Red Bull completed fewer preseason testing laps than any other team apart from Lotus
Sebastian Vettel has won the world championship in each of the past four seasons
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton set the quickest time on the final day of testingin Bahrain
The 2014 season will start with the Australian Grand Prix on March 16
Red Bull has enjoyed complete dominance over Formula One for the past four years but as the 2014 season approaches, is that about to change?
The all-conquering team and its four-time world championship-winning driver Sebastian Vettel have endured a less-than-satisfactory preseason testing period.
The marque, which has also won the constructors’ championship four years in a row, completed fewer laps in preseason than any other team apart from Lotus – which missed three of the four tests.
“Right now, nothing is lost – no race has been run, no point has been allocated – but when I listen to some media we are right in the middle of a huge disaster,” Vettel told Formula One’s official website after the final test event in Bahrain at the weekend as he outlined the case for the Red Bull defense.
“There is massive hype and most people don’t know what they are talking about,” added Vettel.
“Yes, sometimes you make mistakes, but there is no team in the paddock who can say that they can run a day without any issues.
Despite Red Bull’s struggles, Vettel insisted it would be foolish to write off the team’s chances ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 16.
“True there are some that have had less than we have, but we will fight through it. Everybody in the team – including me – is ready to fight,” added the German.
“We have been growing together to such an extent that we are strong enough to dive through tough times.”
What has made this preseason so challenging is the raft of rule changes brought into the sport for 2014.
F1’s hulking V8 engines have been consigned to the scrapheap and replaced by hybrid 1.6-liter V6 models, while fuel and weight limits have also been imposed.
The move away from the loud V8s is a development that concerns F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who is worried the sport may lose some of its drama through the subsequent noise reduction.
“I’m not at all happy with the sound of the new engines, to be honest,” Ecclestone recently told CNN.
“It doesn’t sound like F1, but that’s my opinion, let’s wait and see what the public think.”
If Red Bull is under pressure ahead of the Melbourne curtain-raiser, then Mercedes will be looking forward to it with relish.
The German manufacturer, which finished second in the team standings in 2013, had a fruitful time in Bahrain, with 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton setting the pace on Sunday.
“We are driven to fight for the championship – that all is super positive,” said Hamilton after an encouraging day at the Bahrain International Circuit.
“But let’s keep the feet on the ground: right now – even if all indications look great – it is still difficult to know who is hot and who is not.
“You go to Australia not knowing who the hell will be in the lead. Reliability will be a huge factor – for every single person in the team. For everyone.”
Hamilton is anticipating a start similar to the 2012 season – when seven different drivers won the first seven races of the year – with a number of teams jostling for early-season honors.
“It could easily be like that,” said the 29-year-old Briton.
“Fortunately the Mercedes is such a good engine: you have Williams, who look like they could be a competitive team, and you have Force India who could be much further ahead.
“Maybe Felipe Massa will take the Williams to the front! Who knows?”
Brazilian Massa is a new arrival at Williams after eight years at Ferrari and he’s made a promising start to his career with the British team.
The Brazilian set the fastest lap time of the weekend on Saturday, while his rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas was also near the top of the timesheets in fourth position.
“The team has done a great job and thank you also to Mercedes-Benz (Williams’ engine supplier),” Finland’s Bottas told the team’s official website.
“We still need to work very hard in these next two weeks but I overall I’m happy with how testing has gone for us.
“I am looking forward to picking up where we left off when we get to Melbourne.”