From Autosport

Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time on the first day of the second pre-season Formula 1 test in Bahrain, as Mercedes-engined teams filled three of the top four spots on the timesheet.

The Force India driver completed 78 laps of running and was the only man to crack the 1m36s.

His 1m36.880s best on soft tyres put him inside Sebastian Vettel’s fastest race lap in last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso set the second fastest time, edging Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes with a late run.

Alonso earlier brought out the first red flag of the day when his Ferrari left the pits billowing smoke thanks to an oil leak first thing in the morning.

Hamilton and McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen both took turns to top the times during the day. Hamilton wound up third fastest and Magnussen fourth.

Red Bull suffered more problems with its new car following a disastrous first test at Jerez recently.

The team spent the entire morning holed up in the garage trying to get the RB10 to work.

World champion Sebastian Vettel eventually took to the track in the afternoon and set the fifth fastest time, before spinning due to a rear brake issue and causing a lengthy delay with the day’s final red flag.

Romain Grosjean gave the new Lotus E22 ‘twin-tusk’ design its public debut in Bahrain but completed just eight laps and was the slowest of the nine drivers to do a flying lap.

Sauber’s Adrian Sutil suffered a spin at Turn 1 in the morning, but still covered more laps than any other driver (82). He completed the top six just two tenths shy of Vettel.

Caterham’s Robin Frijns managed 68 laps and was the fastest of the Renault-powered runners until Vettel’s brief 14-lap flourish.

Toro Rosso also suffered a long delay with its new car. An oil leak was among the problems that restricted GP3 champion Daniel Kvyat to just five laps and the eighth fastest time.

Felipe Massa was among the pacesetters at Jerez, but only completed a handful of installation laps on day one in Bahrain, as Williams suffered a “fuel system issue” with its FW36.

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi managed only three laps (the fewest of all) as the team encountered an “IT configuration problem” with the MR03.

MyTake

Bahrain if anything on this first day of testing has offered up a look into what can only be considered something the same yet also something different. What is different? A Force India is at the top of the pylon, a Williams is at the bottom and the two-pronged-nose Lotus came to the party. What is the same? Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren are still basically right at the top and exchanging fastest laps and most laps competed between them. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot – also the same, Renault powered teams only completed a measly 90 laps total. Of the 90, Red Bull’s tally was a whopping 14. Not good, definitely not good.

And by the way, for everyone who was griping about the cars being too slow and that includes some of the drivers as well, I guess we can now put that one to rest. The teams are not even going for seriously fast timed laps (that will come in the second Bahrain test) and yet Nico Hulkenburg has now (albeit unofficially) surpassed the fastest 2013 Bahrain testing time set by Sebastian Vettel. Taken from Autosports’s live coverage:

12:12 Hulkenberg goes fastest for Force India with a 1m37.155s. That’s 0.7s clear of Hamilton in the Mercedes, and only 0.2s slower than last year’s race fastest lap set by Vettel’s Red Bull.

2:15 Another improvement at the top for Hulkenberg, and his 1m36.953s makes him the first driver to beat the 2013 Bahrain GP fastest lap in a 2014 car. 

I am going to go out on a limb here and say in 2014 the speed will be fine, the sound will be fine, and if Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes keep up this kind of pace (throw in Red Bull because simple logic says they can get their car to work properly if not by Australia surely by Shanghai) then the racing will also be just fine and hopefully we will have a meaningful championship.

The one unknown still is the fuel economy in race conditions. However I suspect this will be a non-issue as the season progresses and the teams sort out how to drive the car at the limit and still conserve (at least for the majority of the race). The only thing I think we can all agree on is the nose cone on most cars is just not that pleasant to look at. Oh well. We can’t have everything now can we?  Your lap times from today’s testing are below.

-jp-

Pos Driver                 Team                           Time                Gap       Laps

1. Nico Hulkenberg   Force India-Mercedes  1m36.880s                      78

2. Fernando Alonso   Ferrari                            1m37.879s  +0.999s       64

3. Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes                         1m37.908s  +1.028s       74

4. Kevin Magnussen   McLaren-Mercedes      1m38.295s  +1.415s      81

5. Sebastian Vettel  Red Bull-Renault           1m40.224s  +3.344s       14

6. Adrian Sutil      Sauber-Ferrari                  1m40.443s  +3.563s       82

7. Robin Frijns      Caterham-Renault           1m42.534s  +5.654s       68

8. Daniil Kvyat      Toro Rosso-Renault        1m44.346s  +7.466s         5

9. Romain Grosjean   Lotus-Renault            1m44.832s  +7.952s         8

10. Felipe Massa      Williams-Mercedes         no time                              5

11. Jules Bianchi     Marussia-Ferrari              no time                               3

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