The Mercedes Formula One team has put and end to speculations stating that they may have deliberately been slowing their car down during last weekend's test sessions in Bahrain. They have now come out to say that they will likely be slower than rivals Red Bull Racing, at least during the start of the 2021 season.

Fans watched in disbelief as the Mercedes struggled during last weekend's pre-season testing. This is not the first time that Mercedes has lacked pace in the pre-season though, only to completely dominate the competition during the actual Grands Prix.

However, Mercedes strategy director James Vowles insists that this is not the case this time around. "There are a lot of unknowns. No one up and down the paddock can pinpoint exactly where they are. But there are a few trends that have come out. I'd say Red Bull are ahead on performance. They are the class act," he said.

In a YouTube video posted by Mercedes following the test session, Vowles also revealed that he expects a close season. This is what fans want of course, following several relatively dull seasons where the two Mercedes cars were almost always automatically expected to take podium spots.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was most often able to fill the remaining slot in the podium, which has even led to the "HAM-BOT-VER" combination that fans have been throwing around out of exasperation.

After seven consecutive world championship doubles for Mercedes, fans are excited at the possibility that Red Bull may in fact pose a challenge this year. "Red Bull are a fierce adversary, they've got a strong package and clearly came out of the box very, very quick," added Vowles.

He admitted that their car was handling poorly, and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton agreed. He said that there is still a lot of work left to be done and that it will be a tough season. However, he says that every year, even when they completely run over all their competitors.

In the end, it remains to be seen if there has indeed been some sandbagging, or if fans will be treated to the most competitive season that they have seen in many years.

The 2021 Formula One season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix which takes place on March 28.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has won seven world titles, including the last four POOL / TOLGA BOZOGLU