Hamilton quickest as pre-season testing ends in Bahrain

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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has finished quickest on the final day of pre-season testing ahead of the 2014 Formula 1 season as the German marque enjoyed another fruitful day in Bahrain.

Hamilton posted the fastest time of 1:33.278 in the final hour of an interrupted day of testing at the Bahrain International Circuit that saw seven drivers cause eight red flags, resulting in the afternoon session being extended by an hour.

Having failed to complete a single lap on Saturday, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull began in better fashion by completing some good mileage early in the morning. However, the German driver then spun into the gravel at the first corner, leaving his team with a small repair job before returning to the track in the afternoon. He ultimately finished in ninth place with 77 laps under his belt.

Hamilton’s closest challenger was Williams’ Valtteri Bottas as the British team enjoyed yet another successful day in Bahrain. The Finn was the pace-setter for large parts of the session, but finished seventh-tenths of a second down on Hamilton’s fastest time. Nevertheless, the signs are very good for Williams in 2014 as the team bounces back from a disastrous 2013 campaign.

Fernando Alonso finished in third place for Ferrari as the top non-Mercedes powered car. The Spaniard was responsible from bringing out one of the red flags after a stoppage, but he eventually rallied to finish just over one second behind Hamilton. Nico Hulkenberg finished behind the Spaniard in fourth place, whilst Jean-Eric Vergne was the fastest Renault-powered driver as he came fifth for Toro Rosso.

Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez shared driving duties for Sauber on Sunday in Bahrain, and were separated by nine-tenths of a second respectively. Max Chilton ran well for Marussia, completing 61 laps and splitting the two Saubers on the timesheets in seventh place.

Kamui Kobayashi completed a great amount of milage for Caterham on the final day, recording over 100 laps. However, he could only finish P11 on the timesheets, only ahead of the stricken Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman was limited to just 32 laps as a fire on his E22 car meant that he failed to come back out after lunch. It also means that Lotus head into the new season without having completed a full race simulation.

Like Lotus, McLaren also packed up early in Bahrain as Jenson Button suffered an engine failure. He finished down in tenth place with just 22 laps to his name (less than any other driver).

With testing now complete, the early signs suggest that it will be a battle between the Mercedes-powered teams and Ferrari at the opening round of the season in Australia.

However, it was apt that the twelfth and final day of testing finished with so many reliability problems – this will be the main theme in the opening few races. With just twelve days to go until practice in Australia, all of the teams have a lot of work to do.

Bahrain Day 4 – Times

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.278 (69 laps)
2. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.987 +0.709 (108)
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.280 +1.002 (74)
4. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.577 +2.299 (74)
5. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:35.701 +2.423 (74)
6. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:36.476 +3.189 (91)
7. Max Chilton Marussia 1:36.835 +3.557 (61)
8. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:37.303 +4.025 (86)
9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:37.468 +4.190 (77)
10. Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.111 +4.833 (22)
11. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:38.391 +5.113 (106)
12. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.302 +6.024 (32)

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.