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Toto Wolff expects Red Bull and McLaren 'dogfight' in Bahrain as Mercedes face real battle

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has been left scratching his head once again after the Red Bull of Max Verstappen topped the timing sheets in both free practice sessions on Friday. Mercedes were already coming into the first race weekend of the year on the backfoot after struggling with the balance of their car in pre-season testing, which saw both drivers wrestling to keep the car on track.

Verstappen and the Red Bull are fast looking like the ones to beat in Bahrain, following on from Verstappen’s win at the end of the season.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Wolff said: “It’s just a real dogfight when you overlay the fastest laps and even the long runs, it’s just so very close.

“Every kg in fuel load can make quite a big swing. So we don’t really know. I think we’re definitely closer here than we’ve been in testing. But I wouldn’t know where to position us versus Red Bull.”

“I think the tyres there’s not a lot you can do so it’s set-up work. You can see the long runs from many competitors are the McLarens, the Red Bulls, they’ve been pretty flat. There was not a lot of degradation. With Valtteri we’ve seen that we lost it a little bit but we know where to tune.”

As for Hamilton, the seven-time world champion was left perplexed about where the team can go next to fix their issues.

He said: “This weekend it’s looking better, but still not perfect. We’re just working as hard as we can, we’ve got people working in the background.

“I know we still have a hill to climb, but we’re staying positive.”

Despite Red Bull being consistently top, timings were close in both sessions over the top 10.

And when asked if he was surprised how close all the times were, Hamilton remained unphased.

The Briton continued: “No, I think we thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, not faster, so we know they are leading at the moment.

“McLaren are looking great, so it’s great to see them taking a step – it’ll be interesting to see how the long runs are.

“It’s all about having a stable car, and how to make the tyres last, that’s going to be key in this climate and the wind we have here.

The weather is due to change over the weekend in Bahrain, despite being hot for Friday practice, Saturday Sunday are due to be interchangeable with gusty winds.

“Yeah, that’s not great for us,” Hamilton laughed.

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“The rear is unstable as it is, but everyone will be in the same boat, some more, some less.

“For those watching and trying to understand, when you approach a corner and the rear moves, and you’re trying to find that tipping point, but the tipping point used to be further away with more downforce on the car. Now it falls away much quicker than normal.

“Naturally the performance we’ve lost on tyres this year, doesn’t help but we will work away at night trying to find a way.”



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