Lewis Hamilton has acknowledged Red Bull pose a real threat to his hopes of a record-breaking eighth Formula One world title this season.
As the final day of testing concluded on Sunday Hamilton conceded Red Bull had enjoyed a strong three days in Bahrain and that their car and drivers were looking in good shape to challenge his dominant Mercedes team.
Max Verstappen and his new Red Bull teammate, Sergio Pérez, enjoyed an almost trouble-free pre-season test, with Verstappen setting the fastest time of the three days on Sunday as they logged 369 laps in total.
“They’ve had some really good running,” said Hamilton. “They’re going to be a different animal this year, with a real good strong lineup of the two drivers and a really good car.”
Last season Mercedes were solidly on top, winning 13 of 17 races. Red Bull developed well throughout the year, however, and concluded with a win at the final grand prix in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton now feels they have carried their improving form into 2021 and he anticipate a genuine fight with his rivals this season.
“Having seen them win the last race you can only assume they’re going to be right there, if not at the front, of the first race,” he said. “It’s going to be a great long battle with them through the year.”
Mercedes had problems over the three days, during which they completed 304 laps. They lost time with a gearbox problem and Hamilton felt they did not have the handling of the car in quite the sweet spot they would have liked. He went off the track on Saturday and then spun again on Sunday, finishing fifth fastest. However, the British driver said the team were not concerned and that it was beneficial to work through problems in testing.
“I don’t waste time worrying,” he said. “That deters you from finding the solution, so we are just working hard and focusing on getting through the short amount of testing we have and trying to be as efficient as we possibly can with it.
“It’s better when it doesn’t go smoothly, or it’s better that it doesn’t go smooth now and goes smooth once we get into the racing. We are a multi-championship winning team, we know how to pull together, keep our heads down and focus on the job.”
The first race of the season is in Bahrain on 28 March.