The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Early signs for the new F1 season

First, let’s get one thing straight. The new breed of cars look downright monstrous: huge wheels, huge bodies – they are the hybrid era on steroids.

Lewis Hamilton summed up the thinking around the new cars rather succinctly in a tweet when the new Mercedes W08 was unveiled on February 23rd: ‘BEAST’.

Bigger quite literally means better, and it already shows in testing. The fastest time in the first Catalunya test of 2016 was around 1:22.8, set by Sebastian Vettel. The fastest of this week’s test was 1:19.7, set by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Just whether the new breed will succeed in being 5 seconds-a-lap faster remains to be seen, but all of the soundings from drivers are good. The new Pirelli tyres aimed at allowing drivers to push for longer seem to have worked, with drivers reporting far less “degradation” than before, allowing them to push on the limit for longer, which is essentially what Formula One should be about.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – 2016 again?

Without reading too much into the fastest lap times of the test (Mercedes were fastest, but on ultra-softs, followed by Ferrari on the soft tyre), the reliability and pace shown by Mercedes suggest that they will be the team to beat once again this season.

However, the pace shown by Ferrari suggests that they may finally have a battle on their hands; both Kimi Raikonnen and Seb Vettel appeared pretty even for pace with the Mercedes pair, and McLaren racing director Eric Boullier even admitted that their pace was surprising. Mercedes traditionally run slower in testing, however, so expect a jump in performance once Melbourne comes around later this month.

“The Renault engine they are using has made significant steps forward, as shown by a very impressive showing for Renault amongst the middle teams”

Red Bull have made a major step forward themselves, although appear to be one step behind Mercedes and Ferrari. The Renault engine they are using has made significant steps forward, as shown by a very impressive showing for Renault amongst the middle teams; if the big aerodynamic package they are due to bring to the final test next week aids performance even more, then it may well be a straight fight between six drivers.

In amongst the midfield

While the three mentioned above seem to be in a league of their own, Force India, Renault, Toro Rosso, Haas and Williams look set to be in an intense battle for the final four points positions.

Toro Rosso, while not really showing the pace many believe them to have, ran reliably all week, putting in a lot of laps, suggesting a high level of reliability that bodes well for the new season. Running a 2016 Ferrari engine is no bad thing, either.

“The close nature of the teams will surely lend itself to some high octane racing”

Renault and Haas have both improved and will be looking to build on solid, if not spectacular, seasons last time out.

In what looks to be heading towards a two-tiered system between 8 of the 10 teams, while some drivers have expressed concerns about the possibility of overtaking in the new season due to the difference in performance in the dirty air of the car ahead, the close nature of the teams will surely lend itself to some high octane racing.

The McLaren-Honda conundrum

McLaren did not have the best of weeks at the first test in Catalunya; the first two days of testing were virtually lost to an oil-tank problem and an engine failure respectively.

Honda have designed a completely new engine for this season, in an attempt at copying the architecture Mercedes use; the Japanese turbo hybrid looks to be severely down on performance if sources are to be believed.

Fernando Alonso has been putting on a brave face, but one must wonder just how much more he can take of being towards the back of the grid. He is undoubtedly one of the finest drivers of his generation, and that elusive third world championship feels further away than ever.

Some cars look gorgeous, some look… less gorgeous

The Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull cars all look pretty spectacular, in the opinion of this particular writer. The red livery of Ferrari has not always enamoured itself to me, but on this occasion, it looks stunning.

Mercedes’ silver livery works with the wider body and fat tyres, making it look fierce. Images of it glinting in the dusk of Bahrain and the lights of Singapore make for a tantalising prospect.

McLaren’s new orange and black livery reminds me a little too much of the old Orange Arrows team, and I am not very sold on it thus far. Sauber’s body colours, while distinctive, also look a bit of an eyesore.

Williams’ Martini-branded livery has looked sharp since they began their partnership, and this year is no exception. It is a very smart car for a team who look to do F1 in the right way, often working on a shoe-string budget.

Drivers will also be on the limit

The increased g-forces that come with taking corners harder and flatter will mean that drivers are strained to the limit too, and that is why so many drivers have been putting in the hours in the gym, getting ready for the new season.

In the harder slogs, such as Suzuka and Spa, do not be surprised if drivers come out of the cars physically exhausted, as per the old days (think Senna at Monaco, where he could barely stand on the podium in 1992 after holding off Nigel Mansell).

When it’s all said and done, that is what F1 should be: man and machine both on the absolute limit. Welcome back, F1.

Connor Higgs

Featured image courtesy of Massimiliano Gaiani via Flikr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here. 

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