“I also think that Mercedes didn’t show all their potential. I mean, they’ve done few laps here and there that were good but they didn’t really put anything together, to be honest. So I think there’s a lot more to come from Mercedes too. And I think that they will still be the two teams to beat this year.”
Sainz is also keen to play down expectations and he’s not getting too excited about the thought that his first win might be within his grasp.
“You still don’t want to believe it completely,” says the Spaniard. “In your mind you want to come in here ready to fight for a win, because as a driver you want to be ready, but also not trying to believe too much let’s say the hype around us, and whatever we think we are.
“I’m ready for whatever comes, because I’ve been preparing myself obviously for this weekend now for a while. But maybe a bit more after FP1, FP2, FP3 I’ll start putting my expectations somewhere higher or lower.
“You cannot imagine the work that we put into this project, and how long we have been working on this, and the hours that I spent back in Maranello preparing this project. It’s a big effort, a big push by the whole team.
“And it’s something that I feel proud of, after the first six days of testing, the way the team has performed, how little reliability issues [we had] and how solid we were during the whole testing.”
One intriguing aspect of the team’s preparations was the decision not to introduce a significant aero upgrade for the second test in Bahrain, or indeed for the first race weekend.
While both Mercedes and Red Bull made big changes, Ferrari kept its package relatively constant, and that allowed team and drivers to really get the most out of what they had without getting confused by a new spec.
“I think only the first race will tell us whether our approach was the best one,” says Leclerc. “But I felt confident because I felt like the knowledge that we have of our car probably nobody in the paddock has the same knowledge of their car, because they’ve been changing it.
“But on the other hand obviously Red Bull did a massive step in the last day with the new upgrades.
“I was pretty surprised to see the Mercedes at the beginning of testing here in Bahrain, very, very different concepts to everyone, even though all the concepts are quite different, but they were quite extreme.
“So it’s going to be definitely very interesting to see here in qualifying which one works better. But I’m happy with our approach, and the fact that we know very, very well our car already.”
Sainz agrees that the strategy of honing a consistent package was a good one.
“We brought the car from Barcelona,” he says. “We put it here on track, and we kept trying to solve the problems that we had with the bouncing and make it quicker.
“And I think this as a racing driver also helps, to keep the car constant, not having to do idle runs or aero mappings or strange things like this that for the team is always good, but for the drivers you feel like you’re losing time to understand the car.