Mercedes predicts Red Bull ‘will be a fierce adversary’

Red Bull was the best team in Bahrain’s preseason training and Formula 1 seems poised for a fierce title battle, Mercedes strategy director James Vowles has acknowledged.

Max Verstappen was fastest for Red Bull on two of the three days in Bahrain from March 12-14, while Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton chasing a record with the eighth title this year, covered fewer laps than anyone else.

“I would say Red Bull is ahead in performance, they have been the class touch of the test,” Vowles said in a video report on the Mercedes website (www.mercedesamgf1.com).

“But it’s a three, it’s not a race, and it’s a 23 event,” he added.

“If we are going to have a competitive season? I would say yes. Red Bull is a fierce adversary, they have a strong package and they clearly came out very, very fast. “

Vowles said that throughout the season, on different tracks, Mercedes would move forward and backward relative to its rivals, but that it would not be ahead when the season begins in Bahrain on March 28.

He said it was “pretty apparent” in testing that the new car handled poorly, while the Red Bull looked very stable and “planted” on the track, an observation reflected in the lap times.

“It is also fair to say that we have no answers now,” added the strategist. “We have a huge amount of data and now we have a long journey ahead of us trying to understand what caused it.”

The director of track engineering of the Mercedes team, Andrew Shovlin, said that the wind had been difficult, but that it was evident that the others did not have the same difficulties.

“We have to focus on understanding why the rear end was a bit weak, how we can make it more stable and predictable, and that work is underway now,” he added.

“Hopefully when we get to the race weekend it won’t be that difficult for the drivers because they were having to work very hard to do the times they were doing.”

Mercedes has won the last seven drivers ‘and constructors’ titles, while Red Bull won four in a row from 2010 to 2013.