F1 2016: Is an end to Mercedes' dominance in sight?


To the great ire of Formula One's key powerbroker, the rest of the grid and fans of frantic racing at the front of the field, Mercedes have completely dominated the first two years of F1's hybrid era.

Lewis Hamilton has claimed the last two drivers' championships - and 2015 came without much of a challenge from the only man able to match the Brit's hardware, his team-mate Nico Rosberg.

The previous two teams to have enjoyed sustained spells as F1's stand-out performers, Red Bull and Ferrari, have been the Silver Arrows' closest rivals in 2014 and 2015 respectively, but Hamilton and Rosberg have between them won 32 of the 38 grands prix in that time.

With barely any changes to regulations in 2016, Mercedes' technical superiority remains, but did two pre-season tests in Barcelona suggest a more even playing field for the year ahead? We examine below.


The case for...

There was more than enough in eight days of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya to suggest that Ferrari in particular will once again be able to run Mercedes close.

Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were regularly quickest through sessions, with the Finn setting the quickest time of all the days - a 1:22.765 on the new ultrasoft compound.

Granted, Rosberg and Hamilton were focused more on mileage than top speed, Ferrari's 4,148 kilometres was only around two thirds of the distance travelled by Hamilton and Rosberg (6,024 km), but the speed of other teams with Ferrari power was notable 

Having kept Rosberg and Hamilton out of the ultrasoft tyre test, where Raikkonen and Vettel got to grips with the slickest rubber, at the end of last season, Mercedes' lack of running on the quickest tyre compounds in testing could play into the hands of Ferrari, whose seven and eight-lap stints on ultrasoft and supersofts respectively were bettered by no-one.

Vettel said after the eighth day of testing: "We did a super job last season that brought us closer and now the new car gives us the chance to close the gap even more."

Aside from Ferrari, Williams enter 2016 with aerodynamic and suspension tweaks aimed at boosting the low-speed performance that held them back in 2015, while Red Bull's reconciled relationship with a TAG Heuer-badged Renault could be fruitful given the French manufacturer's heightened need for speed as their name returns to the grid with a works team. 


The case against...

Quite simply, Mercedes have tilted the playing field ludicrously far in their favour, and F1 rules are yet to shift it back.

The Silver Arrows' confidence is evidenced by their decision to give 2016-model power units to their customers, including last season's third-best team Williams, while Ferrari have stuck to the custom of keeping their clients a year behind.

A third-successive constructors' title is almost a certainty and some of the numbers behind the F1 W07 power unit are staggering. 

Hamilton and Rosberg will have a power train underneath them that is almost twice as efficient as engines were just three seasons ago. Saving on wasted energy will allow Mercedes' impressive technical staff, led by Paddy Lowe, to focus on extracting the very most out of a chassis which has included several innovative fins and additions in testing.

The drivers' title race seems a closed shop too.

Hamilton led 587 of the 2015 season's 1,149 laps, a ludicrous average of 51.09 per cent, Rosberg was ahead on 30.37 per cent of them, with Vettel the only other driver to even get to three figures as Raikkonen completely failed to match his team-mate in the brutishly fast Ferrari.

Ferrari have the speed to threaten, but outside of Monza, there are few circuits where pace will rule above the aerodynamic advantage that Mercedes will almost certainly hold.

Vettel seems the only challenger to Hamilton or Rosberg. Even then the four-time world champion's best hope appears to be that Mercedes' ever-squabbling pilots end up damaging each other's bids - as was threatened after a tempestuous 2014 Belgian Grand Prix - but the infighting appears to have been successfully stamped out by team boss Toto Wolff.