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Verstappen has his say on Mercedes' struggles with warning for Red Bull and Ferrari

Mercedes were only able to qualify in P5 and P9 for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, confirming predictions that they would be starting the season behind their rivals.

Max Verstappen says it is clear to see that Mercedes have built a car that is a challenge to drive, but has warned not to rule them out of the F1 title fight just yet. Lewis Hamilton was only able to qualify fifth for the Bahrain Grand Prix, more than 0.6 seconds behind Charles Leclerc in pole position. His teammate, George Russell, suffered a far more embarrassing qualifying session as he placed ninth, behind Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas, the man he has replaced at Mercedes. The team have struggled with porpoising, brake issues and DRS failure during their time in Bahrain so far – all while still fighting to get on top of their new W13.

Verstappen says Mercedes issues are clear to see

Assessing the situation, Verstappen reckons Mercedes have found themselves in a "hit and miss" scenario with their new challenger. "Well, you can clearly see, of course, the bouncing they have – I think the car is not so easy to drive," he told media, including RacingNews365.com , following Saturday's qualifying session in Sakhir. "For them, it seems a bit like a hit and miss. Sometimes they can do a decent lap, and then sometimes it's a bit more difficult to nail the balance. "I think they just need to figure out a few things."

Leclerc had his doubts about Mercedes' struggles

Heading into qualifying, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc still had his doubts about Mercedes' supposed pre-season struggles. He remained unconvinced the team were lagging behind, concerned that they may have been hiding their true pace in an attempt to catch rivals by surprise during the final moments of qualifying. But now he is confident that they will not be in the fight for the win on Sunday. "It was quite obvious that they were not at ease, but considering what happened in the years before, they were hiding their gains quite a lot, and maybe [they were hiding them] a bit more this year," said Leclerc. "Well, actually, they weren't hiding their gains – they were struggling more than other years! "I still expected them to be fighting with us for the race. Considering their pace today, I don't think so now, but let's wait and see."

Verstappen: Mercedes' package can be really quick

Despite their lack of Saturday pace, Verstappen has warned against ruling Mercedes out of the fight, with a long way to go between now and the final round in Abu Dhabi, 23 races away. "I think if they can figure it out, that package can be really quick," he said, after being involved in a tense season-long battle with the team in the last campaign. "We just have to keep working hard. Of course, it's nice to be ahead now, but I also know from last year how quickly they can develop a car and, at one point, it was very difficult to beat that car. "Things can change really quickly, especially with new regulations as well. There are still a lot of unknown areas in the car where you suddenly can find a lot of performance. "It's good for now, from our side, but I expect them to work very hard and to try to close that gap."

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