Bahrain test preview: what to watch for

By on Monday, February 17, 2014
Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Formula 1 heads to Bahrain this week for the second of three pre-season tests. It’s been almost three weeks since the track fell silent at Jerez but Formula 1 2014 properly kicks into action in the desert. The third test, which also takes place in Bahrain, commences next Thursday which means that teams don’t have much time to fix any issues that may crop up. The long distance between Bahrain and the teams’ European factories means that flying out parts won’t be a simple task.

As with the first test at Jerez, the track will be open for eight hours between 9am and 5pm local time (6am to 2pm GMT). Here’s what to look out for at the second test.

Can Renault be competitive?

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Renault endured a miserable time at the first test as their three customer teams in attendance managed just 151 laps between them, compared to 875 for Mercedes and 444 for Ferrari. Those 151 laps were neither competitive nor completed with a particularly healthy sounding power unit. It’s clear that a repeat of Jerez is unacceptable. Renault’s head of track operations Remi Taffin says that the upcoming test will be better for his outfit.

“We're still behind schedule, but it's not a question of months,” he said. “We are at least where we would have sought to be for the first test, so maybe now we are three weeks behind, and now we are on a recovery plan. We're now going to go into Bahrain with what we would have liked to have finished the first test with. As for our rivals, let's put it this way, they are probably four days ahead of us as they had a proper test in Jerez, and we didn't.

“With regard to the hardware we are now confident the problem we had in the first test has been solved and we will be in a position to go out in Bahrain without all these issues.”

Lotus's E22 makes its public debut

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus is a team on the back foot having lost their team principal, star driver and technical director within the last 12 months. Several other leading team members have also departed. But that isn’t to say that the team won’t be a threat as their striking E22 shows that they’re an outfit unafraid to try a radical design. It is thought that Lotus skipped the first test due to supply issues but trialled the car a week later for a filming day, completing the maximum 22 laps permitted on their second day of running. Most teams opted for a single low nose but Lotus has adopted a twin tusk approach, with the tusks asymmetrical. Lotus has ground to make up and they have to hope that Renault has indeed improved. The second test also provides Pastor Maldonado with a chance to integrate himself within the team for the first time following his switch from Williams. The Venezuelan enjoys a car with an aggressive front end and will have to be a better team player than in 2013 in order to get the car to suit his style.

Red Bull playing catch-up

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

The reigning champions completed only 21 laps across four days of running at Jerez, which amounted to a shocking start for Red Bull. Neither Sebastian Vettel nor Daniel Ricciardo completed any competitive running and while some of the blame has to be attributed to Renault’s woes, Red Bull’s own problems were significant. While owner Dietrich Mateschitz pinpointed the blame on Renault, the RB10 was suffering from overheating problems at Jerez. Extra vents in the sidepod were opened up on the final day of running in an attempt to alleviate the problem but to no avail. Red Bull also encountered software glitches but it is the cooling which needs the greatest focus; Adrian Newey is notorious for the tight packaging of his cars but he needs to have found a solution. Newey attributes a large part of the problems down to the rush in getting the RB10 ready, meaning that any woes were aired in public. Ricciardo somewhat gave an insight into Red Bull’s plight at Jerez by suggesting that if they’re not at the front in Australia, they’ll work on it. If they can put in a good base line early on in Bahrain, then focus on reliability and lap times, the woes from Jerez will soon be forgotten. If they suffer a repeat of Jerez then alarm bells will really start ringing, but only a fool would be so swift to write off the reigning world champions.

Time to try for lap times?

McLaren Mercedes

McLaren Mercedes

Most of the criticism levelled at Formula 1 following the first test was at the tardy lap times. Kevin Magnussen’s pacesetting time was around five and a half seconds slower than the best achieved in 2013. Some felt that this means Formula 1 is no longer the pinnacle of motor racing, with the cars not far off being beaten by GP2 machinery. Such accusations are classic short term-ism. Formula 1 drivers were not pushing to the maximum at Jerez and were not focusing on lap times. Add in winter specification tyres, cold track temperatures and an abrasive circuit and you have an idea of the situation. The tyres are harder in 2014, while downforce has been reduced. This is the infancy of a radical new era for the sport so lap times will inevitably be slower. Jenson Button is expecting the situation to improve.

“When we go to the first race everyone is going to be much faster," he said. And by the end of the year we might not be that far off, a couple of seconds.” That would represent satisfying improvements – don’t forget that GP2 is approaching its fourth year using the same chassis, with lap times already around two seconds up on 2011. Teams will be focusing on performance more in Bahrain, meaning that we could start to see the competitive running order take shape. Teams are also keen to run race simulations – only Nico Rosberg did so at Jerez. Every team will be bringing substantial upgrade packages, so the lap times will be more representative than the first test. Even so, reading too much into testing is a dangerous game, especially with another test to come next week.

What about the tyres?

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Just because the formula has undergone significant changes over the off-season doesn’t mean that the tyres have become an obsolete aspect of the sport. Pirelli was unable to gather significant data in Jerez due to the low track temperatures and unrepresentative lap times. While part of the reason the teams opted to spend two tests in Bahrain is the ability to test the power unit in hot and dry conditions, the weather also permits Pirelli to undertake representative running. Sakhir was one of the harshest circuits on tyres in 2013 as many drivers three of four stopped their way to the finish. Pirelli has adopted a more conservative approach this season due to the uncertainty about the torque delivered by the power units, but testing in Bahrain will also allow them to draw comparisons with 2013 data and lap times. For the teams, it is the first real chance to examine how the tyres react to the 2014 machines in terms of one-lap performance and degradation over longer stints.

Driver line-up:

 WednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
Red Bull-RenaultS. VettelS. VettelD. RicciardoD. Ricciardo
MercedesL. HamiltonN. RosbergL. HamiltonN. Rosberg
FerrariF. AlonsoF. AlonsoK. RaikkonenK. Raikkonen
Lotus-RenaultR. GrosjeanR. GrosjeanP. MaldonadoP. Maldonado
McLaren-MercedesK. MagnussenK. MagnussenJ. ButtonJ. Button
Force India-MercedesN. HülkenbergN. HülkenbergS. PérezS. Pérez
Sauber-FerrariA. SutilE. GutierrezE. GutierrezA. Sutil
Toro Rosso-RenaultD. KvyatJ. VergneD. KvyatJ. Vergne
Williams-MercedesTBCTBCTBCTBC
Marussia-FerrariJ. BianchiM. ChiltonM. ChiltonJ. Bianchi
Caterham-RenaultR. FrijnsK. KobayashiM. EricssonK. Kobayashi

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