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The heat is on - Bahrain test preview

18 Feb 2014

Having trialled their new 1.6-litre turbo-powered cars in Spain last month, the teams travel to Bahrain this week to continue their preparations for the 2014 season in the heat of the desert.

Will the Mercedes- and Ferrari-powered cars carry their promising form into Sakhir? Can world champions Red Bull overcome their early teething problems? And how will Lotus’s new E22 perform in its first public outing? We look ahead to the second pre-season test of the year…

Lotus’s E22 to break cover

As the only team to miss the Jerez test completely, Lotus gave their new Renault-powered car - the E22 - a belated shakedown during a filming day in Spain last week, where it reportedly ran without any major problems. That will have provided a welcome boost for the Enstone team who will be anxious to make up for lost ground in Bahrain, especially as fellow Renault runners Red Bull, Caterham and Toro Rosso all faced power unit related setbacks in Spain.

Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado will split driving duties equally - the Frenchman behind the wheel on days one and two; the Venezuelan on days three and four. There will be plenty of work for them to get through, but will the car stay reliable? If it does, missing the Jerez test might not be as costly as many feared.

All eyes on the Renault-powered teams - and in particular Red Bull

The Jerez test was nothing short of a disaster for Red Bull with the four-time world champions completing a paltry 21 laps in four days. Whilst that was partially down to glitches associated with Renault’s power unit (which also hampered Caterham and Toro Rosso in Spain), Red Bull's chief technical officer Adrian Newey has admitted that the team’s biggest problem was of their own doing: the exhaust setting fire to bodywork at the rear of the car.

"It was, you could argue, a result of aggressive packaging," Newey said, "but we felt that we needed to take a few risks to try to get a good package that would minimise the aerodynamic damage of this very large cooling requirement,”

The Milton Keynes-based squad are hopeful that tweaks to the RB10 in time for Bahrain - allied to work done by Renault on the dyno at their Viry factory - will enable them to get their pre-season programme back on track. Any further setbacks would be a huge blow, even at this early stage.

Mercedes and Ferrari runners looking to build on positive starts

Whilst Renault’s three teams were limited to just 151 laps over four days of testing in Spain, the Mercedes- and Ferrari-powered teams made more encouraging starts to the V6 turbo era, clocking a combined 875 and 444 laps respectively.

With the huge complexity of the new power units (which feature six distinct elements, each complex in its own right), it will be of great comfort to Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Williams, Sauber and Force India that they were able to run their new cars in Jerez with far fewer problems than the Renault runners. Yes, all of these teams still have a lot of work to do before the first race in Australia, and they are sure to encounter other problems, but they head to Bahrain having collected and worked with more data than Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Caterham and Marussia - and that puts them slightly ahead of the curve.

The Mercedes team looked particularly strong in Spain with Nico Rosberg even able to complete a trouble-free race simulation run on the final day. With the fuel restrictions in place in 2014 - and the new energy recovery systems - such runs are vital to assess how best to run the power unit in race conditions. Expect Mercedes and other teams with good reliability to follow longer run programmes in Bahrain, as the action shifts away from system checks and reliability running to more performance-based work.

In keeping with this shift, many teams are expected to bring aerodynamic upgrades, such as new front and rear wings, to Sakhir. As a result we may get a slightly better idea of the competitive order in Bahrain, although as always, it’s dangerous to read too much into testing times.

New tyres to get a proper work out

Pirelli’s 2014 tyres, which feature new compounds and constructions, are expected to get a more representative work out in Bahrain. The first test in Spain took place in cool conditions on a circuit that is notoriously abrasive, whilst temperatures in Sakhir will be warmer and the track is smoother.

”The first test of the year in Jerez was all about the teams getting their first taste of a very different set of technical regulations, so as expected running was limited and evaluating tyres was not a priority,” said Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery.

“On top of that, winter conditions in Europe - even in southern Spain - are not representative of the race conditions we will generally encounter throughout the rest of the season. In Bahrain, we’re expecting better weather and more running, which will allow ourselves and the teams to assimilate more data and knowledge of the tyres.”

Once again, the teams will be able to test three slick compounds in Bahrain: hard, medium and soft. On top of this, they will also be able to test the ‘winter’ hard compound, which Pirelli has created to ensure a rapid warm-up even at low temperatures. The teams have asked to try this tyre, designed for Jerez, in Bahrain as well in order to assess how it performs in higher ambient temperatures.

The first of Bahrain’s two pre-season tests runs from February 19-22, with the second and final test running from February 27 - March 2. The first race of 2014 takes place March 14-16 in Australia.