World champion Max Verstappen says he’s not surprised that the pecking order in Formula 1 has started to converge.
In Bahrain qualifying, the entire field – from Red Bull’s Verstappen to Pierre Gasly’s Alpine in dead last – was within not much more than a single second.
“Not really,” the Dutchman said when asked if he is surprised.
“If you look at most of the cars, they all copied each other so everyone is getting smarter with the same regulations.”
However, while qualifying was close, Red Bull is expecting the field to thin out somewhat in Sunday’s race.
“We have a good racing car that is easy on the tyres,” said Dr Helmut Marko.
“(Fernando) Alonso is our biggest opponent in the long runs. Ferrari had too much tyre wear.
“According to our numbers, Aston Martin was better than Mercedes so it will be an exciting fight.”
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, in fourth position behind his teammate Charles Leclerc and both Red Bulls, agrees that “anything can happen” in the grand prix.
“Except for Red Bull,” said the Spaniard, “who I think are clear favourites.
“I think the Aston Martins will be very strong behind them and the Mercedes will be very good in the race too.”
Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko said: “In the long runs, Aston Martin was better than Mercedes so it will be an exciting battle.”
Mercedes’ George Russell, sixth ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, admitted: “To be honest, Fernando has a better chance than the Ferraris.”
Toto Wolff, head of the Mercedes team, alleges that Red Bull “cruise around a bit” all weekend in Bahrain before Q3 in a classic display of sandbagging.
“Nonsense,” Marko insisted.
Wolff explained: “I remember what it was like to do that and avoid attention. Because in the end they squeezed it out in Q3 anyway.”
Alonso, fifth on the grid, insisted that he never believed the hype that he was in contention for pole.
“In reality, it’s very even and that’s the beauty,” said the 41-year-old. “There are four teams – Mercedes, Aston, Ferrari and Red Bull – all there within half a second.
“It promises to be a very fun championship.”