LONDON • Preparations for a new Formula One season stepped up a gear on Friday as the wraps came off the three cars that filled the top slots last year.
While Ferrari and Williams took to social media to unveil their 2016 challengers, Mercedes were busy at Silverstone testing the W07, the latest incarnation of the car that has carried off two consecutive world championships for Lewis Hamilton.
The question on lips at Maranello is whether the massive push to catch Mercedes has paid off - and Maurizio Arrivabene, Ferrari's team principal, admitted he would have no idea until tomorrow after the first day of pre-season testing at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
The stakes are high, though, and Arrivabene was candid about running a team without a world title since 2007 and having fans to please, as well as impatient investors who bought into Ferrari when it was floated last year on the New York Stock Exchange.
"I am not setting the objectives, my boss sets the objective for the team... (and) this year we need to push a bit more," he said. "We would like to fight until the end for the championship."
Sebastian Vettel, who won three races in his debut season with the Italian team last year, believes Ferrari will be "even stronger" this season.
PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS
We have done our absolute best to try to make this car a step up, a bold step forward, to give it the competitiveness it needs to be a proper winning car.
JAMES ALLISON, Ferrari technical director on the Italian team's new F1 car, the SF16-H.
The German hopes this year's Ferrari SF16-H - which sports a retro feel with large flashes of white on its livery - will be able to take the challenge to Hamilton, whom he finished 103 points adrift of last season, and Mercedes.
"We had a fantastic year last year - and we all want more," said Vettel, the four-time world champion.
"Last year we finished second overall so there is only one more step which is a difficult one to take but hopefully this car will help us achieve it. We have improved in many areas."
Mercedes have dominated for the past two seasons, winning 32 of the last 38 races. And Ferrari, who took great strides forward last term, are expected to be their closest challengers once more in 2016.
James Allison, the British designer who joined Ferrari from Lotus midway through the 2013 season, has been instrumental in the team's revival.
"We have put nearly 1,000 man-hours of work into this car," he said. "We have done our absolute best to try to make this car a step up, a bold step forward, to give it the competitiveness it needs to be a proper winning car."
The message at Williams was similar. The venerable team, one of the longest-serving and most successful, along with Ferrari and McLaren, have not had a world champion since Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 or a victory since the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.
After finishing third for two seasons in a row, team principal Frank Williams said: "Williams has started to cement our position back among the front-running teams. Staying where we are will be a challenge in itself, but we are determined to keep improving because only winning will ever be good enough."
Hamilton had his first taste on Friday of the Mercedes car that he hopes will make him Britain's first four-time Formula One world champion this season.
His team-mate Nico Rosberg, whose disappointment at finishing overall runner-up for the second year in a row was tempered by ending the season with three successive race wins, said: "It was a good feeling to start with. I felt at home straight away," he told Sky Sports.
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN