Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014

Reliability could be the decider in the desert

2014 Bahrain Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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F1F CSThe only surprising thing about Mercedes’ sweep to a front-row lockout in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix was that it was their first of the season instead of their third.

They won the first two races comfortably and seem to have a slightly larger performance advantage in Bahrain – perhaps because the circuit doesn’t play to the strengths of Red Bull, who until now have been their closest competitors.

But while Bahrain’s switch to a night race may mean cooler temperatures for the grand prix, no team is exempt from the ever-present concerns about the reliability of these complicated new power units.

Most drivers are using the same engine for the third race running this weekend. As they can only use five complete power units for the 19-race season, most of their engines will have to do four grand prix distances, and if they reach the chequered flag they will be well on the way to achieving that.

It was at this stage of their engines’ lifespans during testing that the majority of failures began to occur – problems that Mercedes were not immune to. The approach some teams have taken to this weekend shows reliability is a genuine concern – Williams in particular have kept their running to a minimum.

The start

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014For the first time the top ten qualifiers’ will start the race using the tyres they qualified on in Q2 instead of Q3, following the off-season rules change. All ten will start on softs including Daniel Ricciardo following his demotion to 13th.

His team mate Sebastian Vettel, tenth on the grid, is the highest qualifier with a free choice of tyre. Vettel failed to make the cut for Q3 following problems with his wastegate and downshift.

Mercedes’ power advantage and front row lock-out will surely ensure both their drivers arrive at the first corner before their rivals. The opening exchange between the pair will shape what could be a much closer battle between the two than we saw in Malaysia.

The 625m run to turn one in Bahrain is one of the longest on the calendar. It’s followed by another long run to turn four where it’s not uncommon to se e a lot of jockeying for position. A poor start can bring with it a high price at this track.

Strategy

The soft tyre is clearly much quicker than the medium, so as in Malaysia expect strategies to revolve around spending as little time on the harder tyre as possible. Pirelli suggest drivers may do as few as eight laps on the medium

Bahrain is one of the more demanding tracks as far as fuel conservation is concerned, and this race is likely to throw more light on which engine manufacturers are performing best from a point of view of fuel efficiency. Once again Mercedes appear to be the class of the field, with Ferrari and Renault more likely to have to back off to save fuel during the race.

However as Adrian Newey pointed out yesterday it is not simply a question of which engine has the best balance of power and economy, or which team is getting the most out of their equipment. The fuel supplier also plays an important role:

“Within an engine, depending on what fuel it uses there can be very significant differences. That can also create differences. We certainly can see that in our own GPS analysis between our rivals that some appear to have significantly more power than others, even though they have the same engine.”

After finishing second in Malaysia last week Rosberg praised his team’s fuel supplier and title sponsor Petronas with an enthusiasm which went beyond the usual semi-conscious namechecking every racing driver performs. An indication, perhaps, of another key element in Mercedes’ arsenal – something to reflect on as we anticipate what will surely be another 57-lap demonstration run by the silver cars.

Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Nico RosbergMercedes1’35.4391’33.708 (-1.731)1’33.185 (-0.523)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’35.3231’33.872 (-1.451)1’33.464 (-0.408)
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’36.2201’34.592 (-1.628)1’34.051 (-0.541)
4Valtteri BottasWilliams1’34.9341’34.842 (-0.092)1’34.247 (-0.595)
5Sergio PerezForce India1’34.9981’34.747 (-0.251)1’34.346 (-0.401)
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’35.2341’34.925 (-0.309)1’34.368 (-0.557)
7Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’35.6991’34.714 (-0.985)1’34.387 (-0.327)
8Felipe MassaWilliams1’35.0851’34.842 (-0.243)1’34.511 (-0.331)
9Kevin MagnussenMcLaren1’35.2881’34.904 (-0.384)1’34.712 (-0.192)
10Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’35.2511’34.723 (-0.528)1’34.992 (+0.269)
11Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’35.5491’34.985 (-0.564)
12Nico HulkenbergForce India1’34.8741’35.116 (+0.242)
13Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’35.3951’35.145 (-0.250)
14Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1’35.8151’35.286 (-0.529)
15Esteban GutierrezSauber1’36.5671’35.891 (-0.676)
16Romain GrosjeanLotus1’36.6541’35.908 (-0.746)
17Pastor MaldonadoLotus1’36.663
18Adrian SutilSauber1’36.840
19Kamui KobayashiCaterham1’37.085
20Jules BianchiMarussia1’37.310
21Marcus EricssonCaterham1’37.875
22Max ChiltonMarussia1’37.913

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Nico Rosberg29.550 (1)40.300 (1)23.335 (2)
Lewis Hamilton29.673 (2)40.488 (2)23.303 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo29.782 (3)40.669 (3)23.600 (9)
Valtteri Bottas29.898 (8)40.711 (4)23.580 (7)
Sergio Perez29.897 (7)40.856 (5)23.538 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen29.921 (10)40.896 (6)23.551 (6)
Jenson Button29.792 (4)41.066 (10)23.529 (3)
Felipe Massa29.819 (5)40.998 (8)23.580 (7)
Kevin Magnussen29.902 (9)41.195 (12)23.534 (4)
Fernando Alonso30.063 (11)40.967 (7)23.663 (10)
Sebastian Vettel30.203 (14)41.012 (9)23.770 (13)
Nico Hulkenberg29.852 (6)41.260 (13)23.669 (11)
Daniil Kvyat30.154 (13)41.136 (11)23.767 (12)
Jean-Eric Vergne30.081 (12)41.334 (14)23.854 (14)
Esteban Gutierrez30.372 (15)41.510 (15)24.009 (17)
Romain Grosjean30.401 (16)41.514 (16)23.993 (16)
Pastor Maldonado30.682 (19)42.030 (17)23.951 (15)
Adrian Sutil30.709 (20)42.053 (18)24.078 (18)
Kamui Kobayashi30.410 (17)42.369 (20)24.306 (19)
Jules Bianchi30.609 (18)42.375 (21)24.326 (20)
Marcus Ericsson31.135 (22)42.327 (19)24.413 (22)
Max Chilton30.889 (21)42.690 (22)24.334 (21)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes328.8 (204.3)
2Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes327.9 (203.7)-0.9
3Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes327.2 (203.3)-1.6
4Adrian SutilSauberFerrari326.7 (203.0)-2.1
5Kevin MagnussenMcLarenMercedes326.6 (202.9)-2.2
6Daniil KvyatToro RossoRenault326.1 (202.6)-2.7
7Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes326.1 (202.6)-2.7
8Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes325.8 (202.4)-3.0
9Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes325.3 (202.1)-3.5
10Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes321.8 (200.0)-7.0
11Kamui KobayashiCaterhamRenault321.1 (199.5)-7.7
12Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoRenault320.4 (199.1)-8.4
13Daniel RicciardoRed BullRenault320.3 (199.0)-8.5
14Pastor MaldonadoLotusRenault318.7 (198.0)-10.1
15Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari317.3 (197.2)-11.5
16Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari316.9 (196.9)-11.9
17Max ChiltonMarussiaFerrari316.3 (196.5)-12.5
18Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault314.9 (195.7)-13.9
19Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault314.7 (195.5)-14.1
20Marcus EricssonCaterhamRenault313.9 (195.0)-14.9
21Esteban GutierrezSauberFerrari313.0 (194.5)-15.8
22Jules BianchiMarussiaFerrari310.5 (192.9)-18.3

Over to you

Who will win the battle of the Mercedes? And which of their rivals will get closest to them?

Share your views on the Bahrain Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Image © Red Bull/Getty

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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25 comments on “Reliability could be the decider in the desert”

  1. Looking at the speed trap, all else being equal, Dan R is running less wing than Seb V.

    1. and Dani K is running less wing than JEV.

      Seems a little less wing can be a good thing.

      1. Why do you assume higher speed trap speeds are indicative of running less wing? The cars aren’t getting close to the limiter this year, so you’re just as likely to find an edge in the speed trap from carrying more speed onto the start of straight and getting more traction, both requiring more wing. Every driver that beat their teammate in the speed trap also set the faster S3 time except Sutil and Chilton.

        1. Speed trap figures are dominated by aerodynamic drag. Entry speed to the straight is almost completely irrelevant.

          1. Less relevant than traction, sure. But the further away from maximum straight line speed the less important aero drag is, and I’m fairly sure they are not at maximum straight line speed in the speed traps yet this year.

          2. Mercedes were the top 8 cars at the s/f line from the torque.

    2. Not surprising since he had a 10 place grid drop, and therefore overtaking to do in the race..

      1. Indeed, makes a lot of sense to try and setup for a race fighting the pack

  2. Well, in Oz there were 8 retirements, in Sepang there were 7. So I suppose we should expect six or so this week.

    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      6th April 2014, 2:09

      I think we may see more than in AUS. Just because these are still the same engines, and they’ve racked up a lot of miles on them so far.

      If they use the same ones again for China, then I think we’ll definitely see quite a lot of retirements… Or next to no running in the practice sessions.

  3. Interesting to note that the entire GP2 field qualified within 107% of Nico Hulkenberg’s fastest time in Q1.

    The time to beat would’ve been 1:41.515 – Artem Markolov, who qualified last for today’s GP2 race set a time of 1:41.172, and he had to sit out half of qualifying due to a spin.

    Chilton was also less than a second quicker than GP2 polesitter Jolyon Palmer.

    1. So the slowest F1 car was still faster than the quickest GP2 car.
      Well, the doomsday theories of F1 being slower than GP2 were fun while they lasted!

      1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
        6th April 2014, 2:11

        They’re still raging hard on the YouTube comments section, and Facebook comments as well.

        I swear, those two places are the breeding ground for ignorantitis.

  4. Mr win or lose
    5th April 2014, 21:39

    High fuel efficiency and a healthy engine: Williams is definitely the dark horse in this race.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the first win of the season of my compatriot in the GP2. I highly doubt the race tomorow will bring any comparable joy. A Williams on the podium will bring a warmth to my heart though.

    If we’re being honest we must say the season is pretty much over with Mercedes easily going 0.8s faster than anyone else, even when they both blew their possibly even faster laps.

    Red Bull will never catch them, even though they got new engines. Ferrari will as per usual lack the development rate and be done with ’14 by Hungary. Williams will take points but fall back eventually and so will Force India. Mclaren are nowhere and have their minds set for Honda and ’15. This might really be a 1988 where Rosberg and Hamilton share the occasional victory, without the real tension that is of course. Lotus, they will not make the end of the season if you ask me.

    1. we had this in 1998 with mclaren and the season went to the wire. similarly, with brawn in 2009 (nearly to the wire anyway). i predict red bull will come storming back – mercedes may shoot themselves in the foot a la williams in 1986. could be a good year. shame it’s so slow though.

  6. Mercedes’ power advantage and front row lock-out will surely ensure both their drivers arrive at the first corner before their rivals.

    But Bottas and Perez also have Mercedes power. Actually, I fear that if Lewis falls behind either of them on the first lap, the race for P1 will be over, and Nico will be at +25 (at least) again.

    Good to see Bottas finally putting the Williams where it belongs (at least on this track), and hoping for his first podium tomorrow.

    1. ‘I fear that if Lewis falls behind either of them on the first lap, the race for P1 will be over, and Nico will be at +25 (at least) again.’

      really? like lewis cant overtake cars over 1 second slower than him? I predict Lewis either beating Nico off the line on lap 1 or passing him later in the race.

  7. I wonder how many will run the medium tyre in the first stint while the track is at it’s warmest.

    1. Maybe nit a bad idea to start on meds… What about safety car? Get them out of the way quickly and ditch after a few laps so you are not far behind as the grid would still be bunched up in the early laps. Obvs not anyone in Q3 but as an opposite strategy it’s not bad for those with pace.

    2. @george The medium tyre works better in low temperatures, so in theory it should perform better at the end of the race.

    3. I think it’s not worth it: with slower tyres you would then be swamped by the whole field in the first stint, and spend the rest of the day in traffic.

  8. Meh.
    The reliability issue has not been as big deal as everyone thought going in, and it will be completely sorted before three or four more races are completed.
    The engineers are incredibly good at making these machines work.
    Generating interesting racing, er, not so much.

  9. Incredible speeds these cars are doing through the speed traps, is it unrealistic to speculate they might do 360+ kph at Monza?

  10. Bottas had two amazing starts in the first two races. Hopefully he can keep up this trend!

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