Hulkenberg, Force India off to flying start in Bahrain

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The “why is he not in a top seat” narrative for Nico Hulkenberg may continue fully into the 2014 Formula One season. But if he and Force India’s preseason testing pace is anything to write home about, perhaps his position in the Silverstone-based squad may become “a top seat” on its own.

Hulkenberg set Wednesday’s fastest time at 1:36.880 at the Bahrain International Circuit, which eclipsed the fastest race lap (1:36.961) set by Sebastian Vettel in the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix.

But while the time was nice, the extending running was a better note to emerge out of Wednesday’s testing, as the Mercedes-powered cars continue to hold an early reliability edge over Renault.

That was the takeaway Hulkenberg had on the day, as he continues to reintegrate himself back into the Force India mold after a year away at Sauber.

“Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day,” Hulkenberg said, via the team’s official website. “That gave me a chance to see how the car behaves and to start getting a feel for it, which was not something I was able to do in Jerez.”

An even more telling quote was the fact that for the first time this winter, the team was able to work on actual setup of the car rather than sorting through installation, mapping and other bits and pieces to make the new car run.

“It’s great that we’ve already done some set-up work and started to improve the driveability of the car,” he said. “But it’s still very early stages; we are learning with every lap and we face a very steep learning curve in the coming days. ”

Team chief operation officer Otmar Szafnauer said the team completed successful aero running in the morning, with the setup evaluation including various Pirelli tire compounds, ride heights and balance occurring in the afternoon.

Hulkenberg tests again on Thursday, with Sergio Perez taking over on Friday.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.