After winning the last race of the 2020 Formula 1 season, Red Bull showed that it could be a strong challenger for Mercedes this year after leading the last day of testing in the preseason on Sunday.
When the evening sun set on Bahrain’s desert route in Sakhir, Max Verstpen led the ranking after his new team-mate Sergio Perez was the fastest in the morning.
“I’m happy with the location of the car, it definitely has good potential,” said Perez. “The overall picture is positive.”
Verstpen, the won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the season with an outstanding drive last December that also exceeded the first day of testing on Friday.
“It was very slick as it was throughout the test. I think we can say it was a good weekend, but of course that doesn’t guarantee you, ”said Verstpen. “We’ll find out where we really are in a couple of weeks for sure, but I would say the car feels good.”
World champion Lewis Hamilton put his car on the track by 360 degrees late on Sunday and finished the day only fifth fastest and, encouragingly for Red Bull, about a second behind Verstpen’s time.
Hamilton expects Red Bull to push him hard as he competes for an eighth F1 record title to overtake Michael Schumacher and stand alone among the F1 greats.
“I think both drivers looked pretty strong,” said Hamilton. “They’ll be another beast this year with a really good line-up. It’s going to be a great, long fight with them.”
Perez brings a wealth of experience and racing skills to underpin Verstpen’s wealth of natural ability, daring, and speed.
The 31-year-old Mexican moved from Racing Point, which was renamed Aston Martin after a takeover, and wrongly replaced him with four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who did not get a new contract with Ferrari.
“It was the shortest preseason I’ve ever done and I still have a lot to learn in the car to get the most out of it,” said Perez, who won his first F1 race in his 10th career podium last year.
Mercedes fought on Friday and Saturday Tomorrow before it finds its shape on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday Bottas was in 16th place and had the feeling that the car’s balance was still not quite right.
“I would say that one of the big problems with the car is the rear,” said Bottas. “It’s pretty snpy and it’s pretty unforgiving … we’re trying to calm the car down a bit and that way we’re trying to get a little more pace.”
The season kicks off with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28th on the same track. The planned first race in Australia has been postponed to November due to travel restrictions, while tests from Spain have been postponed and shortened from six to three days to save costs as part of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m grateful for these short days of testing, but it’s the race we’re really enjoying,” said Hamilton, who is aiming for a record-breaking 99th F1 victory in two weeks’ time.
He is confident that Mercedes will be long enough to iron out the problems that arise during testing.
“It’s better that it doesn’t go smoothly now and that it will go smoothly once we get into the racing scene,” he said. “I think everyone just keeps their heads down. Nobody’s impressed. We’re a multi-championship winner.” Team and we know how to stick together. “
For Bottas, the last day was more about avoiding further hiccups, and he was content to measure more than 80 ls.
“I can’t say that we fully achieved the mileage we wanted, but not that far away, a good amount of ls,” said Bottas.
It was an encouraging debut for AlphaTauri’s 20-year-old Janese driver Yuki Tsunoda, who finished the day runner-up behind Verstpen and ahead of Alfa Romeo, 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen.
After Vettel had a hot day with Ferrari last season, his first days with Aston Martin were unforgettable.
After completing just a handful of Ls on Saturday due to a transmission problem, he finished 17th on Sunday.