Lewis Hamilton expects 'great long battle' with Red Bull — Mercedes pace 'completely unknown'


Mercedes' drivers say they are gearing up for a close fight in the 2021 F1 season. 'Red Bull will be a different animal this year', says Lewis Hamilton

Valtteri Bottas 2021 Mercedes testing

Bottas says that the Mercedes is improving but performance level is unknown

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

Mercedes’ troubles in preseason testing means that the team’s performance is “completely unknown”, Valtteri Bottas has said on the final day of the Bahrain test.

With rivals showing strong performances on track, both Mercedes drivers expect to be challenged this year. “I have a feeling it’s going to be close,” said Bottas.

Lewis Hamilton also expects to have to fight hard for an eighth world title, given the speed shown by Red Bull — a prospect he described as “fun”. Sergio Perez topped the timing sheets on Sunday morning.

Hamilton said that the team was “not fazed” by the problems that it has faced during the three-day test, which included losing most of the first morning to a gearbox issue, and then working with a car described by Bottas as “snappy and unforgiving”.

“Red Bull are going to be a different animal this year”

“I think it is better when it doesn’t go smoothly,” said Hamilton. “It’s better that it doesn’t go smooth now and go smooth once we get into the racing season.

“This is the perfect time for us to find the issues and have the problems. I welcome that.

“We’re a multi championship-winning team and we know how to pull together and keep our head down and focus on the job but, without doubt, it’s quite impressive to see the speed of some of the other teams.

“Red Bull are looking particularly strong. And it’s great to see McLaren, also looking strong and also Renault so I’m excited. That means more fun.

“[Red Bull] are going to be a different machine or animal this year, with I think, a real good, strong lineup of the two drivers and, I think, a really good car.

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“You can only assume they’re going to be right there at the front at the first race and it’s going to be a great long battle with them throughout the year.”

Max Verstappen spoke of “positive feelings in the car” but said that it wouldn’t be until Q3, in the first qualifying session of the year, that true performance could be judged.

By then, Bottas said that he hopes this year’s Mercedes will have been fine-tuned, after complaining that it was tricky to handle on Saturday, with a snappy rear end.

After driving during Sunday’s morning session, he said: “It feels like we’ve made some steps forward.

“[I’m] still not 100% happy with the car as you would never be at this early stage of the season.

“We keep working we keep trying to get the balance better and get the car to behave nicer and hopefully that way, be faster. It’s just completely unknown, where we are at the moment: three days of testing with the first day being compromised, it’s so hard to say but we really focus on our work and try to be faster and faster.

“I feel like we made a decent recovery. I can’t say that we fully achieved the mileage we wanted to get into three days but actually [we are] not that far off.

“So, yesterday I feel like we’ve made 95% most out of it and today I would say 100%, we had a really solid day today with a good amount of quality laps and faulty tests.

“Now it’s time to turn that data into performance somehow. In the next two weeks before, before the race.”