Mercedes admit Red Bull ‘edge’ ahead of Imola

IMOLA, ITALY (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team expect Max Verstappen and Red Bull to bounce back and give them a torrid test of speed at this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the second round of this year’s world championship.

Three weeks on from the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where Hamilton dug deep into his reserves to conjure up his record 96th Formula One victory ahead of the Dutchman, the seven-time champion knows it will be a challenge to repeat his 2020 win at the old Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was delighted to see Hamilton triumph in the opener, but said he is under no illusion that Mercedes have proved they can match the obvious speed of this season’s Red Bull car.

“We may have won the first round, but we are under no illusions that this is going to be an easy season,” he said.

“Our car still lacks speed on a single lap and Red Bull have the edge at the moment.”

In Bahrain, Verstappen secured pole by three-tenths, but Hamilton made the most of strategy and race-craft to win, with the aid of a costly error by the Dutchman, by just seven-tenths of a second.

Hamilton’s Bahrain victory showcased not only his speed, but his experience and supreme race-management, qualities that he will need again this season as he seeks to fend off the challenge for his crown from Verstappen.

Hamilton rode his luck to win the 2020 Emilia Romagna race at Imola with some aplomb – and the help of a timely Safety Car intervention – last November as he roared towards the drivers’ title.