Collisionless shocks are ubiquitous in astrophysics and in the laboratory. Recent numerical simulations and experiments have shown how these can arise from the encounter of two collisionless plasma shells. When the shells interpenetrate, the overlapping region turns unstable, triggering the shock formation. As a first step toward a microscopic understanding of the process, we here analyze in detail the initial instability phase. On the one hand, 2D relativistic PIC simulations are performed where two unmagnetized, symmetric, and initially cold pair plasmas collide. On the other hand, the instabilities at work are analyzed, as well as the field at saturation and the seed field which gets amplified. For mildly relativistic motions and onward, Weibel modes with ω=0+iδ govern the linear phase. We derive an expression for the duration of the linear phase in reasonable agreement with the simulations.