Following the conclusion of another exciting Grand Prix F1 2017 style, all ten current Formula One teams will remain in the Kingdom of Bahrain for two days of testing activity beginning Tuesday.
Due to feature 16 drivers running across the 10 current Formula One squads, the Bahrain in season test will be the first opportunity since lights out at Melbourne for the teams to take stock and try out a raft of new updates designed to decrease the gap to the front running Mercedes and Ferrai teams.
As well as the usual technical innovations and adjustments likely to be seen over the course of the two day test beginning Tuesday, Bahrain will also be noteworthy for the presence of several less familiar faces behind the wheel of the cars out on track.
Probably the highest profile name to enter the equation during the test will be McLaren refuge and DTM champion Gary Paffet, making his 2017 testing debut for the Williams team on Thursday. British driver Pafett is no stranger to the Formula One paddock, having spent several years associated with McLaren as both test and reserve driver, dovetailing his duties in recent years with simulation work for the Woking concern during race weekends and when clashes with his Mercedes DTM schedule allow. At 36 years of age the boat has sadly well and truly sailed on a full time race seat in Formula One for the talented Englishman, however with his undoubted technical knowledge and proven development prowess remains a boost to Williams as they look to climb their way back up to the sharp end of the field. No doubt Williams are taking the opportunity to get Pafett acclimatised to the Williams car for the first time in 2017 in order to ensure solid correlation between track and simulator results, as well as making use of the considerable knowledge acquired over his seven year testing stint at McLaren.
Other teams ringing that changes for the test include early championship pace setter Ferrari, calling on junior driver and Sauber stand in Antonio Giovinazzi for a full days running on Tuesday before the young Italian hands over to World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel for day two.
21-year-old French reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly will also be handed valuable seat time behind the wheel of the Red Bull RB13 for a full day running on Wednesday, as Gasly and Australian Daniel Riccardo look to put to the test several aerodynamic modifications to the car in a bid to improve the fortunes of a team that have so far failed to live up to expectations over the first three races of the season, with a scant third position for Max Verstappen a highlight in what has been an otherwise difficult beginning to the year.
Rounding out the changes from the usual starting line-upsinclude a rare McLaren outing for Oliver Turvey, yet more seat time for Force India reserve Alfonso Celis, a Toro Rosso debut for Sean Gelael and a day of action for Russian journeyman Sergey Sirotkin in the works Renault team.
Tuesday: Antonio Giovinazzi
Wednesday: Sebastian Vettel
Tuesday: Lewis Hamilton
Wednesday: Valtteri Bottas
Tuesday: Daniel Ricciardo
Wednesday: Pierre Gasly
Tuesday: Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon
Wednesday: Alfonso Celis
Tuesday: Lance Stroll, Felipe Massa
Wednesday: Gary Paffett
Tuesday: Sean Gelael
Wednesday: Carlos Sainz, Daniil Kvyat
Tuesday: Romain Grosjean
Wednesday: Kevin Magnussen
Tuesday: Nico Hulkenberg
Wednesday: Sergey Sirotkin
Tuesday: Marcus Ericsson
Wednesday: Pascal Wehrlein
Tuesday: Oliver Turvey
Wednesday: Stoffel Vandoorne
On the technical front Bahrain will be an important two days running for the struggling McLaren Honda squad as engine partners Honda will be debuting several new ideas for the 2017 power unit, in a bid to increase reliability and narrow the gap to the front running teams. Following an incredibly poor start to the new season, Honda are keen to limit the damage being done to the Honda brand almost daily in recent times and admit that "In this situation we cannot wait... We really need to have some improvement." Possibly the understatement of the year so far, the Bahrain test needs to start yielding positive results for the Japanese otherwise it may not be beyond possibility that McLaren could begin to look elsewhere for a power supply in coming seasons.
Honda won't be the only manufacturer using the first in season test to experiment with new parts as Renault are also looking for further performance gains from the current engine, with a revised MGU-K scheduled for running in preparation of a race debut next time out at Sochi. "According to all the tests this week, [its introduction] could be for Sochi. The MGU-K can be back on track fairly quickly" said Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul.
"It will help a little bit with the weight and with the packaging, so for all these things it's good to have it back. It will also be good to have back a complete 2017 configuration.
"It helps bring confidence our ability to bring performance, upgrades to the car and the engine."
The new Renault MGU-K solution is expected to be rolled out for the works Renault squad in time for the next Grand Prix, with customer teams Red Bull and Toro Rosso both having the opportunity to take the upgrade should they wish. The new MGU-K is thought to be 5kg lighter than the current model and suitable for use with the planned engine update scheduled for the middle of the year.
The teams and drivers will be taking to the track at Bahrain on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week before packing up and heading home in preparation for the next round of the championship at the VTB Russian Grand Prix on Sunday 30th April.
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Have you enjoyed the season so far? Do you think Red Bull and Williams can progress development during the test to catch Mercedes and Ferrari in the title fight? Can McLaren overcome their current woeful form and regularly challenge for points? Let us know in the comments section below!