As I am sure you are all aware, this week has seen the return of the third and final pre-season of Formula One in 2014. And this is what every Formula One fan has been looking forward to since the end of the last test in Bahrain last week. At the last test, we have seen that Mercedes acquiring the most track mileage, McLaren and Williams showing very early signs of progress and Red Bull struggling with problems with cooling on their car alongside problems with the Renault engines.
Throughout four days at the final pre-season test at Bahrain, we have seen the teams and drivers pushing the limit and getting to grips with the new technical regulations and also seeing how their 2014 cars are in their second competitive outing of this season.
There have been unexpected issues, reasons for concern and signs of promise for everyone down the field this week. Question is: who came out on top before the start of the Formula One season in Melbourne?
Day 1 of the second pre-season test at Bahrain saw Force India being the unexpected pacesetters and once again saw Mercedes-powered teams pick where they left off at last week and lead the way once more over their struggling Renault and Ferrari rivals. On a hugely encouraging day for all four of the Mercedes-powered quartet, Sergio Perez topped the timesheets with the fastest lap set in mid-morning of 1:35.290 in the VJM07.
While the Mexican’s lap was two seconds slower than the benchmark time set by Nico Rosberg’s W05 at last week’s Bahrain meet, Force India may have enjoyed the additional and significant boost of completing a race simulation at the test along with fellow Mercedes-powered teams McLaren and Williams.
Williams have been tipped as the “dark horses” for the 2014 already and today has been once again a successful day for the team. Valtteri Bottas racked up 128 laps which is almost as many as Renault runners Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham combined. While racking up the miles in his Williams FW36, Bottas set the second-best time of the day.
The Mercedes works team once again completed another 100 laps with the team now focusing on race procedure work for Melbourne which included practice pit stops and starts during the afternoon session. As a contrast, Red Bull have had once again experienced problems yet again with the RB10 and there was speculation that they was in an “apparent crisis”.
Red Bull has not had the best of start to the 2014 season nor to the pre-season testing so far. The RB10 was limited to less than 40 laps on Thursday as Red Bull’s new car once again suffered from acute overheating. Red Bull have yet to lap within five seconds of Mercedes’ Bahrain-best time and with only three days of winter testing remaining, the team’s ambitions for the season-opening Australian GP appear to be diminishing fast.
When asked his thoughts about the situation at Red Bull, Sky Sports F1 presenter Ted Kravitz said the following:-
‘If the remaining three days of this test continue the way day one has, I think Red Bull might struggle to get out of Q1 when we get rid of the slowest teams in Melbourne! It is that serious and even if they get towards the middle or front part of the grid, it looks like they will only complete half the race, then break down. It is very, very serious for Red Bull.’
Over the past few weeks, Red Bull has publically stated to the media that issues with their ultra-tight packaging at the rear of the RB10 have been deemed culpable for the bulk of Red Bull’s problems. But the fact that all of the Renault runners were once again down on mileage compared to their Mercedes counterparts told an equally worrying tale for the team as they try to get back on track before Melbourne.
Although Toro Rosso managed 56 laps which was two fewer than their single-day winter best, Lotus packed up for Day One when an exhaust issue struck after just 31 while the Caterham broke down after less than an hour. At the end of the first day, the Renault teams in total completed an insubstantial 145 laps which is a third of the combined Mercedes tally from today.
As it has been the case in pre-season testing so far, Ferrari were the best of the rest as Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed a productive run in the F14 T and managed to set the third-quickest time of the day as the team trialled a series of new nose designs. Even though they managed to achieve this, once again the Ferrari brought an early end to the first day of testing with mechanical issues.
Even though Red Bull had to spend five hours being in the garage looking at fixing their current issues, Red Bull was the only car on circuit when the session was Red Flagged after the Ferrari had its mechanical issues. What else can go wrong for Red Bull this week?
Day One Timesheet:-
1. Perez, Force India, 1:35.290, 105 laps
2. Bottas, Williams, 1:36.184, 128 laps
3. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:36.432, 54 laps
4. Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:36.624, 89 laps
5. Sutil, Sauber, 1:37.700, 14 laps
6. Magnussen, McLaren, 1:37.825, 109 laps
7. Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:37.908, 39 laps
8. Chilton, Marussia, 1:38.610, 44 laps
9. Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:39.242, 55 laps
10. Maldonado, Lotus, 1:40.599, 31 laps
11. Kobayashi, Caterham, 1:42.285, 19 laps
Day 2 of the test saw once again Perez top the timesheets for the second day in a row as the Mercedes-powered teams experienced mixed fortunes at Bahrain and Red Bull had a small spot of good news.
As was the case on Thursday, the Force India driver took to the track late in the morning and his lap time of 1:35.570 remained the benchmark for the rest of the session. Fernando Alonso was second behind Perez and was only 0.064s behind on what was Ferrari’s most productive day of running so far. After Kimi Raikkonen’s Day One track time was limited by an electrical problem and bodywork changes, his new team-mate managed to complete more than a century of laps.
When asked his thoughts on achieving this, Alonso stated the following:-
‘Six hundred kilometres are always welcome, but it’s still too early to say we are a hundred percent ready for Melbourne. We still have a lot to learn, but I am happy with the way the day went.
‘In the morning, we did some set-up work which taught us what was the best direction to go in, while in the afternoon, we managed to complete a race simulation and every lap we did can be added to the learning phase, which is the normal situation to be in during winter testing.’
It would seem from Alonso’s long runs during the afternoon demostrates that it’s not just Mercedes-powered teams that can perform reliably within the pre-season test. The rest of the Ferrari-engined teams proved Ferrari’s point further proved by Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and also Marussia’s Jules Bianchi.
If Ferrari had a good day, then there was no doubt that the Marussia team appeared to make a step forward with Bianchi completing 75 laps and also setting the sixth-fastest time. Meanwhile, problems with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button also underlined that all of the Mercedes runners are still more than capable of developing gremlins of their own.
Button spent most of the day stranded on just 20 laps before returning in the final hour. As for Hamilton, his day was also bookended by two stoppages with him spinning into the gravel within the first hour. In an interview with Sky Sports News, Hamilton said the following ‘I just had a bit of a spin. Just testing out the gravel trap!’ Even though he then ended up missing the final 60 minutes altogether due to a gearbox failure affecting his W05.
Ahead of Button and Hamilton sat Daniel Ricciardo, whose last day in Red Bull’s troublesome RB10 yielded a more impressive P3 on the timesheets. Today, ‘emergency’ vents sprouting from either side of the RB10, the car was able to complete its longest on-track stint of the winter. However, it may not have been a coincidence that Ricciardo’s 20-lap run was attempted in the final half-hour of the session when conditions were at their coolest.
There has been widespread suspicion that overheating remains a critical issue for the Renault-powered teams ahead of the new season. This then seemed to be fuelled even more when both the Caterham and the Lotus caught fire. It would seem at this stage of the season that from, Lotus have only racked up an insubstantial 173 laps so far this winter. Maldonado when asked stated the following:-
‘It was a tough day for us with the fire. We need to keep working and for sure it’s not an ideal situation for the team, or for me but we need to keep focus, work together and I hope for the future we can be better.’
Lotus has shown signs of improvement and progress since missing the first pre-season test at Jerez last month despite encountering problems along the way. But this is what testing is for and I have no doubts that the Lotus will be working very hard to ensure that they get as much track time as possible before the pre-season test ends on Sunday in preparation for Melbourne.
The Renault-powered Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne did at least record 61 laps which is the most the team have managed in a single session this winter. And it appears to be a good sign on the very day that Renault submitted its power unit to the FIA for homologation. This is the process which effectively freezes its development for the season.
There is two more days of testing remains until we bring our attentions to the first Grand Prix of the season; can the Renault –powered teams gain anymore running out on the track?
Day Two Timesheet:-
1. Perez, Force India, 1:35.570, 108 laps
2. Alonso, Ferrari, 1:35.634, 122 laps
3. Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1:35.743, 66 laps
4. Massa, Williams, 1:36.692, 103 laps
5. Button, McLaren, 1:36.901, 52 laps
6. Bianchi, Marussia, 1:38.092, 75 laps
7. Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:39.041, 89 laps
8. Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:39.636, 61 laps
9. Guiterrez, Sauber, 1:39.976, 106 laps
10. Maldonado, Lotus, 1:41.613, 31 laps
11. Ericsson, Caterham, 1:42.516, 55 laps
Day 3 saw Williams’ driver Felipe Massa finish the fastest lap time in Bahrain so far even though Red Bull once again was the focus of attention at the pre-season test once again with their unreliability issues.
Red Bull only officially recorded just one lap on the timing screens even if but all bar four corners of it were on the back of a recovery lorry after Sebastian Vettel’s RB10 rolled to a stop out on the circuit. When the car was recovered and the team spending 45 minutes working on the car, Vettel was sent back out onto the circuit once again. However, this time he only made it as far as the pit exit.
In an interview with Sky Sports News, Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner stated that they are “are about ten days behind” after ten days of pre-season running and the team certainly didn’t gain any valuable mileage on the 11th and penultimate day of pre-season running.
This is no doubt extremely worryingly for a team that had appeared to turn a corner when Daniel Ricciardo managed 66 laps on Friday. And it appeared that Red Bull was finally making small but significant steps to deal with their issues with the RB10.
However, it does seem that their problems appear to be of their own making rather than being caused by Renault. As on Day 3 of the test, Caterham managed to rack up over 100 laps using the French manufacturer’s power unit while junior team Toro Rosso managed 81 laps with rookie driver Daniil Kvyat.
But for Massa and Williams, it would seem that they are once again building on a solid foundation and momentum gathered from the previous pre-season tests. Massa set the quickest time any driver has set thus far in either of the Bahrain tests with a lap time of 1:33.258. The Williams team so far have impressed throughout pre-season testing with their reliability so far and managed to rack up 99 laps with Massa on Saturday which brought their total mileage this year to over 4000km.
Mercedes also continue to look strong and build on their performance in testing as well. Nico Rosberg completed 103 laps without any major problems, albeit with a fastest time on super soft tyres that was over two tenths slower than Massa’s best. However, Rosberg did admit after the test was over that he was a qualifying simulation.
Kimi Raikkonen was third quickest for Ferrari and managed to complete 87 laps in total after a quiet morning on what was his final day in the car before Practice One in Melbourne. Raikkonen’s best time which he posted on the super soft tyres was over two seconds slower than the man he replaced at the Ferrari team for this year.
Raikkonen was then followed by the rookies at McLaren and Toro Rosso as both Magnussen and Kvyat clocked up nearly 90 laps for their respective teams. But with Perez being fastest on the opening two days of the final test, Hulkenberg was sixth fastest for Force India and was three seconds slower than Massa. However, he did manage to run for 115 laps for his team.
Marussia finished seventh with their driver Jules Bianchi a second clear of Marcus Ericsson in the Caterham who was the busiest man of the day and managed to achieve 117 laps in his car. Romain Grosjean was ninth fastest for Lotus having managed 33 laps before the team were forced to end their day 90 minutes early after encountering reliability problems.
However, that was significantly more than both Sauber (Adrian Sutil’s C33 catching fire after his installation lap) and Red Bull who completed the failed to set a time on timesheet. What will the final day of pre-season testing for Formula One bring?
Day Three Timesheet:-
1. Massa, Williams, 1:33.258, 99 laps
2. Rosberg, Mercedes, 1:33.484, 103 laps
3. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:35.426, 87 laps
4. Magnussen, McLaren, 1:35.894, 88 laps
5. Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:36.113, 81 laps
6. Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:36.205, 115 laps
7. Bianchi, Marussia, 1:37.087, 78 laps
8. Ericsson, Caterham, 1:38.083, 117 laps
9. Grosjean, Lotus, 1:42.166, 33 laps
10. Sutil, Sauber, No Time, 1 lap
11. Vettel, Red Bull, No Time, 1 lap
The final day of pre-season testing for this year and also at the second test at Bahrain saw Hamilton ending Mercedes’ impressive run of form over the winter tests as they once again topped the timesheets after a problem-filled day of running out on the race track.
The Mercedes team have already been the pundits’ tips for being the “title favourites” for 2014 even before the first pre-season test of the season took place at Jerez in January, but they have experienced problems with the W05 along the way throughout pre-season testing. Many pundits now believe that little is now likely to change in the two weeks before the Australian GP after Hamilton signed off from the winter in style by all-but matching the fastest time seen in Bahrain across the back-to-back tests.
Hamilton’s fastest lap time in the final test session of 1:33.278 lap was still two hundredths of a second slower than Felipe Massa’s Day Three benchmark with Williams FW36. This is despite both the Williams and Mercedes’ cars setting these lap times on the super soft tyres and their fuel loads remaining unknown to us.
Hamilton’s fastest lap of the session came at the end of an otherwise incident-filled final day for the 11-team field as eight red-flag stoppages meant the winter programme ended in much the same fashion as it started. And with all of the grid’s heavyweights running into reliability trouble and this did include the Mercedes team as well.
In keeping with the previous seven days of action at Bahrain, principal Renault-powered runners Red Bull and Lotus particularly suffered with a front brake failure on the World Champions’ RB10 pitching Sebastian Vettel into a spin and a fire stopping Romain Grosjean’s E22 in its tracks a little later.
For Lotus, their mid-afternoon stoppage was particularly frustrating as it forced them out of the session with just 32 laps on the board. Having already been dogged by a litany of problems across their self-imposed two-test winter schedule, the early exit from the session today meant Lotus finished bottom of the pre-season mileage chart.
Lotus in their two days of pre-season testing under their belts only managed to achieve 1219km which is probably less than what they have planned from the test sessions. Therefore, Grosjean will be the only driver to line up on the Melbourne grid with fewer than 100 laps under his belt this winter.
Four times World Champion Vettel will begin his title defence with little more than that with only 162 laps that he managed to achieve from pre-season testing. But Vettel and the Red Bull team at least head to the first race on the back of their most productive day with their problematic 2014 car yet.
After seeing their already heavily troubled winter hit a new low on Day Three when the RB10 failed to even complete a full lap, Vettel returned to the track early on Sunday and swiftly reached 20 laps in the opening couple of hours. However, just after midday Vettel spun off the circuit at Turn One courtesy of a front-brake failure on his RB10.
Unlike Lotus, Red Bull were able to repair the fault on Vettel’s car and he returned to the track several hours later and therefore enjoyed a successful and promising run and managed to rack up with 77 laps on the board heading into Melbourne.
On the final day of the test as well as Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren experienced final-day glitches of their own. For McLaren, whose progress with the MP4-29 appeared to lose some of its early-winter momentum in the second week of Sakhir running, Button only managed to achieve just 22 laps after hours of unspecified delays in their garage.
Meanwhile, Mercedes had already lost the majority of the first four hours of running after a gearbox glitch had to be rectified even before Hamilton completed an installation lap. Throughout the session, even the “dark horses” of pre-season testing Williams and the FW36 stopped out on the circuit for the first time with the team stating that a high-mileage failure of their internal combustion engine.
The issues that Williams faced today have not impacted on what has been a very successful and encouraging winter test for the apparently revitalised Williams team. Bottas once again topped a century of laps and finished with the second-fastest time on the Day Four timesheet, a 1:33.987.
Once again, Williams’ fastest overall time in Bahrain (on Day 3 of the test with Massa) means they have emerged as more than “dark horses” for the season opener at Melbourne in two weeks time. Over the course of the pre-season tests, the FW36 has been displaying both impressive pace and, crucially reliability when other teams have been struggling to do so.
Ferrari broke the Mercedes-powered hegemony at the head of the timesheet with Alonso taking third place with a lap time of 1:34.280. This was in despite of an afternoon stoppage of his own out on the track and he managed to achieve Ferrari’s fastest time of the test session this week.
That late improvement from Alonso placed him ahead of Hulkenberg and Vergne. There was promising news for the Sauber team who achieved a mileage record for this winter by clocking an astonishing single-day total of 177 laps. This is 40 laps more than the previous benchmark as they split their final-day schedule between Sutil and Gutierrez.
Sutil and Guiterrez were split on the timesheet by Chilton, whose lap time of 1:36.835 was their best test time for the Marussia team and was over one second quicker than perennial rivals Caterham managed all week.
Day Four Timesheet:-
- Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:33.278, 70 laps
- Bottas, Williams 1:33.987, 108 laps
- Alonso, Ferrari, 1:34.280, 74 laps
- Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:35.577, 74 laps
- Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1:35.701, 74 laps
- Sutil, Sauber, 1:36.467, 91 laps
- Chilton, Marussia, 1:36.835, 61 laps
- Guiterrez, Sauber, 1:37.303, 86 laps
- Vettel, Red Bull, 1:37.468, 77 laps
- Button, McLaren, 1:38.111, 22 laps
- Kobayashi, Caterham, 1:38.391, 106 laps
- Grosjean, Lotus, 1:39.302, 32 laps
Approximate overall total Pre-Season KM in 2014
- Mercedes- 4732km
- Williams- 4645km
- Ferrari- 4269km
- McLaren- 3952km
- Sauber- 3836km
- Force India- 3774km
- Caterham- 3141km
- Toro Rosso- 2230km
- Red Bull- 1621km
- Marussia- 1598km
- Lotus- 1219km
The second and final winter test at Bahrain has produced some interesting results. Many Formula One fans were looking forward to seeing how the teams and the drivers would get on with the challenges that the new regulations will be bring. And in my view, it is a mixed bag overall.
We have seen Mercedes showing that they are the team to beat in terms of mileage and reliability from the all of the pre-season tests. And yes, it will bring them a crucial advantage in terms of how to improve the W05 before the start of the new season in two weeks time.
There is no question about it, even though Rosberg and Hamilton have stated to the media that they are both unsure about their actual pace despite being labelled “favourites” for 2014, the signs are looking ever stronger for them. But this has been a successful winter for the team who have produced one of the most consistent and packages so far and will be looking to improve their track performance once they get to the first Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Lotus has stated over the previous weeks that they have seen signs of progress in the direction they have taken with the E22 for this year. However, it would seem currently that missing the Jerez test in January may have put them at a slight disadvantage and they have ended with the least mileage of any other team. But Lotus have managed despite this to gain critical track data and mileage that will no doubt be useful to them as they try and prepare for Melbourne as much as they possibly can.
Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso will once again use the mileage that they have gained from the test this week in order to improve their cars before start of the season. Force India especially have made the most improvement out of the three teams and by managing to top the timesheets on Day One and Two of the test will only show that they are heading at least in the right direction with their 2014 car.
All three teams have managed to secure some much needed data and track mileage that will push them on with developing their cars ready for Melbourne. And Caterham and Marussia despite their problems have also gained some much needed data that will allow them to try and improve their cars.
McLaren, Williams and Ferrari all have been consistently topping the first five positions in the timesheets at some stage of the week. And I believe that it is too early within the season to make any significant claims about their performances. But their performances have at least indicated that they are on the right track with their cars and have managed to gain invaluable track time that will no doubt push all three teams to improve their cars further and get back to competitive ways for the season ahead.
But this week once again, the spotlight is firmly on the Red Bull team. Many expected the Red Bulls to make some improvements over the week and have a better second test than their first at Bahrain the week before. But they did manage to achieve more laps and even doing a succession of laps without having any significant problems (apart from Vettel suffering from a brake failure) than they did previously at Jerez or at Bahrain.
This will no doubt push the team further into looking into the problems they currently have with their RB10 at the moment. Even with the rumour that is going around the paddock that Red Bull could introduce a ‘b-spec’ car for May’s Spanish GP, Red Bull might be able to fix the problems going on currently. If anyone can fix the problems, it is Red Bull and their Technical Director Adrian Newey.
The questions on everyone’s lips going into the first Grand Prix of the season in two weeks time, is that will the data acquired from the pre-season test give Red Bull enough to fix their problems with the RB10 and the Renault engines? I believe that it will not be enough time, but just like everyone else, 2014 is already going to be challenging and a fast learning curve for all.
But the final question that everyone will be asking once again is will Mercedes once again show the rest of the field even more pace with their W05 and carry on their remarkable early performance from pre-season testing in Melbourne? We will find out in two weeks time, Melbourne cannot come quickly enough!