Pre-season testing came to a close in Bahrain today, Mercedes Lewis Hamilton edging out Williams Valtteri Bottas in the final moments.
The Mercedes driver was one of several to experience a mixed day but in the end it all came good as he posted the second best time of the week. Meanwhile, just moments after commenting that it was the only team not to have suffered a breakdown in pre-season testing, the Williams of Bottas ground to a halt on the main straight.
Indeed, there were so many stoppages today - seven in total - that the session was extended by twenty-five minutes, which also allowed organisers to runs the cars under the floodlights that will illuminate next month's Grand Prix.
Despite a nightmare start to his day, things improved sufficiently for Sebastian Vettel to complete 77 laps though the German's best lap was still over 4s off the pace. Meanwhile, it was another nightmare for Lotus where Romain Grosjean's session ended with flames pouring from the back of the E22.
Other than Vettel, who spun off at Turn 1 - now to be renamed in honour of his countryman Michael Schumacher - there were red flags for Grosjean (twice), Hulkenberg, Alonso, Bottas and Gutierrez.
The Mexican's stoppage brought a highly impressive run for Sauber to an end, the car having completed 91 laps this morning, with Adrian Sutil at the wheel, and a further 86 this afternoon courtesy of his teammate.
Other than Lotus, the other big disappointment of the day was at McLaren where Jenson Button completed only 22 laps due to an ICE (internal combustion engine) failure, similar to that which subsequently befell Bottas at Williams. Having dominated for much of pre-season testing these two late failures demonstrate that the Mercedes power unit is far from bullet proof.
Hamilton's running was delayed this morning due to a gearbox problem, the youngster not emerging for his first run until 12:40, completing five laps before the lunch break. A further 65 laps followed in the afternoon as part of a programme which included setup evaluation and qualifying simulation.
"This has definitely been the most challenging winter I've experienced and the car is still very much a work in progress," he said at the end of the day's running, "but we've learnt a lot over the course of these last few weeks and overall it's been a good winter of testing for us. There's been an incredible amount of work put in by the team back at the two factories and on track. I have to say a special thanks to the crew here today who had a tough task in front of them but never lost their cool. It was a tough start to the day but they managed to get the car turned around for me to complete some good laps in the afternoon, which was a fantastic effort.
"There's so much to learn with these new cars; it's just mind-blowing," he admitted, "and I don't think anybody can be fully ready for the challenge of this season. But I feel as ready as I can be and I'm looking forward to seeing where we are in Melbourne."
"It was another difficult start to the day," added Paddy Lowe, "having discovered a problem with the gearbox at around 04:00 this morning which then cascaded into a number of other faults and meant we didn't get out on track until 12:40. Great credit to the crew who I know must have been tired after an intense month-long testing programme, but still went the extra mile to get the car turned around before lunch. In the afternoon there were a lot of red flags which further hindered our progress but, with the session extended slightly, Lewis managed to get in some useful runs which brought our mileage total above any other team during this winter programme.
"It seems far longer than a month ago that we first rolled the car out on a cold, wet filming day at Silverstone for some very delicate running," he added. "It's been a long road to get to the stage we're at today, running reasonably reliably and showing potential in terms of pace, so all credit once again to everyone involved. There's still a lot to do before we get to Melbourne but we look forward to the challenge."
"We come to the end of our winter programme with plenty to think about heading to Melbourne," said Toto Wolff. "The first race is now less than two weeks away and it will inevitably be a reality check for every team on the grid. We have experienced ups and downs during these pre-season tests, with two challenging days in particular right at the end.
"The problems we have faced during the last 48 hours would have had a significant impact on a race weekend and reliability is still the biggest obstacle we have to overcome. With that in mind, we will be taking nothing for granted in our preparations for the first race and beyond. However, before we round off winter testing, I must pay a big compliment to our teams at Brackley and Brixworth; they have delivered a very promising platform to work from this year. Now we want to step things up to the next level to be successful this season.
Despite the problem at the very end of the day - in extra time as it were - it was another excellent day for Williams, which has continually shown good pace and reliability over the course of all three tests.
"I think our final day of testing was very good, right up to a very unlucky failure just one run before the end," said Bottas. "Overall, it was a still a good day as we had no other issues throughout and made a lot of progress with the car set-up. I think with this amount of testing we are as prepared for Melbourne as we can be. The team has done a great job and thank you also to Mercedes-Benz.
"We still need to work very hard in these next two weeks but I overall I'm happy with how testing has gone for us," he added. "As I didn't have the chance to do a quick time on the supersoft tyre today, I am looking forward to picking up where we left off when we get to Melbourne."
"It was another good day," confirmed Rod Nelson, the Grove outfit's Chief Test & Support Engineer. "We ran a similar programme with Valtteri as we did with Felipe yesterday, starting off with some chassis and aero tests this morning. We did some long runs after the lunch break to look at tyre degradation before moving on to a qualifying simulation. Towards the end of simulation, and before we were able to fit the supersoft tyres, we had a high mileage failure in the Internal Combustion Engine.
"With the number of laps we have put on it, it wasn't a big surprise," he continued, "but it was still a shame that Valtteri couldn't get that final chance to push. However, with an overall team total of 936 laps under our belt, we are still pleased that that is the only time the FW36 has stopped on track throughout testing. We end the pre-season running feeling very happy with the car, power unit, drivers and team. Everything is working together as it should and we are pleased with the direction that the team is going in."
At Ferrari, Fernando Alonso spent the morning working on fine tuning some electronic configurations linked to optimising the use of energy in the new power unit. However, shortly before the lunch break, work was halted by the need to change the gearbox on the car.
In the afternoon, the programme moved on to a series of short and long runs to check the management of systems on the F14 T. Over the past four days in Sakhir, the F14 T has completed a total of 337 laps, equivalent to 1.823 kilometres.
"The team did its utmost to carry out changes on the car as quickly as possible," said the Spaniard, "but again today, we had planned to do more laps than we managed. There are a lot of things to learn with the use of the power unit to improve the performance of the car and we are not yet where we want to be. Everyone in the team is very competitive and we are working day and night in order to get all the potential out of the F14 T as soon as possible. We have gone through twelve days of testing that were very demanding for everyone and I would like to thank the whole team for all its efforts."
Having set the pace on the opening two days of the test, Force India appeared to drop off the radar yesterday and today. However, in truth the Silverstone-based outfit has been quietly getting on with things, demonstrating that it too has pace and reliability even if today's planned race simulation was aborted due to a component failure.
"The final day of testing went pretty well," said Nico Hulkenberg. "In the end we didn't do the race simulation, but we did some long runs and signed off a lot of other things on the job list. We didn't do as many laps as yesterday, but we still made progress and learned some new things. So it's been two good days for me and I'm feeling pretty satisfied. You always want more time to prepare, but I think we're in good shape. The car has come a long way since the first Jerez test and we have made progress every day."
"The final day in Bahrain saw a continuation of yesterday's work improving the car balance, collecting tyre data, and some long runs," revealed Technical Director, Andrew Green. "Our programme ended slightly early with a suspected component failure, which was a result of high mileage, and so we didn't manage to complete our target number of laps. Nonetheless our time in Bahrain has gone largely to plan with the mileage achieved during the previous three days leaving us in good shape going into Melbourne.
"We're feeling positive about our reliability," he added, "and have explored some encouraging directions for improving car performance. The other focus has been on our race readiness and we've done a great deal of homework to prepare the drivers for the challenge that awaits them in Melbourne."
Jean-Eric Vergne's morning schedule included an assessment of changes made to the suspension as well as work aimed at improving the driveability of the package. The results were positive. After that came short runs, using the medium, soft and supersoft compounds in quick succession. In the afternoon, longer runs were on the agenda. He set his best time in the middle of the day, when the track was at its hottest and slowest.
"These past twelve days have been very interesting in many ways," said the Frenchman. "I would describe today as positive and we did some good work, especially in the morning when we got through everything we had planned to do, with everything going smoothly. This afternoon was slightly more complicated, but we still managed to get some mileage in race configuration and we learned a lot. I had a really good feeling from the car today.
"These winter tests have not been easy," he admitted, "but we are not alone in that. Even if there is no more testing, I know the team can work hard with our partners and fix many of these issues in time for Melbourne. The really positive thing is that I feel I have a good car, so once everything has been sorted out, I am sure we can be strong in the races."
"During these final four days of testing, we managed to complete a reasonable number of laps with the STR9," added Franz Tost. "We made a significant step forward in terms of our understanding of the car, on both the chassis side and as far as the power unit is concerned. However, there is still a lot of work ahead of us to be as well prepared as possible for Melbourne."
For Sauber, Adrian Sutil was behind the wheel of the C33 this morning, completing an impressive 91 laps, before handing over to Esteban Gutierrez who completed an equally impressive 86 laps in the afternoon.
"It was a good morning," said Sutil. "We covered everything that we had planned, just in a shorter time frame. Yesterday was unlucky, but it's better to have a problem here than in Melbourne. I feel much more comfortable after this morning's session. Now we have a lot more data to analyse. Overall we had a tough testing programme to go through and we had unexpected problems here and there. However, we don't get any more tests, so we will take what we have and get the most out of it in Melbourne, and I'm looking forward to that."
"Today was really productive," added Gutierrez. "We recovered a lot from what we lost yesterday and the team did a great job. We did a lot of laps and completed the whole programme. It's satisfying to achieve this. Of course we still have quite a few things that we need to work on and sort out before Melbourne. However, I believe that we are going in the right direction. We were able to do a few race simulations, which I found useful. I was able to prepare for the first race and I feel ready for Melbourne."
"Today we had both drivers in the car and managed to get through a busy programme," said Giampaolo Dall'Ara, the Hinwil outfit's Head of Track Engineering. "It was good for them to have this valuable time in the car. Looking back at the first test in Jerez, we had a tough programme to get through and faced several unexpected problems, which meant we lost running time.
"The learning curve was very steep at the first test. Now it's a bit flatter, but there is still enough to do. We will take our experience from the tests, evaluate the data and be ready for the first race in Melbourne. Nevertheless, I'm sure that we will still learn a lot over the first few races of the season."
Max Chilton and Marussia enjoyed a positive conclusion to their pre-season campaign, the Englishman ending the final day of running in 7th position. This afternoon's performance was all the more creditable for the fact that the day had not run entirely smoothly, with Chilton losing a substantial amount of track time to an electrical problem and the team having to play catch-up with the programme.
The day got off to a good start with Chilton completing 10 laps before the issue surfaced. When he was able to return to the track, the team was running to a modified programme aimed at maximising the amount of items that could be ticked off the checklist in order to be ready for Melbourne. Chilton focused predominantly on longer race-relevant runs with the various tyre specifications as well as procedural work for race weekend conditions.
In the closing minutes of the afternoon, Chilton was able to benefit from a performance run to evaluate more of the outright performance of the car on low fuel, which is when he posted an time of 1:36.835, good enoughfor 7th position.
"Given that we've had a few little issues today, I'm quite encouraged by the 61 laps that we did achieve and the positive note on which we've ended the day," said Chilton. "It's a nice way to finish our pre-season testing. The way our day panned out meant that we had a lot to do to play catch-up and maximise the track time that we had left, but the items we have ticked off will be crucial in forming an overall picture for Melbourne.
"Generally, I think we can be pretty positive for the first race of the season," he continued. "The new regulations have been a challenge up and down the pit lane and although we have also experienced a few issues along the way, we've also made a lot of progress. I don't want to make any predictions because we won't really know where we stand until qualifying and the race, but I'm feeling very optimistic as I think we‘ll be in a good position to make the most of our opportunities. My thanks to the team trackside and back at base. We've come a long way since that first day of running in Jerez."
"The 12 days of pre-season testing seem to have passed by incredibly quickly," said John Booth. "This period of the year is always very intense but this time we've really had our noses firmly to the grindstone, with very little respite across the whole team. Today's performance was just reward for that effort and we now feel like we are in a good position to go racing. Today we were able to finalise many of the procedural aspects associated with running the car in a race situation. When considering the extremely complicated systems on the car, this has by no means been easy, but the work had to be done prior to Melbourne.
"It was nice to be able to recover from our earlier electrical problems to achieve this objective and still manage to provide Max with some qualifying practice. It was a really exciting last 10 minutes of the session and the crew really stretched themselves to the maximum, as if it were a real qualifying session. Unfortunately, leaving Bahrain does not mean all the hard work is at an end; it is just the beginning. Tonight and into the next few days the race team will be busy rebuilding the cars and the engineering team's attention will be firmly focused on analysing what we've learned his week. Back at base, the first set-up development parts are already in production. Finally, I would like to thank everyone in the team and at Scuderia Ferrari for giving us the best possible basis on which to begin our 2014 season."
Sebastian Vettel completed 77 laps, his team's most productive day in eight days of testing here. Despite finishing over 4s off the pace, and suffering further technical issues, Vettel claims it has been a positive end to a difficult time for the team.
"We did a lot of laps today so that was useful," said the German. "We tried to do a race distance today; for one reason or another that didn't work out, but in two week's time things should look a little bit different.
"Obviously it's difficult to know where the car is," he admitted. "It's not just the number of laps you do, but also the type. There are so many different running options, not just with tyres and high or low fuel, there are engine options as well - full power, low power etc, so it's impossible to say where we are. We know we have to catch up in a lot of areas, but that said, I'm happy today, we did a lot of laps, we learned a lot and it was a positive end to a tough week here."
"Our final day here was a mix of good and bad," added Race Engineering Co-ordinator Andy Damerum. "It's positive that we managed to get in as many laps as we did, however, we did have a few problems. On top of that the amount of red flags didn't help, even with the extension to running in the evening. We were in good shape first thing this morning and got in 44 laps. Then we had a front-end mechanical problem, so we had to fix that. In the afternoon we were focusing on doing longer runs - race preparation - and that initially went well. We did a 17-lap stint and came in to change tyres, but a red flag on track halted our progress. And that was the shape of the afternoon really, with a lot of disruptions.
"Obviously we have had a lot of problems during testing," he continued, a masterpiece of understatement, "but we understand the problems and hope to have fixes in place for Australia. We know the pace is in the car, as we saw from Daniel's performance here; what we have to do now is put all the pieces together and establish reliability for the race in Melbourne. There is plenty of motivation in the team and we'll keep working hard over the next two weeks."
It was a difficult final day for McLaren. Though the engineers were able to carry out some significant set-up work during the morning's early laps, attempts to understand the behaviour of the Melbourne-spec front wing - which arrived this morning - were curtailed by a late-morning red-flag.
After lunch, Button only managed a few laps before suffering a high-mileage internal combustion engine failure, which kept his car in the garage for much of the afternoon while the unit was replaced. At the end of the day, any further attempts to run were hit by an as-yet undiagnosed control electronics problem - the result of which is that the team had no driver feedback upon which to evaluate the new front wing. The engineers will be able to evaluate its strengths using the limited run-data accumulated during the day.
Caterham brought its programme to a close with a strong performance which saw Kamui Kobayashi completing 106 laps, albeit over 1.5s off Chilton's best time.
"106 laps is a good way for us to finish the tests," said the Japanese, "even though the clutch problem we had in the last hour meant we didn't have a chance to do any of the performance runs we'd planned for today. However, I'm very happy we were able to have two such good final days in Bahrain as it's showed that our reliability is good and that could be very important in Australia and for the whole season, especially when you look at how quite a few of the other teams have struggled both here and in Jerez.
"Today we had a very long program, starting in the morning with a number of short runs to work through setup changes and we've made good progress in that area. In the afternoon we went onto longer runs, looking at fuel and energy management strategy and tyre wear and we have a lot of data to work with on that - again, that will be critical in the races so to have had the chance to start to understand how the car behaves with different modes is very important.
"Next week I have a couple more days in the simulator at the factory and then it'll be time to go to Australia. I'm obviously excited about getting back to racing and with what we've achieved in testing I think it could be a very interesting start to the 2014 season."
"Another very decent day of running for the team and more evidence that we continue to make progress with the Power Unit, both in terms of reliability and performance," added Cedrik Staudohar, Renault Sport F1's Track Support Leader. "Now the work will continue in Viry to ensure that we go to Australia with the strongest package possible and after the amount of laps we have completed here in Bahrain and in Jerez, we have given ourselves the best chance of doing so when the season starts."
"It has certainly been as tough a pre-season as we expected," admitted Cyril Abiteboul, "but to finish as by far the most reliable Renault powered team, and with some early indications that our relative performance has improved compared to this time last year is positive. I would have liked to see where Kamui would have finished with a performance run on softer compounds as I'm sure he would have found a considerable amount of time, probably into the 1.36s, although I do not think that outright pace will the primary success factor in the first races. A lot of hard work has been put in by the whole team, on track at the tests, back at Leafield and in the wind tunnel in Cologne and I would also like to thank the staff at Renault Sport F1 - the early days of their new power unit have not been easy, but they have worked relentlessly to overcome a very large part of their initial difficulties.
"I'm also very pleased with how all three drivers we have run in the tests have integrated with the team. As a rookie, Marcus is on a steep learning curve but he has shown consistently that he improves with every lap and is ready for his first full F1 race weekend in Australia in two weeks. Robin, who ran for one day in both the first and second tests, has already demonstrated his ability, both behind the wheel and as a teammate and Kamui has shown exactly why we are so pleased to have him with us. He sets the benchmark for us, both in terms of outright pace and in his feedback, and he and Marcus are going to be a good pairing this season.
"We will now have a few more busy days to analyse the huge amount of information generated by our 3,312 kms of testing and see how we can make the best possible use of what we have available for the first races of the season, as well as to start defining our development strategy for the later stages of what is going to be a quite amazing F1 season."
It was another miserable day for Lotus where Romain Grosjean ended the day with just 32 laps completed, and a best lap time over 6s off the pace. Once more, a power unit problem meant an early stop to running.
"We're not in an ideal situation," said the Frenchman. "There is a lot of new technology for everyone to understand, but even though we have stopped many times and spent a lot of time in the garage, each time we run the car we are learning something new. We're all working as hard as we can in Enstone and I'm sure that Renault Sport F1 is doing the same. We now have two weeks to find a lot more performance and reliability."
"We've ended our pre-season test programme with a lot of unknowns and a full workload for the days ahead," added Alan Permane. "We're all focused, both at Enstone and in Viry, on analysing all the data we have gained to make as much improvement as we can before we get to Australia for the first race of the season. Today we put some more mileage on the E22, but once again we stopped early, which is obviously not what we wanted. There will be some long days and nights before the first race but we are determined to make as much progress as possible."
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