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Rivals suddenly hopeful Red Bull 'can be caught' in 2024

Rivals suddenly hopeful Red Bull 'can be caught' in 2024
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The team pecking order in Formula 1, which until Thursday appeared to be reasonably clear, was thrown on its head on the opening day of practice in Bahrain.

The team pecking order in Formula 1, which until Thursday appeared to be reasonably clear, was thrown on its head on the opening day of practice in Bahrain.

"I've spoken with several teams and they all made a ranking with the six best teams. And none of us have the same ranking," Pedro de la Rosa, an ambassador for Aston Martin, told DAZN.

Indeed, Max Verstappen's Red Bull - apparently so dominant based on pre-season testing just last week at the same circuit - was suddenly no faster than sixth overall.

Teammate Sergio Perez said: "We heard a lot from people that after the tests we were ahead of everyone by a second. It made me smile because I knew that everything would be much tighter."

McLaren's Oscar Piastri, however, smells a rat.

"We'll see how many sandbags they unload from their cars tomorrow," he laughed.

It's not just Red Bull who are accused of masking their performance, though. Mercedes, suddenly first and second in Thursday's second session, are now being accused of having done their sandbagging last week.

"Yeah, why would we?" team boss Toto Wolff said, adding that it's qualifying day when "the bull**it" really stops.

"In the long run we are still three tenths behind Max," he insisted, "but that's less than we expected."

As for triple world champion Verstappen, his struggles on Thursday appeared genuine, as he declared on the radio that "Everything is sh**" and "miles off".

Thursday's fastest, however - Hamilton - declared that while a fast lap is one thing, "our long run pace isn't in the fight with the Red Bulls".

"Verstappen looked comfortably quickest," Russell, piloting the second-fastest sister Mercedes, agreed, "and it was very tight with the Ferraris, the McLarens and the Aston Martins."

Nonetheless, Carlos Sainz said Thursday demonstrated that Ferrari is not alone in following in the immediate wheeltracks of the reigning world champions.

"No one reveals everything in testing," said the Ferrari driver, "and it's now clear that Mercedes is on the pace. And Red Bull Racing was much faster in long runs than on a fast lap, so I expect them to improve."

Former Red Bull driver Christian Klien told Speed Week: "It has become clear that Mercedes was fully accelerating but Red Bull wasn't at all.

"Mercedes still surprised me though. The car looked really good on the track. Then again, maybe Ferrari know exactly where they stand, so they haven't had to flex their muscles yet."

In the Red Bull camp, Dr Helmut Marko said Thursday's order is a simple case of "some others revving the engine more than us, but not all of them".

Auto Motor und Sport quotes Mercedes' Wolff as agreeing: "According to our data, we used slightly more engine power than Red Bull."

Marko says Verstappen also struggled with the gusty wind and lower temperatures, "which obviously hurt us more than the others. The ease of the test days is gone", said the 80-year-old Austrian.

"On one lap, it will be a close race with Ferrari and Mercedes. In the long run we are still ahead, but not as clearly as expected."

As for Verstappen's vocal complaints about gear-shifts, Marko added: "Sometimes that is Max's favourite topic, but I'm sure we'll have it solved by tomorrow."

For Red Bull's rivals, however, they had reason to cautiously smile on Thursday.

"We are still behind the Red Bulls in the long runs," said Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur. "But the gap is of a size that can be caught up."

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