Day 3: Verstappen and Red Bull show their hand
The Red Bull upgrade kept Verstappen and Perez waiting a little while as the team rushed to prepare the car, but once they were able to hit the track they didn’t waste time showing just how effective it was. Verstappen’s fastest lap – of the week – was a time of 1m 31.720s and was set on the softest of Pirelli’s compounds after a spin on the previous lap. And it was 0.6s faster than next best Leclerc on the slightly harder C4s. Just as significantly, there was an obvious sense of satisfaction emanating from the Red Bull garage and check out this line from the Friday press release issued by the team. “It’s all very positive,” said chief engineer Guillaume Rocquelin. “We were reasonably competitive at the end without even trying.” That last bit… sounds confident, doesn’t it?
As for Hamilton, many will be taking what he said with a large pinch of salt, but during the mid-session press conference on Saturday he sure sounded genuine. “At the moment I don't think we will be competing for wins,” he said. “There is potential within our car to get us there. We just have to learn to be able to extract it and fix some of the problems, which is what we're working on. Next week we will get a much better showing of our pace, but I think people will be surprised maybe. Or at least people keep talking about us talking ourselves down. But it’s a bit different this year.”
Visually, the ‘porpoising’ bounce that had been characteristic in most cars in Barcelona was still a problem in Bahrain, but most notably for Mercedes. The Red Bull, in contrast, didn’t seem to bounce at all. Adrian Newey, after all, was around the last time F1 had ground-effect grand prix cars…
Ferrari genuinely looks consistently competitive, Alpine looks strong too. McLaren? Beyond Ricciardo’s illness, trouble keeping the front brakes cool in Bahrain undermined the team’s progress. But let’s see this weekend. The true picture will only begin to emerge during qualifying on Saturday afternoon. It’s all beautifully poised – and fabulously unpredictable.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.