2015-spec Ferrari engine being used by Toro Rosso, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner thinks this could make all the difference. Speaking at the Red Bull livery launch in February, he told press (h/t James Allen):

    To start the year, yes [Toro Rosso will be ahead]. But I think that will, hopefully, change throughout the course of the year.

    Toro Rosso has bolted in 0.8 of a second into their car just through a different power unit. That is a significant amount of performance. We’re hoping to make similar gains throughout the year but obviously the chassis is going to have to really try prop that up.

    But Toro Rosso did not have an easy winter. Their preparations were compromised by having to quickly modify their design to accept the Ferrari engine instead of a Renault, and this could impact on their competitiveness.

    Red Bull pushed a little bit at the opening test, but Toro Rosso took the Mercedes route and avoided setting times on the quicker tyres.

    The second test will see both teams carry out proper qualifying and race simulations at roughly the same timeand these will give us the first clues as to where each stands in the competitive order.

How Much Have McLaren and Honda Really Improved?

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    McLaren had a miserable 2015 season. Though they built a reasonably good chassis, the new Honda power unit in the back was both unreliable and lacking in power.

    The engine improved a little as the year progressed, but even at the end of the season, it was, by a distance, the least powerful and most fragile on the grid. For McLaren to take a step back toward the front of the field, Honda need to have made some serious improvements over the winter.

    On the first day of the first 2016 test, it looked like progress had been made. Jenson Button managed 84 laps of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, clocking up 391 kilometresmore than the team managed across four whole days of the first 2015 test.

    The second day saw Fernando Alonso go further still, breaking through the 550-kilometre mark; but after that, things started to go wrong.

    Jenson Button's running on Day 3 was curtailed by a hydraulic leak after just 51 laps, and Alonso didn't do any competitive running at all on the final day after more reliability problems. Despite their promising start, McLaren completed just 257 lapsfewer than anyone bar Manor.

    This alone would be troubling, but the team also demonstrated a worrying lack of pace. McLaren were the slowest team in Barcelona and, per Tobi Gruner's tweet, the MP4-31 was also the slowest car through the speed trap.

    Speaking to Autosport after the first test, the team's racing director Eric Boullier revealed they had been focused more on reliability than pace, and that McLaren, like the rest of the teams, would "start to pick things up" at the second test.

    But the Frenchman also made a point of playing down expectations, saying that even a target of podium finishes "might be too much too soon."

    F1 is at its most exciting when there are multiple teams and drivers fighting for wins and titlesso it's important to the sport as a whole that McLaren, along with Red Bull and eventually Renault, find their way back to the front.

    With everyone pushing a little bit harder, the second test will give us an indication of how far along the path to recovery the Woking-based team really are.

Where Do Ferrari Stand in the Reliability Stakes?

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    Ferrari followed up their headline-grabbing start to the 2015 season with another good showing on the timesheets. Sebastian Vettel topped the charts on the opening two days, and Kimi Raikkonen pitched in with the quickest time on the final day.

    But no one walked away from Barcelona thinking the Scuderia were on top. The lap times were in no way representative of true pace, evidenced most clearly by the fact Force India's Nico Hulkenberg, on supersoft tyres, got within three-tenths of a second of Vettel's best on the quicker ultrasofts.

    In truth, though Ferrari pushed harder than Mercedes, they never got close to extracting the car's full potential. So the lap times from the first test can be disregarded; they tell us little about the relative pace of the two expected front-runners.

    However, the data from the first test does kick out a very interesting piece of informationsomething that, even at this stage, actually has some relevance. Ferrari did just 352 laps over the four days of testing323 fewer than Mercedes.

    The Italians were doing different things to Mercedes, paying more attention to performance than their rivals, but they wouldn't have limited their running that much by choice.

    And in testing, mileage is king. Neither the team nor the drivers learn anything about a car while it is parked in the garage and, per ESPN's Laurence Edmondson, Raikkonen admitted he would have liked to do more.

    Ferrari's main aim ahead of the second test will be to keep Mercedes in sight on the kilometre chart. Do they have the confidence and reliability to do itor will they be on the back foot before the season has even begun?

    Lap count and timing data used throughout sourced from Jonathan Noble's testing roundup at Motorsport.com.