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Mercedes Off The Pace On Opening Day In Bahrain

Jarrod Partridge

(Photo courtesy Mercedes-AMG Petronas press office)

After struggling two weeks ago during pre-season testing, Mercedes were below their usual standard on the opening day of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix.

After being accustomed to topping the timesheets throughout 2020, as the 2021 season got underway the team focused on long-run pace and optimising the car balance based on their learnings from last week's test session.

Valtteri Bottas finished the first session of the day in P2 with Lewis Hamilton in P4, then in the afternoon session, Hamilton was third-fastest while Bottas finished fifth.

For defending champion Lewis Hamilton, the two sessions were all about trying to find the right balance, something he admits is still taking time to perfect.

‘The car wasn't where we wanted it by this weekend. It's looking better but still not perfect so we're working as hard as we can. We still have a hill to climb but we're staying positive. We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, so we know they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it's good to see them taking a step. It will be interesting to see how the long runs are.

‘Stability - it's all about having a stable car and being able to make the tyres last. That's going to be key in this climate and with the wind we have here.

‘(On the forecast of a windy Sunday)... That's not great for us! The rear is unstable as it is but I'm sure everyone will be in the same boat - some a little more, some a little less. For people at home trying to understand, when you approach a corner and the rear moves, you're trying to find that tipping point. The tipping point used to be further away with more downforce on the car - now it falls away much quicker than normal. The performance we've lost on tyres this year doesn't help but we'll work away tonight and try to find a way,’ said Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas feels the team has made a step up since pre-season testing, and is looking for more gains ahead of qualifying tomorrow.

‘First, the car felt better than in testing. It felt like we're still not yet there with the car balance, but it was a trouble-free day and no big issues. I think the main thing in my mind is that we have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole this weekend.

‘Inconsistency in the balance, especially in the rear-end was one area to work on from testing and in terms of set-up approach, things improved and the car does feel better but it's not quite yet where we would want it. We still have tonight and tomorrow morning to try and figure it out.

‘The last long run we did was pretty difficult: I couldn't really put any laps together and the car felt nearly undrivable at times. But it's only Friday and that's why we do practice. We're definitely in the mix. McLaren looked strong today, so too Red Bull as expected. I think we are up there - we're aren't the fastest but we're not too far off it. We'll see tomorrow,’ added Bottas.

Andrew Shovlin feels there is still a lot of work to do if Mercedes are to bridge the gap to Red Bull Racing ahead of qualifying.

‘We've had a productive day. The first session was a bit too hot to be representative but it was still useful for testing the changes we've made to the car since last week and we do seem to have improved the overall balance.

‘The second session had a much cooler track which better matches qualifying and the race so we were able to focus on some single lap practice and long runs at the end. We've still got quite a bit of work to do, especially on the long runs where we didn't look strong.

‘We need more pace and better degradation in order to be competitive but both those problems are linked to the same cause so hopefully we can make some progress overnight,’ concluded Shovlin.

With Red Bull topping both sessions and Lando Norris flying in his McLaren, the stage has been set for a spicey qualifying session tomorrow.

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