As testing comes to an end, attention turns to Australia

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As darkness fell in Bahrain, a curtain was drawn over pre-season testing for the 2014 Formula 1 season. After months and months of speculation and guesswork about who would react best to the changes in the regulations, we might finally leave Sakhir with a few answers to our questions.

Ever since Sebastian Vettel’s domination of the Italian Grand Prix in September – the result that appeared to put the title beyond the others’ reach – the big question has been “how will Red Bull react to the new regulations?” Finally, we have an answer: not well. Across the testing period, the defending world champions have encountered problem after problem, resulting in a great loss in track time and many sensationalist headlines about their plight. Having suffered two breakdowns yesterday, completing just half a lap in the process, the team enjoyed a better finish to the test as Vettel completed 77 laps. The enormity of the task ahead is not lost on the four-time champion: “We know we have to catch up in a lot of areas, but that said, I’m happy today, we did a lot of laps, we learned a lot and it was a positive end to a tough week here.”

It is far too early to write off Vettel and new teammate Daniel Ricciardo, as, after all, no points are awarded for testing. Just as McLaren endured a disastrous testing period in 2009, Lewis Hamilton fought from the back of the grid to finish the opening race in third place (although he was eventually disqualified for lying to the stewards to get Jarno Trulli excluded). The expcted high rate of attrition in Australia, it could aid Red Bull’s cause. Frustratingly, we’re yet to see the RB10 at full tilt. Lingering in the shadows, the car, as problematic as it has been, could be a dark horse.

We might be taking testing with a pinch of salt, but there is no denying that the advantage lies with the Mercedes-powered teams. In particular, the Mercedes works team with drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has been particularly spectacular, completing more mileage than any other team. Further to that, Hamilton and Rosberg were less than 0.025 seconds shy of Felipe Massa’s benchmark in Bahrain over the course of both tests. The W05 is a quick and reliable car on face value, but both drivers are refusing to get ahead of themselves.

In Williams, we have the surprise package of testing. Having scored a paltry five points across the course of last season, it would be something of a shock if they leave Australia alone with anything less than that. As stated, Massa set the fastest time in Bahrain this winter, whilst Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest. The car has suffered just one breakdown in testing, and is certainly going to push Mercedes all the way in Australia if form stays true to the final test. Force India and McLaren – also with Mercedes power units – have ran strongly. In fact, of the ten fastest times set in Bahrain, all eight of the full-time drivers powered by a Mercedes engine made an appearance. That is the stat to take away from testing.

Spoiling the Silver Arrows’ party is Ferrari. It’s quite scary to think that you have to go back as far as four years for a decent Ferrari (and even the F10 is questionable; 2008 perhaps?), but the team has been solid throughout testing. Despite a few reliability problems, there has been no major damage caused, and both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have performed well. They may not be the pace-setters, but both drivers are there or thereabouts.

The midfield remains muddled as Lotus, Toro Rosso and Sauber scratch their heads. One may even include Red Bull in this group for the time being, making three of the four ‘midfielders’ Renault-powered teams. Toro Rosso finish testing as the ‘top Renault’ (harking back to 2008 when the ‘junior’ team beat Red Bull in the championship – but they did have Vettel), whilst Lotus finish bottom of the pile. Of the permanent drivers, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado are stone dead last. Having missed Jerez in January, the team appears to be in all kinds of trouble.

As for the battle of the backmarkers, Caterham and Marussia will be pleased with their recent form. In Bahrain, Caterham drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson have completed some good milage, and although the pace may be lacking on first glance, perhaps focusing on finishing is a shrewd tactic. After all, if ten cars finish in Australia and one of them is a Caterham, even if they’re last on track, that’s points – a new realm. Marussia will be hoping for a similar result, but with just half the milage of Caterham, there might be more work to do. Then again, the Anglo-Russian team is powered by Ferrari, and not Renault. That might seem like a schoolyard argument, but it is a legitimate one such are the French marque’s problems.

And so we advance to the Australian Grand Prix. The winter solstice is coming to an end, and the V6 engines will sing out in just two weeks’ time. There are just fourteen days for the teams to make any final changes before jetting off down under and getting ready to start a new era of Formula 1.

Milage Completed During Pre-Season Testing

1. Mercedes 4,967km (Mercedes engine)
2. Williams 4,893km (Mercedes)
3. Ferrari 4,489km (Ferrari)
4. McLaren 4,153km (Mercedes)
5. Sauber 4,039km (Ferrari)
6. Force India 3,975km (Mercedes)
7. Caterham 3,313km (Renault)
8. Toro Rosso 2,463km (Renault)
9. Red Bull 1,711km (Renault)
10. Marussia 1,686km (Ferrari)
11. Lotus 1,288km (Renault)

Fastest Times in Bahrain (Tests 2 and 3)

1. Felipe Massa Williams 1:33.258
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.278 +0.020
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:33.283 +0.025
4. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.987 +0.729
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.280 +1.022
6. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:34.910 +1.652
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.957 +1.699
8. Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.290 +2.032
9. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:35.426 +2.168
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.577 +2.319
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:35.701 +2.443
12. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:35.743 +2.485
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:36.113 +2.855
14. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.467 +3.209
15. Max Chilton Marussia 1:36.835 +3.577
16. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:37.087 +3.829
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:37.180 +3.922
18. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.468 +4.210
19. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:38.083 +4.825
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:38.391 +5.133
21. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:38.707 +5.449
22. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.302 +6.044

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.

Mercedes F1 engine chief warns against underestimating Honda

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Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.

Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.

The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.

Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.

“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.

“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’

“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.

“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”

Williams happy to ‘hold off’ on 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.

Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.

While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.

“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.

“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”

Nico Rosberg visits Stanford University, considering study options

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2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University after visiting the college earlier this week as part of his tour around California.

Rosberg sensationally announced his retirement from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title last November, wanting to spend more time with his young family.

The German has been enjoying his retirement, recently embarking on a tour of Silicon Valley and California that saw him hold meetings with electric car giant Tesla, among other companies.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Rosberg spoke warmly about a visit to Stanford, revealing that he is considering some study options in the near future at the historic institution.

Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.

Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…