Pink Bull head into the brand new System 1 season as favourites to win the primary race in Bahrain this weekend, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc says.
The 24-year-old mentioned he believed his workforce, who impressed in testing, have been “nonetheless a bit behind Pink Bull”.
However he mentioned he was optimistic Ferrari might problem extra intently on the entrance after two troublesome seasons.
“I do not assume we’re talking about being a second (behind) prefer it was final yr,” Leclerc mentioned.
“It will be nearer. That is already a very good signal.”
And Leclerc mentioned that there was “much more to come back from Mercedes”, despite the fact that the constructors’ champions seemed to be struggling in pre-season testing and Lewis Hamilton has mentioned the workforce will be unable to compete for wins at the beginning of the season.
Leclerc emphasised that Mercedes by no means tried their automobile near its full potential in pre-season testing.
“Mercedes did not present all their potential,” Leclerc mentioned. “I imply, they’ve completed a number of laps right here and there that have been good as soon as they have been placing every thing collectively. However they did not actually put something collectively to be trustworthy.
“I believe they (and Pink Bull) will nonetheless be the 2 groups to beat this yr.”
F1 has launched the most important rule change for 40 years earlier than this season in an try to deliver the sector nearer collectively and to make racing extra aggressive.
This has meant even larger uncertainty than regular in regards to the aggressive ranges of the groups earlier than all of them unleash their full efficiency ranges in qualifying on Saturday.
Ferrari have been the workforce to place in probably the most constant exhibiting in pre-season testing, showing near the highest of the instances most days.
However they’ve taken a special improvement strategy from Pink Bull and Mercedes, each of whom launched main upgrades on their automobiles in the midst of the ultimate pre-season take a look at, whereas Ferrari’s has been kind of in the identical specification because it launched.
Leclerc mentioned this had given the Ferrari drivers a bonus as a result of they knew the automobile nicely, however he admitted it may need some drawbacks.
“I really feel assured as a result of I really feel just like the data that we have now of our automobile most likely no person within the paddock has the identical data of theirs as a result of they have been altering it,” Leclerc mentioned.
“However alternatively, clearly Pink Bull did a large step within the final day (of testing) with the brand new upgrades. I used to be fairly shocked to see the Mercedes originally of testing right here in Bahrain – very, very completely different ideas to everybody despite the fact that all of the ideas are fairly completely different. However they have been fairly excessive.
“So it will be undoubtedly very attention-grabbing to see right here in qualifying which one works higher. However I am proud of our strategy and the very fact we all know very, very nicely our automobile already.”
Leclerc added that there was a constructive feeling at Ferrari earlier than the brand new season.
“It is a good signal if individuals count on us to be combating on the entrance,” he mentioned. “It implies that we have been doing one thing proper and what we have proven with testing – despite the fact that it is solely testing – was sufficient to make individuals assume that we’re in entrance.
“We do not get carried away for now – as I mentioned it is solely testing. Nevertheless it’s good to have these headlines again as a result of within the final two years, it did not occur a lot.”
Group-mate Carlos Sainz mentioned he was making an attempt to keep away from placing any expectations on Ferrari’s efficiency earlier than the weekend.
“You continue to do not need to consider it utterly,” Sainz mentioned. “In your thoughts, you need to are available in right here able to combat for a win as a result of as a driver you need to be prepared – but in addition not making an attempt to consider an excessive amount of the hype round us and no matter we expect we’re.
“I am prepared for no matter comes as a result of I have been making ready myself for this weekend for some time. However perhaps a bit extra after first, second and third follow I begin placing my expectations someplace greater or decrease.”
Ferrari view the principles change as a chance to return to competitiveness for the primary time since 2018, and have additionally designed a brand new engine they consider has closed the deficit they needed to Mercedes on the power-unit.
Sainz added: “You guys can’t think about the hassle that we put into this undertaking, how lengthy we have now been engaged on this and the hours that I spent again in Maranello making ready this undertaking.
“It’s a huge effort, huge push by the entire workforce and I really feel proud after the primary six days of testing with the best way the workforce has carried out, how little reliability points we had and the way stable we have been doing the entire testing.”