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The final countdown - Bahrain test preview

26 Feb 2014

One of the most intense pre-season periods in living memory will come to a close in Bahrain this week as the teams and drivers conduct four final days of testing before their cars are shipped to Australia for the first Grand Prix of year.

For many teams the focus will be on conducting race simulations and honing car performance, but for many - including world champions Red Bull - overcoming reliability issues is still among the primary concerns…

Pressure on to find reliability

Red Bull, Lotus and Marussia have done the fewest laps of all the teams in winter testing so far - a combined total of 307, which is two laps fewer than Mercedes managed on their own in the first test session in Spain. Even accounting for Lotus’s absence from Jerez, that’s a worryingly low total compared to what most of their rivals have achieved.

Whilst Marussia have endured a litany of problems, Red Bull and Lotus (and to a slightly lesser extent, Toro Rosso and Caterham) have suffered from problems with Renault’s new turbo power unit. The French manufacturer has made both hardware and software changes ahead of this week’s running in a bid to get these teams back on the right track, but will any of the Renault runners finally be able to complete a full race distance? And if they can, will they be able to do so running at maximum power? If they can’t, their chances of competing at the sharp end in Australia look extremely slim.

Final chance for rookies to gain mileage

The three rookies in this year’s F1 field have had contrasting fortunes in pre-season testing so far. Kevin Magnussen has starred, topping the times for McLaren on more than one occasion and completing well over 1000 kilometres in the MP4-29. By comparison, Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson has managed just over 600km and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat just under 400km.

What’s certain is that all three drivers will be looking to maximise their time on track in Bahrain, and as well as conducting qualifying and race simulations, they’ll probably do a fair bit of pit stop practice to ensure they’re as well prepared as possible for their Grand Prix race debuts in Melbourne.

Tyre assessment to come to the fore

For those teams that have shown good reliability (such as Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari), the primary focus for the final four days in Bahrain will be on conducting race and qualifying simulations. Fuel economy will be a big part of that, but so will assessing the 2014 tyres.

“It’s still early days, but so far we’ve seen both performance and durability from our latest P Zero tyres, which all feature new compounds and structures to maximise the unique power characteristics of the latest-generation cars,” says Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery .

“The contact patch is greater, to help put down the extra torque, and the working ranges are wider to reduce degradation. As the lap times in Bahrain have shown, we’re already very close to 2013 levels of performance, despite much smaller capacity engines and a completely fresh set of technical challenges.”

A greater focus on performance

With the initial emphasis of testing on understanding the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo power units, most teams opted to launch their new cars in basic trim. Now, with just four days of running left, the focus for the more reliable teams has understandably shifted towards increasing performance.

Many teams are now concentrating on the intricacies of car set-up, including honing the complicated new brake-by-wire systems and refining engine maps. We’re also likely to see several teams introduce aerodynamic upgrades this week, all of which means that we should get our best idea yet as to the pecking order heading to Australia.

This week’s Bahrain test runs from Thursday through Sunday. Check for regular gallery and news updates, as well as a full test report at the end of each day.