testing may foretell the course of the 2016 Formula 1, but the ever-changing variables in Grand Prix racing can throw up some surprises
If the fastest lap timings of the pre-season testing in Barcelona were the yardstick, then Ferrari would be the favourites for this year. But once we account for engine modes, fuel loads and track conditions, it doesna��t seem so straightforward.
Black and reds
The Mercedes cara��s power unit runs with unparalleled reliability, which was evident within the first couple of days. Mercedes had to alternate drivers on the same day to prevent exhaustion. During the eight days, they completed a staggering 1,294 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya, an equivalent of 19 Grand Prix distances. In comparison, Toro Rosso, on a 2015 spec Ferrari unit, ran 1,049 laps, while Hamiltona��s car stalled at the pit lane exit with a transmission problem. Ferrari has reverted to a more conventional push-rod suspension for the front, as the earlier pull-rod suspension was stiff and affected the mechanical grip negatively.
Toro Rosso had a very strong chassis in 2015 and despite the Renault engine holding them back, they managed strong performances, including two fourth place finishes. This yeara��s chassis is an evolution from last yeara��s, and with the 2015 Ferrari power unit, they can expect to have at least 50bhp more, which would help them race 0.8 to 1 second faster per lap.
Red Bulla��s TAG Heuer-badged Renault engine seems to be working better than the Renault team. Of course, a lot of that is down to the fact that Lotus began designing the car to house the Mercedes power unit, and Renault finalised buying the team only by the end of 2015. Nico Hulkenberg showed that this yeara��s Force India is no slouch, with strong times during both tests. Manor, with their new partnership with Mercedes, might be the most improved team from last year, and we expect them to be on the heels of the midfield, in the capable hands of 2015 DTM champion, Pascal Wehrlein. Sauber, who is still feeling the heat of this very capital-intensive sport, is struggling for finances, which will affect performance.
McLaren is definitely faster than last year, but still not fast or reliable enough to target finishes at the sharper end of the grid. We hope they prove us wrong because Alonso and Button are the two most experienced drivers in F1 today, and we want to see them in the front, fighting the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horse. Ita��s going to be one action-packed F1 season, we hope. Fingers crossed.
Catch all the action on Star Sports and motorscribes.com, as the 2016 F1 season kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix
a�� Muntaser Mirkar @BullSpeech
With Formula 1 in constant flux, here are some new names that will pop up on the grid this year
Pascal Wehrlein (No 94, Manor)
Making his debut as a 16-year-old, Wehrlein came into Formula 1 after racing single-seaters and then moving on to touring cars. This 22-year old German spent the last season testing for Mercedes and will now compete for the Manor Team, which, ironically, is running Mercedes engines this year.
Rio Haryanto (No 88, Manor)
Haryanto is Indonesiaa��s first Formula 1 driver and arrived at his first season with Manor partnering Pascal Wehrlein. The 23-year-old comes with a lot of experience racing single-seaters and had showcased his skills at the Australian F3, Formula BMW Pacific and British F3, before putting up a strong performance at the end-of-season F1 test last year, which landed him this racing seat.
Jolyon Palmer (No 30, Renault)
This 25-year old Englishman isna��t exactly new to Formula 1. Having been the test driver for Lotus at the 2015 season, Palmer will be on the racing seat this year with the same team, but now officially with the Renault squad. He started off racing karts, before moving on to the T-car Series at 14, from where he got into single-seater race cars.
Haas F1 Team (No 8, No 21)
Haas F1 is the first American-led Formula 1 team in three decades. Running a Ferrari Power Unit, the team has been founded by industrialist Gene Haas, who also runs a championship-winning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. There are a lot of F1 veterans at
the helm of Haas F1, including former Red Bull and Jaguar technical chief, Guenther Steiner.
Think you know the new rules and changes? Maybe not
Engine development restrictions have been eased for the new season, so engine parts that were previously off-limits for modification can now be tweaked to deliver power of over 1,000 bhp. The exhausts have also been revised, making cars louder without affecting fuel efficiency.
Tyre construction rules have been revised to allow drivers to push their individual limits and not drive conservatively till the tyres degrade. There is also a five Pirelli tyre compound being added for drivers to choose froma��purple ultrasofts, red supersofts, yellow softs, white mediums and orange hards.
Lesser radio communication
Radio communication has been limited, especially between the one-minute warning and the start of the race, so engineers cana��t advise drivers to run through the pit lane, discuss the balance of the car, or conduct a radio check. This will hopefully increase the unpredictability of the race.
The format for elimination in the three qualifying sessions has changed. In the 16-minute Q1 session, the clock starts after seven minutes and the slowest driver is eliminated. This repeats in Q2, with cars being eliminated every 90 seconds. The final eight go to Q3, where the clock starts ticking again, till the top two remain.