Having already ran in Jerez and Bahrain, most of the teams will have some kind of idea as to what they can expect come first practice in Australia, but it has been a tumultuous testing period for some. Most notably, Red Bull has been in the doldrums ever since the first day of running in Spain. The RB10 appears to have a number of problems, with the Renault engine being the root of much of the woe. Not only has the management at the French marque admitted that weeks need to be made up, but Red Bull has also conceded that by putting so much effort into the triumphant 2013 campaign, some ground has been lost. Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of a fifth straight world title are by no means dead in the water, but he may struggle to make it ten wins in a row in Australia.
Similarly, Lotus and Toro Rosso have also been running into trouble with their Renault engines. Lotus completed plenty of running in Bahrain and had a successful ‘filming day’, but losing out on those first four days in Jerez could prove to be costly. The team is adamant that the twin-tusked nose design is the best course of action, but, like their Renault counterparts, Lotus is yet to complete a full race sim – at this late stage, that is far from reassuring.
Renault’s Rob White made no secret of the problems in Bahrain, saying: “We are not back on schedule but we are moving in the right direction – the running we have done is very valuable. The challenge is to improve the rate of progress, because the gap to where we wanted to be at this stage remains substantial. We are some weeks behind where we wanted to be, and we acknowledge it will take time to unlock the full performance of the power unit.” With the clock ticking though, Red Bull, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham will be feeling uneasy heading into the final test.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Mercedes, McLaren, Williams and Force India. All four of the Mercedes-powered teams appear to be in good shape, with the works team being particularly impressive in Jerez. Nico Rosberg recorded the fastest time of the test and, along with teammate Lewis Hamilton, appears to be the front-runner for the first race weekend in Australia. Hamilton, predictably, refused to make any assumptions, but a beaming smile during his final interview in Bahrain told us a lot: this car is quick. The 2008 world champion has recently become the bookmakers favourite for the title ahead of Vettel. Interestingly, Rosberg’s odds are comparatively long…
McLaren and Williams have also performed admirably during the first two tests, and the arrival of Rob Smedley is set to only aid high spirits at Grove. Felipe Massa is far more relaxed than he was at Ferrari, and in Valtteri Bottas he has a young protege with whom he can work closely. Similarly, McLaren’s line-up of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen already appears to be working as they too have performed during the first two tests. Both teams will be keen on carrying this form over to the final test. Going on current form, you would place both of them in the points at Melbourne.
The only team that could realistically spoil the Mercedes party in Australia is Ferrari. After two good tests (for want of a more suitable adjective), the team has now promised a big update for the final running in Bahrain this week as Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen try to underline their title credentials. Surely that line-up is too big to fail?
The pecking order that was so muddled in Jerez is finally starting to become clear. It’s far, far too early to write off Red Bull, although a win in Australia might come as a surprise. It might turn out to be a straight fight between Ferrari and Mercedes for victory whilst the likes of McLaren, Williams, Force India and Red Bull vie for the remaining points. Then again, with so few teams completing a full race sim so far, it might be a case of merely making it to the finish. That could prove to be enough.
One final roll of the dice in Bahrain. Come Sunday, it’ll be the final stretch before the Australian Grand Prix; oh how excited we are…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Scuderia Ferrari.