Formula One 2016: 5 things we learned from winter testing

    Story highlights

    • Ferrari drivers fastest in winter testing
    • F1 season starts in Melbourne, March 20

    (CNN)After two weeks of tweaks and fine-tuning at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, F1 winter testing is over.

    The real racing will begin in the sweltering late summer heat of Melbourne, Australia, in a little over two weeks time.
      But given that it's seldom about who is most impressive in testing -- the Ferrari's of Kimmi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel clocked the fastest times -- what can we glean from events in Barcelona that will prime us for the next nine months of racing?

      It's going to take a considerable feat to beat Mercedes

      It was all about Mercedes in 2015. The German manufacturer cruised to the constructor's championship while its racers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, finished a respective first and second in the drivers standings.
      The pair dominated both qualifying -- one of them started from pole in all but one race -- and won 16 of the season's 19 races last year.
      And 2016 looks like being Mercedes' year again, says the editor of Motorsport Magazine, Ed Foster.
      "Early signs is that Mercedes is going to dominate ... and it's going to be another straight fight between Lewis and Nico," Foster told CNN's World Sport. "We were all quietly hoping that Ferrari would have caught up. They may well have done (but) you can never tell that much from testing.
      "Red Bull's aerodynamics are (also) very clever so they may be able to make up some of the deficit with that engine that they have," Foster adds.
      Further down the grid, meanwhile, former F1 champions Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will be looking to put last year's miseries with the McLaren behind them.
      But, according to Foster, the smart money is on "another Mercedes whitewash."

      Even the drivers seem a bit bored with F1

      This is the topic that seems to be overshadowing all events on the track at the moment. Lewis Hamilton suggested to reporters Thursday that F1 was "broken" and "lacking direction."
      F1 chief, Bernie Ecclestone, also recently told the Daily Mail newspaper that "Formula One is the worst it has ever been" and that "I wouldn't spend my money to take my family to watch a race. No way."
      Changes that will see qualifying split into three sections and the slowest drivers eliminated every 90 seconds were confirmed Friday, according to reports, as organizers try to increase excitement around the sport. But these plans have been met with little enthusiasm from seasoned observers.
      "The great thing about sport is when it's unpredictable. That's why we all watch sport. That's why we love sport," Foster says. "At the moment, Formula 1 isn't giving that."
      "The sport is in a mess. And the proposals for the new qualifying format is just rearranging the deckchairs," he adds.
      "Qualifying was fine, nobody was complaining about that. But typically Formula 1 don't focus on what needs to be focused on, they tend to focus on something that's absolutely fine."

      Plans are afoot to placate fanbase

      Other changes being considered by the sport include introducing a ''Driver of the Day' award to increase fan engagement. The plan would see fans vote online for their favorite driver during the race with the award handed out at the end of the race live on TV.
      There are also proposals to increase car speeds and noise and lower lap times in 2017 with tweaks to the rules on car design and engines.
      On top of this, the F1 Commission has signaled its intention to introduce cockpit protection for drivers from 2017 onwards. French racer Jules Bianchi died last year following serious head injuries sustained in a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
      A prototype of the "halo" device, which has been designed to offer drivers greater protection from flying debris, was trialed by Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen this week. However, driver response to the new component's debut was mixed.
      Hamilton took to social media Thursday to decry it as "the worst looking mod in Formula 1 history." But Mercedes teammate Rosberg described halo as "quite cool" and a "really massive step in safety" in comments.
      A Ferrari spokesman later told Sky Sports that the device mounted on Raikkonen's car was a provisional structure made by Ferrari to test visibility. 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."

      There's some exciting new blood coming through

      Winter testing provided a first look at the new drivers, new cars new teams that will be gracing F1 races around the world this season.
      The grid will be expanded to 11 teams and 22 drivers while Hass will become the first American team to compete in F1 since Penske folded in 1977. But the U.S. newcomers will be under no illusions as to the complexity of the task that awaits them. A series of technical problems and hitches drastically reduced track time in Barcelona for drivers Roman Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez over the last week.
      Elsewhere, the Renault team has also returned to the fold after a five-year absence from the F1 circuit with its purchase of the Lotus team. Dane Kevin Magnussen and British rookie Jolyon Palmer will be the men behind the wheel for the French manufacturer.
      Among the other new driver faces, meanwhile, is the exciting 21-year-old German, Pascal Wehrlein, who has already tested for Mercedes and been crowned DTM touring car champion. Mercedes team principal, Totto Wolff has described Wehrlein as having the ability to be "one of the very successful ones."
      There has been slightly less buzz around Wehrlein's teammate, Rio Haryanto -- expectations are almost as high for the Indonesian who becomes the first driver from the country to race in F1.
      Rio Haryanto of Indonesia and Manor sits in his car in the garage during day four of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya.

      And finally ... it's going to be a long old season

      There will doubtless still be plenty of twists and turns despite concerns about the F1's competitiveness and predictability.
      Twenty-one races will take place in total over nine months, including six punishing back-to-back weekends.
      The Azerbaijani capital of Baku will also host its first ever F1 race in July.
      The big unknown is whether Rosberg will be able to dethrone Hamilton should, as most expect, the Mercedes cars continue to dominate. The German finished the 2015 season strongly with Hamilton seemingly distracted by excessive partying undertaken after sewing up the championship with three races to spare.
      Hamilton seems to have made little effort to reign in his busy social calendar in the period since. However, according to Foster, being out on the razzle has yet to impact the Englishman's performance when it matters most.
      "Lewis has been out, he's been to the parties, he's been to different sports matches and it hasn't really affected his driving," Foster says.
      "Until that's the case you can't complain about it. He'll go out, he'll party, he'll come to the circuit put the car on pole and win the race and the championship."
      Nico Rosberg might not be the only one with something to say about that over the coming months.
      CNN's The Circuit returns for the new season on March 11 at 16:30 GMT. For all show times visit CNN.com/motorsport