The first test of the season is finally over and there is only a few days before the boys and girls of F1 get back at it again next week in Barcelona. We have stressed over and over again this week that there is little to be learnt from the times posted during pre-season testing but after the first test it is safe to say that not too much has changed in terms of grid order from last year. Let’s look at how Manor did in comparison to the realistic targets we discussed before the test began.
Manor ran a total of 254 laps over the past four days. We can presume the car was capable of running at least 50 more if it was not for two unplanned excursions. In comparison, new Team Haas were able to put in 281 laps despite having an interrupted first day and experiencing the sort of technical issues that are to be expected from a new team. It was quite an impressive feat to manage that amount of laps on your first week on the job and once they have ironed out these issues I wouldn’t expect Manor to see them for dust. They look a comfortable midfield team already.
Sauber also ran a mighty 432 laps, the third highest total for the entire test. They were running their 2015 car but we can presume that it carried a lot of new parts that will be fitted on to their car next week when they run the 2016 car so it has been a good week for them. We didn’t learn too much about Saubers potential for this season this week, but I will bet my bottom dollar that the 2016 car will be built like a tank and was designed in mind to pick up lots of easy points at the start of the season whilst their competitors are falling off the track. Survival is the name of the game for the Swiss team and no risks will be getting taken now that we have a Mercedes engine to fire us up the grid. Let’s see what next week brings us before we draw any conclusions.
Renualt had a topsy turvy week that started with Jolyon Palmer getting limited mileage in the car but ended with Kevin Magnussen putting in an impressive 153 laps on the final day, giving them a total of 343 laps. They were troubled with a number of technical issues throughout the week but given how late in the day they started working on a 2016 car, I imagine they are quietly happy with the way the first week has panned out for them. I still expect them to be near the back of the grid come Melbourne, but it appears they are not as far back as we might have hoped they were.
McLaren, who we do not believe are a realistic target for Manor this season, but as they are the team that finished above Manor in last years constructors title we shall continue to asses their progress until we see significant improvement. They managed to complete 257 laps over the space of four days and completed more laps on the first day than they did the entire testing program last year. However, they were dogged with reliability issues and Fernando Alonso only managed 3 laps today. Worryingly for McLaren, the top line speed provided by their Honda engine is still way the rest of the field. Despite these significant problems, unless their experienced world champion drivers walk out in protest, we still expect them to comfortably see of Manor.
So what positives can we take away from the first test for the MRT05? The car seems reliable and unlike the teams above did not stop on the track (for technical reason) at any point during the tests. The first two days went quite smoothly and some decent mileage was put in. We are not going to waste out time comparing drivers times as like the rest of the world, we have no idea of the setups, the testing plan or fuel loads in the car. The difference in the same car depending on set up and fuel can be 5-6 seconds. All we know is that Pascal Wehrein put in a 1m 25.925s on soft tires and Rio Haryanto lapped in 1 28.249.
The test was slightly marred by two excursions off the track by Haryanto. The first was a harmless spin, whilst the second caused damaged to the rear of the car and required repairs causing the team to lose crucial testing time. We are sympathetic to the view that he is a rookie and is in essence still learning to drive a F1 car but F1 does not allow you a learning period. Sink or Swim. Ask anyone who has been let go by Torro Rosso.
This is unfortunate for Haryanto as the knifes are already out on social media and no doubt the traditional one too once they start broadcasting in Melbourne The unfair ‘pay-driver’ tag that ignores his better junior formula record than a few current F1 drivers and last years (also pay) Manor drivers is already being banded about. F1 fans needs a clown/pantomime villain and with Pastor Maldonado exiting the stage, Rio is being primed for his role. Giving his critics ammunition at this early stage is not ideal.
So, all in all a decent few days for our beloved Banbury Babes. 254 laps, good reliability and some decent track time for our two rookies is a hell of a lot more than he have had in the past few season. It is clear that this is the best prepared car for any season that we have thus far. However, all our rivals can say the same and I would admit that the Renault and Haas cars look quicker out of the box than expected. After the first week of testing, I would still be putting my money on us lining up 21st and 22nd on the grid in Melbourne.