Barcelona: The build-up to the 2015 Formula One season steps up a gear when the second of three four-day pre-season tests gets started in Barcelona on Thursday.
There was a familiar sight when testing began in Jerez earlier this month as the Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was literally miles ahead of the competition, completing 516 laps over the four days. Mercedes won 16 of 19 Grand Prix last season and seemed intent on ironing out a few reliability problems that prevented even greater dominance in 2014.
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton (R). Pic/ AFP
"We all loved the experience of last year and everyone wants to do it again," Hamilton warned his title rivals after just his second day in the new Mercedes W06. "It's been pretty amazing to see how reliable the car has been and how much mileage we've covered." Lap times in the early stretches of testing are notoriously unreliable as a guide to how the teams will perform come the first Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne on March 15.
However, with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel now on board, the spring appeared back in Ferrari's step after a season to forget. The Italian giants managed just one podium finish in 2014, finishing fourth in the constructors' championship, and provoking two-time world champion Fernando Alonso to jump ship to McLaren.
Ferrari went fastest in three of the four days in Jerez with Finn Kimi Raikkonen claiming he could already tell "this year is a completely different story to last year." Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said he was aiming for a modest two race victories when the car was unveiled last month, but new Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne has demanded improvement from the start line in Melbourne.
"I am encouraged by the performance of the new car, though it is one thing to do a quick lap and another to do an entire race," said Marchionne. "Now we'll see when the world championship starts in Australia. I do not expect miracles, but it is important to see progress."
At the other end of the spectrum in Jerez was McLaren, who suffered teething problems in their new partnership with Honda after a 22-year absence. Alonso and Jenson Button managed just 79 laps between them in Jerez, a figure which racing director Eric Boullier admitted only amounted to about 50 percent of what they had hoped for.
Boullier also warned that any more setbacks in Barcelona will mean a delay in when the Woking-based team can realistically expect to be challenging at the front of the grid when the season gets underway. Red Bull are also under pressure to put in more laps in the Catalan capital after their RB11 went largely unnoticed in Jerez not due to its camouflaged exterior but a lack of running time with just 165 laps on the board.
Elsewhere, all eyes will be on Susie Wolff as she drives the Williams on Thursday before Valterri Botas and Felipe Messi take over for the final three days. Force India will also be making their first outing of the season after skipping the test in Jerez.
However, with the new VJM08 not expected to be ready until the second set of testing in Barcelona from February 26 to March 1, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg will be driving the car which took them to sixth in the constructors' championship last season.