Weekend F1 debate: Who’s hot and who’s not for 2016 after F1 testing?
F1 testing, McLaren
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 Mar 2016   |  6:58 pm GMT  |  182 comments

The eight days of winter F1 testing are over and the cars are being built up back at base, ready to fly to Australia at the end of the week. But who will travel out there with high hopes and who has work to do? After attending both Barcelona tests, we think we have a pretty good idea of the underlying pace of the cars and of the order at this point.

With the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, former Force India chief engineer, we can analyse the long run performance as well as the single laps and sector times to give a picture of the relative pace of the cars.

Sebastian Vettel

Overview – Mercedes vs Ferrari for wins and championship
The overview is that Mercedes continues to set the pace, but we think that the gap to Ferrari in underlying pace has roughly halved over the winter and that Mercedes is perhaps 0.2s-0.3s faster than the Maranello squad. But there are signs that the race pace is closer than that, with a couple of Kimi Raikkonen’s long runs in particular suggesting that Ferrari more or less matches Mercedes.

What we do not yet know is what the gap is when Mercedes turns up its engine to the maximum qualifying mode. Last season this was worth 0.4s. Ferrari has worked on its ultra aggressive mode too, but we won’t see that gap until both teams reach for the secret weapon on Saturday in Melbourne.

Behind the front two we have Williams, which looks very fast over one lap, Red Bull, Force India and Toro Rosso. All four squads left Barcelona feeling pretty good and certainly have set some very fast times. Red Bull appears to have excellent race pace and tyre management. Daniel Ricciardo did a long run on Wednesday afternoon with strong pace and very low tyre degradation, which suggests that in some races, where tyre life is key, he will rise to a strong result.

Further back we have Sauber, McLaren and Renault, who are struggling a little, relatively speaking. Sauber was late with its car, McLaren still has an engine deficit and Renault is basically 60hp worse off than last year after replacing a Mercedes engine with a Renault. That’s 0.8seconds at many venues.

Table 1: All teams, relative pace – Click to enlarge

F1 testing pace 2016

Vertical axis: Lap times in seconds. Horizontal axis: Number of laps covered.

This table uses the lap time data from Day 3 of the second test, which was representative as the wind was fairly low that day. The wind was high and gusty on Wednesday and Friday, depending on when you were out on track and it destabilised the cars. It looks in more detail at longer runs in general.

The way to read this is to look at the bottom of the graph to see who was setting the faster times and then look at the top for who was setting the slower times. Consistency is key as is keeping the upward curve not too steep on longer runs, which would indicate high tyre degradation. Short bursts of laps low down indicate performance runs, usually on softer tyres. But the longer strings show the comparable race pace, as they do during a Grand Prix weekend.

It’s fairly clear the overall performance order: Mclaren, Renault and Sauber are still struggling, Mercedes and Ferrari quickest, Williams looks good over one lap but we didn’t really see their race pace. Red Bull is joined by Force India and Toro Rosso in the chasing pack. Sainz looks like he has relatively low tyre degradation on his long runs.

Table 2: Mercedes vs Ferrari – Test 2- Day 2 and Day 3 combined. Click to enlarge

Mercedes vs Ferrari pace F1 testing 2016

Not a lot in it on the race runs, backing up the similar single lap pace. Perhaps Mercedes should still be slightly more confident based on Hamilton’s first and second stints. Raikkonen and Hamilton were running on Day 3 in the afternoon at the same time, so the conditions were identical. Rosberg and Vettel, who ran on Day 2 may be showing the effects of the strong winds, which caused problems with stability into Turn 10 and Turn 13 and gave a headwind on the main straight.

Another notable point is that the Ferrari is working the harder tyres more effectively than in 2015. In the Spanish GP Vettel stayed with Rosberg until lap 40 just 15secs behind, but that ballooned up to 45 seconds after the final 26 laps on hard tyres. That has been a Ferrari weakness for years, but looks like it won’t happen this year.

The improved performance is undoubtedly due to the increased downforce.

Table 3: Williams vs Red Bull vs Force India vs Toro Rosso – Test 2 – Day 2 and Day 3 combined. Click to enlarge

F1 testing pace 2016

We don’t have proper race sim data from Williams, but estimating their fuel load as 50Kg and using a long run we can predict what a middle race stint might look like. Toro Rosso and Red Bull are quite close on performance and Force India is also in that area at a circuit that is normally not especially strong for them.

The standout here is Ricciardo’s long run in the centre of the table, which rises gently as the laps tick by. That is what you want to see on a race plot, indicating low tyre degradation – barely 0.08s per lap.

Spanish GP 2016
Snapshot of Progress since 2015 Spanish GP
All the cars are faster than last season. Pole on the medium tyre for Rosberg was 1m 24.6s, which he comfortably beat by half a second on the same tyre in testing on the first lap of a nine lap run. So adjusting for fuel, he’s more like 0.8s faster and we have the impression that there is more there on full qualifying engine map. For reference Raikkonen did a 1m 23.099s on soft, which equates to 1m23.899s on medium.

Mercedes’ race pace in 2015 went from 1m31s at the start to 1m29s at the end. Here they are running 1m29 to 1m27s. The conditions are more favourable at this time of year compared to May, perhaps a second faster, but it’s still a significant improvement.

McLaren and Manor are also interesting to compare. McLaren’s best lap of the 2016 test was 1m24.714s on ultra soft. If you add on 2 seconds for the performance delta ultra soft to medium (used for qualifying at the 2015 Grand Prix), the car is one second faster.

Manor’s best lap of the test was 1m24.913s on ultrasoft. Again that reads across to 1m26.913 on mediums, which is over four seconds faster than their 2015 grid time!

Rio Haryanto

As for the new Haas team, their outright best lap time in testing was 1m25.255s on the soft tyre. Add 0.8s for the performance delta to the medium compound used last for qualifying last May in Barcelona and you get 1m26.0s. That lap time would have put the Haas 5th on the grid for last year’s Grand Prix.

Is this what you expected from testing? What are you particularly looking forward to and from which teams this year? Join the debate and leave your comment below

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Can you show us the lap charts for the same type tires, ie a lap chart for mediums for all teams, a hard compound results, soft compound results, etc. This way you can at least can some base line of comparison. There many other variables but tire compound is one of the largest.

carlos marques

Something I’ve been wondering. Why would a team like Mercedes or Ferrari hide their true pace until the very first race of the year? There’s absolutely nothing anyone can do at this stage.

In fact, if I was Mercedes, I would unleash the cars in full-time-attack-qualify-mode on the last few days of testing to completely demoralize (and destabilize) the other teams.


James, from the tests, is it possible to determine without a doubt whether Pirelli has managed to engineer a tyre performance “cliff” because this would somewhat spice up races given teams have a choice in choosing 10 sets of tyres especially for those who would want an aggressive strategy as opposed to a conservative one.

Please, also clarify why teams who get into Q3 must return the super soft tyres used after qualifying. This was based on the older qualifying format, not sure whether its changed.


Despite the negativity I honestly feel 2016 will be a good year.

Engine sounds louder and cars are faster. Let’s stop this slugfest and enjoy else we’ll be grumpy farts.


not much faster, and not much louder – visually and audibly not better. the thing that will save it is if Ferrari can compete with Mercedes


JohnBT, Exactly! Too many moaners on this site, nice to hear some positivity for a change.


If Hamilton chokes this year he will instantly be rated below Vettel – probably forever.



Cos he always chokes of course, and lacks motivation, drove badly at the of last year while partying and as for all those mistakes he makes in the races that result in him losing the lead or falling off the track…

Hold on – of course, your talking about his team mate… 🙂

As for SV – you keep telling yourself that.

While the rest of us look forward to some races.


I remember Hamilton choked at the end of 2007, again in 2008 he choked, but go help from a slowing Toyota on the final lap. he choked in 2010 in sight of the title again, remember the spin in Monza and other late season errors. if the season is close, he is susceptible to chokes, but last 2 years it has only been about beating his teammate.


Clarkie, do we know it’s a rocket ship yet? No.

Lewis ever blow a lead on the last lap?

You’re hoping hard that Hamilton fails. Wouldn’t it be better to hope instead that another driver succeeds?


@ clarkie…very well stated. i do agree.


Maybe you just started watching F1…. Among the top drivers, Hamilton holds the crown of choking…

If anyone is capable of it, it’s him, and if he doesnt win the WDC in the W07 spaceship, we will have a new definition of fail.


Interesting analysis. Agree with most people that I’m not feeling inspired about 2016, thinking it’ll be more of the same of what we saw in 2015. But for me there are always stories to be found, and I think the new tyre rules does have the potential to put a cat among pigeons. A bit like in the early 1990s when Pirelli-shod Tyrrells and Benettons would occasionally upset Goodyear-shod title challengers. Maybe Red Bull can do the same in 2016?


I certainly feel a lack of enthusiasm for more of the same.

It also depresses me to see that it continues to be all about the cars (performance) and not about the drivers anymore. You couldn’t accuse any one of the drivers as being ‘interesting’. Except in a Steve Davis sort of way.

This continuous tinkering with the rules without any benefit to the racing, the oversensitive stewards, the Tilke circuits and fuel flow metering and DRS have all combined to remove the spectacle from F1. It’s been neutered.

I remember when F1 pilots were compared to fighter pilots, now they’re more like Uber drivers! Or IT experts. I know this is what a modern day F1 driver has to be, but it hasn’t brought anything to sport.

The whole shebang is too too technical (and too reliable) leaving me with the continuing impression that a 17 yr. old can jump from a lesser formula and be successful from day one. Oh! Hang on….

Despite all of that I will still be there at 5:00am optimistic as ever. What I won’t do these days is pay to go to a live Grand Prix. No sir, not until racing becomes the be all and end all, and tiptoeing around your team mate and the sponsors is consigned to history.

Ahhh, that feels better 😉


No don’t hold back…

Just be clear and tell us what you really think!



This season is going to be epic!

I’ve already put it out there to bet on Rosberg a few weeks ago. Kimi could be another good bet.

Lets see how the fair after the 1st qualifying session though…..,,

This year the history books will be re-written….. Well I’m looking forward anyway.


“I’ve already put it out there to bet on Rosberg a few weeks ago”

I hope you are not a financial advisor!


Yes!. Kimi has to make it count and dominate in the first 2 races though. He has both 1lap and & long run pace in this car- otherwise Ferrari will pull him back & his season will be over by Bahrain. This Ferrari is special for Kimi – mark my words he was instantly fast on every compound – maybe they’re preparing for the new Quali


that’s right kimi (and nico ) are in the same position as mark webber a few years ago they need to strike first and hard in the first few races to have any chance .


have pirelli made all the tyres a step harder this year or raised the tyre pressures alot. i find it hard to believe that merc only went 0.5 quicker than last years pole (both on mediums) especialy after 10 months development(and using pu tokens in winter). ferrari did 1.23.3 last year on softs and they did similar times this year(testing only). there might loads more factors involved but i think cars are slowed by this years tyres to some extent at least in one lap pace.


Read the article again. It’s clear it’s more likely over a second.


It has been mentioned elsewhere the tire pressures have been increased by about 2psi, slowing the cars down because there is now less tire surface on the road.


“McLaren and Manor are also interesting to compare. McLaren’s best lap of the 2016 test was 1m24.714s on ultra soft. If you add on 2 seconds for the performance delta ultra soft to medium (used for qualifying at the 2015 Grand Prix), the car is one second faster.”

They did indeed do that time on ultra softs. but they also did 1m24.735 on softs on day one of the second test. This, surely, is their fastest lap with tyre adjustment and paints a very different picture to the one you suggest. Or was that lap not done on softs?


Very much douted Manor will be fighting with McLaren. They have a good PU, but the chassis is lacking. Not to mention the drivers line up.

2 World Champions vs 2 Rookies. What do you think ?


Apologies, this was already noted above, I missed that comment.

It looks to me like on this form they are a top ten team. Given the engine updates to come in Australia and the likelihood that they did not push the aggressive qualfying mode that the PU now has (to add 30-40 HP for a short time), I think that top ten qualifying position will be cemented.


Trying to read into the test lap times is a bit of a mug’s game to be honest. The money talks much louder than the “thinking out loud”:

Ham 4/7

Ros 11/4

Vet 4/1

Rai 40/1

Hilarious that the market says that a Raikkonen WDC is about 1/10th as likely to happen as a Vettel WDC.


Personally, I think the odds should be 1,000,000/1. Not saying Raikkonen does not have the ability, I am sure he is more than capable give the right circumstances. But this is not how Ferrari run their operation. They have a clear No. 1 driver, unfortunately he is not Raikkonen.

Let’s say Mercedes has a abysmal season and Ferrari has a chance of clinching the WDC, guess who they will be backing to achieve this (Vettel, of course).

Bearing this in mind, putting money on Raikkonen is like throwing money into the ocean. Not a good move.


F1observer, remember Salo had to move over for him in Germany despite clearly being the quickest driver! The point is Irv the swerve still didn’t win the championship in 99, despite the full weight of Ferrari being behind him, including having Michael as a wing man on his return.


F1Observer, 1999 really?!? Irvine was made the #1 after Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone that year.

If Irvine had Schumacher’s point total before his crash, and his own points after, then he would have been champion.


Take a look back in time at 1999. Irvine almost won the title. Did You watch Malaysia? Even Schumacher had to move over for him, despite being clearly the faster driver.


Why is that hilarious? He beat him last year so the numbers make sense.


Sergio M is praying really really hard that there are no Hail Marys this season too.Actually,the whole of Italy are being held to ransom as to the real pace of the Silver Arrows.


James,you made no mention of Ferrari’s secret weapon which they term “dieselotto.”They are bragging its in their fuel system,that makes them gain 200 bhp.What do you make of that?


I think you either mis-read something or some journalist wrote something not understanding what Ferrari engine dept said… they are working on very high compression and injections pressures… but everyone else does… that implies that the fuel they are using (and everyone else) is not really a gasoline but closer to a diesel engine allowing them to work on higher air to fuel ratios getting more horse power per liter… it is all maximizing KJ per liter. Binotto said they are working on 200 bars of pressure in the chamber not as an increase of HP (I wish would be that easier).


Dieselotto is a road car technology. By varying the compression ratio using a Lancaster shaft to increase fuel economy.

In low/ medium demand, the CR is increased so do away with a spark plug to ignite the fuel (like a diesel). But in High demand situation,

it is reverted back to normal petrol engine senorio.

It is unlikely this will make it into their racing PU.


It is actually developed by Mercedes-Benz. It has never made it to production, and was installed in Mercedes-Benz F700 concept car in 2007.


which road car has such an engine?


Sounds interesting , but hard to manage. You would think they would need some control of combustion pressure to achieve this.

I can see the comments now when all the PU’s start sounding like trucks :).


One thing intrigues me though, if they are using this technology in their PU in increasing the pressure of the Combustion Chamber to 300 bars to achieve a diesel like ignition of the fuel before the spark plugs fire. Why do they need the spark plug anyway ??!!

If the fuel is ignited … it is IGNITED. Why do they need to further “ignite” by firing the spark plug ??!!

James, we seek your insights.



@ templar

Thanks for this interesting info. I must admit that I missed it. Cheers.




It’s great to see all the cars back on track,apart from the Ferrari that looked briefly like a flip flop with Kimi ‘s head inside it.

Mclaren Honda engine sounds so different to the others,so maybe they could get it right later this year and really turn it around.

Anyone know why it sounds so different?


Claire williams said that they voted for the new quali system as the fans wanted more excitement? what a dumb suggestion. have you ever seen/heard or read any fans demanding that quali be changed to these farcical proportions?


Think about her point of view they have one lap pace so if there would be a mess from Mercedes side they might get the pole position and 2015 shows that its very hard to follow Williams. Ever one for Himself/Herself 😀


@ neo_manoj she claims to have voted for it because the fans want more excitement!!! [Mod]. what happens if wiliams make a ‘mess’ then they would finish up worse off as well. let’s also be realistic here. there is more chance of williams messing up that there is of mercedes!!


Claire doesn’t know what she is talking about. Or she can’t listen to the drivers and fans and comprehend concurrently. Another out of touch insider symptomizing the problem with the current F1 show.


@ luqa…..agree. surely it’s not that hard for people to come to the same conclusions as most of the fans and followers? i must say though that i am heartened by the increased voice of the GPDA members and their wilingness to go public. for too long the sanitisation and rigidly imposed censorship of driver comment has been the order of the day. i want to hear their opinions….


James, next time you’re chewing the fat with BE, how about suggesting Phillip Island for a test next year say a week before the Australian GP? Would be a fantastic build up and testing at that track would be simply awesome. I’d travel from QLD to see that!


Test a track they have no data on, and which they cant use they data from on any other car? No point…


They did test at Maranello in 2013 which was also useless if only thinking of data, but everyone seemed to love it. And it’s owned by Ferrari and does not host a GP.

Also Phillip Island would be, like all the useless(data wise)demonstrations put on throughout the world every year, a publicity event that many a fan would love to see.

It’s also part of my sinister plan for when I take over the world, that I will demand an F1 GP here, or a ransom of….one million dollars! ???? (That was for the Austin Powers fans!)


Talking Paint, the Red Bull looks very agressive with that matt finish. Going that start calling it the “Teflon” Bull. DOes the new paint really make a performance difference, or is it really just for marketing and doesn’t have a negative effect? If it does help, I think Teflon Bull would really stick (lol pun intended). 🙂


James, thank you for the analysis.

If Mercedes is faster than Ferrari by say 0.3s, come qualifying they will most often if not all the time start ahead.

Mercedes I.e Hamilton did a best of 1:27.2 in race simulation whilst Vetel did a 1:28.3 with mediums within the same number of laps (19) that’s a full 1second diff.

Now, add these to their reliability and the picture is clear.

My take is; Mercedes are have a margin enough to win the championship comfortably. Nonetheless let’s wait for qualifying in Melbourne.

Carlos Marques

F1 is a simple game. 18 cars chase each other for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win – Gary Lineker, maybe


Correction Raikkonen did a 1.23.009 on Softs not 1.23.099- (I think this was Rosbergs best). Will be an interesting season. James was it the fact that Barcelona is not suitable for the softer compunds that Mercedes avoided them & can they predict their performance & degradation without actually running them?.

The fact Ferrari were very quick over one lap and equally impressive over 25 (KR)- suggest they will be closer. Yes I think Mercedes will come to Melb & go one sec faster but I think most teams will find a bit more too.

If allowed by Ferrari I’m very certain Raikkonen can challenge for the title this year. Wild horses wont hold him back this year.- Will he get a fair go is the question.


Why not?


i seriously doubt that anything has really changed. mercedes will dominate, ferrari may well take a few wins simply out of ‘opportunistic moves coupled with track specific strengths’ and third place will be a close fought battle between any of four teams, RB, williams, force india and TR. that’s about it for me.


Thanks for the analysis James (and Dominic) , very interesting.

Red bull are looking good if they can get that precision swiss engineering in there rear end going.

Should be an interesting mid field battle at the start of the year , lets see who can step up mid season.


* Their


Here is my prediction for the title.

Lewis 1st, Sebastian 2nd, Nicko 3rd, Ricardo or Valteri 4th.

Mercedes is still just to fast to make it a true competition. Moto GP now that is a real sport.



Whinch team do you think will win motogp 2016?

A Sasuki or maybe a Ducati….. (Insert alternative to Honda or Yamaha).

Double standards or what?





But I’m really looking forward to Melbourne. Were I a betting man (or lived in Las Vegas or Atlantic City), I’d put down on a shock podium – as in Massa, Vettel, Verstappen, in that order. I think Manor and Haas will both get points, just beating out the McLarens – yet another shock.

I think the “back of the grid” (Manor and Haas) present McLaren the problem of a faster than expected moving target from last year and an unexpectedly fast new competitor. I expect McLaren to get ahead over the season, but they are going to have to work harder for that than they may expect.

Sauber, McLaren, Manor, Haas, in that order, for the bottom spots in the WCC.


That’s inconsistent– if Mercedes is too fast to make it a competition, surely Rosberg will be second again?


Linear reasoning that no longer holds. Webber would not be faster than Rosberg today; wouldn’t have been for the last 4 years.


My feeling is that this is the last real chance for Nico. Ferrari have pretty much caught up with Merc. and should be as fast as Merc by the European leg. With Seb and Nico in an equal car you have to favor Seb.

Hamilton has 3, like his hero, will he have the hunger for another, or will living the life distract him enough for Nico to pull of the crime of the century? Who knows, but i have to disagree with the haters, this year is going to be interesting, and we have not even touched on the epic midfield battle about to ensue.



My reasoning is based on:

Mark W was about .2s quicker than Rosberg when they were teammates at Williams and Sebastian was about the same again over Mark. So Sebastian just might overcome the car deficit and beat Nicko.


Moto GP is already a 2 tier series, full of conspiracies and frustrating conflicts between Marquez and Rossi, the champion didn’t get the credit he deserves, it’s a shambles.


Be great to see Casey Stoner race of a Ducati though. Should be very interesting if it’s competitive.


Nico’s year… Then the rest. Great analysis, lot of work put to readers’ delight. Thanks


It may be a cliche, but the Formula 1 season doesn’t really begin until May with the start of the Euro-Canadian summer season when developments come in thick and fast.

Good to start off on a winning note, but no point in being fast in Melbourne if slow in Montreal!


When has that ever happened?



@ gaz boy…it is a cliche. there is a very good point in being fast in melbourne. it means points on the board and they are always the prime objective. why would there be any link to montreal? doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. why would be, being fast in melbourne have anything to do with any following race? performances are, to a large extent, irrelevant to track specifics. ergo mercedes winning 32 races out of 38 over two seasons!!!! they are dominating everywhere.


I can’t shake the feeling that Mercedes were holding more back than Ferrari. I suspect Mercedes may have been running on a lower engine mode, and when they turn it up, and produce a positive set up they will be further ahead than is currently evident.


Yep, there was a few occasions in testing when Mercedes did comfortably purple sectors in 1 & 2, only to “mysteriously” come through Sector 3 without even a PB by the driver let alone a purple, or they’d go into the pits.

Definitely some serious sandbagging going on there.


Yep they’ll be on full beans come Australia & all this pontificating will be out the window especially when they turn up the wick on their engines.


I think they were just concentrating on race pace and reliability. I’m expecting them to lean towards the harder tyres in their choices for the race. I think Ferrari saw their weakness more in qualifying and have concentrated more on short term pace and the softer tyres.


I think so too. Their primary concern was clearly to make sure the car was bulletproof from a reliability point of view – they seem very comfortable that the pace will be there when it is needed.

Still, should be a good season. The Ferrari challenge will at least will make it interesting. But you sense it may be their last chance to get things right before the next rule changes, where they always traditionally fall behind.

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