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Downbeat Hamilton expresses Mercedes fears

Lewis Hamilton fears he won’t be in contention to battle for a record-breaking eighth world championship.

Just one week out from the season-opening race in Bahrain, a downbeat Hamilton said Mercedes are behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team and Ferrari in the pecking order.

The 37-year-old was speaking just moments after his final action in testing before next Sunday’s curtain-raiser.

“It is too early to have those kind of thoughts about the world championship, but at the moment I don’t think we will be competing for wins,” said Hamilton.

“I am sure everyone can figure out that we are not the quickest. Ferrari look to be the fastest, and perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us, or McLaren. We are currently not at the top.”

His pronouncement, though, should come with a warning.

Mercedes also struggled in testing last year, only for Hamilton to beat Verstappen at the first race.

And following six days of pre-season action, it has been suggested that the team, which has powered Hamilton to five of the last seven titles and won the past eight constructors’ championships, is yet to show its true potential.

However, Hamilton, said Mercedes have been disturbed by Formula One’s greatest upheaval of its technical rule book in a generation.

“It feels a lot different to last year. It doesn’t look as good,” said Hamilton.

“We have far bigger challenges and they are not one-week turnarounds. They will take a little bit longer. I am told we have a considerable amount of pace to find.

“There is potential within our car to get us there. We just have to learn to extract it and fix the problems which is what we are doing. But we have hurdles to overcome.

“Next week we will get a better showing of our pace but people might be surprised. We are being told we are talking ourselves down, but it is a bit different this year.”

Although teams run different tyres, fuel, and engine modes – all of which significantly change how fast the car is – in testing, Hamilton has not troubled the top of the order at this week’s Bahrain test.

Indeed, the British driver, bidding to avenge last season’s hotly disputed title defeat to Verstappen, finished only ninth of the 10 drivers on Saturday morning. Sergio Perez was quickest for Red Bull.

Ferrari have not won a drivers’ title since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed for the Italian giants in 2007.

But the Scuderia have quietly impressed in Barcelona last month, and now in Bahrain.

“It is one of the smoothest preparations that I have had,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“On a new project you expect to find barriers along the way but it has been smooth and we have managed to improve.

“Mercedes have not shown their potential. We know how much margin we have, but we don’t know how much the others hide their game.

“We need to be cautious. It is nice to be at the front but it doesn’t mean anything for now.”

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