Bahrain test preview: the last chance

By on Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

The third and final pre-season test takes place this week at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain. Some teams have remained on the island either to work on their cars or for filming days while drivers have been training in nearby states and enjoying themselves before the hard work well and truly begins.

For the motley crew of Formula 1 drivers it is the final time for them to become affiliated with their 2014 cars before they are thrust into the public eye on a slippery, enclosed circuit in Australia. For some teams it is their final chance to ensure the cars are quick and reliable while for others just racking up the mileage and ensuring the flyaway races aren’t a total waste of time is the goal.

Will Mercedes continue their form?

Mercedes is undoubtedly the team that will head to Melbourne with the most confidence. The team was hit by reliability issues in the second test but the suggestion is that so advanced is their pre-season programme that they encountered problems that other teams will only discover in the coming months. Nico Rosberg’s time on the final day was certainly eye-catching as the German put in a rapid lap of the circuit and claimed that there was still more time on the table. The W05 is quick and fairly reliable, so continuing on their current trajectory will be the plan for the final test. High on the list will be giving Lewis Hamilton a proper race simulation after his attempt last week was disrupted due to a minor issue.

Is it panic stations for Red Bull and Renault?

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull fared better at the second test but after their fiasco at Jerez that isn’t saying much. The RB10 is still plagued by cooling issues while Renault’s problems are exacerbating their predicament. Renault’s Rob White admitted after the second test that Renault was in a position that, in an ideal world, they would have been in halfway through the opening test. Red Bull and Renault need track time to fix their issues and gain a greater understanding of their problems. At the moment, Red Bull simply doesn’t know the aerodynamic capability of the RB10 because of the numerous faults that have struck the car. After eight disruptive days it’ll be a miracle if the next four days provide conclusive clues. Both parties have made progress, but their rivals have done so at a faster rate and from a stronger position.

Fixing the problems

Another aspect of 2014-spec Formula 1 is the delays that teams are encountering. Few expected the change in regulations to be simple to grasp but Ferrari’s Pat Fry believes that problems are taking twice as long to fix, simply because the formula is new. This not only emphasises reliability problems that the squads discover but hinders track running. Several teams lost hours’ worth of action due to lengthy repairs and that is an aspect that teams will be desperate to improve. Losing three of four hours on a test day is frustrating, but on a race weekend a problem in first practice could force a driver out of second practice. Ditto the time gap between third practice and qualifying; even in 2013 some drivers barely made it out in Q1 after a problem was discovered in third practice. The more teams learn about their cars, the quicker they can fix the issues and this naturally means it’s less likely to impact a driver’s race weekend.

Working out the tyres

Williams F1 Team

Williams F1 Team

After the unrepresentative first test, last week provided an insight into how this year’s machines respond to the demands of the Pirelli tyres. The focus on the new complicated regulations means that tyres have, for the moment and to Pirelli’s relief, been out of the limelight. But as in every Formula 1 season, they will remain an important aspect of a car’s handling and the race tactics. Ferrari, which has enjoyed substantial running without many problems, is, in the words of technical director James Allison, only just beginning to understand the setup parameters to which the tyres respond. Nico Rosberg believes that getting the tyres operating correctly will be tricky, while Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hülkenberg have said that with more torque and wheelspin, keeping the rear tyres in check will be a difficult proposition. Those teams that have enjoyed a positive start can place more of a focus on the behaviour of Pirelli’s 2014 compounds; others that are on the back foot can only dream of heading to Australia with an understanding of how the tyres work.

Can Marussia or/and Caterham make the grade?

This is supposed to be the season for Formula 1’s perennial backmarkers to step up to the plate and score points. They may still do so courtesy of the potential for rivals hitting reliability problems, but both Marussia and Caterham will want to achieve such a feat on merit. “We are not in race conditions here, but if we were in race conditions I think I should bring a GP2 car,” said Kamui Kobayashi of Caterham’s predicament. As with other Renault-powered teams it is time which is of the essence for Caterham. Marussia was hit by all sorts of problems last week – a computer virus, engine issue, a fuel systems problem – which meant that the Banbury based team added just 27 laps to the 30 they completed at Jerez. With Renault struggling, the Ferrari-powered Marussia cars have a golden chance to score points early on in the year. Focusing on reliability will be the first step, but they have a long way to go regarding set-ups, race simulations and tyre management.

Driver line-up:

Red Bull-RenaultD. RicciardoD. RicciardoS. VettelS. Vettel
MercedesN. RosbergL. HamiltonN. RosbergL. Hamilton
FerrariK. RaikkonenF. AlonsoK. RaikkonenF. Alonso
Lotus-RenaultP. MaldonadoP. MaldonadoR. GrosjeanR. Grosjean
McLaren-MercedesK. MagnussenJ. ButtonK. MagnussenJ. Button
Force India-MercedesS. PérezS. PérezN. HülkenbergN. Hülkenberg
Toro Rosso-RenaultD. KvyatJ. VergneD. KvyatJ. Vergne
Williams-MercedesV. Bottas
Marussia-FerrariM. ChiltonJ. BianchiJ. BianchiM. Chilton
Caterham-RenaultK. KobayashiM. EricssonK. KobayashiM. Ericsson
Marussia F1 Team

Marussia F1 Team

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