With the leading Mercedes over a second slower than Max Verstappen in pre-season testing, Valtteri Bottas has cheekily declared Mercedes must be “sandbagging”.
Formula 1’s very brief three-day pre-season run from Friday to Sunday was without the usual Mercedes dominance.
While in recent years fans have come to expect Mercedes will cover the most laps with the fastest times, it was anything but the usual story this season.
Mercedes did the fewest laps of any team, Bottas and his team-mate Lewis Hamilton only managing 304, 10 shy of the team with the second least laps, Aston Martin.
As it happens, a large part of the reason why Aston Martin only did 314 was because of issues relating to their Mercedes power unit.
On the lap times side, Hamilton was fifth fastest with a 1:30.025 on the C5 tyres. That was a full second down on Max Verstappen on the slightly slower C4 Pirellis.
Asked by Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz if Mercedes still had more work to do before the Bahrain Grand Prix, Bottas replied: “Well, you know, we are sandbagging, always in testing, so that’s it.”
Despite Mercedes’ trials, which included a gearshift problem on the opening morning of testing which cost Bottas track time, the Finn believes Mercedes are in the hunt for this year’s titles.
“I absolutely believe the car and the team, it has the potential [to win the title],” said the Finn.
“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. We’ve been going forwards, I think, with the set-up 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.”