Reading into the lap times from the recent pre-season testing is probably as useful as gazing into tea leaves and crystal balls when it comes to determining who are the ‘form’ teams heading into the upcoming Australian Grand Prix in less than two weeks’ time.
The final pre-season test ended on Sunday in Bahrain, with Williams’ Felipe Massa posting the fastest overall time – a 1:33.258 – on the penultimate day’s running. The Brazilian clocked an impressive 202 laps in his two days’ running, while teammate Valtteri Bottas racked up 236 laps with a best time of 1:33.987.
The FW36 has proven to be quick and very reliable over all three pre-season tests – the car delivered the highest mileage in the final test – which bodes well for the team to give a strong account of itself in the opening rounds and bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign.
Pace-wise, Lewis Hamilton proved to be Massa’s nearest challenger, with a time on the final day that was just two-hundredths of a second off the Brazilian. However, the Mercedes F1W05 has had some reliability issues, limiting Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg to 351 laps between them. Rosberg was third-quickest overall with a 1:33.484 as his best time.
While fellow Mercedes runners McLaren and Force India delivered slightly less kilometres overall, they too proved relative speedy (if fastest lap times are to be believed at all). All up, the Mercedes runners clocked up almost as many miles as Ferrari and Renault combined, indicating that the three-pronged star is well ahead of its rivals in reliability and in the quality and depth of data is has been able to source to aid development.
Ferrari claimed fifth and seventh on the overall timesheets in Bahrain, with Fernando Alonso (1:34.280) and Kimi Räikkönen (1:35.426) clocking up 337 laps between them, sandwiching Force India’s Sergio Pérez (1:35.290), who finished two spots up on teammate Nico Hülkenberg (1:35.577). The VJM07 managed 402 laps between them, second overall behind Williams.
Kevin Magnussen (1:35.895) and Jenson Button (1:36.901) were eleventh- and fifteenth-fastest respectively, and the MP4-29 suffered a succession of reliability issues that limited it to 271 laps.
The other Ferrari runners – Sauber and Marussia – were also a little down on the relative pace of Massa’s Williams. Despite losing an entire day due to a fire on the penultimate day of running, Sauber still clocked up the most mileage of the Italian engined-teams, with 373 laps. Adrian Sutil (1:36.467) and Esteban Gutiérrez (1:37.303) were thirteenth and seventeenth on the overall timesheets.
Marussia recovered from a disastrous second pre-season test and delivered a respectable 258 laps in the new MR03. Max Chilton was fourteenth fastest with a best lap of 1:36.835, while teammate Jules Bianchi was three spots back with a 1:37.087.
Renault has clearly made a lot of progress in trying to improve its troubled power unit, but it would be fair to say that its four teams will consider just finishing the Australian Grand Prix a success.
The fastest Renault runner was Jean-Éric Vergne in the Toro Rosso, who finished ninth-fastest with a 1:35.710. Rookie teammate Daniil Kvyat was twelfth with a 1:36.113, with the pair managing 271 laps over the final four days in Bahrain.
Daniel Ricciardo managed more mileage (just 105 laps over two days) with the tenth-fastest overall time, a 1:35.743.
Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel will face an uphill battle in his quest to deliver five Drivers’ Championship titles on the trot: he amassed just 78 laps – barely a Grand Prix distance – and languished in 18th on the timesheets with a 1:37.468 as his best lap.
Slower than the Red Bulls but infinitely more reliable was the Caterham CT05, which easily completed the most mileage of the Renault runners. Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi were 19th and 20th quickest, with best lap times of 1:38.083 and 1:38.391.
The new Lotus E22’s poor reliability saw its two drivers, Romain Grosjean (1:39.302) and Pastor Maldonado (1:40.599) slowest of all and with the least mileage, at a paltry 127 tours of the Sakhir circuit between them.
Maldonado’s time placed him outside the theoretical 107% threshold for determining a starting grid order when all four days’ times are taken into consideration, although almost all runners managed to lap within each day’s respective benchmark. That means that fears of a massive number of non-qualifiers in the opening races should prove to be unfounded.
Given how much of an impact relative fuel loads have had in testing, it’s almost impossible to predict what we can expect when qualifying comes along in Melbourne, as that will prove the first true indicator of where each car actually stands in the early-season pecking order.
But what is pretty certain is that in racing conditions, you definitely want a Mercedes power unit under the cover. The works Mercedes cars look to be quickest overall, but Williams, in particular, has shown its decision to switch engine suppliers was very prudent indeed.
Images via XPB MediaImages