The 2016 Formula 1 season is underway, as all 12 teams have descended on the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona in Spain for the first pre-season test.

You can never read too much into the times posted during testing, but for what it’s worth, at the time of writing, Lewis Hamilton is fastest in the Mercedes, nearly a second quicker than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Both Ferrari and Red Bull are hoping they’ve closed the gap to Mercedes at the front. Though, as there are only incremental changes to the regulations for this year, significant performance gains will be hard to come by. And Mercedes won’t have remained static with its new design, either.

By the end of last season, Ferrari’s car was a strong overall package that, any other year, may well have been a regular winner. A lot has changed on the new car – 20,000 parts according to Ferrari – but will it be enough to stop another run of dominance by the Silver Arrows?

Red Bull’s success depends largely on improvements to its TAG Heuer-branded Renault power unit. The squad got into a very public and sometimes quite nasty spat with Renault last year over its engine’s lack of performance and reliability. Red Bull only re-signed with the French manufacturer for 2016 after it ran out of other options. Having re-established itself as a manufacturer team, Renault will have been throwing money at the problem, but will it pass on any improvements in full to its most reluctant customer?

The Renault team is something of an unknown quantity. Its car was mostly designed before the deal to buy-out Lotus was closed. The 2015 Lotus was only a mid-grid performer; with the rules as they are, its unlikely Renault will be advance much further up the field.

A bigger question mark hangs over McLaren, which endured a torrid season in 2015. It was widely thought the chassis was good, but the new Honda engine proved to be underpowered and unreliable. The word in the paddock is that significantly more power has been found, but it may still not quite be in the same ballpark as the front-runners.

But perhaps the biggest unknown is new American team Haas. Run by Carl Haas, one of the most successful team owners in history, the team’s car is allegedly about as close to being a customer Ferrari as the rules allow. There is the potential for the squad to be a real cat among the pigeons.

We’ll keep you updated with any developments in the run up to the first race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix on 20 March. It will be a marathon year – indeed the longest in F1 history – with 21 races scheduled over eight months, including a first trip to Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix.

In the meantime, click through the gallery below to see the 2016 cars.

For more information click here

By Only Motors

Images via teams’ Twitter accounts