Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton believes Red Bull will be a “different animal” this season following its strong pre-season test.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ended pre-season testing in Bahrain fastest as Mercedes suffered a difficult three days that were hampered by reliability gremlins and both drivers struggling with handling problems in the team's new W12 car.

Although Red Bull has not yet managed to challenge Mercedes for the world championships in the V6 hybrid era, Hamilton believes the signing of Sergio Perez and the speed of its upgraded RB16B will make this year’s title fight a different prospect.

“They’re looking strong,” Hamilton acknowledged. “They’ve had some really good running.

“They’re going to be a different machine or animal this year with, I think, a really good, strong line-up for two drivers and a really good car.

“Having seen them winning the last race you can only assume they’re going to be right there if not at the front, at the first race. It’s going to be a great, long battle with them through the year.”

While teammate Valtteri Bottas noted that Mercedes had made some progress on the final day of running in Bahrain, he expects a much closer battle with Red Bull this season. 

“It’s so hard to say at the moment where we are, where other teams are,” the Finn explained.

“Obviously we don’t know their run programme, what engine modes they’re running and what fuel load – but I have a feeling it’s going to be close. That’s all I can say.

“I feel like we made a decent recovery,” Bottas added. “I can’t say that we fully achieved the mileage that we wanted for the three days but actually, not that far off.

“Yesterday we made 95% out of it and today 100%; we had a really solid day with a good amount of laps and quality laps and quality tests so considering what happened on day one, [given] how day two and three went I’m pleased. But now it’s time to turn that data into performance somehow in the next two weeks before the race.”

 

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