Pierre Gasly has rejected Max Verstappen’s claim that Mercedes were hiding their true pace in pre-season testing by insisting that Lewis Hamilton and George Russell could be set for a rude awakening at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The Silver Arrows have won eight successive Constructors’ Championship titles in as many years and will be desperate to seal a record-breaking ninth triumph at the next time of asking over the coming months.
They breezed to last year’s honours in spite of Lewis Hamilton’s defeat at the hands of Max Verstappen in the battle for Drivers’ Championship supremacy.
However, it seems as though Mercedes could be set to struggle when the action gets back underway after experiencing a turbulent time of things at last week’s three-day test in Bahrain.
Both of their drivers have already suggested that the likes of Ferrari and McLaren are currently ahead of the German outfit in terms of outright performance.
Their views were quickly shut down by Verstappen, though, who recently insisted that Mercedes have simply been playing mind games in order to unsettle the competition.
“If someone is doing well or a team that everyone expects to do well, then it’s: ‘Oh no, we’re definitely not the favourite’,” the Dutchman told Autosport.
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“And then a week later, when things do go well, all of a sudden it’s: ‘Oh no, but we turned it around completely within a week. Not normal, unbelievable work. Thanks to all people in the factory!'”
Gasly has since hit back at Verstappen’s comments by underlining his belief that Mercedes are no longer as strong as they were after holding his own in an on-track battle with Hamilton during last week’s test in Bahrain.
“I was quite surprised to be fighting with Lewis for a couple of laps,” the AlphaTauri driver told reporters after the final day of running.
“I mean, we know on our side we have quite a lot of work to do to improve the performance, to improve the car balance.
“But clearly I could see Lewis was struggling as well and I think they do have some work to be fighting at the top.
“I think the conclusion is that Mercedes probably don’t look as good as they were in the past.”
It remains to be seen whether Mercedes will eventually be able to claw back their performance deficit in order to start the new season with a bang at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Hamilton recently insisted that his team will have plenty of work to do to avoid slipping behind Ferrari and Red Bull when the competitive action finally gets back underway over the coming days.
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“At the moment I don’t think we will be competing for wins,” he explained on Saturday.
“There is potential within our car to get us there. We’ve just got to learn to be able to extract it and fix some of the problems, which is what we’re working on.
“We have some hurdles to overcome and obviously next week we’ll get a much better showing of our pace, but I think people will be surprised.
“People keep talking about whether we’re talking ourselves down or not, but it’s a bit different this year.”