Two talking-points emerged from the first day of the second pre-season test in Bahrain on Wednesday: Mercedes and Red Bull, and the news from the two camps could not have been more starkly contrasting.
World Champions Red Bull suffered another embarrassing day as they took all morning to get Sebastian Vettel’s car up and running, then watched the German complete just 14 laps before a ‘mechanical issue’ halted his progress – or lack of it.
“Obviously we are not happy with where we are now,” admitted Vettel, “and we have a long way ahead of us. The first gut feeling from the car is OK, but we need more running. It’s not easy to find a quick fix…”
That’s what you call damning with faint praise.
At the other end of the spectrum there were three Mercedes-powered cars in the top four on the opening day, all of which completed impressive numbers of laps around the 5.4-km desert circuit.
A surprise at the top of the time sheets, with a best lap of 1:36.880, was Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who managed 79 laps on what he called “a very positive and satisfying day.”
The German put his finger right on F1’s current pulse when he added: “Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps.” His tally for the day included two late long runs.
Third and fourth on the time sheet were Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes and Kevin Magnussen, the youngster again impressing in his second crack at the Mercedes-engined McLaren.
“It’s more about ticking the reliability boxes,” said Hamilton after another strong day that racked up 74 laps, including two 20-lap stints, before a brake issue halted their work earlier than planned.
The lone interloper among the German-powered cars was the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, which recovered well after triggering the first red flag of the day with a spectacular oil leak to set second-fastest time of 1:37.879. The Spaniard totalled 74 laps.
The Ferrari-powered Sauber of Adrian Sutil was another long runner on the day, completing 82 laps despite problems with brakes and what the German driver called “engine driveability”.
Another surprise saw Caterham emerge as the day’s best of the Renault-engined cars as reserve driver Robin Frijns put in his last pre-season stint – a decent day’s work of 68 laps hampered only by what the Dutch youngster described as a lack of rear end grip.
Elsewhere it was a case of damage limitation. Lotus brought the E22 out to play for the first time, with Romain Grosjean managing just eight laps before trouble with the car’s energy storage system brought him to a halt.
“It’s no secret that we’re frustrated,” admitted trackside operations director Alan Permane, “as we want to get laps on the board.”
If Lotus thought eight laps were not enough, how must Williams and Toro Rosso have felt? Both teams managed no more than five laps, with Felipe Massa frustrated by a fuel system problem on his FW36 which highlighted another challenge facing the teams – it meant removing the entire power unit to get at the fuel cell.
New Toro Rosso recruit Daniil Kvyat was hamstrung by an oil leak, but worse still was the day endured by Marussia. Jules Bianchi put together just three installation laps because of something we have all had to deal with in this technological age: an “IT configuration problem”.
Testing continues for another three days; you can catch the final Bahrain wrap right here at the weekend.