Special thanks to F1™ master @peterdwindsor for spiritual guidance.
Sadly not having had our usual January test in Jerez, we travelled to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hungrier than ever to see how the new cars looked and sounded. Leaving aside the wet-surface test held last month in Paul Ricard, where 2015 cars were run, it has been three months since the last race in Abu Dhabi. Yes, hungrier is the word. With official team launches also becoming a rarity these days, we had high expectations before attending this test. Having most car launches done via internet these days, Barcelona was our first chance of seeing the new 2016 challengers in the flesh.
Apart from the Renault team launch held in Paris two weeks ago, displaying a corporate liveried 2015 car, instead of the actual colours in which the reborn team will enter Australian Grand Prix, little had we seen from the new cars and their liveries.
With teams facing rising operating costs, mostly related to the expense of running the hybrid power units, and having no tobacco or major sponsorship money, gone are the days when teams would organize extravagant launches spiced up by the Spice Girls performance. Like McLaren had in 1997, when it launched its elegant silver liveried, West tobacco sponsored MP4/12. Memorable days those were.
After having an early 05.30 wake-up call we drove to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. We patiently accessed the track among a considerable flock of vans arriving with team personnel. Catalan morning was still dark when we arrived 7.00 at the Accreditation Centre. Once we collected our credentials, we headed straight to a moist Pit Lane for the new car presentations. There was no time to waste.
First car unveiled at 08.00am sharp was the fantastic looking Haas VF-16. Drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez, both displaying fresh helmet designs again, posing proudly next to their new Ferrari powered challenger. Although we had first seen the new Haas through the Internet, it is a welcome surprise witnessing the birth of a new team. Gene Haas, together with Guenther Steiner, were present to reveal their first F1 car. The new VF-16 livery is neatly presented in matt colours. Matt or flat seems to be the coming trend, as both Haas and Red Bull have chosen these opaque shades to paint their cars.
Besides looking smart, matt colours appear great under bright light, avoiding unnecessary reflection, and making sponsors look sharp and neat in track photographs, especially when racing under the floodlights of the night races. Flat coloured liveries also serve well as camouflage, following that military theory of opaque spy planes being untraceable by enemy radars.
Next after Haas, we rushed to Mercedes AMG F1 Team garage for the much expected unveiling of new F1 W07 Hybrid. On our way to Mercedes we came past Manor Racing, there we spotted new Team Director Dave Ryan having a word with members of the British media. Although Manor is not a new entrant in the championship, it is entering under new management, together with a new blue and orange livery. Apart from Ryan, many familiar faces have joined the British team. Most notably Pete Vale, former McLaren Chief Mechanic, who I am certain will help in improving Manor Racing’s pit stop times given his wealth of experience.
Once we arrived to Mercedes, we saw Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg unveil the new F1 W07. The new car from Brackley seems a solid development from last year. Next presentation was staged at Sahara Force India, and apart from seeing fresh face Alfonso Celis, things around the new VJM09 look very much the same, the car seems like a strong development from last year’s car. “Things are looking OK,” said a confident Nico Hülkenberg to the media.
Being now 08.50am and having scheduled Pit Lane green light at 09.00am, there was no time to waste as we rushed to Renault Sport F1 team garage for the last presentation of the morning. Having earlier described photographic advantages of a flat coloured livery offers, I must say the predominant black-glossy Renault RS16 is difficult to capture under the low light conditions the overcast skies offered that morning.
As the Renault was covered and rushed back into garage, it was 08.58am, while a determined Lewis Hamilton steered out of his garage to shake down on track his new F1 W07. Much missed was this sound coming out of the modified exhaust. Different yes, but not any louder from last year I must say.
The waiting is over; F1 2016 has finally arrived!