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Oscar Piastri

Piastri issues 'pretty clear conclusion' on Verstappen and Red Bull

McLaren driver Oscar Piastri has no doubt Max Verstappen and Red Bull remain the combination to beat this year.

Piastri Bahrain test
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Oscar Piastri does not believe any of his F1 rivals will feel they can challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull over the early stages of the forthcoming season.

Although neither the three-time champion nor his team finished last week's three-day pre-season test in Bahrain at the top of the timesheets, the consensus in the paddock was the Dutchman and the reigning constructors' title holders were in cruise control.

The RB20, possessing radically different bodywork compared to its all-conquering predecessor that won 21 of last season's 22 grands prix, is undoubtedly an improvement on the RB19, an ominous warning for all concerned.

Despite McLaren challenging Red Bull on numerous occasions last year following the introduction of major upgrades on its car that were delivered in Austria and Singapore, Piastri feels the team has been unable to close the gap over the winter.

Assessing whether Red Bull had taken a step forward in his opinion, he said: "They don't look slow, put it that way.

"On day one, Max looked very, very strong, and Sergio [Perez, on the final day] certainly looked a bit more comfortable than he was.

"They are the team to beat. How much their advantage is, I'm not quite sure, but it's probably enough...yeah, it is enough of an advantage to be comfortable.

"For everyone else, I'm not sure, but I think Red Bull is definitely still the favourite."

McLaren 'towards the front of the grid'

Piastri and McLaren team-mate Lando Norris delivered steady performances across the three days, with just a few minor niggles along the way.

Team principal Andrea Stella has conceded his technical department failed to address over the winter all of its concerns that were in evidence late last season, but that pre-season was still a marked improvement on the previous two years.

Offering hope as to where McLaren lies in the pecking order going into Saturday's curtain-raising grand prix in Bahrain, Piastri said: "I'd like to think that we're somewhere towards the front of the grid.

"I certainly don't feel at the moment we're in a position to challenge Red Bull. I'm not sure anyone on the grid particularly feels that way at the moment.

"But I think we're somewhere towards the front. Without jumping to very early conclusions, just with the past results around Bahrain specifically, and the handling limitations we've had in the past, it is not, on paper, a great circuit for us.

"It is pretty unique compared to the rest of the season, with the Tarmac very different to a lot of places we go to now, so I'd expect it to still chop and change quite a lot, depending on the circuit characteristics.

"But it's very hard to get a read on where everyone else sits at the moment. I think the only pretty clear conclusion from everyone is that Red Bull looks strong."

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