Formula 1 Pre-Season Testing: 6 Observations from Day 3 at Bahrain
With just one day of pre-season testing remaining, we have reached the stage where some Formula One teams are praying for the ground to open up beneath them while others cannot wait for the green light to signify the beginning of first practice for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The clock is ticking, and the truths behind the lap times are being further exposed as every hour passes by.
Here, we pick out six things that caught our eye on the third day of running at the final test in Bahrain.
Red Bull's Woes Return
There was a feeling that Red Bull had turned a corner on Friday after Daniel Ricciardo completed a grand total of 66 laps on the second day.
The reigning world champions followed that up by turning four more corners on the third morning alone—but these were of the literal rather than metaphorical variety.
After spending the first two hours of the day in the garage, the RB10 car could only manage to complete the first sector of Sebastian Vettel’s installation lap before grinding to a halt.
On his second attempt at recording some laps, Vettel barely made his way to the end of the pit lane before the car stopped in its tracks, although the German put speculation of a recent “hissy fit”—dismissed by Red Bull’s official website Friday—to bed by helping to wheel the stricken RB10 back to its garage.
After the respite that was Day 2, Saturday proved that Red Bull remain as distant from the front as they have been all winter.
Lotus Don't Like Hanging Around
Lotus are yet to see the chequered flag in the opening three days of the third and final test.
While the team had to end its first day running due to a cracked exhaust and took an early bath Friday after a fire, Lotus’ running Saturday was brought to an end with over two hours remaining due to an MGU-K issue, according to Autosport’s Glenn Freeman, after the E22 didn’t emerge from the garage until almost three hours of the morning session had passed.
To put Lotus’ pre-season form into perspective, the 33 laps that Romain Grosjean managed Saturday was the second-highest number of laps completed in a single day by the team in its seven days of running so far, highlighting just how disadvantageous it was for the Enstone outfit to miss the first test in Jerez at the end of January.
In terms of lap times, Lotus’ position at the very bottom of the time sheets almost nine seconds adrift of Felipe Massa’s pace-setting time—at the business end of pre-season—added insult to injury.
Massa's Pace Gives Mercedes Food for Thought
An interesting battle took place as the day’s running came to a close, with Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg trading fastest laps within minutes of each other.
Massa’s time of 1 minute, 34.4 seconds with 50 minutes of the session remaining was the fastest of the week before the Mercedes of Rosberg took a second out of the Brazilian’s time on a performance run with low fuel and super-soft tyres.
Massa immediately retaliated by shaving a further two-tenths of Rosberg’s time to record the fastest time set by any car over the seven days of action in Bahrain, ending the day with a benchmark of 1:33.2.
Unless disaster strikes on the final day of the season, Mercedes will end this test as the unofficial champions of pre-season testing and will be favourites for victory in Australia, but Massa’s mini-victory here suggests Rosberg and Hamilton will not exactly disappear into the distance in Melbourne.
Sutil's Smoky Sauber a Reminder of Complex Engines
Sauber enjoyed a positive start to the final test, with Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez completing a combined total of 195 laps over the course of the opening two days, with the latter’s 106 laps on Friday the most the team had recorded in a single day in pre-season.
Sutil’s return to the cockpit Saturday, however, was a short-lived one after the German returned to the pit lane after his installation lap with smoke emerging from his C33.
The subsequent engine change ruled the team out of action for the remainder of the day despite the incident occurring within the opening 10 minutes of the session—a reminder of the complexity of the new-for-2014 power units.
Caterham Consistent, but Pace Worries Remain
As we wrote Friday, Caterham were in desperate need of a couple of days of solid running prior to the opening grand prix of the season. The team was ranked bottom of the time sheets on both of the opening two days, with Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson completing a combined total of 74 laps.
Ericsson went some way toward redemption Saturday by completing the most laps of any driver (117) on a day that, according to the driver’s quotes on the team’s official website, ranged from a handful of short runs, setup work to a near-whole race distance before the Swede ended his winter with a performance run.
The trouble is that that performance run failed to lift Caterham from the eighth position on the time sheets, and had Vettel, Sutil and Grosjean not encountered severe problems, the team would surely have been ranked bottom of the leaderboard for the third day in succession.
Raikkonen Squeezes in a Race Simulation
Kimi Raikkonen told Ferrari’s official website on Thursday that the only box he needed to tick to complete his pre-season preparations was that concerning a race simulation.
The Finn’s running was hindered on the first day, and technical problems struck again Saturday morning to deny Raikkonen more time behind the wheel of a car that was also being fitted with updates. His opportunity arrived in the afternoon session, however, with Raikkonen finally completing a race distance of around 60 laps.
With time to spare before the end of the day, Raikkonen’s last before the Australian Grand Prix, the 2007 world champion performed a series of short runs to end his time in the car with a third-fastest time of 1:35.4, providing further evidence that Ferrari are the best of the rest behind the Mercedes-powered teams as things stand.