Despite a “very positive” and confidence-inspiring pre-season test, Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Helmut Marko warn that Mercedes remain favorites in F1 2021.

Red Bull topped the time sheets in testing, at times appearing so competitive that some suggested they could be entering the 2021 F1 season favorites after seven seasons of Mercedes dominance. The Milton Keynes team were also productive, turning more laps than the German outfit.

Verstappen called the outing ‘very positive’, saying of their high lap count that ‘it has been different in the past’. But the Dutchman also points out that Mercedes rarely tend to show their true colors in pre-season testing, and reiterates that testing is not a reliable indicator of any given team’s performance.

For Red Bull, he says, their priority is to collect data and get in mileage: “For us it’s just all about gathering a lot of data,” said Verstappen to media including F1, Motorsport Network, Racefans and more. “What was the most important was just to get a lot of laps on the boards and to understand the car, what to do with the set-up and try things on the car as well. I would say that they were all responding like we would have hoped. So I think that was very positive.”

The 23-year-old admits that 2021’s pre-season testing was the most successful he’s had in his tenure with Red Bull, a team which have been known to underperform early on in campaigns. But Verstappen reminds people that F1 testing does not guarantee anything: “It has been the best [pre-season I’ve had], but it doesn’t give you any guarantees,” he said. “We’ll find out through the first race weekend where we are.

“At the end of the day, it’s a test. The amount of times that Mercedes has topped testing in the last few years is not that high. It doesn’t really say a lot about pure performance,” summed up Verstappen, as he added on the rear-end stability. “From my side it’s never good enough but it’s stable enough to feel comfortable in the car,” he said.

“There are, of course, always things that can be done better. But again, I don’t think we are the favourites if Mercedes wins that many championships in a row. I think it’s still the same as before we came to the test,” summed up Verstappen.

Red Bull advisor Marko echoed his driver, stating that the team ‘know’ Mercedes to be the favorite, despite the Austrian also agreeing with Verstappen that 2021’s test was the best Red Bull have had thus far in F1. The 77-year-old suspects Mercedes ran with more fuel than his team, and insists the reigning champions will have pace ‘up their sleeves’ which they are hesitant to demonstrate.

“That was certainly the best test since Red Bull Racing came into existence,” said Marko to RTL. “Everything worked right from the start. But we know that Mercedes is the favourite, and I assume that they drove with much more fuel than we did. The fact that they didn’t really align with others in terms of fuel load, that already shows that they must have a lot of confidence.

“So we assume they still have a lot up their sleeves. Mercedes is the favourite and we are the first challenger. That’s how I see the situation. Behind them, it’s going to be a battle. I think McLaren will stand out a bit, but not at the level of Mercedes and us. The midfield is certainly closer together,” Marko summed up.

Here’s lap count from Bahrain F1 Test