LEWIS HAMILTON and Max Verstappen’s teams may have been hiding their gains from last season ahead of the opening Grand Prix.
Mercedes could only manage the fifth-fastest time of the Bahrain test despite clocking up the most laps of any team on the grid. Meanwhile, Red Bull set the fastest lap through Verstappen but only after introducing a range of upgrades on the final day.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has warned it was “very difficult to know” how much extra performance the two leading teams have left in the tank. He claims they might have decided to “hide their gains” ahead of the season-opening race to avoid giving away their hand too early.
He said: “We managed to just keep improving. But as we’ve seen, I think Red Bull have quite a new package and Mercedes had a completely new car, and didn’t really show their potential.
“Everyone seems to be quite close at some point or another. So it’s very, very difficult to know how much they have in margin. We know how much margin we have, but we have no idea how much they hide their gains.”
Hamilton has openly admitted he doesn’t think Mercedes will be competing for wins” in 2022 after a troubling test. On pace alone, Mercedes were three-tenths down on Ferrari and up to a second slower than Red Bull.
He added: “People keep talking about us talking ourselves down, but it’s a bit different this year. We are not the quickest at the moment. I think Ferrari look to be the quickest, perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us or McLaren. I don’t know. But we are currency not at the top.”
Hamilton’s new team-mate George Russell also said the Ferrari was the “strongest” car based on pre-season testing performance. He added the car’s performance “isn’t there” and that the team were a “step behind” their rivals.
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz hit back, piling the pressure back onto Mercedes who he expects will still “blow the competition away”.
He said: “I think it’s typical Mercedes, typical George. Just hype up the others and then come to the first race and blow the competition away, which is typical.”
However, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly does believe Mercedes performance issues were genuine.
He explaimed: “I think the conclusion is Mercedes probably doesn’t look as good as they were in the past.”