The Formula 1 circus took to Bahrain today to begin the second four-day preseason test, but little has changed since the doors closed in Jerez. Red Bull, the defending champs, continue to struggle. Sebastian Vettel joined today's session a whole five hours late, due to some last-minute changes. He finished the day fifth quickest.

The Renault powerplant in this year’s RB10 still suffers overheating issues, proven more complex, due to tight packaging and ambitious designs from Adrian Newey. Red Bull won’t show its cards, but it seems that the team postponed development of the RB10 for too long. The other front-runners undoubtedly relaxed their 2013 efforts beginning with Vettel’s rein of terror from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards.

The Mercedes powerplant seems to be the straight shooter so far. The Mercedes-powered Force India VJM07 in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg set the fastest time of the day, a surprising 1:36.8. We’ve always known Hulkenberg to be a world-class driver, perhaps this year he’ll actually be behind a world-class car.

Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari F-14T (arguably the best named F1 car) took second on the charts with a 1:37.8. Observers will note that it’s a full second off the Force India pace, and if it were a qualifying session, it might actually matter. Right now, the teams are just trying to fine-tune and get laps under their belts. Racing can wait; damage control comes first.

Recording the third fastest time was Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes W05: a 1:37.9, just a tenth off Alonso. Behind him was the youngster in the McLaren MP4-29, Kevin Magnussen, with a 1:38.2. If he lives up to the hype, we should expect some pretty remarkable things from Magnussen this year.

Red Bull has a total of seven testing days to figure things out before hitting the grid in Australia. They’ll get it together, but it’s making for a fascinating lead into the season opening grand prix.

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[via BBC]