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‘It’s clear Mercedes are going to be in the fight’ – Ferrari drivers impressed by Silver Arrows pace in Bahrain

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 28: Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton of Great

Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have declared themselves happy with their opening day of competitive running in 2024 at the Bahrain International Circuit – while admitting that the pace of rivals Mercedes had been an eye-opener.

Ferrari enjoyed a solid three days of testing in Bahrain a week ago, leading many to believe they were the team most likely to challenge reigning drivers’ and constructors’ champions Red Bull in 2024.

FP2: Hamilton fastest from Russell as Mercedes set the pace in second practice in Bahrain

But with Lewis Hamilton leading a shock Mercedes one-two in Thursday’s Free Practice 2 session in Bahrain – with incumbent champion Max Verstappen only sixth on the timesheets – both Sainz and Leclerc admitted their surprise at the Silver Arrows’ pace.

“It just shows you can never look into testing, because people tend to not show all their cards, and it’s clear Mercedes are going to be in the fight,” said Sainz, who finished FP2 in P4, with Leclerc down in P9. “Red Bull in the long run were a lot quicker than in the short run, so I expect them to be also stronger tomorrow and Sunday.”

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG

Hamilton set the pace in the evening running in Bahrain

“Mercedes look strong, which is a bit of a surprise,” agreed Leclerc. “But we don’t know which fuel [level] they were running, so I think we’ll have all our answers tomorrow.

“At least on our side… no bad surprises,” he added. “No good surprises either, just exactly as we expected the car to be. So we went through our programme. In FP2, it was a bit more… I mean, I did a small mistake on my fast lap, and it’s a one-lap tyre, so then that was it. But apart from that, it’s all about tomorrow now, trying to focus to do a step forward.”

READ MORE: ‘Positive’ Piastri believes McLaren are in the mix while Norris rues ‘messy’ practice day

Despite both Ferrari drivers’ shock at Mercedes’ pace, Leclerc – who won at this track two years ago – added his belief that Ferrari would be “in the mix” this weekend, saying: “I would be surprised if that is not the case, for sure.

“I expect to be there with the others; the only question mark is obviously Red Bull, how far ahead they are in front. But with the others, I would be surprised if we are not in the mix, yes.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 on track

Leclerc was happy with his running in the SF-24

“I feel quite good with the car,” he added, “and it’s a much better start compared to last year, where last year we arrived at the first race and it was very difficult to know what exactly was the right window where we could optimise our car.

WATCH: Ride onboard with Hamilton as he sets the fastest lap of Thursday in Bahrain

“Today it’s not the case, we know we’re in the right window for performing at our best with this specific car, and now it’s all about tomorrow, to try and anticipate the conditions of tomorrow and make the best out of this weekend.”

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