Max Verstappen believes Red Bull would be stupid to think it has the upper hand over Mercedes ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, despite the reigning champions having a difficult start with the W12.
Mercedes endured a tough pre-season test, losing the first morning to a gearbox issue and struggling with the handling of its new car. Red Bull, by contrast, looked strong throughout and had a much more predictable car to work with in challenging conditions. Verstappen described it as the best pre-season he has had with the team, but he insists that Mercedes remains the benchmark heading into the first race.
“For sure the test was a positive start for us, and you can always be happy when you get that number of laps in and get a good understanding of the car, but it doesn’t say anything about pure performance,” Verstappen said. “I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favorites – how can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row?
“I’m sure Mercedes also want people to think we are the favorites and put the pressure on us, but we are just focused on ourselves. You can be sure that everyone in this team and at Honda is pushing to beat them, and anyone else who may be quick this year.
“I see every season as a new opportunity to beat them, but we would be stupid to expect that fight to be easy, and look at testing and think we are ahead. I personally can’t wait until we are all pushing in Q3, that is when you will see everyone at full power with low fuel, and that is the time to see who developed performance-wise. And then in the race, we will see who can keep that performance over a race distance. Let’s hope we can be good at both!”
The competitive picture is blurred slightly by the fact there was only one pre-season test this year – consisting of three days at the same venue as the first race – and Verstappen said that means there is still a lot to learn about the RB16B, even if the early signs are good.
“I didn’t mind having only 1.5 days in the car,” he said. “For me, the important thing was the mileage, and seeing that the set-up changes we made over the test were working. You can’t talk about proper limitations yet as we have only driven in hot conditions and every track needs different things, but I have a good feel for the car.
“From my side, the car was stable enough to feel comfortable. There are always things to do better, but we are always making improvements and that is what the engineers will do.”