Mercedes arrive in 2015 on back of one of the most successful campaigns by any team in the history of Formula 1. 16 wins, 18 pole positions and both the drivers and the constructors title - the German manufacturer couldn’t have asked for more.
However, with the new F1 season less than two week away, Mercedes have a big job in their hands to carry the momentum from last year. And from what we’ve seen in pre-season testing, we are heading into the second year of the Mercedes era.
Lewis Hamilton was able to set a laptime(1m 23.022s) on the soft tyre that was two tenths quicker than what Williams and Ferrari had managed on the significantly quicker supersoft compound. The difference between the two tyres stands at around one second, showing how far Mercedes is from the rest of the pack.
And on the previous day, Nico Rosberg had gone two tenths quicker on the same tyre compound, albeit with slightly better track conditions.
Of course, fuel loads are still unknown to large part of the F1 fraternity and none of the teams are running close to full power. However, it won’t be wrong to assume that both titles are heading towards a popular German car manufacturer, unless something dramatic happens over the course of the season(yes, we are talking about you, Lewis and Nico)
Mercedes make major strides in reliability
If you push the envelope too far for that extra tenth, you’re bound to run into mechanical or electrical gremlins, as McLaren found out in 2005. Mercedes’ advantage last year, however, was good enough for them to take both titles with relative ease. However, with fears of closer gap to rival teams, the Brackley based squad needed to make significant strides in this area to continue their run at the top.
Thankfully for them, pre-season testing has gone mostly according to plan in this regard, with the team only having to curtail its running on a couple of occasions. The most recent problem popped up on the first day of final Barcelona test when Lewis Hamilton was restricted to just 48 laps due to ERS issues.
In all, Mercedes racked up 1340 laps(or 6121 km) over the course of the 12 days of testing. They are closely followed by Sauber and Toro Rosso - two teams that will only cause a worry to the Mercedes drivers when they are trying to lap them.
More importantly, Ferrari has done 150 fewer laps(or approximately three race distances) than Mercedes, with Williams even further adrift in the mileage count.
Can Williams mount a challenge to their engine supplier?
If there’s one team that can dethrone Mercedes from the top of the standings, it is Williams. With strong in-season development, the FW36 emerged as the second fastest car at the end of last year with Felipe Massa finishing within three seconds of eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton at the season-finale in Abu Dhabi.
Many people use this figure to prove that Mercedes can be beaten this season. However, they forget the fact that Lewis Hamilton’s engine was tuned down after teammate Nico Rosberg retired from the race due to reliability gremlins.
Nevertheless, the car with Martini striped adorned on it is likely to feature plenty of times on the rostrum. It seems like a stable well balanced car, with good top end speed.
Williams also employ two capable drivers in form of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas who would be pushing each other very hard, and in the process, taking the team forward.
Don't rule out Red Bull just yet
While the first two tests didn’t go according to their plan, Red Bull looked a far more formidable outfit at the final pre-season outing in Barcelona last week. The team was concentrating on long runs to the point that it didn’t mind venturing out on soft tyres at all on the final day.
The last fully Adrian Newey designed F1 chassis is likely to be one of the best in class, if not the best. However, like last year, it will be held back by an underpowered Renault engine.
After the demise of Caterham and the decision by Lotus to ditch Renault for Mercedes, Red Bull and their junior outfit Toro Rosso are the only two Renault customers. This allows it to work closely with the energy drinks brand and facilitate its return to the forefront of F1.
On a different note, Renault is also tasked with exploiting the changes to rules regarding in-season development. Whether the French manufacturer closes the gap to Mercedes, or drifts even behind, it remains to be seen.
Ferrari - Are they really as good as testing suggests?
The golden rule of testing is not to look too much into lap times. But the feeling within the paddock is that the SF15-T is a big step forward from its predecessor. Moreover, Kimi Raikkonen who struggled with the front end of the car last year, now has a car of his liking.
The recruitment of Sebastian Vettel also changes the internal dynamics and the German will be keen to make a mark at Scuderia, following a disappointing final season with Red Bull.
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has a good understanding of how things work behind the scenes in F1 and his decision to sit in the grandstands showed how bold he is. The Italian has set an opportunistic target of two grand prix wins this season but more often than not, Ferrari is likely to take that ‘elusive’ final spot on the podium.