Reigning Formula 1 World Champions Mercedes believes its rival Red Bull has a stronger car following the end of pre-season testing in Bahrain, as it raised concerns over both high and low-fuel pace.
Mercedes endured an uncharacteristically difficult test, with a number of off-track excursions occurring during the three days for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
On Sunday, Hamilton posted the Brackley-based squad’s fastest time, which was over a second off the pace that was set by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, leaving the seven-time Champion in fifth place.
Mercedes also expressed worry over its long-run speed, stating the data indicates that Red Bull possesses the quicker car.
“We’ve had another day with good reliability where we were able to run to plan throughout the day,” said Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
“Valtteri was doing long run set-up work in the morning and Lewis doing a mix of long run work and qualifying work in the afternoon.
“We’ve made a bit of progress with the balance on higher fuel and the car was more predictable but we can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull.
“The lower fuel work was a more confusing picture, we didn’t gain enough and we need to go and look at our approach as far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today.
“We’ve had issues in recent years with pace in winter testing and managed to make good progress before the first race but we may have our work cut out this time.
“We’ve not got long before we’re back here for the race so we’ve planned a programme of work to try and understand some of our issues and will be leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to find some more speed over the next 10 days.”
Hamilton expressed on Sunday that he expects Red Bull to be “a different animal” in 2021 compared to previous years, when it failed to mount a sustained title challenge.
Despite the issues during the test, Bottas, who was fastest on day two of running, said: “As a team we’ll be ready, no doubt, as ready as anyone else.
“I absolutely believe the car and the team has the potential to do so [fight for the championship]. I don’t think it’s yet there as a package and in terms of performance. But I have no doubt we will work hard to find it somehow.”