Power Ranking the Formula 1 Teams After Final Bahrain Preseason Test
Formula One's 2014 preseason testing ended on Sunday at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The teams now head halfway across the world to Australia for the opening race of season.
A recurring theme of this winter has been the assertion that no team knows exactly where they are in relation to their rivals. For some, this is no doubt true; for others, it's a little bit of a fib.
Felipe Massa's time of 1 minute, 33.258 seconds was the quickest time of the week, with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg less than one-tenth of a second behind.
But there's more to F1 than raw speed.
Looking at apparent pace, reliability and how confident the teams will be heading to Australia, here's how they rank after the third and final preseason test.
"Previous rank" on each slide refers to where I ranked the team after the first Bahrain test (second overall test). That article is here.
Previous rank: Eighth.
Exactly where Lotus will come out once everyone has their reliability sorted is anyone's guess.
What's certain is that the bullish mood exhibited after the second test has well and truly vanished.
Lotus did the fewest laps of any team in Bahrain (117), and their drivers propped up the timesheets over a second slower than anyone else. In their defence they did less "speed" work than any other team, but that's only because they're so far behind.
Romain Grosjean confirmed the outlook is bleak when he spoke to the press in Bahrain (quoted by NBC):
It’s not going to be perfect for Melbourne, and probably not for Malaysia, but we will do our best and try to do things as good as we can do them to steadily improve everything.
The list is too long to have ticked everything before Melbourne, and in Melbourne we won’t have time to get everything we would like to.
The car looks like it should perform well once everything falls into place. But as Grosjean says, that won't happen for quite a while.
Previous rank: seventh.
Caterham were the Jekyll and Hyde of the final test. The first two days were disappointing and they managed just 73 laps.
On the third day, everything came together and Marcus Ericsson completed 117 much-needed laps in the CT04. Kamui Kobayashi followed this up with 106 laps on Day 4.
Caterham's total of 297 was the best of any Renault-powered team.
But the car is slow, probably the slowest on the grid. The best time set by a Caterham was over a second shy of Marussia's best—which was set by Max Chilton, their lesser driver.
The Anglo-Malaysian outfit know they can run reliably for longer than any other Renault team, but only if they don't go very quickly.
So we'll see a lot of the foulest nose on the grid during the Australian Grand Prix. Sadly for Caterham, every sighting will probably be accompanied by a blue flag.
9. Red Bull
Previous rank: 10th.
Red Bull are fortunate, in a way. It's easier to make an unreliable car reliable than it is to make an uncompetitive car competitive.
Based on appearance, detail and the passable 1:35.743 that Daniel Ricciardo produced, the car is almost certainly as quick, if not quicker, than anything else on the grid. Competitive shouldn't be a problem.
Sadly for them, F1 races are over 300 kilometres in length, and the likelihood of a Red Bull managing even half of that distance in one go is not good. Renault have to shoulder some (perhaps most) of the blame, but a large portion must also lie on the doorstep of the team.
Adrian Newey's quest for aerodynamic perfection contributed to reliability issues for his cars in the past, most notably the MP4-18. You won't find it in any race records—this radical, tightly packaged marvel never started a race.
It also had a new, somewhat cooling-hungry and fragile engine. Sound familiar?
The RB10 won't suffer the same fate, but it could need substantial changes to catch up to the reliability levels Red Bull's rivals already have.
The changes will be made, and they will improve. You'd struggle to find anyone down the pit lane who'd bet against them winning multiple races in 2014. Even the championship is very much a possibility.
But at this moment in time, they're just not ready.
Previous rank: 11th.
Marussia had a wretched second test, but they picked themselves up and made excellent progress in the third.
Their total of 258 laps was the third-lowest, but it's impossible to overstate how important each and every one of those laps was. Before this test began, the Russian team had managed just 51 laps.
The pace was promising too. Max Chilton's 1:36.835 put him in 14th place overall on the timesheets. Jules Bianchi was a few tenths back.
Bianchi told the press after the third day (quoted by Motorsport.com):
I was encouraged by the performance of the car, even at this early stage when we know there is more to come. We will see how things go for the team tomorrow but I feel that we are well-prepared and gaining confidence with our package.
Marussia aren't going to get to Q3 in Australia, and points remain only an outside chance. But F1's smallest team are looking reasonably good at this stage.
7. Toro Rosso
Previous rank: Ninth.
Toro Rosso are probably the best Renault-powered team at the moment.
It's a position they have acquired almost by default. The two teams we would expect to beat them, Lotus and Red Bull, have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot and are weeks behind schedule.
The Italian squad are behind as well, but not as much. Their total of 272 laps was the second-highest of any Renault team.
Their pace isn't awful either—Jean-Eric Vergne broke into the top 10 with a lap of 1:35.701. That's nearly two-and-a-half seconds shy of the week's best time, but quicker than anyone else using the same engine.
Toro Rosso will start the season trailing their traditional midfield rivals, but they are in a good position to catch up once the Renault power train gets up to speed.
Previous rank: Sixth.
So often the team everyone overlooks; Sauber produced a quite remarkable display on the fourth day. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez shared the car, and between them they did 177 laps.
Around the Bahrain track that equates to 958 kilometres—more than three race distances.
Over the four days, Sauber clocked up the third-highest number of laps and will feel relatively confident about their chances of reaching the end of the race in Australia.
But it's worrying that they haven't really shown any speed yet. Adrian Sutil's 1:36.467 was only good enough for 13th overall, and Esteban Gutierrez was slower than Max Chilton's Marussia.
Sauber are certainly in a better position than the Renault-engined teams but a fair distance behind the top five.
They could well spend the Australian Grand Prix in a race of their own.
Previous rank: Third
McLaren have had an unusual preseason.
After a strong start in Jerez and a competitive showing at the first Bahrain test, they've stumbled somewhat and now seem to be lacking a little in both pace and reliability.
The team managed just 271 laps in the final test. That's a lower total than two of the Renault teams and 167 fewer than the most prolific lappers, Williams.
On the timesheets, the best-placed McLaren driver was Kevin Magnussen in 11th. His lap of 1:35.895 was slower than the best times set by Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
They're lagging behind in the development stakes too. Normally a team will bring updates to tests and try lots of new parts, but the MP4-29 ended the final test looking very similar to the launch-spec version.
They did have an upgrade package planned for the last two days in Bahrain, but it didn't arrive on time.
The Australia-spec McLaren will almost certainly be quicker than the one we've seen so far.
But evidence from testing is all we have to work on, and based on that, it's difficult to put them higher than any of the other Mercedes teams.
4. Force India
Previous rank: Fifth
Force India topped the timesheets on the opening two days and completed an impressive 402 laps.
The VJM07 is making the most of its Mercedes engine and the team definitely look in a better shape than they did at the start of 2013.
The only downside is that neither driver set a particularly quick time in Bahrain. Sergio Perez's best was a full two seconds down on Felipe Massa's 1:33.258, and Nico Hulkenberg was three-tenths further back.
It's highly unlikely the real gap is that large, but one has to question why the team didn't do more work on qualifying simulations. Lots of laps are good, but knowing where you are in terms of pure pace is important too.
Nico Hulkenberg, who drove the car on the final day, seemed happy. He told the assembled press in Bahrain (quoted via crash.net):
So it's been two good days for me and I'm feeling pretty satisfied. You always want more time to prepare, but I think we're in good shape. The car has come a long way since the first Jerez test and we have made progress every day.
Fourth for now, but it remains to be seen whether they'll stay there. They could easily go either way.
Previous rank: Fourth
Ferrari's winter was a bit like an #askcrofty session on Sky Sports. Hundreds of questions, but only four or five were answered.
OK, but not spectacular, would be a perfect way of describing what we've seen so far.
They did a total of 337 laps in the final test, placing them fifth of the 11 teams. Most of the reliability issues landed on Kimi Raikkonen's lap, the Finn completing 55 fewer laps than Fernando Alonso.
Moving on to look at pace, the best lap put in by a Ferrari was Alonso's 1:34.280—a second slower than the quickest of the test. Raikkonen was over a second behind.
Maybe they're hiding the true pace of the F14T. Or maybe the car just isn't very good.
On the evidence available so far, they just edge ahead of Force India. But they could easily have been as low as fifth.
Previous rank: Second.
Williams had a great final test. They managed a total of 438 laps over the four days, the best of anyone.
So if we're looking at reliability, Williams are the benchmark—and that's a bit surprising. One would expect that with the new engine regulations coming in, the works teams would have the advantage.
But no. Though they've suffered many of the same gremlins as everyone else, the first time a Williams broke down on the track and caused a red flag was in the very last hour of the last day of testing.
In terms of pure speed, Williams seem to give up a little bit to Mercedes.
Felipe Massa set the best time of anyone in Bahrain, a 1:33.258 on the supersoft tyres. Nico Rosberg set a time in the first test only a few hundredths of a second slower, and he was on the softs.
A gap exists between Mercedes and Williams, but it's not huge. They'll be somewhere near the front in Australia.
Previous rank: First.
Mercedes didn't have a stellar final test. They "only" managed 351 laps, hit several reliability issues and didn't finish up on the timesheets where many expected them to—way out in front.
But everyone else hit problems too. Only one team wouldn't swap their test for that of Mercedes—Williams. And their car doesn't, whatever the timesheets say, have as much raw pace as the W05.
The impression is, and has been for a while, that there's something in reserve with the Mercedes. Nico Rosberg nearly matched Felipe Massa's test-best time of 1:32.258 on a slower tyre compound.
After setting a 1:32.278 on the supersofts, Lewis Hamilton spoke to Sky F1 of his runs:
There's a lot more to come. I did two runs on the supersofts—the first run was not very good, part of the lap was okay but there were a few mistakes, and then the second run was terrible.
Hearing him talk that way about a lap which was so much faster than nearly everyone else must be worrying for the team's rivals.
Mercedes remain favourites.
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