No more testing; next stop Melbourne

By on Monday, March 3, 2014

That’s it now. 12 days’ of pre-season testing have gone in a flash as the Formula 1 teams now prepare for the first race of the new era. Some will head to Melbourne with confidence of topping the podium, while others will fear that any problems will be shown in very public light and with no quick fix. Here’s how the sport’s 11 representatives fared in the third and final test.

Red Bull-Renault

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull made progress with their recalcitrant RB10 but it was still a tricky time for the reigning world champions. Daniel Ricciardo admitted after his two days that the team was not up to scratch while Sebastian Vettel endured a trying first day in the car after it stopped four corners into his installation lap. He tried to go out later in the day but the car crawled to a halt before he left the pit lane. The German completed more running on the final day but it was interrupted by a spin at the first corner, which was triggered by a brake problem. “Obviously it's difficult to know where the car is,” said Vettel. “It's not just the number of laps you do, but also the type. There are so many different running options, not just with tyres and high or low fuel, there are engine options as well - full power, low power etc, so it's impossible to say where we are. We know we have to catch up in a lot of areas, but that said, I'm happy, we did a lot of laps, we learned a lot and it was a positive end to a tough week here.”

Mercedes

Mercedes did not enjoy the perfect test but you’d be hard pressed to argue against the likelihood of the team leaving Australia as the championship leaders. They have endured problems but in completing significant running they are in the best place to iron out those issues and discover them at a more advanced rate than their rival. Lewis Hamilton bore the brunt of problems as he spun off track and encountered gearbox issues that plagued him across two days. Race simulations have been completed while qualifying runs in the W05 have shown that the car has genuine one-lap pace. Hamilton did not set the fastest time of the week – he was 0.02s shy of achieving it – but the car is quick.

Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Just where on earth will Ferrari sit on the grid in Australia? The car hasn’t been lightning quick but the team has been going about their business in a diligent manner. Mercedes has stolen the headline for all the right reasons, Renault for all the wrong ones. In the middle somewhere sits Ferrari. Team principal Stefano Domenicali believes his team is currently in third place. “At first, reliability will be the key, because without it you don’t score points,” he said. “I also think that some teams that are struggling at the moment will be able to catch up, while teams that currently seem to have a slight advantage could see a plateau in their performance, allowing the others to close the gap. From what we have seen so far, there are two teams out in front, Mercedes and Williams. After them, it could be us.”

Lotus-Renault

Lotus endured another difficult test as reliability problems plagued the E22 and left the team lacking running. Pastor Maldonado suffered an exhaust problem and a subsequent fire while Romain Grosjean’s running came to an early end after an engine failure. In the team regulated post-test press release – usually focusing on the positives – there was some surprising reality checks. “We’re not in an ideal situation,” said Grosjean. “We’ve ended our pre-season test programme with a lot of unknowns and a full workload for the days ahead,” added trackside operations director Alan Permane. The press release was entitled ‘we’re in this together…’

McLaren-Mercedes

McLaren-Mercedes

McLaren-Mercedes

McLaren began the test as Mercedes’s closest challenger but ended it slipping slightly off the pace. While reading too much into testing times is universally acknowledged as a dangerous proposition, the MP4-29 encountered a couple of problems. There were no eye-catching times, while Jenson Button’s running was disrupted by a gearbox problem on Saturday and an engine failure on Sunday. The team should be there or thereabouts in Australia, but Button was more negative after the third test, suggesting that McLaren is behind several rivals in terms of long-run pace.

Force India-Mercedes

After a couple of misfiring tests the Force India VJM07 took an upwards trajectory at the second test. Sergio Pérez twice topped the timesheets and completed over 100 laps on both days in the car. Team-mate Nico Hülkenberg did encounter an engine problem on his final day in the VJM07, cutting short a race simulation, but the team made good progress. “We still made progress and learned some new things,” said Hülkenberg. “So it’s been two good days for me and I’m feeling pretty satisfied. You always want more time to prepare, but I think we’re in good shape. The car has come a long way since the first Jerez test and we have made progress every day.”

Sauber-Ferrari

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

It was a mixed bag for Sauber at the third test in Bahrain; there were no fantastic lap-times and a few problems, but progress was made. Adrian Sutil suffered an engine failure on his first lap on Saturday but in sharing duties on Sunday, Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez racked up an astonishing 177 laps. “Overall we had a tough testing programme to go through and we had unexpected problems here and there,” said Sutil. “I believe that we are going in the right direction. We were able to do a few race simulations, which I found useful. I was able to prepare for the first race and I feel ready for Melbourne,” added Gutiérrez.

Toro Rosso-Renault

Toro Rosso remains firmly on the back foot ahead of the first race of 2014 but the message is perhaps more optimistic than Jean-Éric Vergne suggested after the second test. There were still problems, but the STR9 racked up more mileage than before, as Vergne completed 74 laps on the final day. Daniil Kvyat had amassed almost a race distance in one morning before the car failed. “The really positive thing is that I feel I have a good car, so once everything has been sorted out, I am sure we can be strong in the races,” said Vergne.

Williams-Mercedes

Williams F1 Team.

Williams F1 Team.

Williams has frequently given fleeting glimpses of a revival over the past decade, but could this finally be the year when the team returns to its past glory? Not only have they a mixture of experience, youth and speed in Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, but the car appears quick and reliable. Massa set the fastest time of the week while Bottas also showed strongly, albeit he was hindered by a rare failure in the FW36 – the only time it stopped all test. “We end the pre-season running feeling very happy with the car, power unit, drivers and team,” said chief test and support engineer Rod Nelson. “Everything is working together as it should and we are pleased with the direction that the team is going in.”

Marussia-Ferrari

A difficult second test put Marussia on the back foot but the situation has improved significantly after the final test. Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton both found themselves occupying mid-table positions while the car also amassed decent mileage. There were still technical problems, but Chilton cut a positive figure. “I don’t want to make any predictions because we won’t really know where we stand until qualifying and the race, but I’m feeling very optimistic as I think we‘ll be in a good position to make the most of our opportunities,” he said.

Caterham-Renault

Caterham F1 Team

Caterham F1 Team

Caterham encountered problems – Kamui Kobayashi stopped while Marcus Ericsson’s running came to a smoky demise – but progress was made. “It has certainly been as tough a pre-season as we expected, but to finish as by far the most reliable Renault powered team, and with some early indications that our relative performance has improved compared to this time last year is positive,” said team principal Cyril Abiteboul. Kobayashi racked up over 100 laps on the final test as the CT05 showed some promise.


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