Out in Australia, the F1 community appears to be preparing for some kind of apocalypse.
The Sunday Afternoon Club wasn’t planning on hitting the sofa until the early hours of Friday morning (FP1 kicks off at 0130 hours on Sky and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra), but the drama appears to be kicking off already.
Word in the pitlane is that teams might boycott FP3 on Saturday to ensure their cars are running for qualifying. Charlie Whiting has informed teams there may be flexibility around the 107 per cent qualifying rule, i.e. that cars clocking a qualifying lap over seven per cent slower than the pole time might still be allowed to start, but absolutely none on the 100kg fuel limit.
That’s about 135 litres of fuel, meaning cars will need to average around 6mpg. If they don’t, they won’t make it to the end of the race. It’s not yet clear if any car on the grid can average 6mpg.
Whiting has made it clear that if all the cars do retire, then the race will be stopped.
Oh dear. How did we get to here? Well, it’s all about those complex little so-and-sos, the MGU-H and MGU-K. The first transmits the energy from the spinning turbo right back in to the engine’s crank via the latter, which also gathers energy from the brakes and engine braking.
Surplus electrical energy is stored in a battery, and can be deployed for potential saving of two seconds a lap. Getting it all to work together alongside a new V6 1.6-litre engine has proved a headache for all the teams since February.
Some, of course, more than others. Dramatically so. The top five teams each covered over 2500 miles of testing: Mercedes managed over 3000 miles, with Nico Rosberg clocking 1800 miles and Lewis Hamilton 1300.
That’s why Mercedes start this weekend as favourites. Regardless of pace — and the new W05 has plenty — the team simply has more experience of the new powertrain.
The three teams with the lowest off-season mileage covered less than 1300 miles each, and include, of course, Red Bull. The team barely topped 1000 miles, with Ricciardo recording 525 miles and Vettel 538 miles.
That’s comfortably more than a Grand Prix distance — around 200 miles — but neither Vettel nor Ricciardo managed more than 60 miles in a single run before the Red Bull RB10 broke down, seemingly a victim of its capricious Renault engine compounded by Adrian Newey’s aggressive packaging.
When it comes to reliability, then, the Mercedes teams (McLaren, Williams, Force India and Mercedes itself) look much in better shape than the Renault teams (Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Lotus and Caterham).
The Ferrari teams (Sauber, Marussia, and the Scuderia) are somewhere in the middle, led by the ‘works’ cars. Ferrari’s F14-T covered the third greatest number of laps, while Fernando Alonso was only out-miled by Nico Rosberg.
But what about pace? As we said yesterday, the cars — with 60 per cent more torque than last year, remember — are proving almost as quick as 2013’s more ‘downforce-y’ cars, although they do have wider rear tyres. Indeed they might be as fast: most teams seem to think Mercedes didn’t show their true speed. Keep that in mind, then, when you read the following list.
Assuming no team could resist the urge to run on minimal fuel and strap on some soft rubber (and that’s a big assumption) the pecking order after 12 days of testing ran thus: Williams, Mercedes, Ferrari, Force India, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, McLaren, Sauber, Marussia, Caterham and Lotus.
That is, of course, solely based on the fastest laps recorded over the last four days of testing at Bahrain. Don’t expect the grid to line up like that, but it does at least show that the Red Bull isn’t too slow when it works, and that McLaren might not have made the progress the team had at first hoped.
The Lotus E22 was six seconds slower than the Williams FW36.
If you want some sort of steer as to what might happen in qualifying in Melbourne, maybe you need to correlate those times with the reliability league (Merc, Williams, Ferrari, McLaren, Sauber, Force India, Caterham, TR, RBR, Marussia, Lotus) and then factor in relative driver ability.
As to what might happen on Sunday… well, we stick by what we said yesterday — anything might happen.
In any case, here are the best times from the final four days of testing in Bahrain.
1. Massa, Williams: 1:33.258
2. Hamilton, Mercedes: 1:33.278
3. Rosberg, Mercedes: 1:33.484
4. Bottas, Williams: 1:33.987
5. Alonso, Ferrari: 1:34.280
6. Perez, Force India: 1:35.290
7. Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:35.426
8. Hulkenberg, Force India: 1:35.577
9. Vergne, Toro Rosso: 1:35.701
10. Ricciardo, Red Bull: 1:35.743
11. Magnussen, McLaren: 1:35.894
12. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: 1:36.113
13. Sutil, Sauber: 1:36.467
14. Chilton, Marussia: 1:36.835
15. Button, McLaren: 1:36.901
16. Bianchi, Marussia: 1:37.087
17. Gutierrez, Sauber: 1:37.303
18. Vettel, Red Bull: 1:37.468
19. Ericsson, Caterham: 1:38.083
20. Kobayashi, Caterham: 1:38.391
21. Grosjean, Lotus: 1:39.302
22. Maldonado, Lotus: 1:40.599