Just when we thought Red Bull were on the road to recovery, Sebastian Vettel endured another awful day. The German suffered two breakdowns and could only manage one installation lap, as the RB10 ran into more issues. With both Caterham and Toro Rosso completing impressive mileage, it now seems like the issues at Red Bull are no longer a Renault problem. Meanwhile, Force India enjoyed another excellent session, but it was Williams and Felipe Massa who entered a purple patch and finished on top of the timesheet, with a 1:33.258, which suggests that the FW36 has pace as well as reliability.
Check out Sky Sports F1’s photo gallery for day three in Bahrain
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
On the penultimate day of testing, many teams are now looking to tick the final jobs off of their packed programmes. However, the teams who have enjoyed reliability have opted for qualifying simulation today, as they look to examine all possible scenarios. Felipe Massa in the Williams, Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari all completed their personal best laps on the supersoft tyres, with Massa claiming P1. The FW36 has proved to be the most reliable car in the field throughout testing, as Williams have lost just one day to a fuel wiring issue in the last test. However, the reliability has so far not been coupled with similarly excellent pace, until today. Massa’s 1:33.258 confirms suggestions that Williams could challenge for podiums this season, and is an improvement on Nico Rosberg’s 1:33.283 set during the last Bahrain test, albeit on the soft tyres. However, Rosberg’s best today was 0.2 seconds down on Massa’s effort on the same compound tyres. By no means am I suggesting that Williams are now at the top of the preliminary pecking order, but they have certainly established themselves as contenders at the sharp end of the field.
Meanwhile, Red Bull’s day was certainly a bad one – perhaps their worst so far in 2014. While the speculation that Vettel threw a ‘hissy-fit’ in Jerez has been quelled in emphatic fashion, it would be understandable if the German was beginning to feel frustrated today, as the RB10 recorded just one lap. Even this is somewhat of a misnomer, as over half of this lap was completed on the back of a recovery truck because the Red Bull could only manage the first four corners on the ill-fated installation lap. When the team attempted to hit the track again, they could only reach the end of the pit-lane, prior to another breakdown. Following Christian Horner’s suggestion this morning that the team were “10 days behind,” it now seems to be 11 from 11 sessions. Following their comparatively magnificent day yesterday, today’s shortcomings were surprising, despite the prior form this winter. With this being the penultimate day of testing, Red Bull have delved deeper into despair. They appear to have some pace, yet they may not make it out onto the circuit in Qualifying to even show the speed hidden beneath the problems. Red Bull will solve the issues, but the first few races look like they are likely to be a write-off.
However, Sauber had an equally bad day, as Adrian Sutil’s running ended early and in spectacular fashion. It was an ugly affair, as the C33 caught fire on an early installation lap. Consequently, the team decided to change the engine as a precautionary measure, which meant that Sutil was sidelined for the entire day. “This is why we are testing,” he acknowledged. “Of course I would like to drive as much as possible, but you have to look at the overall picture and the team decided to focus on and get ready for the final day of testing tomorrow.” Ironically, the Ferrari engine is widely considered to be the coolest running powertrain of the three and this “anomaly” in the engine seems to be an isolated incident.
Ericsson Racks Up The Laps
With the established names of Red Bull, Sauber and Lotus all suffering dismal days, Caterham and Marussia both enjoyed productive days, with the former clocking the most laps of any team. Marcus Ericsson’s 117 laps was only marginally better than Nico Hulkenberg’s equally strong 115 laps, but for a Caterham team who have been suffering so far this week, it is a positive step in the right direction. It is the most laps posted by a Renault powered car in one day so far this pre-season and heaps yet more pressure on Red Bull and Lotus to deliver. While the Caterham visibly has better cooling outlets, (with large exits at the rear of both side-pods,) it is up to the other Renault runners to follow their lead. Toro Rosso also appear to be getting a handle on their issues, as Daniil Kvyat clocked 81 laps – the best Toro Rosso have managed in what has been a difficult pre-season for them.
Meanwhile, Marussia continued to perform well today, building on their impressive 75 laps recorded yesterday. Bianchi’s 78 laps completed featured a 1:37.087, which was a full second faster than Caterham’s best attempt. Admittedly, times are relative, but Marussia seem to have the edge over their fierce rivals in the early exchanges. Max Chilton will hope to build on Bianchi’s excellent two days tomorrow, as he returns to the car.