World Champion Lewis Hamilton feels Mercedes have taken a step forward from testing earlier this month.
Nonetheless, he’s wary of the pace that Red Bull continued to show during the two Friday practice sessions.
“I definitely do,” said Hamilton, when asked if they’ve improved since testing. “We’ve done a lot of work coming into the past week and I think we have taken a step forward. But we’ve still got more to do.
“With tyres and downforce reduced, the global balance has just shifted and it’s not where we wanted. This weekend it’s looking better but still not perfect so we’re just working as hard as we can… I know we still have a hill to climb but we’re staying positive.
“We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster,” the seven-time champion added, “so we know they’re leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking the step. It’ll be interesting to see how the long runs are.”
On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Valtteri Bottas labelled his car undriveable during the long runs of FP2, both on the radio and talking to the media following the session.
The Finn also admits there is a lot of work to do if his team wants to fight for pole on Saturday and the win on Sunday.
“The last long run we did was pretty inconsistent, and I couldn’t really put any laps together, and the car, as I said, felt undriveable at times,’’ Bottas said. “A bit puzzled, but it’s Friday and that’s why we practice."
“I think the inconsistency in the balance, especially in the rear end of the car, was one big [issue in testing], and in terms of set-up approach we’ve tried to make it better,” Bottas added. “It felt better than in testing in terms of how the car is feeling, so that’s good… but it’s not yet quite what I would like to have underneath me.
“At least it was a trouble-free day and no big issues, but I think the main thing in my mind is that we still have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole and for the win.”
Winner of the final race at Abu Dhabi in the 2020 season, Max Verstappen started 2021 in style as he topped both FP1 and FP2. The Dutchman admitted he had a good feeling with the RB16B today, but is wary things could change tomorrow.
"It was alright. Different conditions compared to testing but a good feeling in the car," Verstappen told Sky Sports. "A few things to look into but overall I'm pretty happy.
"But still tomorrow is a different day, even more windy which in these cars is even more tricky."
Sergio Perez finished 10th quickest in FP2 as he struggled to maximise the potential of his car on the soft tyre today. The Mexican admits he has work to do tomorrow to find the best balance on short runs but feels more comfortable with his machinery on longer runs.
“We are certainly making big steps all the time,” said Perez, “but we’ve got some work to do over a lap. I don’t quite feel the car within me. I’m still having to think a lot, what’s going on out there. It doesn’t seem to be coming naturally over a lap.
“The long run, I seem to be more comfortable – I think the pace is there over the long run so that’s the positive bit. But we’ve got some work to do on the performance side and also with that soft tyre – we’re going to be improving a bit more.”
Perez believes he should be able to join Verstappen in the fight with Mercedes tomorrow, providing he can improve his single-lap pace.
“Yes I think so,” he added. “I think if we are able to get it right we should be in the mix tomorrow.”