Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg topped the time sheets on third day of the first pre-season tests of the upcoming F1 season. The team tests were held at Circuit de Catalunya during February 22-25. At the end, however, it was Team-Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who held on to top spot on the fourth and final day. With Sebastian Vettel having taken the top billing as the fastest driver on first two days, Raikkonen’s time of 1m 23.477s on February 25, ensured that Ferrari finish on top in the first pre-season test. The second pre-season test will also be held at Barcelona during March 1-4 before the inaugural Australian Grand Prix comes up at Melbourne’s famous GP Street Circuit in Albert Park on March 20, 2016.

The 67th edition of F1 season promises to be unique in many ways. It will be F1 history’s longest season with 21 races beginning with Melbourne’s first race and concluding in Abu Dhabi on November 27. The grid will expand to 22 cars with the addition of a brand new team Haas F1 and the return of Renault as a constructor. Gene Haas’ F1 will be the first American team to join the circuit after an unrelated Haas Lola’s US team competed in 1986. The new team is using Ferrari power units and Dallara Chassis for the construction of its cars.

FerrariIn other changes for the new season, Marussia will henceforth be known as Manor Racing and instead of Ferrari units, they will use Mercedes power; Red-Bull ended their 9-year partnership with Renault but they will continue to use the Renault engines; Romain Grosjean has left Lotus and joined Haas F1 team along with former Sauber driver Estban Gutierrez; Kevin Magnussen will not be seen as the McLaren driver, instead he has joined Renault; Rio Haryanto will be the first Indonesian ever to join F1 as a Manor Racing driver; Azerbaijan will hold its first ever Grand Prix at the Baku street circuit and with that the European Grand Prix will make a comeback to the calendar; New Jersey failed in its bid to host the Grand Prix of America after the proposal to hold a first-time event at Port Imperial Street Circuit was delayed until 2017 and the Formula one management also omitted Seoul’s bid after the last Korean Grand Prix in 2013.

Among changes in technical regulations, henceforth the cars will be equipped with a separate waste-gate for exhaust gases; Pirelli introduced a fifth tyre-compound termed as ultra-soft for street circuits and FIA allowed greater discretionary powers to stewards in enforcing track limits. The drivers will be required to stay between the white lines on circuit edges, except in cases of driver errors. Any driver, causing the start of the race to be aborted, will be relegated to the pit lane at restart. In another significant change, the Virtual Safety Car system will be used in practice sessions as well to obviate the need of unnecessary red-flag usage and session stoppages.

MercedIn the pre-season test at the Catalunya circuit on Thursday, two-time defending champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosbeg collectively did nearly 190 laps, mostly on medium compound. However, Hamilton and Rosberg couldn’t finish as speed toppers. It was a good outing for Force India even on fourth day after Hulkenberg topped the speed on third day. Force India’s new development driver Alfonso Celis ended as third fastest with 1m 24.840s on red super-soft tyres after completing 75 laps. While Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was the top speedster, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was next ahead of Celis. However, in the aggregates on last day, Raikkonen was followed by new Renault driver Kevin Magnussen, who notched up 153 laps on last day. Torro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was third ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Nasr. Lewis Hamilton had to be content with the sixth place ahead of Force India’s Celis.

However, the pre-season tests proved disastrous for McLaren with Alonso’s engine suffering a coolant leak after three laps, which were not timed. Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button also had an engine problem of his own on third day. The new Haas team also met with disappointment after Esteban Gutierrez’s VF16 engine reached a breaking point. By then, however, the Mexican had completed 89 laps. Haryanto’s F1 debut with Manor Racing was cut short when the Indonesian’s car spun at turn four and smashed into the barriers. While teams were having this problem or that, Mercedes quietly hauled a huge mileage in 4 days to aggregate nearly 5,000kms.