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Force India quickest again as Red Bull rally in Bahrain

28 Feb 2014

For the second day in a row, Force India’s Sergio Perez was the fastest man on track at the final pre-season test in Bahrain on Friday.

As on Thursday, Perez set his timesheet-topping lap during a short run in the morning session. The Mexican went on to complete over a 100 laps for the second consecutive day, bringing his winter test programme to a successful close.

"It feels very good to have another full day and to do so many laps,” said Perez. “It’s my last time in the car until we arrive in Melbourne and I’m feeling positive about how things are going.

“The set-up work today was very useful because we tried some different things to have a better direction for the first race. Everything went to plan and we managed to complete all the long runs in the afternoon.”

Fernando Alonso was another to show good pace on his penultimate day of running before Melbourne. The Ferrari driver, who conducted a comparison of aerodynamic parts in the morning before moving on to a race simulation in the afternoon, clocked 122 laps (over 600km) and a best lap that was only 0.064s slower than Perez’s.

“Six hundred kilometres are always welcome, but it’s still too early to say we are a hundred percent

ready for Melbourne,” explained the Spaniard. “We still have a lot to learn, but I am happy with the way the day went.”

Just behind Alonso on the timesheet was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, whose quickest time of 1m 35.743s was comfortably the world champion team’s best lap of the winter.

“(It was) a very much better day’s work for us today,” said Red Bull’s race engineering co-ordinator Andy Damerum.

“We were a bit late out in the morning, but that was simply due to the repairs we had to make overnight because of the damage we had yesterday. That was pretty much a ‘fix in the field’.

“When we did send Daniel out this morning we again put him on short runs just to test everything, as obviously you don’t want to push too hard, have a problem and then wreck the rest of the day. That cautious approach also allowed us to do some pit stop practice, which we haven’t done as yet and also to do some aero work on the car.

“We were back in the garage over lunch to make some changes, though nothing drastic, and then in the afternoon we were very much better again. Daniel was able to do a longer run of 20 timed laps, our longest so far.

“The car is still difficult to drive for Daniel but we’ll tune that out. We have more parts to fit overnight and hopefully we’ll be able to get some more decent runs in with Sebastian over the next two days and also give him the opportunity to do some performance runs. Overall a good day today and very encouraging.”

Felipe Massa was the second-fastest Mercedes-powered runner on the day in Williams’ FW36, just ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button whose running was interrupted by red flag-inducing technical problems.

“We had a problem within the gearbox - it took a while to change, as anything within the power-unit does these days - but we got back out at the end, and everything ran smoothly, which was good,” explained Button.

“It was a shame to lose that time - it’s the first major issue we’ve had this winter; but it’s better to suffer it here, rather than at a race weekend.

“We were still able to do a long-run on high-fuel this afternoon. The basic car is good, and there’s a great deal of potential there, but there’s still a lot of work to do. We have a good understanding of the power-unit, and we know how to race it, but, in terms of balance and grip, the car isn’t quite there yet.

“But I know we’ve got some good improvements in the pipeline – and they should help us close the gap to the front of the grid.”

Marussia’s fortunes continued to show improvement with Jules Bianchi completing 75 laps in the Ferrari-powered MR03 for the sixth fastest time. The Frenchman finished ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who endured a stop-start day in the F1 W05. The 2008 world champion brought out the first red flag of the morning after becoming beached in the gravel, and then suffered a day-ending gearbox problem in the afternoon.

“Like every team, we're encountering problems every day and we've still got some work to do in terms of both reliability and speed,” said Hamilton.

“There are no specific problem areas, just lots of different things we need to improve. It's important to get as much mileage under our belts as we can and just as important to discover any problems before we get to Melbourne. It might be frustrating at times but finding them at this stage is actually a positive.

“We really don't know where anyone stands right now and we have enough to concentrate on without looking at how other teams are getting on. The focus is on ourselves and will continue to be right up to the first race. Today was a fairly average day but I've got one more to go before we get to Melbourne, so hopefully that will be a bit more productive.”

Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez filled places eight and nine on the timesheet, the former evaluating various suspension settings and the latter one of three drivers to surpass the 100-lap mark on Friday.

“The mileage we covered today was great, and these were the most laps in one day for the team so far,” said a happy Gutierrez.

“From a reliability point of view, I think we are doing well so far. After some aero work this morning I was able to get into the long runs and race simulation. I also managed to get a feeling for different settings, including fuel saving, and that worked quite well. The pit crew and the engineers are working incredibly hard, and together we were able to get used to race weekend procedures.”

For the second day in a row, the slowest times were recorded by Renault-powered teams Lotus and Caterham. Pastor Maldonado and Marcus Ericsson both suffered fires at the rear of their cars which curtailed their running.

Both teams will be hoping for an improved day of running when testing resumes in Bahrain on Saturday.

Unofficial Friday test times from Bahrain

1. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1m 35.570s, 108 laps

2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m 35.634s, 122 laps

3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1m 35.743s, 66 laps

4. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1m 36.507s, 103 laps

5. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1m 36.901s, 52 laps

6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia, 1m 38.092s, 75 laps

7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m39.041s, 89 laps

8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso, 1m 39.636s, 61 laps

9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, 1m 39.976s, 106 laps

10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, 1m 41.613s, 31 laps

11. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, 1m 42.516s, 55 laps