Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes has made progress since pre-season testing, but Max Verstappen is confident Red Bull’s momentum is continuing at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The short three-day test in Bahrain a fortnight ago suggested Red Bull has the strongest car at the start of the 2021 season, with the RB16B looking much more planted than the Mercedes. While Hamilton acknowledges there is still work for the defending champions to do, he says there has been progress after finishing 0.2s off Verstappen in Friday practice.

“This weekend it’s looking better but still not perfect,” Hamilton said. “So we are just working as hard as we can. We’ve got great people in the background … 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. So we know they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking a step. It’ll be interesting to see how the long runs are.”

And while Hamilton was encouraged by the improvements Mercedes has made since testing, Verstappen is also confident that Red Bull has found further gains too.

“Yeah, it has been a good day again,” Verstappen said. “Of course, with the heat, it was not easy to find a really good balance around the whole lap. I think it’s a positive day. Of course there are still things to look into what we can look better for tomorrow; but also tomorrow, I think it’s going to be even more windy so that will be even more difficult to drive. That’s the same for everyone, so we’ll see what happens.

“I was also really (comfortable) before but of course now we have to show what we can do in qualifying. I think we did everything we wanted to do, so it’s all good … I think we have a good car and I just hope we can do a good job tomorrow.”

Although Verstappen’s closest rival in FP2 was Lando Norris — 0.095s adrift — he says he expects Mercedes to jump ahead of McLaren on Saturday, adding: “I still expect Mercedes to be the strongest Mercedes-powered car.”

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