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F1: Nico Hulkenberg sets the pace for Sahara Force India in Bahrain (+photos)

Sahara Force India Formula 1 team's Nico Hulkenberg surprisingly topped the time sheets as the second winter test of 2014 got underway in Bahrain today, Wednesday.

Hulkenberg, who completed 78 laps in the Mercedes-powered VJM07, edged out Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes AMG’s Lewis Hamilton with a lap time that was some 0.081s quicker than last year’s fastest race lap in Sakhir.

Bahrain F1 tests 2014 Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India
Nico Hulkenberg, Sahara Force India (Photo: WRI2)

“A very positive and satisfying day,” commented Hulkenberg.

“We had a busy programme and we learned a lot. Time in the car is very valuable at the moment and so it feels good to cover so many laps and even complete two long runs at the end of the day. That gave me a chance to see how the car behaves and to start getting a feel for it, which was not something I was able to do in Jerez.

Alonso’s Ferrari F14 T, which had earlier brought out the red flags after an oil leak, was the only non-Mercedes-powered car in the top four, with Hamilton and McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen both taking turns to top the times before settling for third and fourth places respectively, behind the Spaniard.

Bahrain F1 tests 2014 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari (Photo: WRI2)

Alonso, Hamilton and Magnussen all completed more than 60 laps, confirming the promising reliability of their new mounts.

Reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel was fifth in his Red Bull RB10. The Austrian team today managed to reach a total of 14 laps.

The Renault-powered RB10 didn’t actually make it out of the garage until the afternoon, and it wasn’t long before Vettel was parking it at the side of the track and bringing out the red flags once more.

Bahrain F1 tests 2014 Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing (Photo: WRI2)

Adrian Sutil, who spun at Turn 1 in the morning, posted the sixth best time, but perhaps more tellingly his Sauber completed the most laps of any car - 82.

Caterham tester Robin Frijns was seventh fastest, whilst Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat had a frustrating day in the Renault-powered Toro Rosso as technical problems restricted him to just five laps.

The final driver to post a time was Frenchman Romain Grosjean who gave the radical fork nose Lotus E22 its official debut. However, technical issues meant that Grosjean was able to complete just 8 laps and spent the majority of the day confined to the garage.

Bahrain F1 tests 2014 Kevin Magnussen, McLaren
Kevin Magnussen, McLaren (Photo: WRI2)

Felipe Massa and Jules Bianchi also made appearances on track, for Williams and Marussia respectively, but both had their running severely restricted by technical problems. Williams reported a fuel system issue on the Mercedes-powered FW36, whilst Marussia suffered an IT configuration problem.

Best lap time in 2013:
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG, in Q3: 1m32.330

Bahrain winter test session 1*, Day 1:
1. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1m36.880, 78 laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m37.879, 64 laps
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m37.908, 74 laps
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, 1m38.295, 81 laps
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 1m40.224, 14 laps
6. Adrian Sutil, Sauber, 1m40.443, 82 laps
7. Robin Frijns, Caterham, 1m42.534, 68 laps
8. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1m44.346, 5 laps
9. Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 1m44.832, 8 laps
10. Felipe Massa, Williams, no time, 5 laps
11. Jules Bianchi, Marussia, no time, 3 laps
*Unofficial timing