Hamilton goes fastest on day three at Sakhir

Mercedes and Mercedes power dominate times and mileage at the Bahrain International Circuit

Another day of Formula One’s winter programme, another chance for the Mercedes-powered teams to underline their perceived advantage. Lewis Hamilton was back in action for the works team, and set the fastest time of the test so far with a lap of 1:34.263. Mercedes customers were right behind him on the timesheet with McLaren second fastest and Williams third. McLaren’s Jenson Button managed 103 laps on his first day of testing in Bahrain, though it was Williams who managed the most laps of the day, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completing 115 laps between them.

Given the first day of the test had been a washout for Williams, when a wiring loom problem restricting Massa to only a handful of laps, the team today decided to split their running with Bottas working in the morning and the Brazilian in the afternoon. Bottas managed 55 laps in the morning, worthy of note because he didn’t set a time. Williams had announced from the outset they were planning to concentrate on pitstop practice and procedures today, and so the Finn spend his morning doing out-lap, in-lap runs and Massa continued the practice in the afternoon. History suggests a team begins this work when it is satisfied its immediate testing objectives have been achieved.

"The car seems to be responding well to my style of driving and the power unit is looking promising."
Lewis Hamilton

On that basis Red Bull will not be practicing pitstops in the immediate future. Daniel Ricciardo was back in the car and had expressed high hopes of a solid day’s running after Sebastian Vettel’s 59 laps yesterday. It wasn’t to be, however, as the Australian only ran in the morning. After a slightly late start the RB10 ran consistently in the opening hours but engineers decided to call a halt to their programme during the lunch break when planned work to change the car uncovered what the team later described as ‘a mechanical issue that we hadn’t encountered before.’ This necessitated taking the car apart and Ricciardo did not appear again.

“It was going OK,” he said. “Obviously, I would have liked to do more this afternoon but we still have tomorrow ahead of us and it’s important to be ready for that. The car is definitely making progress though. It’s coming together bit by bit. We’d love a big chunk all at once but obviously that’s not the way these things work, so we have to be a bit patient for now.”

Marussia were another team having a bad day. Max Chilton set a time in the early running before grinding to a halt with the MR03 smoking. After being recovered to the pits, Marussia announced they had discovered an engine ‘anomaly’ and decided to install a fresh engine in the car. With just four laps on the board that was the last time they were seen on track.

Elsewhere, Esteban Gutiérrez continued for Sauber and finished the day fourth fastest, having completed 96 laps. Sergio Pérez had his first run in Bahrain for Force India and finished fifth fastest, while Ferrari rotated their world champions and put Kimi Räikkönen in the car after two days of Fernando Alonso. Daniil Kyvat came back for Toro Rosso and Pastor Maldonado got his first public run in the Lotus E22. Finally, Marcus Ericsson made it three drivers in three days for Caterham.

"We’d love a big chunk all at once but obviously that’s not the way these things work, so we have to be a bit patient for now.”
Daniel Ricciardo
Gutiérrez was the first driver to set a time, 1:40.865 the benchmark. He continued and dropped that to 1:40.261 before Chilton’s red flag halted proceedings for half an hour. At the restart Button briefly held top spot before Hamilton went faster, initially with a lap of 1:35.828 and then 1:35.505 later in the run. Hamilton’s morning run plan was built around short runs on the softer tyres and he continued to improve. His next run moved him further ahead with a lap of 1:34.813 two hours into the session – the best of the week up to that point. Half an hour later he recorded a time of 1:34.263 that would remained top of the leader board for the rest of the day.

In the afternoon Mercedes attempted a race simulation but a suspected hydraulic issue caused the Brackley team to interrupt it. Hamilton, though, professed himself happy with the day’s work: “It was nice to be able to put together a good lap today because generally speaking there seems to be less grip available than last year. I'm looking forward to completing a race simulation next week as we didn't quite get to finish it today. The car seems to be responding well to my style of driving and the power unit is looking promising, with all of the Mercedes-powered team completing good mileage. We won't know where we are for definite until we get to Melbourne so we're just continuing to focus on our run programmes, keep positive and look forward.”

Shortly before 1300 Pastor Maldonado caused the second red flag of the day, stopping out on track with what Lotus said was a ‘suspected gearbox problem’, which kept the E22 in the garage for two and a half hours. When it did reemerge, with around 90 minutes of running remaining, it promptly stopped again, causing the third and final red flag of the day.

“Unfortunately, in the afternoon we had a number of gearbox related problems,” said trackside operations director Alan Permane. “Renault have made good progress with the software and energy store so we are headed in the right direction in that regards. We have identified the issue related to our gearbox and we have parts on their way from Enstone. Given the distance they have to travel, we may not be out first thing tomorrow, but we expect to be able to make further progress once we do take to the track.”

With the track green again for the final hour, many teams used the time to ramp up their lap count. After 43 live pitstops Williams let Massa off the leash and he promptly moved into the higher reaches of the leader board. Ericsson meanwhile, looked like being the first driver to have a 100-lap day with a Renault engine. Eventually he fell two laps short – but did achieve a significant personal milestone.

“I’m pleased with how my first day on track in Bahrain went,” said the Swedish driver. “98 laps is obviously very good news in terms of reliability, and it also means I’ve passed the 300kms I needed to do to qualify for a superlicence. The boys have worked really hard today and we’ve pretty much had no issues which meant I could just get on with the program, and that was the main goal for today.”

Testing concludes tomorrow.

2014 first Bahrain test day three – unofficial times

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.263 67laps
2 Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.976 +0.713s  103laps
3 Felipe Massa Williams 1:37.066 +2.803s  60laps
4 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:37.180 +2.917s  96laps
5 Sergio Pérez Force India 1:37.367 +3.104s  57laps
6 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:37.476 +3.213s  44laps
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:38.974 +4.711s  57laps
8 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:39.642 +5.379s  26laps
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:40.781 +6.518s  28laps
10 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:42.130 +7.867s  98laps
11 Max Chilton Marussia 1:46.672s +12.409s  4laps
12 Valtteri Bottas Williams no time 55laps