After winter testing in Barcelona reached its climax, drivers, teams and fans alike have been given an indication of how the 2016 season will unfold. With qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix just a few days away, we now have a better understanding of how quick teams will be over the coming season. The big question remains though, will Mercedes dominate the sport for another year?
For fans, they would like nothing more than to see Ferrari challenge the dominance of Mercedes, who have cruised to consecutive Constructors Championships in 2014 and 2015. Testing in Barcelona, however, offers fans a glimmer of hope that Ferrari may potentially mount a serious challenge against Mercedes.
However, the reigning champions looked stronger than ever during testing. Over the duration of the first week, Mercedes focused on longer stints on the medium compound, clocking in over 1,900 miles over four days, compared with just over 1,000 for Ferrari. In the process, they demonstrated how reliable their car is, while also going fastest on the medium tyres.
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For Ferrari to overhaul Mercedes, it appears that they need not only to be quicker on track, but ensure there are minimal reliability issues with their own car. During the 2015 season, Mercedes had only two retirements, in Singapore and Russia, whereas Ferrari had six, albeit five of those were attributed to Kimi Raikkonen.
On all but three occasions, in Malaysia, Hungary and Singapore, Mercedes were quicker than Ferrari. The Italian team have much work to do, although their pace on the ultrasoft and soft tyres during winter testing in Barcelona suggest that the gap between themselves and Mercedes has certainly been reduced.
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Ferrari have focused their attention on demonstrating their pace during the Barcelona testing however, their lap times on the soft compound, in particular, will give a lot of neutral fans hope for a more exciting battle for the driver's championship. Kimi Raikkonen's lap time of 1:23.009 was marginally quicker than Nico Rosberg's time on the same compound, and has given an unexpected twist with the new season just around the corner.
It would be wise to remember, however, that times produced during testing are often off-putting and misleading. Only once we see lap times put in at practice and qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix will we have a stronger indication how big the gap between F1's two biggest teams will be.
Testing at Barcelona has certainly whet the appetites of many for the coming season, and lap times their suggest the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari will be closer than last year, with the Italian team looking strong in terms of pace.
Mercedes still remain the team to beat, and it may be argued they didn't reveal the full extent of their ability during testing at Barcelona. Lewis Hamilton reaffirmed that Mercedes haven't pushed their car to the limit during testing, particularly in terms of qualifying laps. All will be revealed once the lights go out on March 20.