Ferrari are fast and back in contention, champions Mercedes are as strong as ever… and Dan Ricciardo is going to chase them hard all the way home.
That was the only conclusion to draw after eight days of intense European winter testing in Spain.
Champion team Mercedes and champion driver Lewis Hamilton piled up the miles at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona to demonstrate near bullet-proof reliability. In total, they completed around 20 race distances.
Ferrari delivered fastest laps and topped the times overall after eight days’ work in two weeks to show their pace and potential.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg wound up third-quickest overall behind the scarlet pair as Kimi Raikkonen led Sebastian Vettel, after the four-time champion German had clocked the best lap of the final day ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Felipe Massa.
“It has gone well,” said Rosberg, who is hoping to extend his winning streak at the end of 2015 into the new season. “Of course, the most important thing is the speed, which we are not 100 per cent sure about…
“We know Ferrari are close, but apart from that, everything else has gone well. Definitely, I am ready for Melbourne!"
The times clocked on a range of tyres in various conditions during two weeks’ trackwork may only hint at what lies ahead.
Hamilton’s mood and motivation is the biggest unknown.
Vettel had four days in the cockpit of the new SF16-H Ferrari and was fastest on three of them while his Finnish team-mate led the way twice.
Hamilton, however, was not given a true opportunity to show his pace in the new W07 Hybrid car as Mercedes chose to keep his and their ultimate pre-season pace under wraps.
On their final day, after running 638 laps in two weeks, Hamilton stopped with a transmission problem that delayed Rosberg’s run in the afternoon. On that day, Hamilton was fifth fastest and Rosberg 13th, both without testing any of Pirelli’s soft compound tyres.
In another words, the comparisons of lap times meant little.
Of the rest, the revamped Renault suffered hydraulics problems, McLaren-Honda laboured to keep pace again and the new American Haas team endured mechanical and electronic difficulties, notably on their braking system.
Ricciardo ended up in the chasing pack in his Red Bull. “It looks good and I am ready for Melbourne,” he said. “Let’s see what happens…”