Lewis Hamilton's all-conquering Mercedes F1 car has struck a blow for downsized engines, beating the lap record set by Fernando Alonso in his championship-winning, V10 Renault R25. Hamilton's 1:29.493 time put him in pole position, and undercut Alonso's 2005 pole time of 1:29.848 by 0.355 seconds.

If anyone was likely to smash a lap record this year, it was Mercedes. Having won the last two Constuctors' Championships, the Silver Arrows' W07 chassis and 106C power unit are a subtle evolution of last year's setup, albeit with some tweaks to iron out the rare reliability glitches slowing Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton down last year.

So far it seems to be working, with Nico Rosberg winning the first two races of the 2016 season after the car proved bulletproof at preseason testing.

The lightning lap proves Formula 1's downsized, turbocharged engines still have plenty of pace to offer when compared with big displacement engines from generations past. Having made the move to 1.6-liter V6 hybrid powerplants in 2014, fans were quick to complain about the lack of noise and drama from F1's new formula.

Whereas the previous-generation 2.4-liter V8 engines screamed their way to 18,000 rpm, the modern V6 setups are limited to 15,000 rpm and quietly drone their way around the world's circuits. To tackle the problem, 2016 cars must be fitted with a "separate exhaust wastegate tailpipe through which all and only wastegate exhaust gases must pass" to create a more evocative sound.

They might not be quite as loud as their predecessors, but the modern powerplants are smarter than the V8s they've replaced thanks to a fiendishly complex hybrid system. Having harvested energy through its KERS system under brakes, the system can give drivers a brief electric boost to aid overtaking, as well as storing electric energy in a battery system.

It's a combination that left Honda, Ferrari and Renault struggling to turn out reliable, powerful powerplants to compete with the mighty Mercedes last year, although early signs suggest the 2016 season should be more closely contested.

The Formula 1 season continues in China on April 15.

View gallery - 6 images