Mercedes had a poor pre-season test in Bahrain earlier this month, with Sir Lewis Hamilton in particular struggling to get the best out of his W12 and spinning on two occasions in the three days of running.
The 2021 season-opener, which will take place at the same track, is just a few days away – and not everyone is buying Mercedes’ pre-season testing struggles.
Norbert Haug, formerly head of all Mercedes motorsport activity, agrees that the Silver Arrows were sandbagging in pre-season testing, though he nevertheless believes Red Bull could still pose a threat in 2021.
“When Toto says they drove the heaviest car of the whole winter test, I think they were sandbagging. Still, Red Bull Racing is looking very strong,” Haug said.
“It’s certainly the case that it didn’t go the way Mercedes would have liked. But you know what they say, right? A bad test means a good race day performance.
“Mercedes can also stumble from time to time, although the chances are very small I must say.”
As for Mercedes trying to suggest that they won’t necessarily go into 2021 as favourites, Haug said it’s natural for them to try to downplay expectations.
“You always want to give the role of being favourites to the competition.”
Last week, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen said he believes Mercedes were hiding their hand in pre-season testing and will be much more competitive once the season gets underway.
Verstappen claimed Red Bull “can see what they are doing on the data” and explained:
“They drove their first fast lap with less power. Then they drove two quiet laps, followed by a second flying lap.
“In that they won half a second on engine power,” he added.