Force India and Merc top Bahrain F1 test

Red Bull now has just seven track days left to fix the RB10 before the team and Sebastian Vettel begin the defence of their titles. Right now, the omens don’t look good.

Day one of the second of three official four-day pre-season tests saw the world champions in pretty much the same position as they’d finished the last test: late to get the car running, and then the day cut short with what the team said was a brake issue, but which nonetheless had Vettel running for a fire extinguisher.

Red Bull were still modifying the RB10 with hacksaws this morning, but despite an extra week back at the drawing board, Adrian Newey’s latest creation is still not feeding its Renault V6 enough air.

Newey and the team have been disarmingly frank since abandoning the RB10’s shakedown test early a fortnight ago. While expressing some anxiety over the Renault’s cooling requirement, specifically the charge cooling, Newey admitted he’d been too ambitious with the RB10’s package.

What’s more, Red Bull also owned up to being duped in to continuing to develop last year’s RB9 long after Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus had stopped development of their 2013 cars to concentrate on the new V6 hybrids. Mea culpas all round, then.

And on day one at Bahrain, Vettel managed just 14 laps, over 50 laps short of the pace-setters. And set the pace the quick guys did today. Two weeks ago the drivers were whining that the new cars weren’t fast enough, today Nico Hulkenberg recorded no less than three laps quicker than the fastest lap in last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

These cars, don’t forget, have had their downforce significantly reduced, mostly thanks to changes in the regulations regarding the rear wing and the diffuser.

Demonstrating once again that a Mercedes V6 is what you want in the back of your F1 car this year, three of the four fastest laps were set by Mercedes-engined cars, only Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari F-14T splitting Hamilton (Mercedes, third fastest) and Magnussen (McLaren, fourth) from The Hulk’s flying Force India.

Mind you, Alonso was nearly a second slower than Hulk. And yes, this is of course testing and Hamilton was one of many who went out of his way to explain that the team wasn’t going for times.

But still there is a definitive dividing line between those teams (the Merc teams plus Ferrari) who are ‘testing’ in the conventional sense, fine-tuning their cars, and those for whom testing means ‘just getting the thing to work at all’. Those are the Renault teams, led of course by the embattled Red Bull.

Joining their ranks today, having failed to make the first test at all, were Lotus and their odd-looking, asymmetrically nosed E22.

In the mitts of Romain Grosjean (well, you wouldn’t hand your brand new car to Pastor Maldonado, would you?), the team ‘enjoyed’ pretty much the same experience as all Renault-engined runners have so far this year: a challenging first day with just eight laps (Hulk managed seventy-eight) completed and no representative time set.

Still, that was better than managed by Felipe Massa in what will soon be the Martini-Williams-Mercedes FW36 (five laps, no time) and Jules Bianchi in the Marussia-Ferrari (three laps, no time). Massa’s miserable day will be a blow to Williams, who ended the Jerez test on top.

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