Faced with pre-season testing in the Formula 1 World Championship, one was always obliged to try to take some distance from any conclusion at first glance, because the pursuit of the maximum performance of the cars was almost as important as trying that true potential. However, the concentration of this winter’s training to only three days as a result of the impact of the covid makes the tests that ended this Sunday in Bahrain the most reliable in recent decades. And the best of all, especially for that fan who is a little fed up with Mercedes’ fierce dominance – seven doubles in the last seven years – is that there are signs to think that there is a game, at least for the first stops of the calendar that It starts shooting in two weeks (March 28), on that same Sakhir circuit. If you have to be guided by the data of the last three days, it seems clear that Max Verstappen will face that first grand prix of the course with options to prolong the inertia that led him to win the last round of the past championship, in Abu Dhabi.
Red Bull learns from its mistakes and last year it made a big one in the design of its RB16, which it corrected with the passing of the races. The instability of the rear of the car led Verstappen to have to adapt to that scenario, a circumstance that prevented the Dutchman from getting all that magic hidden in his hands. That was a determining burden for the aspirations of the energy team and its main bet, which when it was able to win its first date, the fifth (Silverstone), was already dragging a 36-point disadvantage compared to Lewis Hamilton, the undisputed leader of the table after having chained three consecutive wins. The superiority of the star’s company was so overwhelming that it was even allowed to stop the evolution of the W11 before reaching the halfway point of the championship.
The picture seems very different this time, no matter how the streak of successes of the Stuttgart manufacturer lead, almost by obligation, to grant him the role of favorite, if only for fear of being in evidence. The rehearsal times in Bahrain reinvigorate the options for Red Bull and Verstappen, while raising questions about the level of competitiveness with which Mercedes will arrive at that first event. And not only because Mad Max closed the preseason with the best record in the tests and took out more than a second from Hamilton, fifth. But because of the solvency with which the structure of Milton Keynes (Great Britain) has been corrected. The new RB16B has been fine-tuned and sharpened, among other things, with a new rear suspension in the style of the Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas prototypes, more effective in all respects. Those wiggles that Verstappen suffered at the start of 2020 are those that these days have caused several spins of the Silver Arrows, much less forceful than usual, with more mishaps – a gearbox failure left the car without rolling half Friday – and departures from the track than planned, probably as a result of the new mandatory aerodynamic restrictions.
“We have improved a bit in balance with a full tank of gas, but the data we have collected tells us that, in race pace, we are not as fast as Red Bull,” said Andrew Shovlin, the head of the race, at the end of the tests. Mercedes track operations. “We have had problems with the rhythm on other occasions (in preseason), but we were able to straighten the situation before the first grand prix, but surely this time we will have a lot of work in the next ten days,” adds the engineer. “Red Bull is going very fast. They have had a great preseason. Both Max and his partner [Checo Pérez] they look very strong. This year I think they will be a different animal ”, agreed Hamilton.
Of the rest of the teams, it is worth highlighting the good role done by Alpha Tauri, the seriousness of Ferrari and Carlos Sainz (he was the third fastest, six tenths behind Verstappen), the tremendous work that Alpine has ahead of him, who will have to get on with it if He does not want Fernando Alonso (ninth, 1.3 seconds behind the first) to take out his most warrior version.