The Dutchman is coming out of an encouraging pre-season testing run for Red Bull, with its new RB16B having proven to be both quick and consistent.
His team’s form was in contrast to Mercedes, which had a more troubled run in Bahrain as Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas battled with a poor balance on the W12 at times.
But although Red Bull is happy with the position it has found itself in, Verstappen is very cautious about its prospects against Mercedes as he is convinced the German manufacturer has not shown its true form.
“For sure the test was a positive start for us and you can always be happy when you get that number of laps in and get a good understanding of the car but it doesn’t say anything about pure performance,” he explained.
“I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites – how can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row?
“I’m sure Mercedes also want people to think we are the favourites and put the pressure on us, but we are just focussed on ourselves. You can be sure that everyone in this team and at Honda is pushing to beat them and anyone else who may be quick this year.
“I see every season as a new opportunity to beat them, but we would be stupid to expect that fight to be easy and look at testing and think we are ahead.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
“I personally can’t wait until we are all pushing in Q3. That is when you will see everyone at full power with low fuel and that is the time to see who developed performance wise, and then in the race we will see who can keep that performance over a race distance. Let’s hope we can be good at both.”
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Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez reckoned there was little point in Red Bull trying to calculate where it stacked up against Mercedes.
“I think the more you try to figure out what other people are doing the more lost you can get, so there isn’t a lot of point in reading into anything,” said the Mexican. “We just have to wait until qualifying and see where everyone is at.”
Verstappen reiterated that the RB16B showed no vices during its early running, which has lifted his own hopes that Red Bull should at least be able to put up a good fight.
“You can’t talk about proper limitations yet as we have only driven in hot conditions and every track needs different things, but I have a good feel for the car,” he said.
“From my side the car was stable enough to feel comfortable. There are always things to do better but we are always making improvements and that is what the engineers will do.”