George Russell believes Red Bull are the team to beat at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix, and appeared to count Mercedes out of the battle for the second-best team on the grid too, as he predicted Ferrari and Aston Martin would be strong.
Mercedes endured a difficult 2022 F1 season as they struggled with the new regulations and were blindsided by porpoising though they did manage to grab an unlikely podium at the season opener after both Red Bull cars retired.
The team seems confident their 2023 car is a step up on the W13 but Russell predicted it’d be a long shot to bag a podium in Bahrain.
“It’s definitely fair to say Red Bull are in a bit of a league of our own this weekend here in Bahrain,” Russell told the media. “But I think it’ll probably be a nice fight for second place, probably between Ferrari and Aston Martin.
“The mood in the camp is good, it was a good test – we learnt a lot. I think we learned that obviously Red Bull are looking really, really strong.
“But equally, we feel like we’ve got a lot of room that we can improve, we probably brought up a little bit more pace this weekend after the learnings of testing.”
Red Bull looked the team to beat in testing as they set the fastest time of the week, had the best race sim and drove the fourth-most laps of any team, picking up where they left off in 2022.
The team have been slapped with aerodynamic testing penalties including a reduction in wind tunnel time after they broke the cost cap in 2021 but so far that doesn’t seem to have slowed Max Verstappen or Sergio Perez down.
However, Mercedes remain confident in their development and Russell pinpointed the areas they needed to improve to catch up to the Red Bulls.
“Naturally everybody’s always looking for more downforce,” Russell added. “And I think the tricky thing with these new regulations is you’re trying to get the car as low as possible and gain that downforce.”
“Red Bull have been very strong generally speaking in their in their drag and I think we may have made a small step improvement this weekend. So I hope that’s reflected in the speed traps and that’s almost a bit of free lap time.”
Leclerc: Ferrari have more pace to give
Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc agreed Red Bull were the favourites heading into the weekend, but added Ferrari did have some pace up their sleeve to unleash on the Bahrain International Circuit.
Leclerc won the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix after a wheel-to-wheel battle with Verstappen, but it was the Dutchman who was crowned world champion as Ferrari capitulated as the season went on.
That continued a curse on the winner of the opening race – no driver has won the season opener and gone on to win the championship since Nico Rosberg in 2016.
“We didn’t show everything,” Leclerc said. “But Red Bull didn’t show everything, nobody showed everything, we will only see in qualifying.”
“They had a strong start, Red Bull, and Max seems to be very, very strong. It’s only testing so it’s difficult to quantify by how much but it seems like they are a bit in front compared to us, so we’ve got some work to do.
“But it’s only the beginning, the goal is definitely to go one better.”