The F1 2021 pre-season test days are now over, so a preliminary assessment can be made. The RacingNews365 podcast knows that the times produced last weekend in Bahrain do not say everything, but the seemingly struggling Mercedes and the self-confidence radiated by Max Verstappen gave the podcast guests hope.
Ruud Dimmers mainly noticed that Mercedes were not doing well. Lewis Hamilton had a hard time with his Mercedes W12 and even had his car facing the wrong way several times. Not something that suits a great champion like the Briton, he thinks.
"Normally Mercedes are always sandbagging. At Mercedes you normally see during the test days that they start the car, drive out of the pit box and in the evening you see them again at the end of the session after they have completed 180 laps," he remembers from previous years.
This is not always combined with fast times, but normally with trouble-free laps. This year, that was not the case. "They do their own thing, stoically, the thing always seems to run on rails. But this year everything was different."
"They lost the first morning completely with a gearbox problem. Can happen, but when they started driving... and especially Hamilton on Friday. It was not like Hamilton. He was at the side of the track so many times, he had to search for grip," judged Dimmers, who simply did not feel that Mercedes were as strong as ever during the test days.
"Of course, the conditions were difficult, but so was everything else. You also saw some mistakes there, but the following days I did not get the impression that Mercedes were as strong as in previous years. Then it was really driving laps and driving laps again, until they looked cross-eyed."
"They drove two, three GP laps a day without any problems and you always felt that there was total control," he continued. "That seemed to be lacking a bit last test weekend. Bottas complained, Hamilton was in the gravel box and spun when powering up for a fast lap: these are not things that suit Lewis Hamilton, the man who has dominated the sport for seven years."
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For racing driver Tom Coronel, it was clear that Mercedes were not just sandbagging. "You don't give presents away. If the Mercedes car has been scaled back, it is because they are afraid that something might break, you don't give gifts to another team. It is competition," he observed.
But of course the teams, all of them, kept plenty hidden from each other. "Of course Mercedes are holding their cards up to their chest. Red Bull didn't show everything during the test days either. What is certain is that during the first qualifying session, everything will be wide open", Coronel says.
Like Dimmers, he concludes that the test days did not go according to plan for Mercedes. "How well prepared are Mercedes? Because the only days they were able to test were not very successful. That's a good sign in the case that you don't want Mercedes to be at the front again."
And someone who wants that only too badly is, of course, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman did not make any grand statements, something he never does, but at least he radiated a lot of confidence in himself, in the RB16B and in his team. Coronel also noticed that during the test days.
"One thing is certain: Red Bull are in a better position than ever. You can see that in the team, you can see that in Max. You can see it in the twinkle in his eye, you can see it in the fact that he is at the top of the list. And you see Mercedes have problems, so that means slight panic."
Max Verstappen and Red Bull looked very strong, while Mercedes surprisingly struggled during the test days. What does this mean for Verstappen's title chances?