Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes ended pre-season testing in ominously potent style today, with the Briton topping the times in Bahrain, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso. But Hamilton did not eclipse the fastest time of the winter, set by Felipe Massa on Day 3 in 1m 33.258s
With only 12 days now remaining until the new 1.6 litre turbo-charged engines are fired up for the first free practice session in Melbourne, today offered the teams their final chance to confirm reliability and assess short run pace, and in those regards there were varying degrees of success and failure.
Hamilton spent much of the morning out of his Mercedes W05 as another gearbox problem delayed the team’s plans, but with installation laps prior to the lunch break and a series of longer runs this afternoon, the final hour of his test programme focused on shorter stints.
A lap of 1:33.278 on used soft tyres saw the 2008 World Champion snatch the fastest time away from Williams’ Bottas in that hour, taking 0.7s off the Finn’s time, also set on soft tyres. Hamilton then returned to the pits for a set of Pirelli’s super soft tyres and the prospect of seeing Mercedes’ true pace in the final 30 minutes of the day.
However, after posting the fastest first sector seen across the eight days in Bahrain, Hamilton then backed off and made no improvement in his pacesetting time.
Williams have enjoyed the highest level of reliability throughout the pre-season but their previously perfect record of zero on-track stoppages was ended today, though in the end it was only a minor blot on their testing copybook. Bottas followed Felipe Mass’s lead from Saturday by heading the times at the lunch break and remaining there this afternoon, only for a break down on the pit straight to require some behind the scenes work.
After two difficult years, in which Pastor Maldonado’s 2012 Spanish GP victory was the lone success, Williams’ current form looks very strong. A neat car that works well in both fast and slow corners is aided by the Mercedes engine, which has proved to be the power-unit of choice.
With the final day seeing eight red flags, a 25-minute extension to running was granted, and that conveniently allowed for use of the flood lights that will be used for this year’s running of the grand prix. The lights have, of course, been used previously, at the final round of last year’s World Endurance Championship.
During the time extension, Alonso set Ferrari’s quickest time of these Bahrain tests, using a set of supersoft tyres to post a lap one second adrift of Hamilton’s best on used soft tyres. The F14T was the cause of one red flag but still managed 74 laps.
The 12 days of testing have been painful but informative for Red Bull Racing as they have battled with a catalogue of problems. After a nightmare day three this week, during which the team failed to complete a single lap, today ran more smoothly, with Sebastian Vettel added 77 laps. The day still wasn’t without it’s problems, however, and after a positive morning session, during which Vettel completed 40 laps, a rumoured brake failure pitched him in to a spin upon entry to the first corner – now named in honour of Michael Schumacher.
With the issue resolved after lunch, the final four hours ran smoothly and with a 100km filming day taking place in Bahrain on Monday, the Milton Keynes have another valuable change to add miles to the RB10 before their cargo is shipped to Melbourne.
It was also an improved day for Sauber, who yesterday managed just one lap after a fire surrounded the rear of the car. Adrian Sutil took the wheel of the C33 this morning due to his lack of running yesterday before handing the car over to Esteban Gutierrez. With 91 laps completed before lunch and a time quick enough for sixth best, the afternoon saw a further 86 laps from the young Mexican.
Lotus had another troubled day with Romain Grosjean bringing out the red flag twice, eventually leading to the team calling it a day for the third time this week. An electrical issue disrupted this morning’s running only for a fire to put a halt to the afternoon’s plans.
According to data from Pirelli the total testing distance completed so far this year, combining Jerez and both Bahrain tests is 7,099 laps and 36,974 kilometres. This time last year, the teams had completed 10,902 laps and 49,942 kilometres of pre-season testing (Jerez and two Barcelona tests 2013 combined).
They also have posted that the performance difference between the tyre compounds are approximately as follows: the supersoft is around 0.7s per lap faster than the soft, the soft is around 1.3-1.5s per lap quicker than the medium, and the medium is around 1.3-1.5s per lap quicker than the hard.
The tyre compound choices for the first four Grand Prix are therefore as follows:
Australia MEDIUM and SOFT
Malaysia HARD and MEDIUM
Bahrain MEDIUM and SOFT
China MEDIUM and SOFT
Bahrain Test Two; Day Four Times
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.278s 69 laps
2. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.987s +0.709s 108 laps
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.280s +1.002s 74 laps
4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.577s +2.299s 74 laps
5. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:35.701s +2.423s 74 laps
6. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m36.467s +3.189s 91 laps
7. Max Chilton Marussia 1m36.835s +3.557s 61 laps
8. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m37.303s +4.025s 86 laps
9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1m37.468s +4.190s 77 laps
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1m38.111s +4.833s 22 laps
11. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m38.391s +5.113s 106 laps
12. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m39.302s +6.024s 32 laps