Charles Leclerc believes Red Bull is the favorite heading into the 2022 Formula 1 season but is hopeful a clean weekend could enable Ferrari to fight for victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari impressed throughout pre-season testing with a car that was consistently quick in all conditions, and had good reliability. However, the Ferrari appeared to lack the final bit of outright pace that Red Bull showed on the final day of last week’s test, and even though all teams were still hiding performance Leclerc thinks there’s one team still ahead of the Scuderia.
“I’m maybe a bit more pessimistic,” Leclerc said. “I feel we are still a bit behind Red Bull. I don’t think we are speaking about a second like last year or even more the year before, so I feel it is going to be closer for sure and this is already a good sign. But I still think they are the favorites.
“So we need to maximize the day, be as ready as possible for Saturday and hopefully we’ll be fighting for the win. But I still see ourselves being behind Red Bull for now.
“I think Red Bull are (favorite), from what they’ve shown. But I also think that Mercedes didn’t show their full potential. They’ve done a few laps here and there that were good but they didn’t really put anything together. I think there is still a lot more to come from Mercedes and I think these will still be the two teams to beat this year.”
While Leclerc’s view tallies with his team boss Mattia Binotto — who ranks Ferrari as the “outsiders” in the title race — the Monegasque driver says both he and the team are in a good position.
“I think we are actually very well prepared. All the tests that we wanted to do this winter have been done. We didn’t have any issues, which is important, so I think this is the main reason why we have a smile on our faces after this test. Not for the competitiveness, because for this we don’t know yet. But for the reliability, for not having any problems and for working well overall as a team.
“I think only the first race will tell us whether our approach was the best one, but I feel confident because I feel like the knowledge we have of our car, probably nobody in the paddock has the same knowledge of their car because they’ve been changing it.
“But on the other hand, obviously Red Bull did a massive step on the last day with the upgrades. I was very surprised to see the Mercedes at the beginning of testing here with a very, very different concept to everyone. Even though all the concepts are different, they were quite extreme.
“It’s gong to be very interesting to see which one works better in qualifying. But I’m happy with our approach and the fact that we know our package very well.
“I definitely feel readier compared to the first year. The first year I felt ready to show my potential but now, seeing the past three years and how much I’ve learned, I definitely feel much readier as a much more grown driver. I feel a better driver today.”