Hamilton and Mercedes face Bahrain challenge

MANAMA (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton’s team chief Toto Wolff is confident that champions Mercedes can bounce back from a poor pre-season test and fight for victory in Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Austrian boss, who conceded that the team had suffered a “tough test” in Bahrain earlier this month, said he believed his outfit would draw on its experience and strengths to recover as Hamilton goes in pursuit of an unprecedented eighth title.

“This team’s biggest strengths are our people and our values and after a tough time I know that we can fight back stronger,” said Wolff.

“It was a tricky three days – the W12 car wasn’t as stable, predictable or planted as some of our rivals – and Red Bull looked strong on both the long and the short runs, but as always with testing, it’s difficult to be certain of true performance.”

As Wolff and Mercedes pledged to recover, chief rivals and – for some paddock observers – favourites Red Bull played down the potential of their dominant show in testing at the Bahrain International Circuit, where this weekend’s race takes place.

“I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites,” said Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who hopes to end Hamilton’s run of six drivers’ titles in seven years with Mercedes.

“I’m sure Mercedes also want people to think we are the favourites and put the pressure on us, but we are just focussed on ourselves.”

Red Bull team chief Christian Horner went further by suggesting that it suited Mercedes to escape the spotlight.

“There is no denying that after the smooth running of the three-day test in Bahrain, there seems to be an excitement that we can end Mercedes’ seven-year dominance of F1,” he said in Red Bull’s Unleash The Bulls column.

“We know that Mercedes have not won by mistake for the past seven years – they are a quality high-class team that will be motivated to come back stronger.