Bahrain Day 1: Nico Hulkenberg fastest as Red Bull and Renault struggle again
Hulkenberg 1s clear of the field as Merc-powered teams again to the fore; Red Bull complete just 14 laps on another troubled day
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 20/02/14 6:24am
Besides Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes W05, the cars of Force India and McLaren also featured prominently in both reliability and pace - the latter increasingly set to become a factor as teams continue to follow the learning curve set by 2014's technological shift.
Nico Hulkenberg led the way with a 1:36.880s that saw the Force India end the session a full second clear of the field - the lap set on soft tyres but still faster than any managed in last year's race.
A notable omission among the Mercedes-powered cars was the Williams FW36 of Felipe Massa, which completed just five laps in all as fuel system problems intervened. Yet the total racked up by Hulkenberg, Hamilton in particular and McLaren's Kevin Magnussen - the latter pair third and fourth fastest - once again put the rest in the shade.
Speaking of which, Sebastian Vettel could have been forgiven for seeking the nearest palm tree in order to cool off as Red Bull again found themselves in the mire, with the World Champions not taking to the 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit until 1.45pm local time.
Red Bull and Renault have both worked flat out to try and get a handle on the overheating problems they suffered at Jerez three weeks ago and although Vettel set the fifth fastest time of the day, his tally of just 14 laps hardly inspires confidence.
Furthermore, the RB10 also stopped on track once again - its driver stood forlornly by the car with just over an hour of running remaining. Yet the team later insisted that Wednesday's troubles were unrelated to those they suffered in Spain.
"It's not easy to find a quick fix, but I think we understand the problems," said Vettel. "We sorted out the issues from Jerez and we were able to do some laps today. However, very often you fix one problem and another pops up, which is what happened. That's testing."
"I have to say that while it might not appear so on the surface there has been a big improvement since Jerez," Red Bull's Race Engineering Co-ordinator Andy Damerum added. "We are obviously playing catch-up and for us this was very much like a first test, so we were sending the car out to do one lap, then two and trying to build from there. In that regard the laps completed were good. However, we were sidelined by a mechanical gremlin but one unrelated to the issues in Jerez."
There were four red flags in all during the session, the start of which was delayed owing to a shortage of track marshals. Perhaps they were all too busy ogling Lotus's new E22, which finally broke cover after missing the first test.
The car's 'twin tusk' nose has already attracted plenty of comment and the team have also opted to try something different at the rear, with a wing mounting that appears to bend around the exhaust.
Despite being first out on track, Romain Grosjean managed a total of just eight laps as software and battery problems intervened, with the car ending up ninth fastest overall. Ahead of him, Caterham once more led the Renault-powered teams in terms of laps covered - 68 for Robin Frijns - and although Toro Rosso also edged out Lotus, Daniil Kvyat managed a paltry five laps in total, with the STR9 also stopping on track.
While both Red Bull-backed teams pulled down the shutters in their garages first thing, Ferrari were among the early risers - although Fernando Alonso was soon back in the pits with smoke pouring from the back of his F14 T.
A 'fuel mix' problem was diagnosed and Alonso was soon back on track, maintaining the Scuderia's assured start to 2014 with the second fastest time set in his 64 laps.
Adrian Sutil managed 82 laps in the Ferrari-powered Sauber to wind up sixth fastest - the German albeit spinning his C33, as happened more than once in Spain - with Marussia's MR03 managing just three laps in the hands of Jules Bianchi.
Bahrain test, Day One timesheet:
1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1:36.880, 78 laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:37.879, 64 laps
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:37.908, 74 laps
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 1:38.295, 81 laps
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1:40.224, 14 laps
6. Adrian Sutil, Sauber, 1:40.443, 82 laps
7. Robin Frijns, Caterham, 1:42.534, 68 laps
8. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:44.346, 5 laps
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1:44.832, 8 laps
10. Felipe Massa, Williams, No time, 5 laps
11. Jules Bianchi, Marussia, No time, 3 laps.
Total pre-season laps by each team:
Mercedes - 383
McLaren - 326
Ferrari - 315
Sauber - 245
Force India - 224
Williams - 180
Caterham - 144
Toro Rosso - 59
Red Bull - 35
Marussia - 33
Lotus - 8.
Total pre-season laps by each engine manufacturer:
Mercedes - 1113
Ferrari - 593
Renault - 246.
The Sky Sports F1 Online team will be providing live commentary of all three winter tests, with live updates from trackside also on Sky Sports News.