5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the 2nd 2016 Formula 1 Pre-Season Test
Kimi Raikkonen ensured Ferrari topped the timesheets again as the third day of the second Formula One pre-season test drew to a close at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The Finn set the two fastest times of the day, the quickest of which was also the best of the winter so far. His time of one minute, 22.785 seconds, set on the ultrasoft Pirelli tyes, was around half-a-tenth quicker than team-mate Sebastian Vettel's best time from the opening test.
But the lap that really caught the eye was his 1:23.009, set using the soft tyres. Even Mercedes have not yet gone as quickly on the yellow-marked rubber.
Elsewhere, Williams were also impressive on the softs, Haas endured another trying day, Mercedes stuck to lengthy runs and McLaren continued to focus on reliability, rather than outright speed.
The 11 teams chalked up 1,274 laps between them, with 12 drivers taking to the track. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg again split the day for Mercedes, and both will be back in the W07 on the final day.
Jolyon Palmer, Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa will also continue for a second day at Renault, Haas and Williams, respectively.
Raikkonen, though, was having his last run in his car this winter, as was Nico Hulkenberg at Force India.
Felipe Nasr of Sauber, Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat, Manor's Pascal Wehrlein, Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso and McLaren's Fernando Alonso were also in action for the last time before the season kicks off in Australia on March 20.
Here's what we learned on the third day.
Mercedes Have Far More in the Tank Than They've Shown
Kimi Raikkonen's quickest time of the day was his 1:22.765, set on the purple-marked ultrasoft tyres. But the ultrasofts were not designed for a high-speed, high-energy circuit like this one—they're three steps softer than the softest tyre Pirelli likes to use here.
They were created for use on low-grip street circuits, and that's where their benefit is going to be felt the most. We shouldn't really be paying too much attention to ultrasoft times around Catalunya because their peak grip probably doesn't even last for a whole lap.
However, times set on the yellow-marked soft rubber may hold a bit of relevance, and it was Raikkonen's time on this tyre that really stood out. During the morning session, he produced a lap of 1:23.009—the quickest soft-compound time of the test so far.
Yes, quicker even than Nico Rosberg's lap for Mercedes on Day 1 of the second test. The gap was small—Raikkonen was just 0.013 seconds quicker—but did his lap mean that Ferrari have Mercedes-equalling pace?
Felipe Massa provided the answer soon after. His Williams FW38 has the same power unit as the Mercedes, but aerodynamically the W07 is superior—and Massa was able to pull out a lap of 1:23.193 on the softs, less than two-tenths of a second shy of Raikkonen and even closer to Rosberg's best.
Of course, testing times are unreliable and we don't know what each team is doing, but there's no harm in drawing a tentative conclusion from these times.
It's believable that a team with a far smaller budget and a slightly better engine could bang in a single lap around an average circuit within two-tenths of the best Ferrari can manage—Williams have been doing that sort of thing for a while now.
But is it equally believable that Williams could get that close to Mercedes, with whom they share an engine? No.
Both Ferrari and Williams put in good laps on the third day—but all they really told us is that the 1:23.022 was not even close to as quick as Mercedes can really go.
McLaren Are Reliable, but We Don't Really Know If They're Quick
McLaren are enjoying a far more productive testing season than they did in 2015, but the MP4-31 was still one of the least-travelled cars at the first test of the year. As a result, the team have very much focused on kilometres, not pace, at the second test.
Fernando Alonso did 93 laps on the first day and Jenson Button managed 120 on the second day. Alonso was back in action for the last time on Day 3 and he continued to pile on the distance, adding 118 laps to the team's tally.
McLaren did 257 laps across four days of the first test, and they have already exceeded that figure in just three days of the second—chalking up 331 laps, or 1,540.8 kilometres.
That isn't even close to the distances recorded by teams like Mercedes or Toro Rosso, but for a team that only did 1,740 kilometres across all 12 days of 2015's pre-season, the progress is clear.
McLaren are definitely heading in the right direction.
But question marks remain over how how great a step forward they have made because they're yet to set any particularly quick times.
Alonso's best time over the winter—and he's done with driving now until practice the first race—was the 1:24.735 lap he set on soft-compound tyres on Day 1 of the second test. Though he fitted the supersoft tyres for a short outing on the third day, he didn't improve his time.
From this, we can draw two conflicting conclusions. The first is that McLaren are still painfully slow—Alonso's best time was 1.7 seconds slower than Ferrari's No. 2 driver managed on the same rubber.
The other is that Alonso didn't push hard at all during testing, meaning he will head to Australia without any experience at all of driving the car to its limits.
The latter of the two seems more likely—and the Spaniard is more than capable of learning a car's limits quickly, so he probably won't care—but it's difficult to say for sure. Perhaps Button will give us some more answers when he takes over the MP4-31 for the final day.
The Halo Offers Reasonable Visibility, but It's Not Overly Popular
Kimi Raikkonen caused quite a stir when he rolled out of the garage for his installation lap early in the morning. His Ferrari was fitted with a carbon-fibre prototype of the "halo" cockpit protection system, designed by the team to test driver visibility.
The Finn completed two leisurely laps of the circuit before pulling into the pits to have the halo removed. An FIA statement later revealed Raikkonen felt his visibility was not impaired, which cleared up one potential problem—but what did those who saw it think?
Pictures of the Ferrari prototype were instantly splashed across the length and breadth of the online world, and everyone had an opinion.
Fans responding to a Twitter poll by Autosport gave it an overwhelming thumbs down, with 54 percent indicating they disliked it and just 5 percent expressing a positive view.
Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle also gave it a frosty reception, tweeting: "That looks even worse than I feared, in several respects," and B/R's Oliver Harden wasn't keen either, saying: "'Halo' is too nice a word for the piece of scaffolding on Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari this morning."
But Nico Rosberg came out on Twitter as an enthusiastic supporter of the halo, as did Renault's Carmen Jorda, and journalist Adam Cooper was quick to point out that the real halo would not look the same as the Ferrari prototype.
He's right, of course. The Ferrari design is little more than a stuck-on piece of carbon fibre designed to test visibility. And, curiously, they seem to have gone out of their way to make it as ugly and obtrusive as possible, with glaring white sponsor stickers plastered on to the dark frame.
The real halo, if introduced, will be an integrated part of the car, coloured and styled with a little more thought, and it won't necessarily look like the one we saw today—per Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble, Red Bull are aiming to test an alternative design as early as next month.
So, what do you think to the halo design?
Haas Just Keep Finding New Problems
There was some reason for cheer in the Haas garage on the third day as Romain Grosjean completed more than 50 laps in the morning session.
Team-mate Esteban Gutierrez had managed just 24 tours of the Circuit de Catalunya over the first two days of the test, so it appeared the new American team were over the worst of their problems.
But with just minutes to go before lunch, Grosjean slid off the track and brought the session to an early end—and speaking to media soon after, he indicated a problem with the car, not his driving, had been the cause.
The Frenchman was quoted by Autosport, saying: "We are trying to investigate [what happened]. I locked the front wheel and went straight—luckily we stopped before the wall. So a bit of cleaning [at lunch] unfortunately, and we'll try to understand what happened."
The car was ready to roll again after lunch, but Grosjean managed just eight more laps before going off again—this time going into Turn 1. Photographs of the incident, showing Grosjean sliding sideways into the corner, were captured by Sutton Images and shown on Twitter by GP Update.
F1 technical expert Matt Somerfield tweeted that it looked like Haas were having issues with their brake-by-wire (BBW) system.
These were introduced at the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era to deal with the increased slowing power of the kinetic energy recovery system (ERS). Sauber's website gave a good explanation of the system at the start of 2014:
The braking system concept is totally new, taking the form of a brake-by-wire system for the first time at the rear wheels. This has become necessary due to the significantly increased performance of the ERS, which requires much greater variations in rear wheel braking torque than previously.
With brake-by-wire, an electronic system measures how hard the driver presses the brake pedal and then—using the additional information from energy recuperation—determines in a split-second the amount of braking pressure that should be fed through to the rear brake callipers.
If the BBW system gets it wrong, the amount of braking force applied by the rears could be too much or too little, destabilising the car under braking—and in extreme cases, the driver will usually get little warning before he's facing the wrong way, spinning off the circuit.
The drivers therefore need to be confident that the system will work. Hopefully for Haas, if this is the problem they're now dealing with, the fix will be fairly straightforward.
Toro Rosso Are Looking in Decent Shape as the End of Testing Approaches
Toro Rosso have flown under the radar for much of the winter so far, not really standing out and just quietly getting on with their programme.
They spent the first test on medium tyres, banging in the kilometres and not going overly quickly, and they continued this on the first two days of the second test.
But Max Verstappen hopped back into the STR11 for the last time on the third day, and he finally put himself close to the top of the timesheets after trying out some of the quicker rubber.
His best lap was set on the ultrasoft tyres, a 1:23.382—around three-tenths quicker than his fastest time on the supersofts, and close to the time Nico Hulkenberg set on the ultrasofts for Force India.
Kimi Raikkonen's test-best ultrasoft time was around six-tenths better than Verstappen's.
It's unclear exactly where this leaves Toro Rosso. We don't know what fuel loads each team is using, what engine modes are being utilised or how hard each driver is pushing. But as both Verstappen and Hulkenberg were having their last runs in their cars before the first race, it's reasonable to expect they'd have wanted to go somewhere close to the limit.
If so, the gap of a little over a tenth to Force India—a team running the 2016-spec version of the class-leading Mercedes engine—looks encouraging for the 2015-Ferrari powered Red Bull junior squad.
And their kilometre count makes the picture rosier still. Toro Rosso have completed 916 laps—second only to Mercedes.
Carlos Sainz Jr. will be back for Toro Rosso on the final day, when we'll get our final impressions of where they, and everyone else, stand.