#F1 Testing: 2nd Bahrain Day 3: Massa to the top as Red Bull struggles continue

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributors Vortex Motio and Mattpt55

For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard…

Hamlet Act III, scene 4

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - VettelAs is often the case, it is easy to mistake trees and forests and be distracted by bright shiny objects, yet such is the structure of today’s testing that the opposite is true. With everyone looking forward to Vettel climbing into the Red Bull to throw down some properly fast laps at last, the reigning champion was instead enlisted as a manual laborer helping to push the once more stricken car back to the garage. Though some did give him credit for completing a lap, it should be noted that roughly half that distance was on the back of a flatbed truck.

And thus the dominant theme of this test was once again hammered home, like the incessant ringing of the anvil in the Coro di zingari of Il Trovatore; Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, with Renault getting their own special grades at this point, it being virtually impossible to evaluate them compared to other runners such are the problems experienced by their PU’s.

The answer emerging from the fog of testing to the question of why, and how, and again is taking shape in a simple form: Mercedes and Ferrari are both proper factory teams, Renault and Red Bull are not. In fact, there is a large divergence in priorities, as evidenced by the fact that the Caterham of Ericsson ran 117 laps, and managed to finally do a lap that would put it inside the 107% rule with respect to today’s fast lap done by Massa in the Williams. A 1:33.258, properly quick and dethroning Rosberg’s 1:33.283 as fastest Bahrain lap period.

Caterham have clearly taken Renault’s specifications as gospel and built their car accordingly. To a lesser extent, so have Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso, who put in an admirable 81 laps and appear much closer to being able to finish in Melbourne.

The progress of Caterham, then, to a large extent reflects the progress of Renault in solving the PU problems that have afflicted them so badly. Meanwhile, clever boys Lotus and Red Bull have insisted on their own unconventional designs, ignoring Renault’s needs in favor of their own and no doubt thinking they could chivvy Renault into making alterations to suit their design, thus having their cake and eating it, too. Sadly, this appears not to have worked out as well as they hoped, though onlookers acknowledge the speed and potential WHEN they are running, however ‘when’ is an awfully big word with the season start a mere 2 weeks away.

Also, given the fact that the FIA has officially not extended the engine homologation period, there is no telling how long it will take Renault to get important changes approved, and it may be by the time their engine is at 100% it will be far too late for Lotus and Red Bull to make up the lost ground.

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - Massa 2At the other end of the field in Camp Mercedes, it was Williams raising the spectre of a front row in Melbourne with Massa’s last minute flyer. Both Mercedes and Williams provided end of session fireworks with blistering pace in far less than ideal weather as they ran qualifying simulations, however with the wind whipping desert sand onto the track it made any deviation from the line treacherous and costly in terms of lap time.

Both Williams and Mercedes also turned in respectable lap totals, with the Williams just shy of triple digits at 99 laps and the Mercedes of Rosberg just over at 103, reliability problems seemingly banished with a new engine installed this morning. At the moment these appear to be two of the most well sorted cars, in terms of mileage and pace.

With the omnipresent knowledge that we are still in the murky world of simulations and at best we are simple glimpsing a vague shape through a cloud of probability, the stark fact is that nothing will really come clear till the lights go out in Melbourne… and the flag drops.

Just behind, but also in Camp Merc, McLaren is putting to rest the bitter memories of last season with a solid 88 laps and 3rd fastest time of the day, though Jenson may be having flashbacks to 2012 as Magnussen continues to impress observers, with much speculation that K Mag will have the edge in quali. J Butt ( hmmm… doesn’t really work does it) will no doubt be working his magic behind the scenes as the battle to beat your teammate hots up as all indications are Magnussen is the real deal and will be no pushover this season.

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - HulkenbergThe last player on team Merc, Sahara Force India placed themselves solidly in the middle of the lap count with 99 and  Hulkenberg at the helm. Yet it is the off track drama of Subrata Roy’s arrest in combination with rumours of cash flow problems that is stealing the focus from what is a serious contender from the midfield. With proper resources, they could push Williams and be looking to create their own mini-echelon, apart from Sauber and Toro Rosso, yet with worries over their finances they may well be unable to keep pace with the more stably funded Williams over the course of the season.

Ferrari, it must be said, does not yet seem to have as firm a grip on their program as Mercedes and Williams (though still buckets ahead of Renault), which will be a big disappointment to the Tifosi. They will no doubt be waiting impatiently for the creative hand of James Allison to shine through more clearly.  On the other hand, Ferrari are also famous for their secrecy and not wanting to tip their hands ahead of time, so tomorrow will be an anxious time as Alonso climbs into the cockpit and all will look to see if a descent into the 1:33’s will happen.

Today, however, Raikkonen finally managed a race simulation which will have made the Finn happy as it was his last chance for running in an actual car prior to Melbourne.

Also in Camp Ferrari, Marussia were looking very good as they continue to play catch up from last week’s issues. A delightful 78 laps for Bianchi and slightly more than 1 second on pace relative to the Caterham, is an excellent measure of just how far Renault have come, as well as how far they have to go.

It was a sad day for Sauber, however, as fellow German Sutil joined Vettel in the lounge early on, having caught his car on fire during his first lap. Apparently, impromptu barbie’s will be all the rage during lengthier pit stops at Melbourne, with cars bursting into flames and smoking during the race to a degree that has not been witnessed in recent years. Unable to repair the car before the end of session, no laps were awarded to Sutil, though he did technically make it all the way round to pit entry.

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - GrosjeanThis leaves just Romain Grosjean, last year’s comeback kid, who managed just 33 laps before his engine did him in. One wonders how he will react to the remarkably limited running he has received, as relative to the social media that Lotus deploy, he does not seem as amused by the poor form shown thus far. Still, they out-did Red Bull, and if their cooling solutions turn out better, it could well be that they will supplant Red Bull as top Renault runner. Of course, if one were to wager on finishing, Caterham would have to be pick of the litter at the moment.

That kind of says it all, really. 

Final Results:

POS DRIVER TEAM BEST TIME BEST / TOTAL LAPS
1 F Massa Williams 01:33.3 97 / 99
2 N Rosberg Mercedes AMG Petronas 01:33.5 100 / 103
3 K Raikkonen Scuderia Ferrari 01:35.4 86 / 87
4 K Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 01:35.9 82 / 88
5 D Kvyat Toro Rosso 01:36.1 52 / 81
6 N Hulkenberg Sahara Force India 01:36.2 98 / 115
7 J Bianchi Marussia 01:37.1 74 / 78
8 M Ericsson Caterham F1 Team 01:38.1 112 / 117
9 R Grosjean Lotus 01:42.2 16 / 33
10 A Sutil Sauber F1 Team No Time 0 / 1
11 S Vettel Infiniti Red Bull Racing No Time 0 / 1

Bahrain 2nd Test Day 3 Analysis

1 test day remaining!

While the struggles of Red Bull, Sauber, and Lotus today were entertaining, here are some measurements to provide some additional perspective versus their competitors.

First, here are the three day lap counts for this test broken down by team:

Constructor P/U BAH2 laps % vs max
Williams Mercedes

330

100%

Force India Mercedes

328

99%

Mercedes Mercedes

281

85%

Ferrari Ferrari

263

80%

McLaren Mercedes

249

75%

Toro Rosso Renault

198

60%

Marussia Ferrari

197

60%

Sauber Ferrari

196

59%

Caterham Renault

191

58%

Red Bull Renault

105

32%

Lotus Renault

95

29%

We can divide these teams into three groups:

  1. The top 5 have Williams, Force India, Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren. They’ve averaged 97 laps per day.
  2. The middle 4 consist of Toro Rosso (highest placed Renault powered team!), Marussia, Sauber, and Caterham. They’ve averaged 65 laps per day.
  3. The bottom 2 are Red Bull and Lotus, averaging 33 laps per day.

We had a great comment on yesterday’s analysis from Phil where he noted the problem with tracking reliability in testing is that one measurement of success is to find reliability problems. Which would mean fewer laps while fixing a broken car… In other words, breaking a gearbox or a motor now can be a profitable result for a team. It’s a valid point.

In the bigger picture, reliability is only part of what teams are working on here. My article yesterday was a bit too long, but in part because I tried to highlight the various goals of teams here. The track time is valuable as they all try to test as many set-ups, systems, and components in as many ways as possible. So while having a reliability failure is in fact a success (better here at a test than during a race), it also hurts a team due to the loss of data they could have accumulated with additional test laps.

So the overall advantage of tables like the one above, shows which teams may be better prepared than others for the first two or three races. But Phil’s point is valid.

Now we’ll examine driver lap counts. Through out all of these winter tests, starting with Jerez, there is a common shift in driver comments that happens after they finally get to work on tuning the chassis and race sims. The drivers are excited and happy when describing those moments. It’s during these times that the team focuses on performance (versus systems checks and tests). Arguably this test is the most important part for the drivers. Reliability problems now can be particularly painful for the driver. So which drivers have been caught out by car reliability woes?

After three days, all of the teams have one driver with one day testing, and another driver with two days testing completed. Sauber is unique in that Adrian Sutil, after two days of testing, has only 90 laps, while Gutierrez has 106 laps after one day of testing. Sauber have therefore announced that Sutil will have tomorrow morning in the car, and Gutierrez will have the afternoon.

Over at McLaren, Button only has 52 laps, while Magnussen has 197 laps. Button is scheduled for the full day tomorrow.

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - Marcus EricssonCaterham and Red Bull also have similar situations. Kobayashi has 19 laps to Ericsson’s 172, and Vettel has zero laps to Ricciardo’s 105.

One last comment is that probably the most valuable information to come out of these tests will not be the fast lap of the day, nor the accumulated lap totals. It will be the lap charts from the race sims, where we can watch how the laptimes evolve (or devolve).

Behind the scenes, TJ13 has tried to obtain this data directly from the timing provider, but due to contracts it is not generally available. However, some sharp journalists who are trackside are recording lap times by hand from the monitors.

Pirelli set two goals for this year’s tires. First, Pirelli wanted to make the tires more durable. Early indications are they’ve succeeded, and we are likely to see two stop races, (vs 3 stops or more). In addition, Pirelli wanted the 2014 tires to have a smoother drop-off in performance, versus the feared “performance cliff” of the 2013 tires, and they’ve apparently succeeded there as well.

What is interesting is there have been some interesting variations in lap times late in a race stint, which has thoughtful people speculating as to whether the team and driver are wrestling with tire degradation, the fuel burn rate, or both.

Bahrain 2nd Test - Day 3 - Skyline

It highlights that late in the race at Melbourne we could see some high drama.

Looking forward to Albert Park!

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17 responses to “#F1 Testing: 2nd Bahrain Day 3: Massa to the top as Red Bull struggles continue

  1. Thanks for the nice words. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the tables of laps achieved give us the best insight we can get right now. And I’m certainly not suggesting that Red Bull and Lotus are in a good place because they’re finding lots of problems! (Or possibly the same problem repeatedly!)

    But in, say, the top third of the table I’m honestly not sure whether a team would rather reel off 105 problem-free laps or say do 80 and find/fix a problem to two. So whilst I guess the media focus on who managed most laps (and what times) is inevitable, I think the “grouping” type analysis you do above is far more useful. Beyond that, we’ll find out in Australia!

    • It would depend on the problem, I would think. IF it’s a race ender, and on no one’s radar, then yes, I would absolutely think they would want to know about it. Otherwise, they would probably prefer km’s to the point of Merc or Williams before the obvious stuff starts breaking.

    • Well said. I understood your meaning yesterday, and I agree with you. I’m thankful that you brought it up.

      And since I agree with it, I wanted to use your point to slightly deflate the importance of the accumulated laps data.

      In yesterday’s analysis, I tried to highlight all the different test programs that teams are trying to run. A subtle point was that Ferrari’s test program is fairly aggressive, in what they’re attempting to accomplish, versus Williams. We can see that a little bit from what the teams tell us. If I spent more time on that article I could have brought that subtle point out more clearly (and shortened the article).

      But back to your point, we can also see subtle signs of Ferrari’s more aggressive test plans vs Williams in the lap counts. If a team spends more time doing short tests (versus long runs and race sims), then it’s likely they’ll have a lower lap count. The short tests will require more garage time to prep a car before a test. The team will need to install the new component (or components) on the car, they’ll need to instrument the car to monitor for the particular component effects, and other prep (fuel, tires, driver instructs, etc). They may run a handful of laps, and bring it back to revert to the previous spec for a A – B – A proper base-line test. Meanwhile, a team with fewer component and systems to test can be performing long run tests on tires and fuel burn, and race sims.

      And to your point directly, an aggressive team could push components to the breaking point on purpose to help see the edge of endurance more clearly. That may be what underlies the broken gearboxes of McLaren, Mercedes, the engine that Mercedes broke last night, and of course various problems of Lotus and Red Bull versus Caterham and Toro Rosso.

      Thanks again for taking a moment to share your thoughts, as it was pretty helpful.

      • Mercedes stated publicly that the engine that failed has run throughout the Bahrain tests so it’s fair to assume they were testing it to destruction.
        It will be very interesting to see how much engine performance degrades over the 3-4 GPs each is required to last for. I expect quite a few teams to make the calculation that a new engine is well worth the grid penalty sometime this season (the ones that have the luxury of making that calculation, of course).

        For a team like Williams, there is much to be said for keeping it simple and concentrating on getting things ready for the first race.
        In its own way that is just as aggressive – and looking at their car, they are not bereft of significant new bits.
        They aren’t slow, either.

  2. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day….”

    Red Bull, Act V, Scene five….

    • “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
      That struts and frets his hour upon the stage ”

      ““The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.””

      Probably Shakespeare tomorrow as well, though not sure yet, we’ll have to see what things may come.

      Truly, a surfeit of good choices.

      • I’ll also have to wrack my brains for a few verses describing multiple irony, to get ready ready for Melbourne where we might see…
        Massa beating both Ferraris;
        Ricciardo watching the Torro Rossos drive off into the distance;
        Another world champion watching a rookie doing rather well at McLaren;
        Caterham beating Red Bull, but still finishing the race last…

        … And I’m sure that’s just scratching the surface.

        • There simply is no adequate way to encompass what this regulation change has wrought, but I certainly look forward to your efforts, because every thing we think we know right now could be neatly turned on it’s head by time the checkers drop in Melbourne.

          And I for one would love to see Massa passing Alonso, for position, not because I hate Ferrari, but just because I think Massa deserves it. 🙂

      • “We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands the science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces”.

        Carl Sagan – or possibly Jean Todt?

    • “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted” – Arthur Millar….. aero vs mechanical engineering?

      Interesting news this evening – Newey forced to re-think. More in the DN&C on Monday….

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