Max Verstappen heads into the 2021 Formula 1 season feeling comfortable behind the wheel of the RB16B, but he knows that testing is one thing and racing a very different prospect.
The Red Bull Racing driver was quickest overall during pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit, although it was more important for him to rack up the mileage and understand how the updated car reacted to changes more than lap time.
Now heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same circuit, he is still striving for improvements, but he goes into the new season in a positive frame of mind.
“I didn’t mind having only 1.5 days in the car and for me the important thing was the mileage and seeing that the set-up changes we made over the test were working,” said Verstappen. “You can’t talk about proper limitations yet as we have only driven in hot conditions and every track needs different things, but I have a good feel for the car.
“From my side the car was stable enough to feel comfortable, there are always things to do better but we are always making improvements and that is what the engineers will do.”
Verstappen still believes the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team are the favourites again for both World Championships in 2021, but the mileage put in and the performance they’ve extracted from the RB16B in testing is a boost to their confidence heading into the new season.
“For sure the test was a positive start for us and you can always be happy when you get that number of laps in and get a good understanding of the car but it doesn’t say anything about pure performance,” said the Dutchman.
“I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites – how can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row. 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.
“You can be sure that everyone in this Team and at Honda is pushing to beat them and anyone else who may be quick this year. I see every season as a new opportunity to beat them, but we would be stupid to expect that fight to be easy and look at testing and think we are ahead.
“I personally can’t wait until we are all pushing in Q3, that is when you will see everyone at full power with low fuel and that is the time to see who developed performance wise and then in the race we will see who can keep that performance over a race distance. Let’s hope we can be good at both!”
Verstappen says this weekend is the time to deliver, and he is happy with the progress made by engine suppliers Honda and fuel suppliers ExxonMobil that will give Red Bull a further boost.
“Now I have to deliver and the Team have to deliver so we can try and mount a title fight,” said Verstappen. “We all know our roles and it’s good to see Honda and ExxonMobil have been pushing hard over the winter to make sure we have the best possible package in the RB16B for the season.
“I like the Bahrain track and it will be exciting to see our performance. It’s time to see who has got what.”