The penultimate day of winter testing was one of the most fascinating yet. Ferrari returned to the fore, with Kimi Raikkonen finally enjoying reliable running and posting the fastest time of the test so far – however, it was his soft tyre performance which is most intriguing. Meanwhile, the Finn also grabbed the world’s attention by taking to the track with a prototype of the ‘Halo’ cockpit canopy and dividing opinion in turn.
Here are five things we learnt on the third day of the second test…
Ferrari are back in the game
After two days in which Mercedes have asserted their control, leading many to believe that the Silver Arrows would once again be the undisputed front runners, Ferrari have challenged this theory today. Kimi Raikkonen topped the table with a stunning 1:22.765 on the ultrasoft tyre – not only the fastest time of the day, but of this pre-season.
However, it was his time on the soft compound tyre that was most impressive. The Finn’s 1:23.009 was marginally faster than Mercedes’ best on the same compound. Given that the deltas between compounds were smaller today, given that track conditions seemed far from optimal for the softer rubber, it is quite the achievement.
Perhaps we were all too quick to write off the 2016 season as another Mercedes showcase.
The Halo divides the paddock
The term “halo” has been a trend on Twitter all day – and not because of Microsoft’s famous game franchise – as F1’s latest proposal to improve safety received somewhat of an unveiling. It was Ferrari, who showcased a prototype design of the structure this morning and sent social media into overdrive in just two laps.
“This is a provisional structure made by Ferrari to test visibility,” a team representative stated. “We think the final structure would be part of the car and hopefully will look better. Kimi said it was ‘okay’ in terms of visibility.” The structure has not only divided fans and pundits but drivers as well, with a number bemoaning what they deem a lack of visibility and poor aesthetic.
Williams are in the mix
Following a first test where Williams took up their mantra of flying under-the-radar when speed is irrelevant, the Grove squad are beginning to show their hand. On today’s pace, it seems to be a very promising hand indeed.
They too may have Rosberg and Hamilton looking nervously at the timesheet tonight, as Felipe Massa managed a time on the soft compound tyre just 0.2 seconds adrift of Mercedes and Ferrari’s respective benchmarks. It has definitely been a day to relish for Williams fans.
Force India and Toro Rosso are evenly matched
The midfield battle seems to be as close as the Mercedes and Ferrari tussle, as Force India and Toro Rosso posted very similar times during their qualifying simulation runs on the ultrasoft tyre today. Nico Hulkenberg and Max Verstappen were separated by a tenth. Given that Force India were the form team at the end of 2015 and tend to run lighter during testing, today’s timesheet bodes well fro Toro Rosso.
Manor are 0.3 seconds adrift of McLaren
As clues begin to emerge regarding the 2016 pecking order, it seems that Manor have turned from stranglers to midfield contenders. They seem, at least, close to McLaren Honda, as Wehrlein’s pace today indicated that they are around 0.3 seconds adrift of the Woking squad.