Bahrain Test (2): Day 4

The final day of pre-season testing was a story of breakdowns, repairs and a lot of laps completed by the recovery vehicle as teams looked to complete the final preparations for Melbourne. As teams turned up the power, problems began to emerge and previous winter form meant nothing as Williams, Mercedes and McLaren all broke down. Meanwhile, Red Bull responded to their worst day of testing so far with a comparatively incredible 77 laps, despite an alarming brake failure saw Vettel spin out of action at turn one, after just 20 laps. However, the team will take heart from ending a nightmare winter with a rather more promising day.

Check out Sky Sports F1’s photo gallery depicting the events of day four in Bahrain.

Mercedes End On Top

Even before testing began, Mercedes were widely regarded as title favourites, as 2014 was always billed to be their time to shine. A magnificent pre-season has confirmed this speculation as the Brackley based squad ended their winter on a high today, with Lewis Hamilton finishing on top of the pile. The Brit’s 1:33.278 was as near as makes no difference, equal to Felipe Massa’s table-topping personal best recorded yesterday. Not only did Hamilton’s time confirm Mercedes’ raw speed, but it also highlighted Williams’ strength, as Lewis’ time was set on the supersoft tyres, to mirror Massa’s run yesterday. While fuel loads remain undisclosed, I would imagine that both Mercedes and Williams were running low on fuel, since both runs were evidently qualifying simulations. There is, of course, the potential that one of them could have been sandbagging with a heavier load, yet this seems unlikely in a year where the learning curve for teams is practically vertical.    
However, as has been the case on most days this week, the W05 has not run without its issues. Hamilton’s morning got off to a stuttering start, as the Brit discovered more gearbox gremlins while on his first installation lap of the day. However, his final total of 70 laps, added to his other winter mileage, places him P5 on the overall winter mileage stakes, behind teammate Rosberg, who tops the charts.

Red Bull Brake Boundaries

It was never going to be too difficult for Red Bull to eclipse their pre-season total for the number of laps completed in a day, but after yesterday’s fiasco, Sebastian Vettel will be extremely relived to end pre-season with a positive day. The German managed 77 laps in the RB10, without facing any battery related issues. A brake failure at turn one this morning cast the only shadow over an otherwise fantastic day. Admittedly, 77 laps is not a magnificent total in comparison with competitors, but the fact that Red Bull will take comfort from today, shows jut how dire the past five weeks has been for them. Following Daniel Ricciardo’s show of strength over a single lap on Friday, the RB10 seems to have potential and reliability is now closer than ever.
Obviously, we should not run before we can walk. Immediately after Ricciardo’s 66 lap haul, we were all caught out by the team taking two giant steps in the wrong direction, as they failed to even complete a lap yesterday. The fact that they are yet to complete a race simulation will concern them and this fact may mean that they treat Melbourne as an extension of their pre-season, considering that the formbook suggests they will not make the chequered flag.
One crumb of comfort for any Red Bull fans reading – It could be worse – You could be in Lotus’ position. The Enstone squad have had a worse pre-season than their fellow Renault customers, as fires, breakdowns and failed upgrades have been a daily occurrence. Missing Jerez was a hammer blow for the team and one which they have failed to recover from. Even today, Romain Grosjean spent much of the session as a spectator, as he failed to even reach a century of pre-season laps, in the troublesome E22. When it did hit the track, the car looked well-balanced, suggesting that the intuitive aerodynamic designs could reap rewards for the team. However, Melbourne has simply come too quickly for them, and with a poor 32 laps today, Lotus have almost half of the mileage of even Toro Rosso – a team who have endured rather than enjoyed for the majority of testing. The statistics unfortunately tell the story.

Sauber’s Marathon Session

Sauber’s programme for the day was clear from the outset – laps, laps and more laps. The team racked up a total of 177 laps, with Adrian Sutil driving in the morning, followed by a switch to Esteban Gutierrez in the afternoon. Both drivers managed to squeeze in a race simulation, as they looked to gain an understanding of the key factors such as tyre management and fuel saving in 2014. The latter is particularly poignant, considering that current paddock rumour suggests that the Ferrari engine is thirsty, compared with its Mercedes equivalent.    

So, the were the main talking points following another intriguing day in Bahrain. At the time of writing, it is only 13 days, 11 hours and 48 minutes until the season kicks off in Melbourne. It could be one of the most bizzare race weekends in recent memory and I for one, cannot wait.  

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