Red Bull can't match Mercedes or Ferrari: Lewis

SHANGHAI • Despite calling a truce in his war of words with Max Verstappen on Thursday, Lewis Hamilton again could not resist having a sly dig at Red Bull yesterday, saying the Austrian team were not "operating on the same level as Ferrari or Mercedes".

Red Bull had been expected to be part of a three-way tussle for the championship this season, but they have yet to really hit the ground running, with reliability issues having dogged their race in Bahrain last week.

And four-time world champion Hamilton called their pedigree into question ahead of tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix.

"The team has the potential to win races," he said. "In testing, they looked a lot faster than they have done in the last two races.

"But so far, they are not operating on the same level as Ferrari or Mercedes. Ferrari have almost been flawless and we are working on being flawless."

In yesterday's practice, Hamilton showed there was improved communication between him and his team after vowing to "work out a rapport that works best" following his third-placed finish in Bahrain.

The Briton edged out Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the timesheets as Ferrari ended the opening day of practice for the Shanghai race hot on pacesetters Mercedes' heels.

The 33-year-old lapped the 5.4km Shanghai International Circuit in 1min 33.482sec in the afternoon session, beating Raikkonen to the top spot by a mere 0.007 sec.

His team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third and 0.033sec off the pace, with Ferrari's championship leader Sebastian Vettel fourth, 0.108sec short of his rival's best.

The top three finished the afternoon in the same order as they had ended the opening 90 minutes of practice, and Hamilton expressed his excitement that China could bring some thrills and spills given how closely matched his team, Ferrari and Red Bull were in the cool and blustery conditions.

Verstappen was fifth quickest in both sessions, closing in to end the day 0.341sec off Hamilton's pace.

"We got through all the laps that we needed and got some good feedback about the car," said Hamilton.

"The balance of the car is good but we have some fine-tuning to do on it tonight.

"Ferrari were quick and Red Bull looked really fast on the long run.

"It's good to see all the times so close but it means that we really need to bring our A-game. We need everyone in the team to be on it throughout the weekend because it is a joint effort."

Hamilton has an impressive record in China - winning an unprecedented five times - and is determined to claw back at least some of his 17-point deficit to Vettel in the standings after the German powered to victory in the opening two grands prix.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2018, with the headline 'Red Bull can't match Mercedes or Ferrari: Lewis'. Print Edition | Subscribe