Lewis Hamilton has predicted that, if the Bahrain Grand Prix was held right now, Ferrari would come home with a one-two finish. Mercedes’ pre-season tests have not been entirely smooth, while the Prancing Horse appear in good shape with mere days to go until F1’s stars line up on the grid in Sakhir.
When the brand new ground effect cars were put to the test in Barcelona last month, Mercedes appeared to be going well.
On the final day at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Hamilton and team-mate George Russell notched the two fastest times with their Red Bull rivals trailing behind.
But as teams got to work on their respective cars before hitting the track for more tests in Bahrain this week, there appears to have been a shift in the balance of power.
Hamilton and Russell both expressed concern over Mercedes’ W13 oversteering and bouncing up and down on long straights.
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Indeed, data on day two of Bahrain testing showed both Mercedes stars way down the pack by measure of top speed.
Even more concerning was that Max Verstappen topped the pile, having won the world title with Red Bull last year.
But Hamilton sees his short-term threat coming from Ferrari, as he told F1 journalist Will Buxton that he would expect them to take first and second if the Sakhir Grand Prix was held under current circumstances.
The prediction is certainly a bold one given last season’s points difference between Ferrari and the runaway duo of Mercedes and Red Bull.
But Russell agrees that, as it stands, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have the best car.
With no driver keen to talk up their own chances of glory for the season ahead, Sainz was quick to deflect talk of a third entrant into what was a two-horse race last year.
“I think it is typical Mercedes and typical George, hype up the others and come to the first race and blow the competition away,” he told Autosport.
Hamilton responded by claiming he and Russell would be ‘really, really, really good’ if they were able to fake their pre-season struggles just to catch their competition off guard when the action gets underway next weekend.
The seven-time world champion insisted that work needs to be done over the coming days, but gave fans hope with: “Who knows, maybe when we get to next week we’ll have a better understanding.”
Failure to develop quickly and efficiently could see Mercedes lose their dominant grip on the Constructors’ Championship, which they have won every year since 2014.
Red Bull pushed them all the way in 2021 and Verstappen took home the top individual prize, but with new car regulations in effect, the Silver Arrows seemingly have their work cut out to extend their unpredecented streak of Championship wins.
To crank up the pressure even further, Hamilton is relying on his team to produce a competitive car that will allow him to mount a meaningful revenge mission after agonisingly losing out on last season’s world title in Abu Dhabi.