Lewis Hamilton has hinted that McLaren could be the team to watch this season after its impressive showing during the three-day test in Bahrain over the weekend.
Daniel Ricciardo topped two of the six testing sessions while teammate Lando Norris was also quick, with early suggestions that the gap between the top two and everyone else may now have been somewhat bridged.
McLaren is coming off its best season since 2012 – Hamilton’s final season with the team – having finished third in the constructors’ championship last year, but spent the off-season having to largely concentrate on integrating a new Mercedes engine into a chassis which was previously designed for a Renault power unit.
That left fears that McLaren’s midfield rivals may have overtaken them, but testing results in Bahrain suggested they actually might be at the head of the chasing pack.
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“They don’t imagine they’re faster than Red Bull or Mercedes, but they think they’re close – much closer than previous seasons,” said Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz, who added that McLaren were “sitting pretty”.
Not only did the car have the quickest single-lap pace across two of the three morning sessions, but the new MCL35M also showed promising pace on the long runs.
“It’s difficult to know what everyone’s doing but we can be confident, we have a decent car,” said Ricciardo’s teammate Norris. “We have things to work on for sure, not everything’s perfect, but I’m happy and excited to get started.
“I think it’s gone well. I want to say we’re maybe a little more confident than we were last year.
“In terms of starting off with a good step and on the right foot, I think we’ve managed to do that and we have some good things to work on when we come back in two weeks.”
Mercedes, on the other hand, struggled during testing and Norris claimed the team didn’t look “quite as comfortable” and the car looked “nothing special” – although he did add: “But everyone knows they’re going to be quick”.
And if that prediction is true and Hamilton, as expected, finds himself at the front once again, he will certainly be looking back over his shoulder, and expects to see a papaya-coloured car in his rear-view mirrors.
“Without doubt it is quite impressive to see the speed of some of the other teams,” said Hamilton.
“Red Bull are looking particularly strong, and it’s great to see McLaren also looking strong, also Alpine. I’m excited as that means more fun.”