Force India driver finishes on top of Day One at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Wed 19.02.14, 7:07PM
Formula One moved away from Spain for its second group test of the off-season but the picture looked little different to that which emerged in Jerez. Once again Mercedes power dominated both lap times and mileage, while the Renault teams suffered at the other end of the scale.
It was, however, a different name at the top of the leaderboard today with Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg taking the honours with a time of 1:36.880s. Significant for those troubled by the apparent speed-deficit of the new cars in Jerez, this was a tenth of a second quicker than Sebastian Vettel’s fastest lap of the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Vettel himself was on the roster for Red Bull, while Fernando Alonso was driving Ferrari’s F14T. Mercedes had Lewis Hamilton in their seat, Kevin Magnussen was appearing for McLaren, Felipe Massa for Williams, Robin Frijns for Caterham and Adrian Sutil for Sauber. Jules Bianchi would be driving for Marussia and Daniil Kvyat for Toro Rosso.
“The first gut feeling from the car is OK, but we need more running. It’s not easy to find a quick fix, but I think we understand the problems."
The most eagerly anticipated car, however, was the twin-tusked Lotus E22, which would be given its public debut by Romain Grosjean. The car had run privately at Jerez last week where it completed its maximum allowable filming mileage. This therefore was not quite the step into the unknown other teams took with their launch car.
After the initial interest in the new Lotus, attention switched back to Renault’s other elite outfit. As the morning wore on the non-appearance of Red Bull’s RB10 increasingly became the talking point. The team gave little away, saying simply that the car was having parts fitted – but the car did not emerge from the garage until well into the afternoon. It looked to be in better shape than had been the case in Jerez, with Vettel immediately setting competitive times – but the car ground to a halt in the final hour with only 14 laps on the board.
“Obviously we’re not happy with where we are now and we have a long way ahead of us,” said the World Champion afterwards. “The first gut feeling from the car is OK, but we need more running. It’s not easy to find a quick fix, but I think we understand the problems. We sorted out the issues from Jerez and we were able to do some laps today. However, very often you fix one problem and another pops up, which is what happened. That’s testing.”
Elsewhere it was Mercedes engines setting the pace. The 0900 scheduled start passed with the pitlane light still resolutely red as the circuit struggled to get sufficient marshals into position – but once they were ready the red flag was waved almost immediately as Alonso left the garage with a smoking Ferrari. The first timed lap of the day was a 1:48.710 set by Sutil shortly after 1000, though a more realistic benchmark of 1:41.750 was recorded by Lewis Hamilton half an hour later. Hamilton was also the first driver below the 1m40s mark, setting a time of 1:39.573 at 1130. This did not stand for long as Kevin Magnussen began to push McLaren’s MP4/29 and dropped the target time to 1:39.266 a few minutes later.
Sutil spun his Sauber as the unofficial lunch break approached, causing the second red flag of the session. In Jerez he had reported a struggle to get a feel for the new brake-by-wire system in use this year and this again was an issue. It did not cause Sauber major inconvenience, however, and Sutil’s final tally of 82 laps was the best of the day.
When the circuit reopened it was Hamilton again at the head of things, lowering his best to 1:39.153, though Magnussen was the first driver to break through the 1m39s barrier with a lap of 1:38.295 set just after 1400. Hamilton continued their exchange by going under 1m38 with a lap of 1:37.908 a few minutes later.
Daniil Kvyat was the final runner to appear with the Toro Rosso STR9 emerging from the garage for the first time with two hours of running time remaining. The Russian managed a few laps before coming to a halt out on circuit, causing a third red flag of the session.
“Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day."
Alongside the two Red Bull teams, others lacking mileage on Day One were Lotus, for whom issues with their energy store restricted Grosjean to just eight laps, Marussia who suffered a problem they described as ‘IT-related’ and Williams, who had a malfunctioning fuel system.
Things were much better at Force India. Hülkenberg had been in touch with the times of Magnussen and Hamilton for most of the day but rocketed ahead as the running entered its final two hours. He leapt to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:37.155 and then improved to become the first driver under 1m37s, setting his best time of 1:36.953 at 1514. The German driver, however, placed more significance of the 78 laps he accumulated and the trouble-free heavy fuel runs Force India were able to conduct.
“Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day. That gave me a chance to see how the car behaves and to start getting a feel for it, which was not something I was able to do in Jerez.”
Testing continues tomorrow.
2014 first Bahrain test day one – unofficial times
1 Nico Hülkenberg Force India 1:36.880s 78 laps
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.879s +0.999s 64 laps
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.908s +1.028s 74 laps
4 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:38.295s +1.415s 81 laps
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:40.224s +3.344s 14 laps
6 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:40.443s +3.563s 82 laps
7 Robin Frijns Caterham 1:42.534s +5.654s 68 laps
8 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:44.346s +7.466s 5 laps
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:44.832s +7.952s 8 laps
10 Felipe Massa Williams no time 5 laps
11 Jules Bianchi Marussia no time 3 laps