Max Verstappen in the Red Bull RB20 leaves the Red Bull garage. Note the contour of the Sidepod

Formula 1 News: Sainz Jr. not surprised at Red Bull’s early pace

(GMM) As Formula 1 gets to the end of the sole pre-season test, the feeling up and down the Bahrain pitlane is unanimous – Red Bull still has the fastest car.

Most insiders believe the Ferrari, whose Carlos Sainz – with softer tires – was quicker than Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on Thursday, is next in the 2024 pecking order.

“The feeling is that Red Bull are even faster than us,” admitted Charles Leclerc, “but we hope for a surprise next week.”

Indeed, towards the end of next week, the world championship will kick off at the same Bahrain circuit, with Red Bull’s rivals left to wonder if the team’s fundamentally different car concept is now the one they need to emulate.

“We’ll leave Red Bull aside as the leaders,” said RB driver Yuki Tsunoda. “Then Aston Martin and Ferrari look ok, same as McLaren. Things get more complicated behind that.”

Yuki Tsunoda

It had been hoped that as the new-in-2022 ‘ground effect’ regulations in the budget cap remained stable for a few seasons, the field would start to get closer together.

“Does this also apply to Red Bull?” Ferrari team boss Frederic Vasseur joked on Thursday.

Red Bull’s top Austrian consultant Dr Helmut Marko admits: “Ferrari have more problems than us. And the McLaren looks more nervous.”

Estimates up and down the paddock suggest Red Bull’s advantage is somewhere between the 3 tenths mentioned by Marko and a wilder 1-second gap forecast by Mercedes insiders.

“They (Red Bull) are very strong,” said Ferrari’s Sainz. “But it’s not something that surprises us. They started perhaps in April to work on this year’s car.”

McLaren boss Andrea Stella admits he was stunned when he first saw that Red Bull had not simply evolved its ultra-dominant 2023 car, but had followed the lead of a concept that Mercedes scrapped mid-way through last year.

“I have to say that when I saw the car, I was like ‘Wow’,” Stella admits. “They’ve certainly been brave in changing some of the shapes that made the car so successful last year.

“It is a car that seems to have found a big step. Unfortunately, it was on the car that was already the fastest last year. And they’ve become even faster.

“They had the advantage of being able to put a lot of development work into new concepts from a strong starting position,” the Italian added.

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