Carlos Sainz admits he’s “surprised” by how close it is in terms of qualifying performance following Friday practice for the Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Just over one second separated the top 16 in second practice in Bahrain.
The Spaniard ended the day fourth fastest overall, just under 0.3s off Max Verstappen.
While it is closely matched between the teams in qualifying trim, Sainz believes Red Bull and Mercedes still have the upperhand over a race distance.
“FP1 felt fairly normal and suddenly there was a big change in wind and track conditions going into FP2,” Sainz said. “It made the cars and the balance a lot more on the edge. It brought the field a bit together and it was actually quite tricky out there.
“I think the long runs show a bit better where everyone is. You can see clearly the Merc and the Red Bull are having an advantage on the rest of the field. But also surprised by how tight the short runs were in terms of performance.”
Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc didn’t fare as well in the qualifying simulations, ending the day in 12th place.
Leclerc agreed with Sainz about Red Bull and Mercedes’ advantage over the midfield.
“It is very, very tight,” Leclerc said. “I think qualifying is going to be very, very tight but this is exciting. This is what we like as drivers, to try and make the last difference on the track. I still believe Mercedes and Red Bull are still quite a lot in front, the midfield will be very tight.”
Leclerc also revealed Ferrari has yet to run “flat out”, but concedes that is probably the case for the majority of the teams up and down the paddock.
“We haven’t run flat out yet, but I don’t think it’s the case for anybody in the paddock today,” Leclerc added. “So we don’t know how much they’re sandbagging so it will be all clear tomorrow.”