Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ‘positive’ over Mercedes problems amid Red Bull threat

F1: Can Lewis Hamilton do it again?

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Lewis Hamilton is optimistic Mercedes have done everything in their power to address their pre-season problems while Valtteri Bottas says there is no “no reason to panic” for the Brackley-based outfit.

The 2021 Formula One season gets underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend with Red Bull, and in particular Max Verstappen, harbouring realistic ambitions of overthrowing the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes have won the last seven successive Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships and this year Hamilton can clinch an eighth world title, which would see him surpass Michael Schumacher for the most of all time.

But the reigning world champions were hit with issues across their three days of pre-season testing earlier this month in comparison to the smooth running enjoyed by rivals Red Bull.

Verstappen and co. have sought to play down the rising expectation that they can down Mercedes, insisting pre-season performance may not be reflective of how Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race will pan out.

And Hamilton insists he is feeling “positive” ahead of the season-opening race regardless of the team’s teething problems in testing.

“I think we are in the best shape we can possibly be in considering we only had three days of testing,” the Briton declared.

“There’s been a huge amount of analysis. The engineers, the guys back at the factory, there’s a huge amount of data from everyone, naturally.

“Every team has to do it, to try and understand, churn the numbers in that crunch time and make improvements in that short period we’ve had. I think we come here positive.

“We’ve tried to understand it. In terms of quantifying how big or small an issue we may or may not have, we’re in the early phases.

“Knowing everyone on the ground here, all the engineers and the aerodynamicists particularly back at the factories, have been working around the clock to rectify any things happening within the car, I’m fully confident in a short space of time they’ve done the absolute best [they can].

“But it will be a continued hustle to get the car to where we want it to be.”

Bottas was in full agreement with his Mercedes team-mate and is hopeful that the hours put into improving the W12 since testing will translate on to the track in the desert this weekend.

The Finn added: “As a team we have tried to maximise the time we’ve had. In testing, day one was not ideal but day two and day three were much more productive.

“The time between the test and the first race this weekend has been full gas for everyone to try to find out how we can make the package quicker and to make sure we take all the learnings we can for this weekend and what is the direction to move forward.

“It’s such a long season ahead and to this point everyone has worked as hard as possible, including us drivers.

“We struggled quite a bit for sure, but it was pretty extreme conditions overall, it was really windy which makes it hard to understand the changes you’re making and compromises the run and makes it harder to understand and to learn.

“The fact is we struggled with the car balance. We always want more performance than we have currently overall both from the power unit and chassis side and aero side and from the humans in the team.

“The team has been really flat out understanding everything from the test and making sure that at least approaching this weekend we hope we’re going to start in the best place with the set-up and everything.

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“It’s unknown how much we’ve recovered from testing and how much performance we’ve gained by the learnings, that’s something we’ll learn in practice and on Saturday and Sunday.

“At least I know the team has done everything we can in the short time but the season is so long. There’s no reason to panic, we just need to work hard.”

Hamilton was coy when asked whether Red Bull will be Mercedes’ biggest threat to an eighth straight double title triumph this year, but expects a real fight.

He shrugged: “It’s unknown really. We’re going to find out when we start going out. I think there’s multiple teams that are looking really strong. Absolutely [it’s going to be closer than last year].”

While Bottas similarly reflected: “As a main threat, again, we just don’t know. It obviously can change throughout the year.

“From testing Red Bull seemed strong and I think it’s going to be closer than any year before, at least recently.”

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