Formula 1 Pre-Season Testing: 6 Observations from Day 1 at Bahrain
Testing has resumed ahead of the 2014 Formula One season, and so too must the pre-season observations.
It's notoriously difficult to ascertain exactly how the teams are faring this far out from the first race weekend, but it doesn't make it not worth trying to do so.
Teams are not yet necessarily pushing for pure speed, focusing instead on reliability. And those with a little something extra up their sleeves are likely to keep it just there—up their sleeves and out of sight of their rivals.
Day 1 in Bahrain told us plenty after a painful two-week wait from the tests in Jerez—so here we round up the observations and conclusions.
Agree or disagree, we welcome your comments below.
Red Bull Are Still in a Mess
Red Bull were the story of the Jerez test after Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and the team endured four miserable days where they barely ran.
There was optimism that things would improve by Bahrain, but 14 laps on Day 1 at the Sakhir International Circuit was not that proof.
Instead, it was more frustration, drip by agonising drip:
Five hours of waiting before the car could even hit the track.
A miserable end to the afternoon with Vettel holding a fire extinguisher to his own car.
It summed it up perfectly.
Reliability issues are a new challenge for Red Bull after one of the most trustworthy cars in history last season:
Vettel retired once last year. In that race he covered more laps than in three days of testing so far. #uselessfacts— Pablo Elizalde (@EliGP) February 19, 2014
Time is running out to crack them.
All Mercedes Teams Have an Advantage, but Not Mercedes Specifically
Mercedes clearly are more reliable than Ferrari and Renault at present.
In terms of sheer numbers of laps completed in testing so far, the numbers, as Sky Sports record them, make for great reading if you've got a Mercedes engine:
Total pre-season laps by each engine manufacturer
But it's not just Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg who have that advantage over the field—the other Mercedes customers are in good shape too. Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time in a Mercedes-powered Force India on Day 1—and it was a team and a time to take notice of.
McLaren are also running smoothly and look a far cry from the team who made a mess of their 2013 campaign.
Maybe the Cars Aren't so Slow After All?
There's been talk about the speed of the cars after this year's revamped rules kicked into action.
Our own columnist Matthew Walthert provided an interesting breakdown after Jerez of just how much the times had dropped off between 2013 and 2014 testing.
But he also concluded in that piece that the gap in Jerez was unlikely to remain so vast, and Bahrain provided the first evidence that this was the case.
As Andrew Benson of the BBC noted of Hulkenberg's lap time:
For all those who've bought the scaremongering that this year's cars will be too slow, the Hulk is faster than last year's race fastest lap— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) February 19, 2014
Comparing fuel loads, tyres and overall race conditions would be a fruitless exercise, but it's certainly a sign that the teams are getting closer to extracting maximum performance from their cars.
Lotus Are Some Way Behind Their Rivals
The car's out of the garage? Good.
The car's ninth on the timesheets and managed just eight timed laps? Less so.
Lotus are at least up and running, but the cost of missing the opening four days in Jerez is self-evident.
There are only 12 days to get the car right before the Australian Grand Prix, and Lotus have deprived themselves of a third of them.
The team principal of last season, Eric Boullier, was busy surveilling his new McLaren team for the first time today, as if to underline the turbulent winter Lotus have had.
Budget issues, staff issues and more—the odds against them being the fourth-strongest team, as they were in 2013, are mounting.
Kevin Magnussen Doesn't Look Much Like a Rookie
When McLaren entrust one of their two race seats to a rookie driver, the comparisons to Lewis Hamilton are inevitable.
Big teams simply don't tend to take that sort of chance, but McLaren have a very high-profile example of it working, when Hamilton matched then-world champion Fernando Alonso race-for-race in the 2007 season.
Kevin Magnussen, just 21, appears to be taking it all in his stride.
He put 81 incident-free laps Wednesday, complementing his fastest lap time in the Jerez test.
If his race temperament is as good as this and the car continues to be one of the quicker ones (admittedly two big ifs), there's no reason Magnussen won't be fighting for race wins immediately.
Bahrain's Hosting Skills Under Scrutiny
Bahrain's position in the F1 calendar is under enough scrutiny as it is, with the political situation in the country rearing its head every time the F1 circus comes to town.
A testing session with the cameras largely kept away is different—and there is not the same level of media spotlight this time around.
However, that simply threw the spotlight onto their organisation instead.
The opening day was delayed by half an hour over a marshalling mix-up:
Due to the late start because of insufficient marshalls, the session has been extended until 2.30 UK time. #F1— Formula 1 Right Now (@F1RightNow) February 19, 2014
Yes, in one sense it mattered little, with the time lost simply added to the end of the day.
But on the other hand, it's just awfully clumsy, especially in a sport where marshalling is essential for safety's sake and the expectation is that things run like clockwork.