With not much time between the first test and second test, and after having early wake-up call at 04.30am, I travelled again (from Madrid) to Barcelona on first scheduled 06.10am AVE high speed train. Once having boarded, among passengers I noticed Manuel Franco, F1 correspondent for AS Spanish sports paper, was also making the trip.
Over the winter much had been discussed after one of Manuel’s stories read that Honda had found an extra 60 HP on its power unit ahead of the new season. Knowing the engine freeze regulations, this kind of find was next to impossible. Perfect timing, I just had to ask him what he meant by claiming this. Once we arrived to Barcelona, Manuel was very kind to offer me a ride to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. During our road trip, I asked about his article and he duly explained the whole headline might’ve been misinterpreted from what he really meant. “The Honda power unit had been completely out of tune during 2015, there was terrible loss of at least 60 HP throughout the entire energy recovery process,” Manuel explained. “Over the winter, Honda has found a way to efficiently recover and make proper use of all this recovered energy and transfer and effectively use these 60 HP,” he added. Once this story had been clarified by the man himself, we arrived once again to the now classic Catalan circuit.
As I walked into the Paddock, I knew that at the first test we had seen all the 2016 cars, except the new Sauber C35. Continuing with the current norm of teams not staging any flashy new car presentations, between tests, a press release from Sauber was issued with pictures of its new Ferrari powered C35. Same as in the pictures, the anteater nose of the C35 remained similar to its predecessor. No surprise here. However the rear section and floor of the new car from Hinwil seemed an evolution from the C34.
In addition to the unveiling of new Sauber, and although during first test Toro Rosso had taken the wraps off the STR11, we had still to see the new car in its full race livery. Looking sharp as always, this season the team from Faenza will be powered again by Ferrari power units. The power trains from Maranello will surely provide Toro Rosso a better power output than the former Renault. No question about this, and expect seeing the Italian version of Red Bull running ahead of big brother Red Bull Tag Heuer-Mecachrome, which in their core still remain Renault power trains.
During the presentation, and speaking to the international media gathered around the STR11, Team Principal Franz Tost said the squad is aiming for podiums this year. Having again such strong driver pairing of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr, both more experienced heading into their second season, I find this statement very credible.
Once the early birds had captured both Sauber C35 and Toro Rosso STR11, there was no time to waste as Pit Lane Exit lights turned green at 09.00am sharp. With teams having run N°1 chassis fabricated for the first test, this week it was a great opportunity to see drivers sample the second chassis produced by their teams. Besides running for the first time, these new chassis always include running with new aerodynamic components. Many of these new aero components, like floors, turning vanes and front wings, will still be in the making and arriving from factories as testing progresses.
As I always find during testing, it’s silly how teams – while in Pit Lane – hide their cars and team operations behind screens, only to leave the cars fully exposed a couple of metres ahead at Pit Lane Exit when practising race starts. Unfortunately, this being such a difficult point to access, it is an unknown territory for many fans. At a time of such need to bring back the essence of the sport, we can still get a welcome rush of adrenaline here. Seeing an F1 car in all its glory just two meters in front of you, simulating its standing starts so close, and hearing the fury of its acceleration surrounded by the smell of burning rubber is the closest thing to standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
This being the fourth year coming to this precise spot, I come across the same familiar faces. Photographers, uniformed team members also with cameras, others taking notes of rubber compound each rival is using every time they hit the track. For comparison, as I do every year, just like birdwatching, I focus on capturing all different 2016 cars taken from the same perspective.
Following instructions given by Race Director, drivers must simulate their starts once having crossed the Pit Lane Exit stop light, on the adjacent asphalt, leaving unblocked the main road that leads onto race track. However, not all 20 drivers comply with this particular instruction. As Sebastian Vettel always does and with Barcelona having a longer exit road, the German prefers performing his simulations a further 100 meters ahead. Surely enjoying again, seeing photographers rushing like silly to capture his F15H.
And then there is Fernando Alonso, who, having a mind of his own, loves playing a game of musical chairs, stopping unpredictably here and there. Making it terribly difficult for us to try and capture his McLaren Honda MP4/31. The Honda engine sound, rather deep growl, coming out of his exhaust still sounds different than the rest. Its note still sounding “OoOoOoOoOo….” But trying to picture back to how it sounded last year, when Alonso simulated his race starts, I come to the conclusion that having found 60 HP found or not, at least his Honda-powered vehicle is running out on track…