Reliability could be the decider in the desert

2014 Bahrain Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’35.439 1’33.708 (-1.731) 1’33.185 (-0.523)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’35.323 1’33.872 (-1.451) 1’33.464 (-0.408)
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’36.220 1’34.592 (-1.628) 1’34.051 (-0.541)
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’34.934 1’34.842 (-0.092) 1’34.247 (-0.595)
5 Sergio Perez Force India 1’34.998 1’34.747 (-0.251) 1’34.346 (-0.401)
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’35.234 1’34.925 (-0.309) 1’34.368 (-0.557)
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1’35.699 1’34.714 (-0.985) 1’34.387 (-0.327)
8 Felipe Massa Williams 1’35.085 1’34.842 (-0.243) 1’34.511 (-0.331)
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1’35.288 1’34.904 (-0.384) 1’34.712 (-0.192)
10 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’35.251 1’34.723 (-0.528) 1’34.992 (+0.269)
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’35.549 1’34.985 (-0.564)
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’34.874 1’35.116 (+0.242)
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’35.395 1’35.145 (-0.250)
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’35.815 1’35.286 (-0.529)
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’36.567 1’35.891 (-0.676)
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’36.654 1’35.908 (-0.746)
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1’36.663
18 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1’36.840
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1’37.085
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’37.310
21 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1’37.875
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1’37.913

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Nico Rosberg 29.550 (1) 40.300 (1) 23.335 (2)
Lewis Hamilton 29.673 (2) 40.488 (2) 23.303 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo 29.782 (3) 40.669 (3) 23.600 (9)
Valtteri Bottas 29.898 (8) 40.711 (4) 23.580 (7)
Sergio Perez 29.897 (7) 40.856 (5) 23.538 (5)
Kimi Raikkonen 29.921 (10) 40.896 (6) 23.551 (6)
Jenson Button 29.792 (4) 41.066 (10) 23.529 (3)
Felipe Massa 29.819 (5) 40.998 (8) 23.580 (7)
Kevin Magnussen 29.902 (9) 41.195 (12) 23.534 (4)
Fernando Alonso 30.063 (11) 40.967 (7) 23.663 (10)
Sebastian Vettel 30.203 (14) 41.012 (9) 23.770 (13)
Nico Hulkenberg 29.852 (6) 41.260 (13) 23.669 (11)
Daniil Kvyat 30.154 (13) 41.136 (11) 23.767 (12)
Jean-Eric Vergne 30.081 (12) 41.334 (14) 23.854 (14)
Esteban Gutierrez 30.372 (15) 41.510 (15) 24.009 (17)
Romain Grosjean 30.401 (16) 41.514 (16) 23.993 (16)
Pastor Maldonado 30.682 (19) 42.030 (17) 23.951 (15)
Adrian Sutil 30.709 (20) 42.053 (18) 24.078 (18)
Kamui Kobayashi 30.410 (17) 42.369 (20) 24.306 (19)
Jules Bianchi 30.609 (18) 42.375 (21) 24.326 (20)
Marcus Ericsson 31.135 (22) 42.327 (19) 24.413 (22)
Max Chilton 30.889 (21) 42.690 (22) 24.334 (21)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 328.8 (204.3)
2 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 327.9 (203.7) -0.9
3 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 327.2 (203.3) -1.6
4 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari 326.7 (203.0) -2.1
5 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 326.6 (202.9) -2.2
6 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 326.1 (202.6) -2.7
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 326.1 (202.6) -2.7
8 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 325.8 (202.4) -3.0
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 325.3 (202.1) -3.5
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 321.8 (200.0) -7.0
11 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault 321.1 (199.5) -7.7
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Renault 320.4 (199.1) -8.4
13 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 320.3 (199.0) -8.5
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault 318.7 (198.0) -10.1
15 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 317.3 (197.2) -11.5
16 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 316.9 (196.9) -11.9
17 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari 316.3 (196.5) -12.5
18 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 314.9 (195.7) -13.9
19 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 314.7 (195.5) -14.1
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault 313.9 (195.0) -14.9
21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 313.0 (194.5) -15.8
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari 310.5 (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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25 comments on Reliability could be the decider in the desert

  1. HoHum (@hohum) said on 5th April 2014, 20:16

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

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 5th April 2014, 20:21

      and Dani K is running less wing than JEV.

      Seems a little less wing can be a good thing.

      • 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.

        • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 5th April 2014, 22:29

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

          • 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.

          • Iestyn Davies (@fastiesty) said on 5th April 2014, 23:21

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

    • joetoml1n (@joetoml1n) said on 5th April 2014, 20:35

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

  2. Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 5th April 2014, 20:20

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

    • Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 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. JackySteeg (@jackysteeg) said on 5th April 2014, 21:06

    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.

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

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

  5. Sam (@) said on 5th April 2014, 21:52

    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.

    • frood19 (@frood19) said on 6th April 2014, 0:14

      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. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 5th April 2014, 21:59

    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.

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 6th April 2014, 0:12

      ‘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. George (@george) said on 5th April 2014, 23:11

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

    • The Abbinator (@abbinator) said on 5th April 2014, 23:45

      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.

    • Enigma (@enigma) said on 6th April 2014, 0:34

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

    • KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 6th April 2014, 11:30

      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. troutcor said on 6th April 2014, 0:56

    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. Ciaran (@ciaran) said on 6th April 2014, 3:39

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

  10. Yobo01 (@yobo01) said on 6th April 2014, 10:49

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

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