Max Verstappen says it would be “stupid” to think Red Bull go into the 2021 Formula 1 season as favourites based purely on its pre-season testing performance.

The Dutchman put his updated RB16B machine to the top of the timesheets on the final day in Bahrain to ensure Red Bull closed out a successful three-day test fastest.

In contrast to Red Bull’s strong winter test, it proved to be a troubled three days of running for its nearest rivals Mercedes, with the reigning world champions’ programme hampered by reliability gremlins and handling issues with the rear end of the W12.

Despite Mercedes’ apparent struggles and insistence that it is currently slower than Red Bull, Verstappen is refusing to accept the notion that his side are early title favourites.

“For sure the test was a positive start for us and you can always be happy when you get that number of laps in and get a good understanding of the car but it doesn’t say anything about pure performance,” Verstappen said in a Red Bull Q&A.

“I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites – how can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row.

"I’m sure Mercedes also want people to think we are the favourites and put the pressure on us but we are just focussed on ourselves. You can be sure that everyone in this team and at Honda is pushing to beat them and anyone else who may be quick this year.

“I see every season as a new opportunity to beat them, but we would be stupid to expect that fight to be easy and look at testing and think we are ahead.”

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While Mercedes says it is yet to fully understand the issues it faced in Bahrain and is convinced it heads into this weekend’s season-opener on the back foot, Verstappen stressed the true pecking order won’t be revealed until qualifying.

“I personally can't wait until we are all pushing in Q3, that is when you will see everyone at full power with low fuel and that is the time to see who developed performance wise and then in the race we will see who can keep that performance over a race distance,” he added. “Let’s hope we can be good at both.

“Now I have to deliver and the team have to deliver so we can try and mount a title fight. We all know our roles and it’s good to see Honda and ExxonMobil have been pushing hard over the winter to make sure we have the best possible package in the RB16B for the season.

“I like the Bahrain track and it will be exciting to see our performance. It's time to see who has got what.”