Rivals dismiss Mercedes problems, Bottas jokes 'you know we're sandbagging'

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Rivals were quick to reject suggestions of Mercedes being in trouble despite a tricky Formula 1 pre-season test in Bahrain.

The seven-time consecutive world champions completed the least laps of any team across the three days just over a week ago, with a car that not only had reliability questions but also appeared less stable than many others on track.

Of course, Mercedes themselves weren't afraid to admit they have work to do, even stating Red Bull are ahead based on their data.

But that didn't wash with too many.

“I don’t believe anything about the Mercedes. It is still too early [to make a judgement],” Ferrari's Carlos Sainz simply said.

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"The Red Bull looks good, the McLaren I’m sure is going to be there because the car, with its smaller engine, already allows you to improve the aerodynamics of the car and have more power, better and better.

"So McLaren is going to take a step forward. Alpine doesn’t look bad either, and now it is time to wait and see what Ferrari can do."

Williams driver and Mercedes junior George Russell added: "I didn’t look too closely at the guys in front but I asked them how things were going.

“But hey, this is Mercedes! The car will be fine. I’m pretty sure of that.”

Even those slightly caught off guard by Mercedes' seemingly tricky testing were doubtful of any major problem.

“The surprise is the Mercedes, it may not be as good as expected," Lando Norris commented.

“Mercedes doesn’t look particularly good, but we all know they will probably still be strong.”

Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel does think a closer battle is in store, however.

"It's probably fair to say that Mercedes didn't have the mileage miracle that they had in the last years," said the German, who is driving a Mercedes-powered car for the first time in F1 this season.

"But then again, I'm sure that they will be alright in the first race. Red Bull are doing what they are supposed to do: challenging. So I think it will be either Mercedes or Red Bull."

As for Red Bull's point of view, they were quick to shrug off the title of favourites for the Bahrain GP this weekend, and Max Verstappen explained how he thinks Mercedes were hiding their potential.

“They are indeed fast,” he told Ziggo Sport.

“We could see what they were doing on the data 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.”

Team advisor Helmut Marko agreed, though does see a potential weak link... 

"We have not yet seen the true potential of Mercedes," he told Sky Deutschland.

"Of course we also learned Mercedes had to deal with gearbox problems and now the second Mercedes team, Aston Martin, too.

"Those problems were electronic in nature but that will be thoroughly investigated.

"Anyway, now we all see the disadvantage of three days of testing. If you now stand still for half a day, that is far from ideal."

Aside from the fun and games, Valtteri Bottas was fairly blunt in admitting Mercedes, while not perfect, are still looking good.

“Well, you know, we are sandbagging, always in testing, so that’s it,” he told Sky Sports.

“I absolutely believe the car and the team, it has the potential [to win the title].

“I don’t think it’s yet there as a package in terms of performance, but I’ve no doubt we will work hard to find it somehow.

“I’m still not fully comfortable but we’ve been going forwards, I think, with the setup of the car and understanding of the car, and getting it to behave better, but still there is more work to do.

“From these busy few days, there’s lots of data that hopefully can help us to make the car faster when we race here.”

All will finally be revealed this weekend!