Max Verstappen appeared to have Mercedes looking over their shoulders after the Formula 1 pre-season testing weekend in Bahrain — but if star driver Valtteri Bottas is nervous, he isn’t showing it.
Verstappen upstaged the surprisingly slow and inconsistent world champions to set the fastest time on the final day of testingin a dominant display that has some commentators hopeful that the all-conquering Mercedes will be challenged in 2021.
Mercedes had technical issues across the weekend and left their W12 Mercedes in the garage for large stretches across the testing windows, completing the fewest laps out of all the teams.
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On the final day where teams finally unleashed on ultra-soft tyres, Lewis Hamilton was only good enough for P5, more than a second behind Verstappen.
Bottas finished P9.
Mercedes engineer Andre Shovlin said after the event his team has data that shows the team is bot as quick as Red Bull right now — but Bottas and Hamilton aren’t flinching before the season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain on March 28.
It was obvious in the Day Three press conference where Bottas arrived late and gave Verstappen a clip as he took his place on the interview stage.
Verstappen was parked in the middle seat after setting the fastest tim,e with Hamilton on his right and Bottas on his left, the spot traditionally reserved for the third-place finishing driver.
Bottas’ cheeky quip at his Dutch rival was simply perfect.
“I’ve got your seat,” Bottas said to Verstappen, according to F1 reporter Luke Smith.
Verstappen spent so much time in the P3 seat last year that he said in December: “I’m used to sitting in this chair. It might actually have my prints. I think at the end of this season, I’m going to take this seat home. It’s very comfortable.”
He was later photographed carrying the chair away after the final press conference.
While Bottas gave Verstappen a cheeky serve, Mercedes are being much more respectful of the team that has emerged as the clear title contenders.
“We can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull,” Shovlin said.
“The lower fuel work was a more confusing picture, we didn’t gain enough and we need to go and look at our approach as far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today. We’ve had issues in recent years with pace in winter testing and managed to make good progress before the first race but we may have our work cut out this time.”
Mercedes was out of sorts in the first two days of testing.
Lewis Hamilton spun out off the track. Bottas had serious gearbox issues.
Bottas, however, said during the press conference the team still has the ability to win the world title for a fifth consecutive year.
“Day 1 was compromised for me so I’m pleased the past two days have been efficient and clean,” he said.
“Today, like yesterday, we had plenty of laps and ran good quality tests. I’m still not entirely comfortable but we’ve been moving forward and getting better. There’s still more work to do.
“I absolutely believe that the car and team has the potential to fight for the title. I don’t think the package is quite there yet in terms of performance but I have no doubt it will be.”
Hamilton also said he was impressed with Red Bull.
“They’re looking strong,” he said.
“They’re going to be a different animal this year.
“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.”
Third and final day times:
1. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) 1:28.960 (64 laps)
2. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/Alpha Tauri-Honda) 1:29.053 (91)
3. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) 1:29.611 (79)
4. Kimi Raikkonen (ITA/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:29.766 (166)
5. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:30.025 (54)
6. George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes) 1:30.117 (158)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:30.144 (76)
8. Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda) 1:30.187 (49)
9. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:30.318 (128)
10. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:30.486 (80)
11. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:30.661 (56)
12. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpha Tauri-Honda) 1:30.828 (76)
13. Esteban Ocon (FRA-Alpine/Renault) 1:31.310 (61)
14. Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari) 1:31.531 (67)
15. Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:32.053 (78)
16. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:32.406 (86)
17. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:35.041 (56)
18. Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:36.100 (80)