In the first year of F1’s V6 hybrid turbo regulations Mercedes covered more ground in pre-season testing than any other team: almost 5,000 kilometres.
So while Mercedes’ covered a daunting amount of ground compared to the opposition in pre-season testing this year, it’s no guarantee everything will go according to plan once the season start. At least that’s what their rivals will be hoping.
The W07 scarcely missed a beat from the day testing began, and by the time the chequered flag fell last Friday it had amassed almost the same mileage as in pre-season testing last year over eight days instead of twelve – a stunning achievement.
On paper there’s little reason to foresee any let-up in Mercedes’ relentless pace of progress. While some have put forward the view that Mercedes have less to find from the current engine regulations than their rivals, the law of diminishing returns does not seem to apply at the moment.
The team used the first practice session at last year’s Italian Grand Prix to get an early reading on its 2016 engine, rumoured to be worth at least 40bhp more. That would put them well over 900bhp with everything turned up to the maximum, and unlike their customer teams they can harness the peak power output for longer.
Most of the key personnel remain in place with the exception of former performance engineer Jock Clear, now at Ferrari. While Mercedes looked vulnerable on the pit wall at times last year, notably in Malaysia and Monaco, the opposition were usually far too far behind to put them under pressure to begin with.
With the planned shake-up of the qualifying rules unlikely to cause the team any major headaches, it’s down to Mercedes’ rivals to catch them the old-fashioned way by building better cars. But so far the champions have given every indication they intend to dominate year three of the V6 hybrid turbo rules as they did the previous two.
44: Lewis Hamilton
Although Hamilton romped to his third world championship last year and, for the first time, sealed the deal before the final race of the year, there were times when his commitment waned. By his own admission, there were times he wished he could have been elsewhere. This is not the best frame of mind for a driver about to embark on F1’s longest-ever championship.
You sense that Hamilton would find new reserves of motivation if he were more seriously tested, perhaps by a hungry Vettel and a resurgent Ferrari or even just if the cards fall against him early in the season as they did in 2014. However his commitment is rarely found wanting on the track, and as he’s likely to have the best car at his disposal again a fourth championship is a very real possibility.
6: Nico Rosberg
Does Rosberg’s streak of three consecutive wins and six pole positions at the end of last season indicate he can take the title fight to Hamilton more effectively this year? Several theories were put forward to explain how Rosberg ended 2015 so strongly but they boiled down to two answers: either Rosberg had found another level or his team mate was phoning it in.
Hamilton’s post-season remarks suggested the latter. But it may be a moot point: Rosberg’s upswing in form didn’t stop Hamilton beating him more decisively than he had in 2014 or 2013. It will be a surprise if Rosberg suddenly finds a new level this year.
2016 F1 season
- Hamilton’s penalty will help Red Bull pressure Rosberg
- Verstappen leads Red Bull one-two in second practice
- Hamilton takes second 15-place grid penalty
- 2016 Belgian Grand Prix practice in pictures
- Rosberg leads the way for Mercedes in first practice