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Lewis Hamilton: Max Verstappen senses ‘opportunity’ but sends Mercedes warning to Red Bull | F1 | Sport

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The Milton Keynes-based outfit enjoyed their time in Sakhir across three days of testing with Verstappen topping the timesheets in the RB16B.

Mercedes, however, endured some problems which have led to claims this year may finally be the one that the Silver Arrows lose their grip on the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.

Hamilton has won six of the last seven world titles with the retired Nico Rosberg clinching the other in 2017 for Mercedes to utterly dominate the sport’s hybrid engine era.

Verstappen is seen as the most likely to end Mercedes’ monopoly and the Dutchman showed his pace in pre-season and also in last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The 23-year-old though is cautious of having too much expectation for the 23-race 2021 campaign and says Red Bull cannot judge themselves against Mercedes properly until this Saturday.

The new year kicks off in Bahrain and Verstappen reckons it is in qualifying where Red Bull will get a real idea of how they stack up against the reigning world champions.

“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 favourites – 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 favourites 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.”

Discussing their present situation, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff denied suggestions that Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ team were deliberately hiding their true level of performance.

The Briton and Finnish drivers struggled with the handling of their W12 with Hamilton spinning into the gravel on day two of testing.

Speaking to Austrian outlet ORF, Wolff said: “We’ve had some great performances over the years and that is why everyone is saying we are sandbagging.

“I think we were the team that was running with the most fuel, but regardless the car was a bit toxic to drive and fairly unstable, especially with the crosswind.

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“It seems like we have a little diva, like the car from two years ago, that we haven’t really understood yet.

“The fact we only had a few days of testing certainly didn’t help. We haven’t yet understood the car the way we want to.

“We have some small issues we have to resolve, so we certainly aren’t as prepared as previous years.”

The first practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend gets underway at 11.30am UK time on Friday, with second practice following at 3pm.

Third practice then takes place on Saturday at 12 noon before qualifying at 3pm.

Lights out on the season-opening race on Sunday at the Bahrain International Circuit will be at 4pm on Sunday.


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