Lewis Hamilton posted fastest time on the final day of F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain, overcoming a series of red flags and a gearbox failure on his Mercedes car to beat Valtteri Bottas to the top spot by 0.7 seconds. The test was extended by twenty five minutes into the evening darkness to cater for an alarming number of red flags seen throughout the day.
Mercedes didn’t have it all plain-sailing though, as Hamilton needed replacement gearbox to his F1W05 in the morning; the Briton managed a handful of laps before lunch but really made headway post-break as he clawed his way up the timesheets, experimenting with his new mount. Likewise McLaren hit trouble after a relatively succesful Saturday, as Jenson Button had a total engine failure in the MP4/29 and spent most of the day confined to the garage. The lack of development of the new car has proved a sore point for McLaren as rivals have caught them up since the first test in Jerez, but they remain confident they head to Melbourne with a decent package.
Force India had less of the heroics of the first two days, but Nico Hulkenberg settled to his task with gusto and took the VJM07 through a long race simulation in the afternoon that proved promising and a tonic to a team that was battered heavily at the tail end of the 2013 season, though an engine issue saw him stop out on track not long before the chequered flag, a disappointment but nevertheless the achievement of the long run means the Silverstone-based outfit wrapped up testing as one of the most improved teams after a difficult few days in Jerez. Williams continued a strong final day with Bottas sitting atop the timesheets after winning an early morning bout with Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari, and his race simulation work coupled to that of team-mate Felipe Massa on Saturday seems to have moved Williams ahead of McLaren in the stakes to take on Mercedes. There was an unwelcome sting in the tail as he stopped out on track in the dying minutes, but by then the vital work had been done.
Ferrari had a quiet day after their burst of morning activity, Fernando Alonso sitting out much of the midday running but returning to the track in the afternoon for a series of short runs interrupted by an unexplained breakdown he soon recovered from. Sauber enjoyed their best day for a long while, Adrian Sutil racking up ninety one laps in the morning to make up for Saturday’s deficiencies while Esteban Gutierrez took over after lunch to continue the strong work right until he had his own red flag moment when the Sauber stopped, out of fuel as part of the team’s fuel system tests. Marussia were for their part crippled by another electrical problem for much of the morning, but did sterling work to get Max Chilton out again later on in the day for some quality running time, vital in the build up to the Australian Grand Prix.
Renault-engined teams experienced another frsutrating day, though Sebastian Vettel did manage to complete forty five laps before a brake-disc failure sent his RB10 spearing off the track at turn one – newly named ‘Schumacher’ in honour of the German star who remains in a critical condition in hospital after his December skiing accident. Jean Eric Vergne flew under the radar but posted a strong run in the Toro Rosso early on to sit inside the top four right past lunch, but there was more to ponder at Caterham with a car that refused to keep a stable rear end giving the team grief they do not need. While they managed more running than rivals Marussia, the form was not encouraging stuff for the men in green. They were thankful they didn’t work for Lotus however as the Enstone outfit caused not one but two red flags within a couple of hours, Romain Grosjean becoming well-acquainted with the course car when his E22 caught fire, just as it did yesterday. When it did lap, the times were off to the tune of three seconds a lap on some runs and made for grim reading.
DAY FOUR – TIMES – Bahrain Testing 2nd Mar 2014