With Red Bull seemingly the dominant force during Bahrain Grand Prix Friday’s free practice session, the debate is raging on who is stronger, Mercedes or Red Bull?
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, as well as the team’s drivers, publicly lean toward Red Bull.
“It’s just a real dogfight,” Wolff told Sky F1.
“When you overlay the fastest laps and even the long runs, it’s just so very close that every kilogram in fuel load can make quite a big swing. So, we don’t really know.
“I think we are definitely closer here than we have been in testing, but I wouldn’t know where to position us versus Red Bull.”
Lewis Hamilton believes Red Bull is faster at the moment.
“We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster, so we know they are leading at the moment,” the Briton said.
“McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking the step. It’ll be interesting to see what the long runs are.”
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Valtteri Bottas, who complained on the team radio during practice that the W12 was “undrivable”, also says Mercedes doesn’t have the fastest car. However, he seemed a bit more optimistic.
“We’re definitely in the mix,” the Finn said.
“McLaren looked strong today, so too Red Bull as expected. I think we are up there – we’re aren’t the fastest but we’re not too far off it.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” concluded Bottas.
Moving over to Red Bull, the team’s advisor Dr Helmut Marko also believes his team is a bit faster at the moment, but remains cautious with his assessment.
“As far as we can tell, we are fastest on the long run as well as a fast lap,” Marko told Servus TV.
“To win the title, you need a car that is competitive in all conditions, and it looks like we have such a car this year.
“The aerodynamic advancements have also come from Honda’s new power unit, which has become more compact allowing us to find a truly optimal solution at the rear of the car.”
While talking to Kronen Zeitung Marko added Red Bull believes Mercedes was sandbagging a little bit during pre-season testing.
“We know that Mercedes was bluffing a little in the tests, but it was obvious to everyone that the rear of their car is not stable enough.
“Until Mercedes resolves this problem, we will be ahead.”
The Austrian also noted that Mercedes might not be using the full power of its engine at the moment.
“We don’t know how far Mercedes can turn up the engine, but we hope we can battle it out in qualifying.
“We have a solid car that has performed well, the gap to Hamilton and Mercedes is small,” concluded Marko.
And, finally, Red Bull’s star driver Max Verstappen said, while he was not completely happy with his long run pace in practice, he believes they are looking “good” compared to Mercedes.
“I didn’t think it was great, but compared to Mercedes it looked good.”
And does Max think the new Mercedes powered McLaren might be ahead of Mercedes’ works team?
“I don’t think so, the strongest Mercedes car will still be the Mercedes,” Verstappen told Ziggo Sport.
Whatever the case may be, it will all be clearer after qualifying, when the gloves come off and everybody shows their A-game.