The third 2014 Formula One preseason test at the Bahrain International Circuit is the final chance for the teams to iron out their reliability gremlins before the first race of the year.
Of those, there are many.
It's also a chance for us fans to get one last look at which teams are setting the pace. Can Mercedes stay on top, or have Ferrari been hiding the pace of their car?
Red Bull badly need to get some decent running under their belts, while Lotus will be eager to build upon the green shoots of recovery we saw on the final day of the second test.
And don't forget the battle at the back of the grid.
The test starts on Thursday, and it runs for four days. Here's what to watch out for.
Some teams, like Mercedes and McLaren, have already done at least one race simulation.
Others (looking at you, Renault guys) haven't even come close. Red Bull, for example, haven't done more than 12 consecutive laps.
This is the last chance those teams will get before the Australian Grand Prix weekend starts a little over two weeks from now. If anyone goes into the race without doing at least one full race sim, they're in serious trouble.
And we'll finally—if anyone is nice enough to release a huge pile of data—get some idea of where each team is on long-run pace.
The cars are still in preseason development, so we should see some major aerodynamic updates appear in time for the third test.
But unless a team decides to switch nose design or make significant changes to an area like the rear wing mounting, it'll be difficult for an untrained (and even a semi-trained) eye to spot the differences.
Look closely at the front wing endplates and elements, brake ducts, turning vanes (around the floor section at the front of the car), rear wings and perhaps the rear suspension. Someone might roll out a copy of the McLaren layout.
Maybe the Red Bull will have a new engine cover with a bit more space at the rear.
Or perhaps the Caterham will get a new nose. We can but dream...
Caterham had a good second test in terms of mileage covered, but the car is a little bit on the slow side.
Kobayashi told reporters in Bahrain:
We are not at race pace. In race condition at the moment we should bring a GP2 car—it is like that, the lap time is similar to GP2. We have so many car problems and we need to do a lot of work. If we had to race now, I think, it [the car] is not [at] F1 [level].
It's an ideal situation for Marussia to capitalise and take an early lead, but they have their own issues. They completed just 21 laps in the second test in Bahrain, to add to the 30 they did in Jerez.
That's a total of just 51 across eight days, which equates to around 81 percent of a race distance.
The Russian squad have the best powertrain of the two (a Ferrari, versus the Caterham's Renault) at the moment and therefore the most potential to have a strong start to the season, but the new components they're bringing have to work.
Otherwise, it looks like being another pointless season for the "new teams."
Of all the
engines powertrains, the Mercedes has had the most high-power running. The Ferrari is second, with the Renault bringing up the rear.
Lotus apparently ran the Renault at full power on the final day of the second test, and Pastor Maldonado's best time was 5.424 seconds slower than Nico Rosberg's.
The Mercedes had a lower fuel load and softer tyres but unless the Lotus is a slow car that still seems too big a gap.
So perhaps, with all the complexity of the energy recovery systems and batteries and the like, "full power" isn't as simple as it sounds. Or maybe Maldonado was just taking it easy in the corners.
Whatever the reason for the slow(ish) time, we'll definitely see some more representative running at the third test. This will give us a reasonable idea of how good, or bad, the Renault powertrain is going to be early in the year.
This is something that even the one or two TV cameras present will pick up, because they'll take place at the end of the pit lane.
The start is the most important part of any race, so all the teams will need to do these—it's no use discovering a critical problem in Friday practice in Melbourne and not having time to fix it.
Some teams have already done a few, others have not.
Most interesting here will be stationary time, if they decide to see how their cars will do under a normal race start procedure. With cooling so marginal on so many of the cars, having to sit still for almost a minute might be a problem.
Especially for the Renault teams.
Race simulations and general slow running is all well and good but in testing nothing beats a low-fuel, new-tyre qualifying simulation.
Mercedes are the only team to have done this properly so far. Or rather, they hopefully are—if anyone else has done it, they didn't do a very good job.
Of most interest will be the runs of McLaren, Ferrari, Williams and Force India. They seem to be the closest challengers to Mercedes at the moment.
Even Red Bull might have a go.
Not much change to their schedule will be needed, as it seems like they've been doing one out-lap, one flying lap and one in-lap over and over for eight days now...
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