More Mercedes speed, Red Bull issues during Bahrain Day 3

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As Formula One’s testing period enters its second half – today was the seventh of 12 official days of 2014 preseason testing – the narrative didn’t change too much. Mercedes-powered cars again were fast and reliable. Renault-powered ones were again not-so-fast and fragile.

Lewis Hamilton took his turn atop the timesheets, back in the Mercedes W05 after Nico Rosberg had it on Thursday, with a best lap of 1:34.263 the fastest of the week thus far. Hamilton spent some time in the garage during the afternoon while the team experimented with different set-ups, but he wasn’t resigned to the garage because of any issues.

Jenson Button enjoyed a rather good day with second at 1:34.976, and completed the most laps on the day with 103 in the McLaren MP4-29-Mercedes. And after a rough month or so to start the year, with the loss of his father John in January, he announced much happier news with his engagement to longtime girlfriend Jessica Michibata.

Williams-Mercedes also enjoyed a positive day with Felipe Massa clocking in third, albeit some 2.8 seconds back at 1:37.066 in 60 laps, and Valtteri Bottas providing the winter’s oddest statistic thus far with 55 laps completed but no time registered. The reason for that was that the talented Finn spent the majority of his day entering and leaving pit lane, to provide the team a chance at live pit stop practice.

Things were less rosy for the Renault brigade. Daniel Ricciardo managed 28 laps for Red Bull, most in the morning and only 5 in the afternoon, thanks to further mechanical problems. Ricciardo remained upbeat, as the Australian usually is, while the now oft-quoted Red Bull race engineering coordinator Andy Damerum said the car needed to be stripped for repairs ahead of Saturday’s running.

“We came across a mechanical issue that we hadn’t encountered before and because of its nature it means we have to take the car apart,” he said in the team’s release. “As everyone in the pit lane is finding out this is a long process, so we decided to suspend running in the afternoon so that we can be ready for the final day. These issues are of course frustrating but this was unrelated to the others so it’s just a case of tackling each issue as it appears.”

Elsewhere Lotus managed its most laps thus far this week  – 26 with Pastor Maldonado – and broke into the 1:39 bracket at 1:39.642. Daniil Kyvat bettered that mark in the Toro Rosso-Renault at 1:38.974.

Ferrari’s day was neither great nor negative. Meanwhile for the tail-enders, Marussia’s Max Chilton completed only four laps before an engine change, and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson completed 98 laps as he garners the necessary mileage for his FIA Superlicense.

Here’s Friday’s breakdown of laps completed by manufacturer, although note Bottas’ were all in-and-out laps:

  • Mercedes: 342 (Hamilton 67, Button 103, Massa 60, Sergio Perez 57, Bottas 55)
  • Renault: 209 (Kvyat 57, Maldonado 26, Ricciardo 28, Ericsson 98)
  • Ferrari: 144 (Esteban Gutierrez 96, Kimi Raikkonen 44, Chilton 4)

For the week, Mercedes holds a clear laps completed lead and have also had their teams be able to work on setups and pit stops. Renault, largely thanks to Caterham’s pounding over the three days compared to Marussia’s struggles, is ahead of Ferrari on total laps completed:

  • Mercedes: 886 (238 Wednesday, 306 Thursday, 342 Friday)
  • Renault: 505 (95 Wednesday, 201 Thursday, 209 Friday)
  • Ferrari: 462 (149 Wednesday, 169 Thursday, 144 Friday)

And here’s Friday’s times:

1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m34.263s, 67 Laps
2. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m34.976s, 103
3. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m37.066s, 60
4. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m37.180s, 96
5. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m37.367s, 57
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1m37.476s, 44
7. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m38.974s, 57
8. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m39.642s, 26
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m40.781s, 28
10. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m42.130s, 98
11. Max Chilton, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m46.672s, 4
12. Valtteri Bottas, Williams-Mercedes, no time, 55

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.