March can signal a number of things, the beginning of Spring, St. David’s and St. Patrick’s Day as well as the clocks going forward. For me though, March means only one thing, F1 is back. It’s lights out on March 20th in Melbourne as the season kicks off down under, so before that, George Dagless takes a look at what we might be able to expect from the teams in 2016.

What can we make of testing then? Firstly, I should point out, as everyone does on this topic, that testing is by no means a litmus test for the upcoming fortunes for an F1 team’s season. However, we can discuss some talking points. As was the case in last year’s test schedule Ferrari were the fastest team on the time-sheets. Kimi Raikkonen trumped his team-mate Sebastian Vettel on the new ultra-soft tyre compound by the tiny amount of five-hundredths of a second. In fact the top four times from both tests put together were set by the Scuderia drivers. Clearly then they do have what seems to be a quick car and should be the main threat to Mercedes’ crown as most expect.

But what of the Silver Arrows? There’s a general feeling that Mercedes are keeping their cards firmly pressed to their chests. Nico Rosberg set the fifth fastest time of testing but only on the soft tyres as the German outfit opted to focus predominantly on the medium compound. Reigning Champion Lewis Hamilton too, restrained himself from pushing himself, openly admitting testing does not get him particularly motivated. Come Melbourne though, there is an ominous feel around the rest of the field already that the Merc’s have a lot more to offer and that will give us a true representation of how the front of the 2016 grid will look.

Further down the field Force India and Toro Rosso were the best of the rest followed by a Williams team who will be hoping to join Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the field. Red Bull were solid if unspectacular and Renault overcame initial issues to set decent enough times and mileage stats. Also there is good news for McLaren fans as there is hope. Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are happy enough with the car, it may not be at the head of the pack in Australia but we should see regular appearances in the top 10 and vastly improved reliability. In addition to that, Eric Boullier admitted the Woking based team ran out of time to test the full 2016 specification of their new car things are looking cautiously bright, which is nevertheless a huge improvement on their prospects this time last year.

At the back of the pack Sauber were the ninth quickest team and will be looking for more consistency after their early 2015 form dropped off a cliff, they may have a tough time of it this year. Manor look far more competitive than they ever have, a swathe of new technology and components from the bigger teams as well as proven pedigree in some of their team recruitment on the pit-wall will serve them well. Meanwhile on track Indonesian Rio Haryanto is a bit of an unknown quantity but showed improvement over the test days and in the other seat, to quote David Coulthard, Pascal Wehrlein ‘looks the real deal.’ Promising times indeed. Finally the new boys on the block Haas GP have been hugely impressive in the amount of running they have done, Esteban Gutierrez ran a full race sim in the first test, unheard of for new outfits and in Romain Grosjean they have a driver who has shaken off his early tag of liking a crash on the first lap to moulding into one of the most highly rated in the paddock. Sure, they were the slowest car on track but finished only half a second off of the McLaren of Jenson Button who was on a quicker tyre. As I said hugely impressive from Haas.

So what does this all mean for the upcoming season? Well as mentioned before testing is by no means the ultimate indicator for the rest of the year but if I was to stick my neck out I would say this. Mercedes will still take some beating but Ferrari are better placed than last year. Toro Rosso will run their sister team Red Bull closer this year than ever before. McLaren will be in the top 5 come the end of the season in the constructor’s championship. Manor won’t just hold their own race at the back this year and Haas will be equally as competitive, hopefully nicking a few points here and there. Sauber may struggle nearer the back, Renault will be bang in the middle of the midfield and Williams should keep hold of third place in the team standings for now. Force India may just be the surprise package though and threaten that fact given their two strong drivers. Don’t hold me to ransom on this though, it’s the very earliest of early days for this season but I can’t wait for it to get going.