The speaker: World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who left the second four-day test before the new season begins in Melbourne with two days’ running and a total of just 73 laps in the new Red Bull Renault.
Vettel was never in the spotlight for the right reasons in Bahrain as Mercedes and McLaren, also powered by the German engines, again seized the initiative.
So persistent have the reliability problems been on Adrian Newey’s latest creation that Red Bull have managed no real performance-based testing, leaving both Vettel and Australian teammate Dan Ricciardo several seconds off the front-runners’ pace at the desert circuit.
“In all honesty it wasn’t a great day today,” admitted the West Australian after posting just 15 laps on the final day of the four, to go with the 28 he put in on the previous day.
On his first day an unspecified mechanical problem meant the pit crew had to take the car apart; on his second, software and mechanical glitches again curtailed his running in a frustrating start to his career with the senior Red Bull team.
By way of contrast, Nico Rosberg emerged with the fastest time of the final day and of the whole test, a 1:33.823 which was set during a series of low-fuel, soft-tyre ‘qualifying’ runs. But the German, a three-time winner for the team, also managed another race simulation on the final day as he and Lewis Hamilton completed a total of 315 laps over the four days.
For McLaren, newcomer Kevin Magnussen was the fastest man on track over the opening two days, while Jenson Button was second-quickest on the final two behind the Silver Arrows.
“It’s a dream every time I get in the car,” said Magnussen, whose father Jan also had a one-off race for McLaren two decades ago. “It’s just so cool to be here.”
Former World Champion Button put in a total of 103 laps on day three and said: “My engineers looked exhausted afterwards and I’ve never seen that before!” Button suggested that two key areas of the new-look F1 would be fuel-saving and the driver’s ability to communicate clearly with his engineers.
“There is still some way for us to go to manage the reliability before Melbourne,” said Rosberg after feeling at home in the new W05 for the first time, but the Renault-powered outfits must be wishing they had his concerns.
On the final day only the new Lotus Renault E22 managed a respectable day’s work, Pastor Maldonado completing 59 laps after a troubled start to the new car’s life with just 52 laps over the whole three days before.
Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson compiled 98 laps on day three to suggest the French company might be on to some reliability at last but then the young Swede could manage only four on the final day.
At Toro Rosso, Jean-Eric Vergne unintentionally highlighted the drivers’ 2014 predicament beautifully when he summed up a final day that saw him complete just 19 laps.
“Toro Rosso has done a good job to give me a car that feels nice to drive – if we talk about the elements that used to be the main topics,” he said. In other words, the familiar stuff is fine, the new stuff’s a bit of a nightmare…
Ferrari, meanwhile, keep going round and round – except at the end of day four when Kimi Raikkonen had an off at Bahrain’s Turn 4 that tore the left front wheel off his F14-T and brought proceedings to an early close. “I was on a kerb and got some massive wheelspin,” the Finn explained, “and I couldn’t catch it.”
With Fernando Alonso second- and then third-quickest on the opening two days, and Raikkonen sixth and third in his two days’ running, the Scuderia clearly has some pace even though neither driver has put in any marathon stints so far.
Williams bounced back from a five-lap fiasco on day one, tracing that problem to a wiring loom, and added another 263 laps on the next three days. “I think we are going in a good direction,” said Felipe Massa cautiously after logging 176 of those laps.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, had a stop-start time when he also ran on day three – literally, as the team practised an area where they feel improvement is required: pit stops. The Finn undertook no fewer than 43 of them.
On day four Williams put GP2 regular Felipe Nasr in the FW39 and the team were happy with the young Brazilian’s ‘very sensible, measured approach” overran 87-lap day.
At the back end of the field Marussia had to call base camp for new components after just 24 laps on the opening three days, but by the time they arrived and were fitted all Jules Bianchi could manage on the final day was a few shakedown laps.
What emerges is confirmation that the Mercedes is the engine to have at the moment; that even the front-running teams are still working hard to understand the complexity of their new cars; and that the complexity itself means that even relatively minor ‘issues’ can lead to a total strip-down of the car.
Or, to finish off where we began, as Vettel also opined: “There are no quick fixes…”
The teams all now return to Bahrain for the final pre-season test, another four days’ running at the desert venue from February 27 to March 2.