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Massa sets record pace as Red Bull's struggles continue

01 Mar 2014

There were contrasting fortunes on display on the third day of the final pre-season test in Bahrain on Saturday.

Whilst Williams’ Felipe Massa was able to record the fastest time seen at the Sakhir circuit so far this winter, reigning world champions Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull had another day to forget as they failed to complete a single lap.

The Milton Keynes-based team had hoped to carry over momentum from Friday, their best test day of the year so far. However, no sooner had Vettel headed out on track - almost three hours into the session - then he was forced to once again park the Renault-powered RB10.

The car was returned to the pits and eventually emerged again just before lunch, but this time Vettel made it only to the end of the pit lane. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the car would remain in the garage for the rest of the day.

“Given how well the car behaved yesterday we were anticipating a solid run for Seb today but almost as soon as he went out there was an electrical problem, which meant stopped him on track,” said Red Bull’s race engineering co-ordinator Andy Damerum.

“We brought the car back, identified the issue, which is one other teams have had but which hadn’t affected us so far, and set about fixing it. We got ready for another run but this time the car stopped in pit lane. We brought it back again and discovered a leak, which we thought we could fix but it turned out that it had caused enough damage that we weren’t able to go out again.

“Having run so well yesterday it is frustrating to have had these problems today, but all we can do is keep solving the issues.”

As Red Bull were struggling to get their new car working, Felipe Massa and Williams were focused on extracting performance from theirs. The Brazilian was fastest as the teams paused for lunch and lowered the bar again in the afternoon. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg briefly knocked the FW36 off the top spot, but a late day surge returned Massa to the head of the timesheet.

“We had a very good day today doing almost 100 laps,” Massa enthused. “We did a lot more performance work in the car which is something that we haven't done so much of so far.

“I'm really happy with the car and feel we found a good balance. We did so much work on the set-up but it is very important that we go to Australia prepared. Of course you are always happy when you see your name at the top in first place, but as well as performance, today was good for the mileage and reliability of the car which we know is needed for Australia.

“You can never be sure that you are 100 percent ready for the first race, but I feel that what we have done in these days testing has been important for making sure that we have a car that can not only get to the end of the race, but that will have good performance as well.”

There was over two seconds between Rosberg, who completed 103 laps despite a morning engine change, and the next man on the timesheet, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who was spending his final day in the F14 T before the first race in Australia.

“I’d hoped to do more laps, but this wasn’t an easy day,” said the Finn.

“We lost some time this morning when we had to fix something on the car, but then we managed to make up for some of it in the afternoon. Running a race distance, we continued to get more data relating to fuel consumption strategies and tyre degradation, even though the strong wind upset the driving a lot.

“I’d like to be able to say we did better, but there’s still one more day with Fernando to continue our preparation for Melbourne.”

Below Raikkonen, in P4 and P5, were rookies Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, both of whom were also having their final runs before Australia. Compared to Magnussen, Kvyat has had limited track time so far this winter, so he was delighted to lap 81 times on Saturday.

“(It was) a very positive day because we managed to complete a good amount of laps,” the Russian commented.

“The work all went in the right direction and we carried out many important tests and did some longer runs. That means I am feeling much more confident with the car now. The next stop is Melbourne and I don’t want to make any predictions about how we will get on in Australia, although the one thing I can say is that I am really looking forward to my first Grand Prix.”

Sixth position on the day went to Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg who concentrated on race simulation work in the afternoon after a morning experimenting with setups on the VJM07. The German completed 115 laps – just two fewer than the days mileage leader Marcus Ericsson. The Caterham rookie finished just behind Marussia’s Jules Bianchi in the standings having clocked the eighth best time.

The day’s final time went to Romain Grosjean who had a stop-start day in the Renault-powered Lotus E22. After a tardy start, a promising 33 lap afternoon session was cut short by an MGU-K issue.

Similarly afflicted with technical problems were Sauber. Having completed their highest lap tally so far on Friday, the Swiss team went to the other extreme on Saturday with Adrian Sutil managing just one lap before encountering an engine problem.

“Unfortunately today we have encountered an anomaly on the engine and as a precautionary measure we decided to change it, which meant that we could only manage one lap in the morning,” explained Giampaolo Dall’Ara, Sauber’s head of track engineering .

“However, assembly takes considerably longer and at a certain stage during the afternoon we decided to focus on tomorrow and be ready for the final day of testing. The crew worked tirelessly and hopefully tomorrow we can get on with our programme.”

Pre-season testing concludes at Bahrain on Sunday.

Unofficial Saturday test times from Bahrain

1. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1m 33.258s, 99 laps

2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1m 33.484s, 103 laps

3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m 35.426s, 87 laps

4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 1m 35.894s, 88 laps

5. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1m 36.113s, 81 laps

6. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1m 36.205s, 115 laps

7. Jules Bianchi, Marussia, 1m 37.087s, 78 laps

8. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham, 1m 38.083s, 117 laps

9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1m 42.166s, 33 laps

10. Adrian Sutil, Sauber, No time, 1 lap

11. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, No time, 0 laps