Somewhere out there this evening Ross Brawn and Martin Whitmash, the former Team Principals of AMG Mercedes and McLaren Mercedes, are nursing a half pint and whole lot of bitter.
The teams they used to run and were evicted from at the end of last year/start of this are right now in a class of their own with two thirds of the permitted pre- season testing completed and a Grand Prix just three weeks tomorrow. You don’t get to be three and two seconds quicker than everyone else without a lot of planning, so here’s to you Ross and you Martin; sometime last year you made all the right calls.
“Testing shmesting” you say, but this year is different. To understand how different you only need take a look at Red Bull, the team that has dominated F1 for the last four and half years, the All Blacks of Grand Prix motor racing. Today in Bahrain as it has been every day since Wednesday, Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo just could not get their new car, the RB10, to work. At all. It managed just 15 laps before the team was obliged to throw the towel in early. Again.
In four days in Spain and four in Bahrain Red Bull have managed less than 20 per cent of the testing mileage Mercedes has now logged. And miles matter this year. The cars the teams (most of them) brought to Jerez were insanely new to them, and barely any less so this week at Sakhir. The two tests to date are not about making the cars go fast so much as just making them go. Indeed Mercedes, who look in a different league to the others — Nico Rosberg recording a fastest time today less than a second off his pole pace in last year’s Bahraini GP to put his name at the very top of the week’s victor ludorum ahead of Lewis Hamilton — weren’t able to complete the day’s schedule as the W05 broke.
The lesson being if your car is not running cleanly now, you are days, weeks behind the others. There is so much still left unticked on the to do list. And it will only get harder to catch up once the season starts.
Mercedes and McLaren will then start the Australian Grand Prix as favourites. Here are the best times across all four days.
1 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:33.283
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:34.263
3 Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:34.910
4 Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) 1.34.957
5 Nico Hulkenberg (Force India-Mercedes) 1.36.444
6 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:36.516
7 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:36.718
8 Felipe Massa (Williams-Mercedes) 1:37.066
9 Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:37.180
10 Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Mercedes) 1:37.328
11 Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes) 1:37.367
12 Felipe Nasr (Williams-Mercedes) 1:37.569
13 Pastor Maldonado (Lotus-Renault) 1:38.707
14 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso-Renault) 1:38.974
15 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Renault) 1:39.837
16 Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham-Renault) 1:39.885
17 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 1:40.340
18 Adrian Sutil (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:40.443
19 Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) 1:40.609
20 Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) 1:41.670
21 Marcus Ericson (Caterham-Renault) 1:42.130
22 Max Chilton (Marussia-Ferrari) 1:42.511
23 Robin Frijns (Caterham-Renault) 1:42.534
(A couple of unfamiliar names there for some; Brazilian GP2 driver Felipe Nasr was confusingly named today as support driver for Bottas and, er, Felipe Massa at Williams. Dutchman Robin Frijns was named Caterham’s reserve last month).
For reference, pole time (Rosberg) at Bahrain last year was 1:32.330, fastest race lap (Vettel) was 1:36.961 on lap 55 of 57. The four Mercedes teams (Merc’, Mac, Force India and Williams) are, with the exception of Ferrari, ahead of the others.
Among the Renault teams (Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Lotus) Pastor Maldonado put Clarkson’s local Enstone team ahead of the others, but that only happened today, when the team managed what is — for a Renault team an almost respectable — 59 laps. Other Renault teams were less successful; Red Bull managed 15, Toro Rosso 17, Caterham 21.
The fastest cars are, almost without exception, the cars that have recorded the highest mileage and while you would be brave to rule Red Bull out, Adrian Newey is plain running out of time to fix the RB10. He will be ruing his teams’ decision to keep pushing and pushing the development of the RB9 last year at at time when it was comfortably ahead of the competition. A fact that can’t have escaped the attention of Mssrs Brawn and Whitmarsh.