The 11 Formula 1 teams are now preparing their cars for the final pre-season test next week. Here's how they fared in the second four-day encounter in Bahrain.
Red Bull endured a miserable first test and while matters improved in Bahrain, no-one at the team will be jumping for joy. Unrelated problems kept cropping up which left the team frequently stuck in the garage trying to repair the RB10. The complexity of the new specification cars is such that minor problems often take a long time to fix and that was an aspect felt up and down the grid. Sebastian Vettel managed 59 laps on Thursday to add to his meagre total of 14 from Thursday but Daniel Ricciardo could add only another 43 across his two days in the car. Renault has made improvements but the team is still struggling with the reliability of the car; Ricciardo’s problem on Friday was not down to Renault issues and the Australian admits that the team need more time. Few doubt that the car is fundamentally strong aerodynamically but neither driver has been able to push in eight days of testing to find out. Their quickest time remains significantly off the pace. They’re far from the only team scratching their heads and facing an uphill challenge, but as world champions Red Bull will be targeted the most. They’re on the back foot and already playing catch-up and in Formula 1 that’s always a difficult game to play. Nevertheless, only a fool would rule out their ability to bounce back. If they manage to do that from their current predicament, it would be their greatest achievement.
Lewis Hamilton’s time in the 1.34s caught the attention and then Nico Rosberg promptly set a lap in the low 1.33s. There’s little doubt that Mercedes is currently the favourites ahead of next month’s Australian Grand Prix. Rosberg admits his rapid time was set during a qualifying simulation but the team hasn’t had a perfect test. Both drivers encountered minor technical issues; “In terms of reliability I’ve managed to complete a race distance, so that was good, but nevertheless the car did break afterwards which tells us that we’ve still got some way to go,” said Rosberg. The German also discovered that adhering to the fuel restrictions is a challenge. “When I did the race distance it was difficult to make it with the 100 litres we are allowed. That will be an issue for all of us.” Hamilton is yet to complete a full race simulation and is targeting that at the next test but there’ll be an upbeat mood at the team’s factory at Brackley and the engine base at Brixworth.
Ferrari remains hard to read as the car has completed a decent amount of running without being spectacular and the reliability has been fairly strong. Fernando Alonso completed 160 laps across his two days of running and while a telemetry problem limited Kimi Räikkönen’s running on Friday morning, he still managed 125 laps. Alonso was optimistic about Ferrari’s progress but both drivers remain wary of Mercedes’s pace. “Every day we learn a bit more about the car and its systems,” said Alonso. “We have made a major step forward compared to the first test and the whole team is working well.” Räikkönen blotted his copybook by spinning on the exit of turn four and swiping the front of the car off against the barrier. That a driver with as much car control as Räikkönen found the barriers at Sakhir tells you all you need to know about the challenges that the 2014 specification cars present to the drivers.
Lotus finally joined the party after skipping the Jerez test although they endured a fairly torrid time in Bahrain. Romain Grosjean said there was nothing strange about the feeling of the E22 but the Frenchman managed just 26 laps across his two days of running. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado completed 85, but Grosjean had to concede that no set-up testing would be done until Australia. “I don't really care about set-up work, that's going to be when we are in free practice,” he said. “It's just about fixing all the issues and making sure the car is in one piece when we do long runs. It is what it is. We have a car, and we know that with all these changes it could have some issues.” Technical director Nick Chester was nonetheless upbeat about Lotus and claimed that they could be leading the Renault charge (albeit not something to shout about at this moment in time). Lotus did encounter mechanical problems across the course of the test but they ended it as the fastest Renault runner and emitting positive vibes. The third test may reveal whether Chester’s optimism is well placed.
McLaren has built on a promising first test as Jenson Button says that the buzz is back at the team. Button ended the test in fourth place, one position behind rookie team-mate Kevin Magnussen. Button managed to complete a race distance during Friday afternoon and believes his squad is in reasonable shape. “The thing we really need to focus on is fully understanding fuel-saving, and the communication required between the driver and engineer,” he said. “I think we’ll get on top of things, though, because we’re traditionally very good at that.” Magnussen also conducted a decent amount of running, with the only major problem caused by an IT problem on Thursday. “It’s a dream every time I get in the car: it’s just so cool to be here and to be driving. I’m really enjoying it,” said Magnussen, who must be considered as an outside bet for a top three finish in Australia.
Force India continued their good form as Nico Hülkenberg set the fastest time on the first day of running and completed 137 laps across his half of the test. Team-mate Sergio Pérez was less fortunate as drive train issues forced him out of the test prematurely. Pérez’s stoppage meant that Force India was unable to complete a long run with the Mexican so that will be on the checklist for next week’s test. It’s a shame to lose the track time, but I think we can feel quite positive about what we have learned this week,” said Pérez. “Every lap in the car gives us more information and we are always trying something new. I was not able to do the long runs we planned this afternoon so it’s important to do those next week. We also need to start pushing the performance and set-up work.”
Sauber had a quietly efficient test up until the last day of running. Both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez sampled the significantly updated aero package and, despite Sutil spinning down at the first corner, they were pleased with the team’s progress. “Mechanically and aerodynamically the car is working well, and it is becoming more consistent,” said Gutierrez. “There is still some work to do in other areas, but we are making progress. I was able to explore a lot of ‘new-set’ tyres, and this is very helpful to get to know qualifying and race procedures.” Gutiérrez completed 151 laps and ended the test in ninth place but Sutil encountered problems on the final day when the team discovered a problem with an interior part of the monocoque, which required a chassis rebuild.
Toro Rosso’s difficult start to the year continued as Daniil Kvyat managed 62 laps while Jean-Éric Vergne completed 77. Matters did improved compared to Jerez but Vergne was surprisingly open about the team’s plight. “There’s no point in making negative comments, because everyone knows we are facing major problems and we are not alone in that,” he said. “We knew when we came to Bahrain that there had not been enough time since the previous test to have solved all our issues.” Vergne let slip slightly by acknowledging the lack of time to repair the problems; Toro Rosso has had 19 days between the first and second test yet issues frequently arose. There’s also 19 days until practice begins in Australia, so Toro Rosso is firmly on the back foot.
Is the bounce back at Grove? Williams has not only strengthened their commercial arm – with Genworth, Petrobras and Banco do Brazil joining the squad – but they were the only team not to cause a red flag in Bahrain as they racked up the miles. Nonetheless, they did endure a miserable first day as a fuel systems problem limited Felipe Massa to just a handful of laps, but the team recovered well for the remainder of the week which left the Brazilian encouraged by the team's reliability. Valtteri Bottas racked up 171 laps, Massa added 65 while new reserve driver Felipe Nasr managed 87 and integrated well within the team. The biggest challenge may be finding a way of aurally distinguishing between Felipe Massa and Felipe Nasr to avoid confusion!
That Marussia completed more laps in just over a day at Jerez than the full four in Bahrain should tell you enough about the team’s woes at the second test. Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi encountered numerous problems with the Ferrari-powered MR03. An IT problem limited Bianchi to three laps on Wednesday while even on the team’s most productive day – Thursday – Chilton was scuppered by a fuel system problem. Chilton was forced to stop on track after a spectacular engine failure on Friday with just four laps on the board. Marussia encountered a continuation of some component reliability issues on Saturday morning and opted to deviate from the original plan to shake down a few parts that were intended to be trialled at next week’s test. With Renault currently on the back foot, Marussia will be desperate to fix their reliability problems ahead of the Australian Grand Prix and not miss out on a potentially golden opportunity.
After a stuttering start at Jerez, Caterham was able to make good progress at the second test in Bahrain. Reserve driver Robin Frijns was given a day in the car while regular driver Marcus Ericsson was finally able to complete the requisite 300 kilometres to earn his Formula 1 Superlicence. Kamui Kobayashi also had a positive outing in the CT05 and ended up splitting the Red Bull drivers in the timesheets! The final day was less positive as an electrical problem side lined the car for much of the day but Caterham still completed the most running for a Renault-powered car across the four days. Caterham is upbeat about their own progress but much could depend on Renault; Kobayashi suggested that the start of the season will be a trying time for the customers of the French manufacturer.
The doom-mongers were bleating after the first test that Formula 1 2014 would be chronically slow, despite frequent assertions that no-one was trying for lap times. In Bahrain they were silenced as Nico Rosberg’s time 1:33.283 was set on soft tyres on a low-fuel qualifying simulation, which was just under a second slower than his pole position time from last year’s corresponding race. Once you add in the few number of cars running and the early stages of development, Rosberg’s time shows that Formula 1 will still be quick. None of the Renault teams have yet to attempt qualifying simulations, so while Rosberg’s time is impressive it remains to be seen where that would place him on a metaphorical grid. There’s also the big question of the potential field spread between the three engine suppliers.
The Jerez test was unrepresentative for tyre supplier Pirelli so the four days of running in Bahrain provided the Italian manufacturer with sufficient data. Initial evidence suggests that the 2014 tyres are more consistent and durable than their predecessors while there are fewer ‘marbles’ on the side of the circuit. In terms of compound difference, Pirelli estimates that the supersoft is around 0.7s per lap faster than the soft, the soft is around 1.2s per lap quicker than the medium, and the medium is around 1.3s per lap quicker than the hard. However, these differences will reduce as the cars evolve. Pacesetter Rosberg nonetheless encountered new aspects with the tyres. “We have less downforce, so we are wearing the tyres less which could mean that there will be an issue in bringing them to temperature, whereas many times last year they were overheating,” he said. “So there will be new challenges - never a dull moment!”
|5||27||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1.36.445||137|
|11||11||Sergio Pérez||Force India-Mercedes||1.37.367||76|
|14||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Renault||1.38.974||62|
|15||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||1.39.837||43|
|17||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1.40.224||73|
|19||25||Jean-Éric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Renault||1.40.472||77|
|24||17||Jules Bianchi||Marussia-Ferrari||No time set||6|