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A Delicate Balance

With the first race of the season in Melbourne approaching at warp speed, the second four-day test in Bahrain takes on added importance – especially for the teams who have done relatively little running in their new cars so far.

Do you go for performance, out-and-out speed, or do you make your car as bullet-proof as you can for the start of a season that brings such a challenging range of technical changes?

Sauber’s Head of Track Engineering Giampaolo Dall’Ara summed it all up well at the end of the first day in the desert.

“The purpose of this last test is to get the race team up to speed for the first race with the race procedures and a complex new car,” he said. “At the same time the development of the car goes on so this is a delicate balance you have to find.”

That’s why so many of the 11 drivers on track in Bahrain split their time between short runs – qualifying practice – and longer runs with race procedures like pit stops and practice starts thrown in.

While Mercedes again topped the times, it was with the engine in the back of Sergio Perez’s Force India. The 24-year-old Mexican completed 105 laps with a best time of 1:35.290, well outside the benchmark 1:33.283 set by Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes at the first Bahrain test.

“It’s been a fantastic day in terms of learning about the car,” said Perez, one of three drivers to put in more than 100 laps’ running on the day.

The other two were McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, also Mercedes-powered, who was sixth overall after a mixture of short runs in the morning and race distance in the afternoon, and Valtteri Bottas in the Williams.

The Finn was out there for a whopping 128 laps in all and also set second-fastest time of 1:36.184 as Sir Frank’s much-revamped squad found reasons to be positive again.

“Another good day,” said Bottas, who then came up with the most unusual quote of pre-season testing so far: “We didn’t have any issues all day.”

Dan Ricciardo was putting his usual brave face on things over at Red Bull after managing just 39 laps, 32 in the morning then seven more after a lengthy delay caused by sensor problems and concerns over the car’s exhaust and cooling.

“Behind the wheel this is the best I’ve felt so far,” insisted the young Australian whose best time of 1:37.908 put him seventh overall on the day. “But we’re definitely not up to scratch with where we’d like to be in the programme.”

Third-quickest was the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, while Rosberg for once sounded a trifle disenchanted with the behaviour of his Mercedes.

“That was not a fantastic day for us,” said the 28-year-old German candidly after 89 laps that yielded a fourth-fastest time of 1:36.624.

“We tried some new parts on the car and you find out a lot through doing that – but unfortunately we didn’t only discover good things today.”

Similarly disgruntled was the Lotus camp, where Pastor Maldonado’s E22 completed 31 laps and suffered problems with a new-spec exhaust system which will be ditched for day two of the test.

“For sure it wasn’t what we wanted today,” admitted the Venezuelan driver, who went on to offer some lukewarm encouragement. “We have good potential and the car is not bad,” he said.

Adrian Sutil showed up well for Sauber with fifth-quickest time of 1:37.700 on an 89-lap day, but the Renault-powered Toro Rosso of rookie Daniil Kvyat had unspecified ‘technical failure’ in the afternoon and was only ninth on the day.

There was cautious optimism from Marussia, for whom Max Chilton managed 44 laps and eighth-best time. “These are complicated cars and we are treading carefully,” said team principal John Booth, “but we are starting to turn the corner.”

Slowest on the day was the car that did least running, the Caterham CT05 in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi. A combination of electrical and software problems curtailed the Japanese driver’s day to just 19 laps and a time almost six seconds off Force India’s front-running pace.

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