Hamilton had expected F1 gap to Red Bull in Bahrain qualifying to be "double"

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes’ 0.388-second gap to Max Verstappen in Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying is closer than he expected, after anticipating it being “double” based on pre-season testing.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Verstappen gave Red Bull the first pole position of the 2021 season with a storming run to his fourth career pole at the Sakhir track on Saturday, finishing ahead of Mercedes duo Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

After climbing from his W12 following Mercedes’ first season opener qualifying defeat in the turbo-hybrid era, Hamilton said he “absolutely gave it everything I had, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough”.

Speaking in the post-qualifying press conference, Hamilton revealed that the final gap to Verstappen was actually “definitely closer than we expected”.

“I think this is a really good step forward for us,” he continued, referring to Mercedes’ work to improve its package since pre-season testing ended two weeks ago at the same Bahrain track.

“Coming in this weekend we thought it was double the gap that you see today.

“And so that’s really down to some really fantastic work from the men and women back at the factory and people here [at the track]. Just collectively, just all pulling together.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Hamilton also explained how Mercedes’ work since testing had been concentrated on tweaking the package it brought to Bahrain ahead of testing, rather than being able to improve its position with car developments.

“It’s hard to do a huge amount,” said the reigning world champion.

“There’s been no development; it’s just really been about fine-tuning the car and trying to understand the envelope that we have.

“It’s different to last year’s with these changes, and so we’re down in certain places, but it’s going to take some time to catch those up.

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“But it might be specific to here and not elsewhere, maybe.”

When asked if he thought Mercedes would be able to beat Red Bull on race pace in Sunday’s grand prix – data collected in Friday practice revealed the two squads were almost exactly equal on the medium tyres, albeit when free to choose engine modes and fuel loads – Hamilton replied: “It will be difficult to say.

“I think [if] they’ve got the pace gap they have [in qualifying]… usually they carry that through into the race – they’re very strong in race conditions.

“I’d like to think we can close up a little bit, but I think they’ve got at least two-tenths in hand.”

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