Feb.23 (GMM/Inautonews.com) The opening salvo was fired on Monday as the 2016 protagonists went head-to-head at the start of pre-season testing.

With the red team openly aiming to “cancel the smile” on Mercedes’ face this year, the debut of the bold 2016 Ferrari was promising as Sebastian Vettel topped the times.

“They are confident in their abilities and James Allison is a clever engineer,” Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said in Barcelona.

“I think Ferrari will be our main rival,” he added.

But Mercedes also had jaws dropping with the out-of-the-box reliability of its evolved title-defending machine, as Lewis Hamilton rolled out more than two race distances.

“I’ve never had a first day with a new car like this,” the triple world champion beamed.

He also promised to be back in top form for the start of the season, having been beaten by teammate Nico Rosberg in the last three grands prix of 2015.

“After winning the championship I enjoyed the end of the season – in and out of the car – more than I have ever done in my entire career,” Hamilton explained.

As for being beaten by Vettel’s Ferrari on Monday, Hamilton said: “They look fast, but we did not look at the setup or the times today.”

Indeed, rumours are swirling that a visibly innovative new front nose and wing will be added to Mercedes’ package on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“The first time I saw them (the innovations), I was surprised,” Wolff hinted.

Carlos Sainz, the Spanish youngster driving for Toro Rosso, said he expects a red versus silver battle in 2016.

“Mercedes and Ferrari are in another league, ahead of – in my opinion – Red Bull and Williams,” he told the Spanish sports daily AS.

“I don’t think we can compare Toro Rosso with Red Bull yet. What Christian Horner said I think is to remove some pressure, but after the big teams, they (Red Bull) are there,” said Sainz.


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