Sergio Perez believes that Red Bull's Formula 1 rivals Ferrari have been "sandbagging" throughout testing and Bahrain Grand Prix practice, something flatly denied by Charles Leclerc.
The 2022 Constructors' champions were widely tipped to have a small but significant advantage over the field after pre-season testing, with Ferrari in a secure second place.
Throughout practice in Sakhir, Ferrari again did not show their hand, but emerged on the coattails of Red Bull in qualifying.
Carlos Sainz topped Q1, with Leclerc second after the first runs in Q3 before electing to save tyres and not run again, while Max Verstappen claimed pole position.
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Perez's claim against Ferrari
"The Ferraris definitely picked up throughout, [and] I think there were sandbagging a bit through the first days of testing and during the weekend," Perez told media, including RacingNews365.
"They're definitely there. They're very strong. So, I will expect them to be in the fight for the race.
"And you can already see that it is not only Red Bull and Ferrari, there are plenty of other teams that have joined the competition."
When that claim was put to the Monegasque, Leclerc denied them but did admit that he did not expect Ferrari to be so close.
"I didn't find it myself!" he said of the sandbags.
"And I am not aware of it. We found a lot of performance in qualifying, we were in the fight which is something that I probably did not expect, so it is a good surprise.
"To tell you where we found the performance, I'm not really sure, so we need to look into that.
"Because as much as we need to understand the bad days, I think we also need to understand the good days. That's how we will improve, but [it's] good that it's like that."
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