Renault are facing a massive race against time this week to sort out their engine troubles before the homologation deadline on the 28th of February when the new F1 power units will be frozen for the season save for reliability, safety and cost saving fixes. Renault suffered yet another poor test in Bahrain after the dire showing in Jerez, managing a meagre 770 laps of the Sahkir circuit with their four teams.
Lotus who skipped Jerez altogether were the most encouraging managing to get their new car running and putting in 111 laps (and have now only clocked 36 less than Red Bull despite their no show in Spain). Furthermore the team claimed to have put in a lap using full power which is more than can be said for the other teams running the power plant. While the total laps may not be critical, Ferrari powered cars completed 1000 laps (however that was pretty much split by the works team and Sauber) the teams completed their laps at quite a deficit of speed – over 5.5 seconds even at Lotus running “full power”. The main problems have been software related according to the official line but one of the main issues has been Red Bull’s lack of running.
The reigning World Champions are the de facto Renault works team who have a related title sponsor in the car brand, Infiniti, have had issues with cooling, gearboxes and spent most of the test tinkering with the toolbox. Their sister “junior” team – Toro Rosso who switched to Renault power this winter to take advantage of sharing as much technology as permitted by the regulations have faired not a whole lot better. They desperately need a good test this week to have even a fighting chance in Melbourne. Caterham have been leading the charge with 249 laps in Bahrain this week and a confident they are in the best position of the Renault powered teams but they still are lacking in actual speed despite solving most of their gremlins.
In contrast Mercedes have been having a wonderful fill of desert sun with the silver cars of the works squad and McLaren along with the royal blue of Williams testing livery glinting for an impressive 934 laps between them. Force India had a problem that limited them on the final day of the test but still chipped in well to bring Mercedes Power pre-season lap total to 2002, double their nearest rival. The Mercedes teams have been completing race simulations and qualifying runs and look set to spend the final test searching for outright speed. Mercedes were the only team to start true quali runs leaving the timing sheets to be grim reading for those who were struggling to complete single tours of the circuit at GP3 pace.
Ferrari are somewhere in the middle, the works squad have had a good time of it running relatively trouble free and appear to be on the pace – although they are playing their cards very close to their chest. Sauber struggled on the final day to get any real running, not even setting a lap time however they have completed decent mileage and are able to run on good pace at the moment. Marussia meanwhile are having an awful time, even worse than Red Bull – the smallest team on the grid have only managed 59 laps with the 2014 power units and something has obviously gone amiss with their integration of their car as they now sit bottom of the lap counter charts.
However all the talk of Mercedes being way out in front are wide of the mark we still no nothing about tyre usage, aero performance and fuel performance (a key issue this year as they are now limited to 100Kg of fuel). But it looks as though the Mercedes powered teams along with Ferrari will have quite a march on their rivals as Renault look to spend another 4 days getting the cars up and running while the others go off looking for perfect setups and aero performance. There is a real danger of Renault showing up to Australia without having completed a representative race distance – ouch.
That double points idea at Milton Keynes is starting to look like the best idea Bernie’s ever had!