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‘They could be a real surprise’ – Red Bull and Ferrari talk up Aston Martin’s chances ahead of 2023 opener

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Aston Martin have been earmarked as a genuine threat by Red Bull and Ferrari during the build-up to the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix, given the team’s eye-catching pace in testing and Friday’s first practice session.

After a productive three days of pre-season running in Sakhir, the AMR23 continued where it left off in the hands of Fernando Alonso during Friday practice as he split Red Bull pair Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen at the top of the FP1 timesheets.

READ MORE: Perez leads Alonso in first practice session of the 2023 F1 season

Amid plenty of chatter in the paddock over Aston Martin’s potential this year, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and Ferrari counterpart Frederic Vasseur admitted to being impressed by what they’ve seen so far.

Asked about Aston Martin’s early 2023 pace, Horner said: “Their car looks great. They had some really impressive race runs last week. Fernando looks… I don’t know what he’s taking, but he’s looking great on it – he looks on fire.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR23 Mercedes

Alonso and Aston Martin impressed again during first practice for the Bahrain GP

“I think they could be a real surprise this year. They’re really a bit of a dark horse. It just shows that it is possible to take a jump from the midfield to potentially further up.

“But, of course, we’ve only had small snapshot, let’s see the long runs this afternoon, then qualifying, then the first sample in the race on Sunday.”

READ MORE: Alonso hails Stroll’s return as ‘very good news’ and predicts where Aston Martin rank after ‘very encouraging’ test

Vasseur added: “Clearly, I think they did a huge step forward compared to one year ago. If you have a look on Bahrain 2022. They were performing on the short stints and long stints, even a bit more impressive on the long run.

“This morning they did well, but now let’s see on Saturday and Sunday. We don’t… have a clear picture after FP1.”

2023 Bahrain GP FP1: The 2023 season gets under way as the cars hit the track for first practice in Bahrain

Meanwhile, McLaren’s Andrea Stella – sitting alongside Horner and Vasseur during the team bosses’ press conference on Friday afternoon – commented that Aston Martin’s apparent jump up the order serves as further motivation for his squad.

“I think this case shows that these kind of jumps are possible,” said Stella, after McLaren took P5 in last year’s constructors’ standings and Aston Martin placed seventh overall.

READ MORE: Stroll shares more details on injuries sustained in ‘painful’ training accident as he gets set for F1 return

“This is what we are on as well at McLaren, in terms of objectives. I’m encouraged by what I see in development, but ultimately, we need to capitalise and bring these developments to the track. For us, if anything, it’s even more of an incentive to improve.”

F1 teams will be back in action at the Bahrain International Circuit for FP2 – held in more representative twilight conditions – between 18:00 and 19:00 local time.

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