Verstappen doesn't see himself as 2021 F1 title favourite

Max Verstappen still believes Mercedes is the favourite heading into the new Formula 1 season, downplaying his rivals’ struggles through testing in Bahrain last week.

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Verstappen led Red Bull to the top of the timesheets as the team enjoyed a smooth three days of running in Bahrain with the updated RB16B.

Contrasting Red Bull’s strong showing was defending champion team Mercedes, as both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas reported issues with the rear end of the W12, causing instability on-track.

Mercedes says it is yet to fully understand what was causing its car to have such a weak rear end, and has talked up Red Bull’s showing, making Verstappen appear like a tentative favourite for next week’s season-opener in Bahrain.

But Verstappen does not believe Mercedes has lost its favourite tag, saying the data Red Bull had from the test showed there was still plenty of pace to come from the black cars.

“You can see on the data, of course, what they are doing,” Verstappen said in an interview on Ziggo Sport.

“They did their fastest lap with less power, and then two laps taking it easy. And then the next lap with half a second more power from the engine. So they are fast, no doubt.

“But now that things have been a little bit more difficult in the beginning, of course they try to push us into the favourites role. And then when they are up there again, it's all genius.

“They did the same last year at some of the races. On Friday they said: 'Yes, Red Bull looks very strong'.

"But deep down I knew that wasn't the case. And then on Saturday, they’re there again and it's like: 'Oh, wonderful!’

“I don't see myself as the favourite at all. If you have been so dominant in the last seven years and you have such a dominant car, even if you have the worst floor under your car, you are still good.

“So I still see Mercedes as the favourite.”

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Asked if he was applying the exact same strategy by naming Mercedes as favourite, Verstappen replied: “But it is also normal that they’re the favourites, isn't it?

“For seven years in a row they’ve won everything. So I don't see myself as the favourite at all.

“But I am happy with what we did during testing and I am happy with the balance of the car. Whether it is good enough? No idea. We'll see in Q3.”

Red Bull enters the 2021 season looking to fight for its first F1 title since 2013, when it last won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.

The team has changed its line-up for the fourth year in a row as Sergio Perez joins Verstappen, bringing greater experience to the squad after it dropped Alexander Albon.

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