Barcelona roundup: Notes, quotes from day one of 2016 F1 testing

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The first day of testing for the 2016 Formula 1 season is in the books, except this year it’s at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona instead of Jerez as it was last year.

Some notes, quotes and tidbits beyond what we’ve already written from the first day of testing to follow:

  • Near identical Vettel/Mercedes first days. Last year, day one at Jerez: Sebastian Vettel fastest, Nico Rosberg with 157 laps. Today: Sebastian Vettel fastest, Lewis Hamilton with 156 laps.
  • From 7 to 11 teams. Last year only Ferrari, Sauber, Mercedes, Red Bull, Williams, Toro Rosso and McLaren made it out for the first day of testing. And when you consider McLaren only logged six laps, it was really only six teams. Lotus missed the first day last year before resuming on day two. Add a full McLaren, plus Force India, Renault (the former Lotus), Manor and Haas, and we had a full field of teams running today. Of the 11 teams today, only Sauber didn’t run its new 2016 chassis.
  • And a big lap count increase, too. The increase in cars made for a significant increase in number of laps, from 450 last year to 799, just one shy of 800, today.
  • Red Bull-TAG Heuer debuts. The first day for the newly rebranded Red Bull-TAG Heuer effort (nee Renault) went fairly well, according to head of race engineering Guillaume Rocquelin: “It was a very good first day at the office for us. The car build went according to plan, we had no major issues there and we made it out on track on time. We had a small issue in the morning but it was nothing serious, just something that had worked loose and which took a while to get to. But once we were up and running again, we managed to run very consistently, which is really all that you are looking for on the first day.”
  • Red Bull also premiered a video. It’s not much, but a 35-second clip is a nice teaser for the rest of running. See it below. 
  • McLaren banked 84 laps, which is 5 more than all of Jerez last year. McLaren’s 2015 Jerez totals? Just 79 laps over four days. Today, Jenson Button banked 84.
  • Manor banked 54 laps. Pascal Wehrlein had been used to running with Mercedes in his past F1 tests, and today marked his first day with Manor Racing MRT. With 54 laps, both he and the team were happy.
  • Force India’s development driver is first to develop the car. Alfonso Celis Jr. banked 58 laps in his first day in the VJM09 Mercedes, as Force India was not only at the first test of the year, but with a new car. “I’m feeling very happy with how things went today. The start of the day was special when we launched the VJM09 and it was a big honor to be the first to drive the car. It was only my second day in a Formula One car, but I was able to enjoy the experience more than last time because I knew what to expect and I had a bit more confidence” he said. Sergio Perez runs on Tuesday, then Nico Hulkenberg on Wednesday before Celis returns on Thursday.
  • Limited Renault running, but not a bad thing. Some niggling issues for Renault, but not too bad of a day. Nick Chester, Renault chassis technical director said, “Today saw the first steps of the R.S.16, a car that has been delivered by everyone at Enstone and Viry to a very short and exacting timeframe. We were circumspect with our programme today but it was a testament to all the hard work from everyone involved that we could take to the track at 9am. We did experience a number of growing pains today, mainly on the software side, and we’re looking forward to getting some more laps on the board tomorrow.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”