Formula One's biggest names have just a fortnight of preparation left until the 2014 season gets underway, and this week brings about the final pre-season test in Bahrain.
Manufacturers have the opportunity to showcase their newest, cutting-edge toys, while drivers both old and new will be going through their final paces ahead of the latest F1 campaign.
Force India's Sergio Perez went around the Bahrain course fastest on the opening day, setting a high standard at the first time of asking, but is it a standard that he can keep up as the days drag on?
Read on for day-by-day updates from Bahrain, including fastest times, reports and all the latest drama.
The final day of testing before the 2014 F1 season begins in earnest was blighted by eight red flags, neatly indicating that reliability will be perhaps the crucial factor when racing begins in Australia in two weeks from now.
Race Control: I can confirm the red flags are working. We needn't test them any more. Thank you.— Fake Charlie Whiting (@charlie_whiting) March 2, 2014
Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time of the day in the Mercedes, narrowly behind the mark set yesterday by Felipe Massa's Williams, and underlining the advantage Mercedes-powered cars seem to have enjoyed all winter.
That said, it has not been smooth sailing for the German marque, who even on the final day spent the morning in the garage with an issue.
Behind Hamilton on the timesheets were Valtteri Bottas in the Williams, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg of Force India.
Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull was well down the standings on time, but at least he was able to put in more than 60 laps, a far cry from yesterday's aborted effort.
Seb's back out this afternoon. The front end mechanical problem has been resolved. 57 laps done so far today... pic.twitter.com/jD4ChSf5oR— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 2, 2014
It came despite a spin, another red flag incident that in total saw time added on at the end of the session. Whether the teams wanted another 25 minutes or another week is another question.
In Red Bull's case, they at least have the benefit of a filming day on Monday.
So, pre-season testing ends with Mercedes on top. Except it's not quite the end - Red Bull have a 100km "filming day" in Bahrain on Monday— Andrew Benson (@andrewbensonf1) March 2, 2014
Here are the final lap times and details from the test, as recorded by Autosport:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m33.278s 69 2. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m33.987s +0.709s 108 3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.280s +1.002s 74 4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m35.577s +2.299s 74 5. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Renault 1m35.701s +2.423s 74 6. Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.467s +3.189s 91 7. Max Chilton Marussia-Ferrari 1m36.835s +3.557s 61 8. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.303s +4.025s 86 9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m37.468s +4.190s 77 10. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.111s +4.833s 22 11. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1m38.391s +5.113s 106 12. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m39.302s +6.024s 32
Sebastian Vettel returned to the Red Bull and managed just an installation lap all day as the champions' problems returned with a vengeance on Day 3.
It looked as if the Red Bull Renault was turning a corner in the final pre-season test, but the failings for the German represented a huge setback.
According to BBC reporter Tom Clarkson, there were two separate issues affecting Vettel's day:
A battery problem stopped Vettel this morning and as the team fired up the RB10 to send him out again at 3pm local time, they discovered another problem. They wouldn't confirm what this secondary problem was, only that it will prevent any further running today. That points to an issue either within the power unit or the gearbox.
Meanwhile further up the grid Felipe Massa topped the timesheets in the Williams, underlining another encouraging set of numbers for the team.
His 1:33.258 was the quickest lap seen in seven days of testing in Bahrain so far.
Mercedes had to change an engine but Nico Rosberg was still busy out on track, posting the second-quickest time of the day, well ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and the rest, a couple of seconds adrift.
With plenty of incident and issues for drivers to resolve, the debate on how ready the teams will be for the first race of the season in two weeks time continued.
Maritn Brundle, Sky Sports F1 commentator and former driver, asked:
The Oz GP in Melbourne is going to be utterly crazy it seems. My money is on Mercedes, Bernd Maylander is very quick in that safety car :))— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) March 1, 2014
There is just one more day for the drivers and teams to fine-tune on the track.
Here are the day's times, as recorded by Autosport:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps 1. Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m33.258s 99 2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.484s +0.226s 103 3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m35.426s +2.168s 87 4. Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.894s +2.636s 88 5. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m36.113s +2.855s 81 6. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m36.205s +2.947s 115 7. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Ferrari 1m37.087s +3.829s 78 8. Marcus Ericsson Caterham-Renault 1m38.083s +4.825s 117 9. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m42.166s +8.908s 33 10. Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1 11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 0
Sergio Perez once again went fastest on Day 2 of Bahrain testing with a run of one minute and 35.570 seconds.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso also posted a useful session, coming in narrowly behind the Force India man in one minute and 35.634
Here is a list of the day's fastest times posted by Sky Sports F1:
|Sergio Perez||Force India||102||1:35.570|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||66||1:35.743|
|Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||61||1:39.636|
Lewis Hamilton's day was ended early by gearbox trouble. However, he still managed a useful 89 laps of the track, the same as his teammate Nico Rosberg on Thursday.
Hamilton was seventh fastest overall and found himself struggling to match the pace of Jenson Button's McLaren.
Daniel Ricciardo looked impressive behind the wheel of his new Red Bull and posted the third fastest time of the day. Mark Webber's replacement looked composed and confident.
Caterham had an eventful day on the track as their time was ended prematurely.
They tweeted: "A technical issue caused a fire which was quickly put out and the car's now back in the garage being stripped so we can identify the problem."
Perez went around the Bahrain track in a time of one minute and 35.290 seconds in the morning session on Thursday, a time that no other driver managed to best throughout the day's trials.
The Mexican managed an average speed of almost two kilometres per hour faster than his nearest rival, as is shown by Formula Fans on Twitter:
Teams powered by Mercedes engines were among the most prominent members on the circuit, with only Kevin Magnussen of McLaren Mercedes and Williams' Valtteri Bottas registering more laps than Perez.
Aero work and dynamism were among the priorities for some teams, with Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari going through some issues with his new F14 T in the morning session.
As the Sky Sports F1 account shows, Ferrari's new design includes a flashy variation on the wing panels:
Daniel Ricciardo managed just 39 laps on Day 1 of Bahrain's preparations, 32 of which came in the day's early hours before an overheating issue meant that the driver was forced to retire until the final moments of the afternoon's practice.
Formula One journalist Jordan Irvine confirmed that there were still some concerns with the RB10, with time running out before the start of the 2014 campaign:
All in all, the Renault engine-driven cars came closer to the back of the pecking order, with Mercedes' representatives instead taking control of matters on Day 1.