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Both Hamilton and Leclerc Believe Red Bull Are Way Ahead But is That True?

Drivers from both teams have played down their chances this year....

Ferrari topped the timing sheets during testing. Mercedes look to have a more solid platform to build on. Despite that, drivers from both teams have played down their chances this year when comparing themselves to Red Bull. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc believes the car is easier to drive, but that doesn’t mean they can win while Lewis Hamilton agrees his car has improved, but that Red Bull are “out in the distance.” However, is this just pessimism or are they right to be cautious?

It’s hard to discount driver sentiments because they obviously know quite a bit about what’s going on on-track. Hamilton’s perspective is clear, the car is a “work in progress” and while it “felt much more enjoyable to drive” he doesn’t expect it to immediately reverse the team’s fortunes.

That makes sense considering the position Mercedes is in considering their two years of development so far has been tossed away. However, based on analysis from The Race, Mercedes were third quickest with a 0.497% offset from the benchmark set by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. It looks good, but it isn’t going to challenge Red Bull, and Mercedes seem to know that and are tempering expectations beforehand.  

Leclerc: "Driveability and Competitiveness Are Two Very Different Things"

This is exactly what Ferrari have been doing all winter. Gone are the days of overpromising and under-delivering, it seems leadership has (wisely) dictated the opposite from the team and Leclerc is playing his part.

He stressed that “the feeling was good” and they “managed to be consistent straight away” but “driveability and competitiveness are two very different things.” He is confident that the team “did a step forward in terms of tyre management” but believes it’s “still very difficult to understand exactly where we are” compared to Red Bull.

“My first feeling is that Red Bull is still quite a bit ahead,” Leclerc explained. “But we have a much stronger base compared to last year.”

Is Leclerc right in his feeling? There were no major issues for Ferrari during testing, their drivers consistently reached the top of the timing sheet (although testing times mean very little), and the car looked very responsive. At no point during the test did the car look like it was going anywhere other than where the driver wanted. This was on all tyre compounds and with both drivers.

Even Williams’ driver, Alex Albon, said that “it seems like the Red Bulls and the Ferraris are not really affected by wind on that straight. They just seem to turn when they want to turn and have a bit of grip where everyone else is struggling.”

How Do Red Bull Look?

What’s holding Ferrari back from optimism? Red Bull’s new aero concept. It’s a big question mark and it’s hard to discount the amount of work the team have put into it. Will it work? While the RB20 looked a little hairy early on day one of testing, particularly on the harder compound tyres, it also looked incredibly smooth elsewhere.

According to The Race, Red Bull had just a 0.285% offset behind Ferrari. While the fear was that the RB20 would be so dominant as to make the rest of the grid look like amateurs, that hasn’t quite materialised. The rest of the grid has caught up to some level or other, but we ultimately don’t know the details of their test programme. Did Red Bull ever do a run with less than 25kg of fuel? We don’t know.

Even though Red Bull weren’t sure if their concept would work before testing, it’s shown to be a solid race car despite the unknowns. Considering their large advantage last year, the team have had plenty of time to work on the RB20 which suggests that they know exactly what they are doing under the current regulations. This should put fear into all non-Red Bull personnel.

It is just testing, but it remains clear that if anyone is going to be challenging Red Bull in 2024, it’s going to be Ferrari. We will have an answer come race day on March 2, but while Ferrari are being reserved in their predictions, we think there’s a good chance to see a Ferrari win this year even if it doesn’t arrive in the first race.

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